Part Man. Part Machine. All Cop.
Robocop is a term coined to describe a police officer who is also a robot.
Robot+Cop = Robocop
Robocop is a creation by the evil corporation Omnicorps, after a new recruit in the police force is gunned down by a group of street thugs. Robocop is a prototype for the future of the police force. He’s programmed with a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality, which results in far more damage than is necessary. This brutality is actually within the parameters of his sadistic design.
The story of a man becoming more and more machine was illustrated a few years before with the Star Wars’ villain Darth Vader, who’s original body had been mostly destroyed after a fight with Obi Wan in Revenge of the Sith. A cyborg, Robocop’s technical designation, is someone who has a combination of body parts that are artificial and mechanical. These are called biomechanics, a prevalent concept in science fiction for years. The earliest known origins of biomechanics are from Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Man That was Used Up,” a story about a general who was severely mutilated by Native Americans, and most of his body was composed of prosthetics.
Robocop was originally a rookie police officer named Alex Murphy, but after a failed crackdown on drug distribution gang, he is brutally murdered by gunfire. Alex Murphy is then resurrected by Omnicorp to function as a super police officer. For a good period of the film, he has no memory of his past life, but struggle to gain his humanity after his memories start to return. He discovers that the Omnicorp was responsible for his death, as well as the facilitating local drug gangs. He first gets his revenge on the street gang, then terminates the CEO of Omnicorp by shooting him out a window.
Robocop serves as allegory to an excessive corrupt police force. Every action Robocop takes is an excess of force to emphasize the reckless behavior that police often show. However, what's worse than Robocop is the privatization of the police force. By accepting companies like Omnicorp to facilitate machines over people, Detroit's police force in the film is at the mercy of corporate desires.
Robocop is a film about a good cop, Murphy, who does things other officers won’t. After he’s brutally slaughtered by a gang, he is resurrected into a super-cop, able to do things that other officers can’t. He's virtually indestructible, and he initially (before he gets his memory back) has no inhibitions. A woman is possibly going to be raped, Robocop arrives and shoots him in the genitals, making the act practically impossible for any foreseeable future. His excess of force not only stops crime, it goes even further, and eliminates it at it's source.
Robocop is a satire of the sensationalism of violence in the media, often emphasizing graphic and gratuitous violence to prove its absurdity. To contribute to the satire, fake ads were placed in the film to further emphasize how insanely desensitized this world has become. Ads with an old man acting perverted to young women while saying, “I’d buy that for a dollar,” and family games titled “Nuke em” play off the concept of our societies’ shameless rush on mass consumerism.
Robocop is very much in the vein of the film Death Wish, a film where a one man army takes revenge on the street gang that killed his family. In Robocop, the man turned machine takes his revenge on the gang that brutally killed him in the warehouse.
In the film, Murphy finally turns against Omnicorp, the corporation that created his biomechanics, and he executes the corrupt CEO of the company. The idea of a machine going against his/her master dates all the way back to Carl Kapek’s novel ""R.U.R ("Rossum’s Universal Robot"s), a story about a robot uprising. Since robot is coined from the Russian word “slave” many stories about robots are subtextually about a slave/workers revolution. Robocop takes the idea of a rebellious worker to it's full completion, when Alex Murphy guns down the CEO of Omnicorp. This genre of machines turned against their creators has been used frequently in science fiction, with the most recent example being 2015's Ex Machina.
Robocop plays around with a lot of ideas. The most prevalent idea in the film is the privatization of the police force. He is super excessive in his methods, and at one point, shoots a would-be rapist in the genitals. We, as the audience, are supposed to cheer at this, but at the same time, we’re left to question the continual excess of force by the police. More current events might even validate this ominous message from the past.
Paul Verhoeven’s work shows a clear mistrust for authority, but his approach with this topic is almost always satirical. In Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a man who gets transported to a fantasy world with the program Rekall only to find himself questioning his reality while being chased by government agents on Mars. In Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven completely divorces himself from the plotline of the novels to mock the sensationalism of the military in media. He even alludes to Nazi imagery to as a means of indicating the true purpose of propaganda: control over the minds of the populace to trick people into believing they are obligated to support a cause.
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