Being Human

What does it mean to be human? What is the definition of consciousness? What is it exactly that makes me different from a toaster (Other than I don’t dish out warm tasty treats)?

A.I. has always held a fascination for me. The idea that machines could be so intelligent that they would be self-aware is captivating. It used to be a novel idea, but now, after so many sci-fi movies, it seems almost inevitable. Sometimes it feels like it’s already happened.

I’ve watched a lot of sci-fi movies about A.I., and ‘Chappie’ is one that I really enjoy. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime and I watched it again the other day. If you haven’t seen the film, here’s the synopsis from IMDb:

In the near future, crime is patrolled by a mechanized police force. When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself.


‘Chappie’s story isn’t unique in that it’s simply a robot that becomes self-aware. They did the same thing back in the ’80s called ‘Short Circuit‘ and made it a comedy. Not a new concept. But there were a couple things that I thought were interesting about ‘Chappie’.

First and foremost, I found the Chappie character to be very emotionally engaging (which is kinda what you want from your Main Character). Introducing the A.I. as child-like is common in these kinds of movies and it works well here to draw viewers in emotionally. When he went through the painful experiences he needed to go through for the story, I felt for him and wanted to protect him from the pain. There were several moments when I wanted to stop the movie and rewrite the script so that he would have an easier time of things.

The other reason I found the character so engaging was due to the performance of Chappie’s actor, Sharlto Copley. To create the Chapie character, they first dressed Mr. Copley in a special suit with painted targets, filmed the scenes with him, and then added the animated character onto the film based on the targets in a process known as motion capture. Mr. Copley’s actions translated perfectly through the process to produce a very fluid, very articulated character. He was able to bring real ‘life’ to Chappie through many details of his performance. (However, kudos, too, to the CGI team for doing their share of the heavy lifting!)

Another production element I appreciated was that the film was made in South Africa, similar to District 9 (which Sharlto Copley also stars in). There’s a distinct feel to these two films that I really enjoy – they ‘breath’ different than anything that comes from the US. You wouldn’t label this as a ‘foreign film’ but there’s a very minute shift that brings a slightly different feel to the film. It’s like the first ‘Despicable Me’ – it may have had American producers, but it was animated in France with French directors, so it just ‘breaths’ different (or maybe it’s just me – just call me ‘The Princess and the Pea” of movies).

‘Chappie’ doesn’t do much in the way of answering any existential questions like why are we here or how long have we got, but it does a good job at raising them. Here is one of my favorite dialogue exchanges in the film where Chappie confronts his maker about the finite nature of his ‘life’. I don’t think there’s anything much more ‘human’ than the urge to confront ‘god’ and ask for more time.

CHAPPIE: Daddy told me about you, Deon… …about how you made me in a body that will die.
DEON: What do you mean, Chappie?
CHAPPIE: Is it true that I will die in a few days, Deon? That this battery will die? Is it true, Deon?
DEON: Yeah.
CHAPPIE: But you my maker. Why’d you just make me so I could die?
DEON: I didn’t… I didn’t make you so you could die, Chappie.
CHAPPIE: I want to live. I wanna stay here with Mommy. I don’t wanna die.
DEON: You’ve become so much more than I could ever have imagined. How was I supposed to know that you would become… …you?

In the end, ‘Chappie’ is an entertaining film about A.I., but overall doesn’t take any risks or step outside of the box. It has come great CGI bits, some really nice emotional moments, but for the most part, I found that it covered familiar ground without carving out anything new. The really big question still remains unanswered. What is the definition of being ‘human’? It is being able to tell jokes like in ‘Short Circuit’? Being able to feel pain and persecution as in ‘Blade Runner‘? Or to have a moral compass as in ‘Chappie’? I guess we’ll just have to wait for the next sci-fi movie in order to find out (unless, of course, real science beats them to it).

(But, not to get all Black Mirror on everyone, if A.I. were real, would it want to stick around with all of us losers?)

PS – If you have an A.I. movie or book that you recommend, please share it in the comments below! I’m always on the search for another great A.I. flick! Thank you!

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