‘Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert’: Reconsidering ironic kinship in Neill Blomkamp’s science fiction film Chappie

Original Research

Keywords: Chappie, Neill Blomkamp, Donna Haraway, irony, kinship


Neill Blomkamp’s 2015 science fiction film Chappie engages with the familiar narrative trope of robot sentience. Blomkamp confronts viewers with a naïve and vulnerable childlike robot protagonist that is more human and likeable than any of the stilted and stereotypical real human characters in the film. It is the mechanical creature with which the viewer readily identifies and sympathises. Blomkamp facilitates, not only between his characters, but also with the audience, a kinship of the sort that Donna Haraway in Staying with trouble c alls a ffinity g roups o r a ssemblages o f ‘ oddkin’. T he i mmediately sympathetic response of the viewing audience to the mechanical robot is a key strategy in the way that Blomkamp applies irony in this film, which Haraway also identifies as central to her idea of the cyborg as an alternative and potentially liberatory myth. In this article, I engage in a close reading of the film, focusing on the broad network of speculative and science fiction narrative traditions within which this film operates. I consider possible reasons why the film was misread and met with criticism when it was first released. I also specifically investigate the strategies and techniques Blomkamp uses in his depiction of the robot character and how his use of its childlikeness and vulnerability and its engagement with violence and sacrifice are central to the film’s ironic engagement with the central argument about the dangers of dehumanisation and the need to recuperate humaneness.