spent a couple of hours last night watching chappie with my parents in our increasingly sterile, off-white living room. sterile because we’re preparing for a party and off-white because the color cannot do wrong.
the same cannot be said of the film.
neil blomkamp directed district 9 two films prior to this and that was great… beautiful, even. this, by comparison, is the work of someone much younger, less developed, and slightly lost. it is as if he can only ever talk about one thing specifically, but everything else is a bit of a blur, such that ideas are introduced but not developed.
- machine consciousness: blomkamp addresses this by introducing chappie, a ‘conscious’ robot and the brainchild of deon wilson (played by dev patel). deon works for tetravaal, a security company that has replaced Johannesburg’s police force with robots. chappie starts off with the cognitive abilities of a child but learns extremely quickly. he/it develops ideas in ways similar to human beings. he nevertheless is smarter because of the manner in which he captures information. it seemed like the information he receives becomes a part of his algorithm, and because he is also conscious, he acts upon a log of all the information he’s ever received. humans, on the other hand, inevitably lose things we are exposed to in some form or they warp over time, giving us somewhat of a handicap. i feel like this is a big idea that could be developed and would be interesting for viewers to engage with but it was left completely unaddressed.
- “we don’t know what consciousness is”: this is a problem. there is a bit of the movie where deon explains to chappie that no one can quantify consciousness. chappie has a body that will perish and needs a new one, requiring a transfer of consciousness. this idea is problematic because: how was this programme created in the first place? if you cannot quantify consciousness, you cannot install it in material that is not biological, let alone summarise it in a programme. but maybe he was referring to the developments made after the start of chappie’s life – the consciousness and self-identity that are a result of specific circumstances, events, and input. even then, the information received would play with chappie’s algorithm and therefore, be quantifiable.
- other characters (played by die antwoord, sigourney weaver, hugh jackman) in the film seem to have motivations that do not draw the complexities they must possess as human beings. the film, instead, treats them like one-dimensional entities with a single purpose and motivation, which itself seems like a misunderstanding of human consciousness. more importantly, everything came off a little dorky.
and that begs the question, why tackle machine consciousness without first addressing human need, motivation, and self-concept? in other words, the film needs to have a basis in the consciousness we are all so personally and individually mystified by in order to address any other kind of consciousness. sad that it doesn’t.
sigourney weaver was in this, for fuck’s sake.