Chappie is an emotional drama and action film about a sentient robot who recognizes some humans as members of his family. A creation of a Tetravaal scientist, Chappie reminds everyone what it means to be human. The movie is, in some ways, a study in contrasts. It’s gritty and unapologetic, but also a feel-good film.
This film successfully explores many themes: man versus machine, religion and spirituality, mortality, brains versus brawn, and the inherent nature of humanity. This happens without losing focus on its central character: Chappie, a lovable robot with a personality of its own.
Must Love Chappie
From the very moment of his awareness, it’s difficult not to love Chappie. When he awakens, he’s as a child – he needs to be taught basic things. His maker, Deon, wants him to be creative and know the difference between right and wrong. Early on, though, Chappie receives a rude and violent awakening, and as he cowers in fear while he’s attacked, it’s hard not to feel empathy. From the beginning, though, Chappie’s individuality is celebrated by those who know him.
The character’s don’t seem to question ‘should we care for Chappie as we would a human?’ When some assert that he’s ‘just a child’ or ‘like a child’ at first, they are uncontested.
The special effects complement this emotional attachment to the character of Chappie, who moves in a very human way. Deon (Dev Patel) especially connects with Chappie, who is very much influenced by those around him.
As Chappie grows, he goes through many human experiences, including initiations and tough personal choices. It’s a very personal story and it’s pretty much impossible not to love him.
Sentience and Personhood
The movie isn’t about whether Chappie is sentient or really has feelings or rights. Although some characters argue over who gets to influence Chappie, there’s never an argument of ‘ownership’ because they all seem to agree that he is capable of making his own choices and that he is not an object to be owned.
I thought the movie might be more about this topic, but was relived to find that it wasn’t. No one seemed to doubt whether Deon could create a robot like Chappie.
Women in “Chappie”
There aren’t many women in this movie, but two of the characters most influential on Chappie and his story are women. The first is CEO Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), who initially discourages Deon from implementing his program. She is in charge of Tetravaal, and generally attempts to do what is best for her company. Her decisions affect many other characters.
There’s also Yolandi (Yo-landi Visser), who quickly comes to regard Chappie as her child. Chappie calls her Mommy. While the men in Yolandi’s group, including Ninja (Ninja) do much of the impulsive decision-making, it’s Yolandi who gives the go-ahead for long-term plans. She’s a leader, a nurturer, a rebel, and the heart of the gang.
Religion and Spirituality
There are many complex themes presented in “Chappie,” including that of spirituality. Like any child who comes of age, Chappie is curious. Yolandi discusses with him beauty, uniqueness, and spirituality. These concepts are all tied together in Chappie’s sense of self. The film showcases how spirituality can be both beautiful and destructive depending on who’s wielding it – much like a force of robots.
The entire cast is fantastic. I went into the film without knowing that Sigourney Weaver was in it – or that Hugh Jackman plays a bellicose antagonist. They both put in powerful performances, but I’m glad promotion didn’t rely heavily on them. After all, Chappie is very much the title character, and the star power in this movie doesn’t take away from that.
Criticism and Recommendation
I have little criticism of the movie. The beginning could have been a bit faster; conversely, I wanted more information about the slightly-futuristic South Africa, though it might make perfect sense to South Africans.
I specifically recommend this film to fans of films like “Lucy,” “a.i.,” and adults who enjoyed “Big Hero 6.” If you don’t like strong language or don’t want to cry over a robot, this movie probably isn’t for you. Otherwise, check it out.