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Film / Chopper

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"I'm just a bloody normal bloke. A normal bloke who likes a bit of torture."
Mark "Chopper" Read

A 2000 Australian film directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Eric Bana as the infamous Real Life Melbourne criminal Mark 'Chopper' Read.

The film portrays a portion of Read's storied life, beginning and ending in prison. The film begins with the incidents leading up to his famous self-mutilation, in which he had his ears chopped off in order to escape retaliation from a rival. Read is shown to be a violent and unbalanced man with a forceful and often gregarious personality. After serving his term, Read proves unfit for the outside world and soon lands back in prison, where he can take only fleeting comfort in the tabloid fame that his antics and charm have brought him.

The film was a success in Australia and received some global recognition as well. The film launched Bana into mainstream success as a movie star after a career primarily limited to the Australian comedy scene.

This film provides examples of:

  • Advice Backfire: In the beginning of the film while locked up on Pentridge prison, Chopper jokingly tells his rival Keithy George that he could kill him and present his psych evaluation to the court and no jury in the land would convict him for it. Shortly afterwards, Chopper's best friend Jimmy tries to stab Chopper to death and fails, but doesn't get convicted for it.
  • Affably Evil: Chopper is a two-bit thug, but he's incredibly charming when he's not killing you, and sometimes even when he is. He makes it clear that the average person on the street has nothing to fear from him, but watch out if you're a fellow criminal, especially one who deals drugs. Then he's coming after you and you'll be lucky if he leaves with just a big wad of cash that you have generously donated to him. This is Truth in Television, as Chopper became a mainstream celebrity in Australia by telling stories from his sordid life.
  • All Is Well That Ends Well: Parodied with Chopper's bizarrely philosophical reaction to being stabbed. Justified in that he's talking to cops, so it's Honor Among Thieves.
    Chopper: Look. The bloke's been me best mate since 1975. We've had our fallouts from time to time, it's no big deal. Y'know, it's like...if your mum stabs ya, whaddya do? Ya don't get upset. Ya don't get angry, ya go, "Shit, mum's stabbed me, I better get off to the hospital."
  • Anti-Hero: Chopper thinks he is one of these, specifically a Type IV with a strong flavour of Lovable Rogue. The film plays on the dissonance between Chopper's idea of himself and how he actually behaves.
  • Appeal to Obscurity: Invoked by Chopper when trying to provoke a fellow prison inmate into a fight.
    Chopper: Beethoven had his critics too, Keithy. See if you can name three of them. (Keithy gives him a puzzled look) See, you can't, can you?
  • Arch-Enemy: Subverted and played for very dark laughs in the case of Chopper and Keith.
    Jimmy: Why do you hate him so much?
    Chopper: I don't hate him. I don't hate anyone.
    Jimmy: Well, why have we been fighting him for three fuckin' years, then?
    Chopper: (thinks for a moment) I dunno.
    Jimmy: Well, maybe we should have a reason.
    Chopper: Well, make one up.
  • Attention Whore: Chopper loves being in the media limelight as a celebrity criminal. Lampshaded by Jimmy when they're both in the paper, but Chopper's picture is enormous and Jimmy's is tiny.
    Chopper: That's a nice little picture, Jimmy. A nice little picture.
    Jimmy: You are such a fuckin' show pony, aren't ya!
    Chopper: You could use that in your passport!
  • Beauty Inversion: The usually very handsome and muscular Eric Bana is almost unrecognizable as the heavyset, tattooed, scarred and generally unattractive Chopper.
  • Berserker Tears: Chopper has these right after attacking Keith.
  • Biopic: Yes, Chopper Read was a real guy, and yes, he was actually like that.
  • Blatant Lies: After Chopper's stabbed Keith in the opening scene and is being interrogated by the prison authorities, he says "None of us saw anything, it was just one of those things."
  • Bookends: The film opens and closes with the same scene: Chopper in his cell, watching a TV news report about himself with two prison guards.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Chopper gives one to The Turk via a small shotgun. Amazingly The Turk manages to walk several feet before collapsing.
  • Cassandra Truth: Chopper attempts to confess to the police after shooting The Turk, but they don't believe him.
  • The Charmer: Chopper is a criminal and murderer but he's still an immensely charismatic and likable person that pretty much everyone takes to liking.
