Let’s acknowledge the Jesus metaphor at the center of Robocop
To some people it might seem far-fetched, but the full name of the hero at the center of Paul Verhoeven’s seminal 1987 action film’s could have even been Robocop Jesus. In the last few years we’ve come across multiple people – *cough* millenials *cough* – who unfairly see Robocop as an unintentional piece of comedy, in line with the action output of that decade. They couldn’t be more wrong, however.
As you may have gathered from our review of Hell Comes to Frogtown, the 80s decade was so littered with comedic action output that it has become difficult to tell which of these were providing intentional laughs. On the one hand you had the hilariously bad Delta Force, Commando, and Rocky IV, while on the other you saw comedic masterpieces such as Big Trouble in Little China and this classic: Robocop. Let’s not forget the hilarious (and violent!) “it’s only a glitch” scene.
Robocop still manages to hold up thanks to its brutal social satire, targeted towards big corporations and its flattening of media culture (“I’d buy that for a dollar!). It’s also a delightfully violent film, filled with stop motion animation, practical effects and so goddamn many blood squibs going off. That blend of social satire and over the top action seems like enough to solidify it as a classic film, yet director Paul Verhoeven had even more on his mind: he saw Robocop as an American Jesus.
Verhoeven referred to this metaphor already in 2010, during an interview with MTV:
It is about a guy that gets crucified after 50 minutes, then is resurrected in the next 50 minutes and then is like the super-cop of the world, but is also a Jesus figure as he walks over water at the end.
He would later elaborate on this in an interview with The Playlist, in 2016:
Most things he says is, put down your weapon or whatever. At the end of the movie, because I was living in the United States, the metaphor is that he’s walking on water. In the front of the water there are the walls of an abandoned steel factory, where we shot. You can see the walls like the walls of Troy or Jerusalem. I put grit under the water so he could walk on water. To make him into an American Jesus, he turns to the bad guy and says, “I’m not going to arrest you anymore. I’m going to kill you.” That for me was the American Jesus.
Although we’re not sure we’re on board with seeing Robocop as a fully successful retelling of the story of Christ, some of the matching iconography is undeniable. There is the aforementioned water scene, but let’s also not forget the brutal death of Murphy, leading to his rebirth as Robocop. One thing is for sure: it’s the most bloody Jesus Christ story we’ve seen, although The Passion of The Christ comes close.