Chappie: A Transhumanist Perspective
‘Chappie’ (2015) surprised me with the most pro-transhumanist message I’ve seen in a major film. ‘I’m not sure what this means…’ the creator of the eponymous sapient artificial intelligence whispers near the end, looking through the artificial eyes of his new, wholly-nonbiological body at his vacant biological body from which he was transferred moments before it clinically died after being shot.
‘It means you will live forever,’ Chappie declares, making an astonishingly explicit and unambivalent pro-immortalist statement. The movie further affirms an informationalist conception of consciousness when Chappie’s mother, who suffered (the more absolute) biological death, is resurrected (reinstantiated) from a backup of her consciousness Chappie made and transferred to a thumb drive. (LOL!)
This is significant as it is an unambiguous rejection of the vitalistic view which holds that if one’s ‘spark’ or ‘flame’ of consciousness is extinguished, one ‘dies,’ and, if one’s brain is revived, one is ‘replaced’ by an exact ‘copy,’ or mindclone. This ludicrous view would mean thousands of people over the past half century have been ‘killed’ by a surgical procedure – profound hypothermia and circulatory arrest (PHCA), which causes total brain shutdown for up to an hour – and that all the people who woke from PHCA were actually newly-created ‘duplicates’ of the now-dead ‘originals.’ (A more radical ‘suspended animation’ procedure which replaces the blood with cold saline for as long as an hour or two is currently entering human clinical trials in a Pittsburgh hospital.) I’m astounded by the number of otherwise-rational people I’ve encountered who believe or entertain this nonsense, and am glad to see a major popular entertainment reject it.
Also, while Chappie’s creator is reinstantiated into a superhuman yet unsensual and marginally-expressive robotic body like Chappie’s, Chappie’s mother is reinstantiated into a still stiff but more humanoid form, custom-designed to crudely approximate her original body’s likeness, suggesting the first steps toward the eventual creation of synthetic bodies, which, like in ‘Blade Runner’ (1982), ‘The Terminator’ (1984), or ‘Surrogates’ (2009), are as personable and warm as biological bodies, possessed of all their advantages and none of their disadvantages.
Most radically, Chappie created a backup of his mother while she was still instantiated in her original body, another rejection of individual minds as inherently unique, nontransferable, and inexplicable (as Chappie’s creator believed, asserting that Chappie could not transfer from his failing body into a new one, before Chappie disproved him and saved both their lives by evacuating them from their failing bodies, one biological, one robotic) hinting at (for those aware of the concept, at least) the possibility of multiple simultaneous instantiations of the same person.
‘Chappie’ closes with consciousness firmly established as informational rather than vitalistic, and immortality achieved without any contrived ‘blood sacrifice’ as is so depressingly ubiquitous (e.g., ‘The Island’  and the upcoming ‘Self/less’ ), and with its recipients happy with rather than afraid of their triumph over mortality, and without having ‘lost their humanity’ – a most unusual narrative, particularly in mainstream cinema.
Chappie’s burial farewell to his mother’s lifeless original body, saying ‘it’s just a body,’ anticipates a more philosophically- and technologically-advanced era in which we not only realize we are not our bodies, but have (and use) the ability to fully capitalize on this profound realization.
Incidentally, South African director Neil Blomkamp‘s previous film, Elysium(2013), seems to have a transhumanist ending, implying the immortality therapy wrested from sole possession by the ultrawealthy will be freely provided to all humanity.