When most people think of RoboCop (1987), they usually imagine a monotone cyborg stalking the streets of Detroit, gunning down any criminal who gets in his way. It’s safe to say most people don’t associate this animatronic action hero with the founder of the world’s largest religion and somebody who’s generally considered a pretty peaceful guy.
Of course, most people aren’t Paul Verhoeven, the man behind this 1980s sci-fi classic. Verhoeven had long been obsessed Jesus Christ, even going so far as to write a book on the Biblical figure. (Titled Jesus of Nazareth, it’s a controversial work that disregards all the New Testament miracles and claims Jesus’s dad was a Roman soldier who raped his mother, Mary.) So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this Dutch director injected his first American film with a healthy dose of religious allegory.
In a 2010 interview with MTV’s Josh Horowitz, Verhoeven explained RoboCop is “about a guy that gets crucified after fifty minutes, then is resurrected in the next fifty minutes, and then is like the super-cop of the world….” Basically, it’s “a Christ story” with a whole lot of firepower and catchy one-liners.
Really, the parallels are pretty obvious. Before Alex Murphy is murdered, crime lord Clarence Boddicker blasts off his hand with a shotgun, mirroring how nails were driven through Jesus’ hands. Verhoeven also encouraged the actors playing Boddicker’s thugs to “laugh like jackals,” alluding to the people who mocked Christ during the crucifixion. And after Murphy is finally finished off, he’s brought back to life à la the Resurrection.
However, when Jesus returned from the dead, he didn’t hunt down every thug in Jerusalem. Of course, Paul Verhoeven doesn’t look at Jesus the same way most churchgoers probably do. The director has a much more radical view of the Christ, claiming he’s a “Che Guevara” type who’d want his disciples to rise up against the Romans. If that’s the way you interpret the New Testament, then it makes perfect sense that Verhoeven’s “American Jesus” would offer Clarence Boddicker a bullet to the brain instead of a passport to paradise.
Speaking of Clarence Boddicker, in the film’s big showdown, Murphy traps his archenemy in a flooded steel mill. As the supercop approached Boddicker, pistol raised and vengeance in his eyes, Verhoeven pulls back to reveal that RoboCop is making his way through a shallow pool…or as Verhoeven explains, he’s walking on water, just like a certain first century prophet.