While I was personally a bit disappointed by the 2014 reboot of the 1987 “classic” RoboCop, I’m willing to hold my tongue on the laborious dialogue and frankly uninspired storyline. What simply must be mentioned, however, is the clear articulation of the kind of life worth living.
While I have to give the film its due and recognize that there was a gesture toward larger social and philosophical questions, such as what constitutes a human, where do the boundaries between human and machine lie, and to what lengths will society go to protect the “safety and security” of its people (albeit this gesture was not made very strongly), I can’t help but get hung up on this issue of ability. While there were many forces at play, what it boils down to is that after a car bomb explosion, Alex Murphey’s wife is told that her husband sustained burns over 80% of his body and, if left in fully human form (as in, not transformed into “RoboCop”), will be blind in one eye, have an arm and a leg amputated, and “likely be deaf.” This grim prognosis is enough to convince her to acquiesce to the RoboCop transformation. Full stop.
Let’s back up a minute here. I’m not sure of the exact number, but I’m fairly certain that a large number of people sustain burns and have lifelong disabilities as a result of car explosions, house fires, grenade detonation, and the like… every single day in our modern world. Instead of restoring Murphey’s body as much as possible, providing him with rehab, and allowing him to adjust to his new life (as is usually done for survivors of the aforementioned incidents), the doctors in the film remove even the parts of his body that were undamaged to turn him into a robotic man. Yes, this is all precipitated as part of a capitalistic and extreme nationalist agenda, but the quick decision of his wife to approve such a procedure is clearly indicative of the types of lives society sanctions as “worth living.” Instead of living with skin burns (which I concede can certainly be a cause of extreme discomfort and pain), loss of eyesight in one eye, and potential deafness, the most morally righteous character of the film allows her husband to be mutilated by doctors (really people, a screen shot of his “after” effects is included in this post) and turned into a machine, rather than allow him to live with lifelong disabilities.
Is this a case of the “cure” or “remedy” being worse than the “affliction?” I think so. Obviously the film is an exploration of what can happen if we as a society (or even a rogue group of corporate CEOs) start making decisions about human life and surveillance without the proper checks in place, but at the same time, the film is also about what it means to be human and the various ways of maintaining and reclaiming our humanity. In that case, it seems important that we consider the implications of the types of human variety that are sanctioned and the potentially devastating results when assuming all that glitters is robot gold.