Thinking Man's Toys

Is Alex Murphy a cop dreaming that he is a robot, or is he a robot that only dreamed it was a cop? The question isn’t answered in either iteration of RoboCop — not in Paul Verhoeven’s gonzo original, and not in this remake by Brazilian director José Padilha.
— "All Man, All Machine, All Cop: The Enhanced Personhood of ‘RoboCop’," Claire L. Evans, Grantland

Being inundated with science fiction of all types makes me unusually bristle at the idea brought up in this edition of Grantland's The Futurist. I'm not a fan at all of Diet Robocop but it has a scene as haunting to me now as when I saw disassembled and writhing cyborg in Robocop 2

Nü-Alex Murphy demands to be shown how much of his new body is a suit and how much of him is physically left. Without hesitation, Diet Robocop's creator shows him:

This scene has an existential color that is muted, and eventually bled out, by the rest of the movie. Without his mechanical body, RoboCop is little more than a brain in a jar. With it, he’s a neurological passenger perched on top of a big machine; as such, he can’t objectively know if the external world — the lab, his family, Detroit’s criminal element — is real.
— "All Man, All Machine, All Cop: The Enhanced Personhood of ‘RoboCop’," Evans, Grantland

A.D. Police Files, a 1990s cyberpunk anime about a police force that fought rogue robots and leveled the city doing so, had their own take on this in "The Man Who Bites His Tongue." An officer is critically injured and his last functioning organs--his tongue and brain--are put into a robot.  A newly minted tank that can go one-on-one with other unstoppable machines that reminds himself of his humanity by biting his tongue. 

Naturally, His evil creator has plans to scrap him after he performs poorly by acting more mechanical than human after the public reject the idea of a man inside a machine. This is the same public that deals with literal miles of property damage and explosions on a daily basis from machines so the future has a low tolerance for failure.

So, our cyborg overdoses on a drug that inhibits his emotions, goes into a delusion he's with his girlfriend while he actually slaughters his fellow officers. He recovers enough to beg his girlfriend to shoot him with (conveniently) an anti-tank rifle  in the tongue so he can feel enough pain to die. 

Both the mouth and gun are a reference to the original Robocop when one of the criminals suggests they "aim for the mouth" with their own anti-armor ordinance as they hunt an injured Robocop and Lewis in an abandoned factory. The joke being they think its face is human, but an earlier remark from an OCP official that the only organic components to Robocop are parts of Alex Murphy's brain and his face stretched across a metal skull. 

Maybe because we've had 27 years to digest it in pop culture, but the overwhelming feeling of Robocop is it is not Alex Murphy. It learns to call itself Murphy, it learns to respond to Murphy and it learns to process emotions like revenge and anger but Robocop isn't Alex Murphy. 

Robocop 2

Robocop 2

Throughout the original trilogy Robocop became morecomfortable performing how it assumes Alex Murphy would do. Why refer to Robocop as it when I refer to the character from A.D. Police Files as him? Robocop has never "felt" pain in any of the versions shown. The ongoing joke is Robocop may call itself Murphy, but it doesn't hesitate to strap on a jet pack and a machine gun in place of an arm. It also looks awesome to kids that want to play with action figures. 

Diet Robocop makes a second leap with its ending where Robocop overrides programming due to "humanity." Previously the best it could do was wait to have a Prime Directive switched off or the cyborg equivalent of deleting system 32, which is shoving a spike into an electrical socket. Diet Robocop wants you to know deep down that Robocop has flesh and is Alex Murphy. The original had to force you to accept maybe the man in the man-machine was just as artificial and just as adept at evolving its software to appease the masses. 

Spike Jonze's Her takes this to the emotional level. Diet Robocop goes out of its way to assure you the Murphies will stay together and be a nuclear family model for the Singularity. But before that, it was the Noid with an automatic weapon.

Robocop is aware it is Alex Murphy 2.0. As an operating system and a being, which was something the original Diet Robocop script got into, the stages of death are essentially the same as becoming a futuristic hybrid. The original Murphy's dying moments turned to fear and acceptance before being reborn. This acceptance, along with a random mention in Robocop 2 that Murphy's "faith" kept him from committing suicide as Robocop, breeds a better operating system. It's a gradual transformation as Robocop accepts it is no longer Murphy, brushing off steel girders or instantly accessing data and Clarence Boddicker's throat with the same spike. Taking this further, Robocop is both OCP's crowning achievement and an ever-lasting fluke like a sentient Slinky.