  • Cold Cash: Neville Bartos keeps his cash this way. Chopper is not amused.
    —"Bloody frozen. How long's it gonna take to defrost that, you idiot?"
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Chopper gives a truly horrible one of these to Keith.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: More like Damn, It Feels Good To Be Depicted In The Media As A Gangster. Chopper loves what he does, but he loves even more the media attention and notoriety that goes with it, especially while he still gets away with the vast majority of his activities. By the end of the film he's in prison again, and we see that when the TV news is over and he hasn't got an audience anymore, his life is fundamentally lonely and empty.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Chopper is a violent, uneducated sociopath but he's also got most of the best lines in the film.
    Chopper: Why would I shoot a bloke, bang, and then put him in the bloody car and whiz him off to the hospital at a hundred miles an hour? It defeats the purpose of having shot him in the first place.
    • His appears to have inherited this from his dad, although the dad finds himself too funny to be truly deadpan:
      Dad: [toasting Chopper] Cheers, big ears.note 
      Dad: Nice shirt, son.
      Chopper: [defensively] What's wrong with it?
      Dad: Nothing, it's good, I like it.
      Chopper: You like it?
      Dad: Do they make 'em for men?
  • Dissonant Serenity: An extremely disturbing example, when Jimmy stabs Chopper. At first, Chopper doesn't even notice that it's happened. Then he doesn't understand why Jimmy's done it. Then, when he does figure out what's got into Jimmy, he tries to give him a forgiving hug. When even that doesn't work, and Jimmy finally backs away with Oh, Crap! written all over his face and suggests that it might be a good idea for Chopper to lie down, Chopper calmly replies "What for?"
  • Establishing Character Moment: Chopper decides that for him to be the most powerful guy in his prison division, another prisoner has to be got out of the way. So, without any provocation whatever, he comes up to the guy during exercise and stabs him multiple times in the face. Then, as the guy lies on the floor in a huge pool of blood, Chopper asks him if he's all right, tells him it's going to be fine, and offers him a cigarette. When the guy throws the cigarette back at him, Chopper says "You don't much like me, do you, Keith." This all happens in the first nine minutes of the film.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Chopper's dad.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Chopper won't kill Jimmy Loughnan in front of his own children, despite knowing Jimmy has taken a contract out on Chopper's head.
  • Fan of Underdog: While in prison, Chopper goes out of his way to help and support the weaker prisoners who have no chance of surviving on their own.
  • Foe Cooties: Chopper gets it into his head that Tanya has been having sex with his enemy Neville Bartos
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Chopper is unbalanced and a danger to everyone around him, even people he's being friendly towards. Mostly because the people in his social circle are all petty criminals and lowlifes and he is paranoid that they're all trying to kill him.
  • Implausible Deniability: As Keith George lies bleeding to death on the floor of the prison common room, Chopper tells the guards that Keith must have accidentally shivved himself multiple times in the neck.
  • I Shall Taunt You: Chopper tries to provoke a fellow prisoner into attacking him so that he can defeat him and become the division's badass in charge.
    Keith: Fuckin' blow-fly.
    Chopper: Aw, Keith. I always thought I was a good bloke.
    Keith: What did you ever do that was good?
    Chopper: Well, I bashed you. That was good, wasn't it? Well, it was good for a bit of a giggle, anyway. Eh, Keithy?
  • Major Injury Underreaction:
    • Chopper barely reacts to being shanked several times because he is too busy trying to make the man shanking him see reason. Truth in Television; stab wounds tend not to hurt initially as the body starts pumping adrenaline to black out the pain once the fight-or flight-response kicks in.
    • Later on, after he's cut off his own ears (or rather, had someone else cut them off for him), he sits in a chair smoking, waiting for the prison officers to come and transfer him to the hospital.
  • Mononymous Biopic Title: Named after its subject, Australian criminal Mark 'Chopper' Read.
  • Mood Lighting / Color Wash: Loads: Unnatural blue (prison), sickly green (Chopper's dad's kitchen; Neville's garage), lurid orange (Bojangles' parking lot), heart-pounding red (Tanya's room; Neville's TV room), and comforting beige (Tanya's mom's house).
