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Meet RoboCop: He’s a Modern Frankenstein Monster

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So you want to watch the new RoboCop movie? Let’s have some context for this 1987 remake of dystopian Detroit and the police state. RoboCop is a modern re-interpretation of Frankenstein, the famous novel by Mary Shelley, written nearly 200 years ago.  Both creatures are angry and hateful for being stripped of their humanity — that they have become mere tools of lab experimentation.

In the end, both succeed in exacting revenge on their scientific creators, but it comes at a heavy price in terms of bloodshed and violence.  Their vengeance ultimately results in the death of their creators  (Think of the mechanical Dath Vader who winds up killing the emperor in George Lucas’s Return of the Jedi).

Credit: SONY Pictures

Credit: SONY Pictures

Parallels

In Shelley’s novel, Victor Frankenstein wants to discover the secret of life, and spends endless hours manufacturing a creature out of old body parts.  The scientist succeeds in creating a monstrosity who ends up killing several people.

The creature, condemned to a grotesque existence, is motivated to exact revenge on its creator.  In the end, the scientist dies after losing several important people to his life to murder at the hands of his lab experiment.

In RoboCop, we see a striking parallel.  Policeman Alex Murphy arrives at the OmniCorp laboratory as a “body part” after suffering from a car bomb explosion (which was caused by a powerful crime syndicate).

Dr. Dennett Norton and his team move quickly to assemble automated machine parts around an unconscious Murphy.  The police officer and family man has been stripped of his free will while being forced to wear the RoboCop suit and its terrifying cache of lethal weapons: without assent; without Murphy’s own approval.

Like Frankenstein’s creature, Murphy becomes livid with his creator: He has morphed into a (grotesque) product that OmniCorp simply wants to sell for profit. Murphy’s no longer completely human; he’s called a “tin man” by an OmniCorp employee.  He’s become a walking advertisement for crime reduction. To maintain control, the company’s scientists install computer chips inside Murphy’s brain to pacify his anger and to remove any feelings Murphy has for his wife and son.

Despite his public speeches, CEO Raymond Sellars has no interest in reducing crime; he’s more interested in investment returns for OmniCorp’s shareholders at the price of Murphy’s life and free will. RoboCop is a prisoner of his own suit; confined to a cage of pre-programmed systems, police databases, and CCTV networks.

RoboCop/Murphy ends up killing parties tied to its creator; corrupt police officers, underworld criminals, and company security guards.  In a climactic scene, he fights off larger, more terrifying robots designed to squash OmniCorp’s enemies.

At the end of the film, RoboCop kills his creator: the CEO of OmniCorp.

Hollywood’s Summary

Literature is dead.  No one reads the classics anymore.

Most people rely on Hollywood to provide (often inferior) multimedia summaries for literary and creative works. Technology — such as CGI — can strip the humanity out of morality plays, just as RoboCop’s automated suit can strip the life out of Alex Murphy. Too often, big studio films are nothing more than focus group-tested, blockbuster movies that gloss over the humanized dilemmas their characters face.

RoboCop should not be interpreted as a mere action movie in some Hollywood genre.  Like Shelley’s Frankenstein, it should enlighten us on the ethics of scientific experimentation on humans.  Philosophically, it explores the implications of extreme utilitarianism, where a human being is used as a means to an end, and which may devalue a person’s worth.

Think of babies around the world that are being sold for cash. Additionally, think of all the modern issues affecting our world: waterboarding, torture, biotechnology, the pharmacy industry, the health risks of processed foods, NSA snooping.  Don’t any of these devalue a person when an individual is used as a means for narrow organizational ends?

Another question to ask is: Should man play the role of God?  Some argue that he often does a terrible job because Nature is infinitely more complex than man imagines.

Police State

Another interpretation of RoboCop is that the protagonist symbolizes a modern Frankenstein of the police state. Big Brother-type governments can create automated systems extremely efficient in delivering justice however barbaric their methods can be.  The inhumane efficiency of fighting crime mirrors the barbarism which such inventions were intended to stop in the first place.

Think of our prison systems, some of which are now being run by for-profit institutions.  It’s hardly rehabilitative in there.  People often come out of jails worse off than when they entered in. When man uses technology for bad purposes, we don’t have a reduction in crime.  We merely replace one evil for another. Authorities profess utopian dreams but may instead create dysfunctional dystopias.

I’ve seen the 2014 version of RoboCop.  Storywise, I must say the original was better.

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About Marv Dumon

Marv Dumon has written over 6,000 articles for publications such as Forbes, Yahoo!, Investopedia, Technorati, Digital Journal, and Examiner.com. He worked in corporate finance and Six Sigma, and holds BA, BBA and MPA degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. Contact him at marvin.dumon@gmail.com.