RV!: Robocop (1987) Dir: Paul Verhoeven Date Released: July 17, 1987 Date Seen: May 11, 2012 Rating: 4.75/5
Robocop really is almost perfect in its own way.
I had an elaborate piece planned about the revelatory feelings that this most recent rewatch gave me (saw a 35mm print project at the Landmark Sunshine at midnight with Kenji Fujishima after we both attended the Metropolitan Opera's recent production of The Makropulos Case). This time around, I was especially struck by the film's masterful tonal ambiguity, the kind that Verhoeven's famous for, and how certain key images reveal just how richily murky Murphy/Robocop is an antihero.
Murphy (Peter Weller) is a tragicomic figure. He's a meathead archetype and that makes him both the object of affection and disrespect for Verhoeven. I mean, is the bullet dance he does when he "dies" any less ironically humorous than the dolphin-like gyrating that Elizabeth Berkley does while straddling Kyle MacLachlan in Showgirls? I don't think so. More importantly, Murphy's a compromised hero throughout the film. He adopts a ridiculous cowboy mentality even before he becomes Robocop, partly for his son's sake and partly because he genuinely likes saying things like, "Dead or alive, you're coming with me." He twirls his gun but that's the kind of absurdly violent, gun-stroking mentality that people like Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith, my hero) thrives on. The one difference between Boddicker and Murphy is that Boddicker kills for money and kicks and Murphy kills to uphold the law because it's his job.
The absurdly front-loaded that family matters is gently made fun of in the scene where Murphy comes home and remembers when his son, his wife and he once took a family photo. I don't think it's a coincidence that Murphy's son is dressed as a little devil, pitchfork and all. I think that image is pretty evocative, not just of the corruption of nostalgia that Robocop is overwhelmed by but also of the loss of innocence he now feels after recognizing how inhuman he's become.
I think ultimately, becoming a humane inhuman is the only answer in Robocop because that's what what the film's perverse vision of the future needs. Like Howard Chaykin once said about his version of Blackhawk (and I'm paraphrasing), Robocop is a fascist for democracy. He's a contradiction, a character whose humanity is defined by his unqualified narcissism and faith in violence (ex: How do we know he's still alive on the inside? He twirls his gun and says things like, "Dead or alive, you're coming with me," just like Murphy's son's TV hero did and just like he did when he tried to arrest Atonowsky).
So yeah, I had a much longer and more elaborate piece planned. But this'll do.