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Chopper tends to get a case of this every time he does something spectacularly violent, but it usually lasts about ten seconds before his sense of I Did What I Had to Do kicks in.
    • This is amusingly averted when Chopper shoots Neville; not only does he not show a hint of regret, he actually mocks everyone for getting so worked up about it.
    Chopper: What's the matter, Neville? You burst your appendix or something.
  • Properly Paranoid: While at first Chopper's impulsive shooting of The Turk is treated as another case of his anger overriding his common sense, it's later proven that The Turk was trying to lure him in to an ambush, only failing because he brought Chopper to the wrong carpark.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • Chopper is told that he can't be transferred to a different prison, even though, as he points out, he's made so many enemies where he is that if he stays, he'll be killed. After he's asked them nicely, and even offered to bribe them, they flat-out tell him that nothing can be done.
    Chopper: Mr Beasley...? [The governor just looks troubled.] Mr. Beasley... [The governor does nothing. Chopper sits up and smirks.] Righto. I'm out of H division today.
    Prison official: You're not going anywhere, Mark.
    Chopper: Yeah? [stands] Let's go.
    [Cut to Chopper sitting stoically in a chair while another prisoner cuts his ear off.]
    Chopper: [annoyed] Don't saw at it!
    • This trope is also thrust on Chopper against his will, in the scene where he shoots a man in a parking lot and immediately goes to the police and admits to the crime, even showing them the murder weapon. They don't buy it, because they think he's doing his normal bullshit artist routine.
  • Rugged Scar: Good god, yes. At the beginning of the story, Chopper is quite the Hunk. By the end, he's lost his ears and his front teeth, and has gained Scary Teeth and about 20 pounds of extra weight.
  • Self-Serving Memory: Chopper has a really bad case of this, not so much lying about his exploits as experiencing them differently from how others do, and then recounting how he experienced it, rather than what "objectively" happened.note 
  • So Proud of You:
    Chopper's Dad: That's my boy. Right in the skull!
  • Stupid Crooks: And a lot of them. Even Chopper is prone to making poor, impulsive decisions throughout the film, and makes a lot enemies as a consequence. Fittingly, while the film ends with him barely avoiding being killed due to the stupidity of the crooks who are after him, he still winds up being sent to prison for his unprovoked shooting of Neville Bartos.
  • Tattooed Crook: Truth in Television
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Turk was supposed to lure Chopper out front so that he would be killed by a group of hitmen. Instead, he brought Chopper out the wrong exit, which led to Chopper growing suspicious and pulling a gun on him. Rather than attempt to de-escalate, the Turk proceeds to further agitate Chopper and gets a face full of shotgun for his trouble.
  • Unreliable Expositor:
    • Chopper claims to have killed 19 people, yet has only been tried for one murder, of which he was acquitted.
    • He also denies to the cops that he drove one of his own victims to the hospital after shooting him, but immediately after he does so, we see in flashback that that's exactly what he did. Counts as Self-Serving Memory because Chopper wouldn't want people to think that he drove one of his own victims to the hospital, and might even have preferred to forget that he had done so.
  • Villain Protagonist: Chopper. In his more lucid moments, he knows it.
    TV Interviewer: You seem to have a hatred for humanity.
    Chopper: Well, I mean, humanity doesn't like me. That's why we're sittin' here talking, like a bloody freakshow. [...] The average person watching this thinks I'm a bloody freak.
    TV Interviewer: What's your opinion?
    Chopper: I'm just a...bloody normal bloke. A normal bloke who likes a bit of torture. [laughs]
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: When Chopper takes off his shirt and vest after being stabbed, Bluey has one of these. Word of God says that the actor, Dan Wyllie, was such a professional that he threw up, for real, on cue.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Chopper's a nice guy, it's everyone else's fault.
    Chopper: [after punching Tanya several times in the face and headbutting her mother] Now look what you've done! Now look what you've gone and done! Your mum's upset...!
  • Would Hit a Girl: Chopper. Four times. Would also headbutt her mum.