Study Guide for Robocop

1. Citation

RoboCop. Dir. Paul Verhoeven, USA: Jon Davison (production) / Orion Pictures, (release), 1987. Jon Davison, exec. prod. Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, script. Rob Botin, RoboCop design. Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, stars.

2. Brief Description

Violent but oddly sensitive film about a good cop made into a cyborg policeman--the product of a large and nasty corporation. Useful for "Men's Studies" and what Isaac Asimov has called "Humanics" since the cyborg's humanity is in question. Novelization by Ed Naha (New York: Dell, 1986). Rev. Lewis Morley ("Elements of Science Fiction and Violence in the Cinema: Robocop [sic]: A Marriage of Convenience," Australian Science Fiction Review, 2nd Series, 3.1 [#12, Jan. 1988]: 31- 34). There have been two sequels.

3. Major Cast (Plus Interesting Miscellaneous Names)

Cops
Murphy (Alex J.) / Robocop: Peter Weller Officer Lewis: Nancy Allen
Sgt. Reed: Robert DoQui
Street Crooks
Clarence J. Boddicker ("unofficial crime boss of Old Detroit"): Kurtwood Smith Bobby (wounded gang member thrown from truck in first chase scene): Fred Hice
Emil (M. Antonowsky, disintegrated by toxic waste): Paul McCrane Leon (C. Nash, gang member who kicks Robo in crotch): Ray Wise
Joe (P. Cox, Black member of gang): Jesse Goins Minh (Steve, Oriental member of gang): Calvin Jung
Suite Crooks (at OCP: Omni Consumer Products)
The Old Man (President of OCP): Daniel O'Herlihy Jones (Richard [Dick], OCP Senior Vice President): Ronny Cox
Morton (Bob, young OCP exec. murdered on Jones's orders): Miguel Ferrer Johnson (Black OCP Executive): Felton Perry
Dr. McNamara (sp?--scientist working Series 209 'Droid): Jerry Haynes Kinney (yuppie killed by 209 'Droid): Ken Page
Enforcement 'Droid, Series 209 (large, deadly, infantile robot): Mostly models
Others
Murphy's Wife: Angie Bolling Murphy's Son: Jason Levine
Rape Victim: Donna Keegan Creep (unshot rapist): Bill Schockley
Casey Wong (Media Break anchorman): Mario Machado Jesse Perkins (Media Break anchorwoman): Leeza Gibbons
Dave (?--TV comedian) Slimey Lawyer: Gregory Poudevigne

Cop Location: "Detroit, Police Precinct, Metro West"

4. Comments and Questions

  1. Note the series of "crotch shots."

    A. In the deserted factory, Lewis surprises urinating Joe (Cox); "Mind if I zip this up?" he asks--and hits Lewis when she glances down.

    B. The cops' first good view of Robo is on the firing range, where his weapon is biggest and most powerful.

    C. Robo shoots the Creep's rape partner in the genitals.

    D. When Robo seizes Nash in the disco, Nash kicks Robo in the crotch, and Nash goes down. Okay, we're cued to attend to "crotch shots." Again, Nash kicks Robo in the crotch, and Nash goes down! What a man that Robo is! He's got balls of...oh....Indeed. This OPC Enforcement "product" packs a big gun but simultaneously lacks more than a name. We might call this "The Men's Studies Steroid Paradox." Even as some guys will take testosterone to "pump up" and look manly--even though the word in the locker room is that to do so is to risk impotence--even so men are generally confused about whether a "Real Man" is primarily tough and violent and great at taking pain, or sensitive and sexy. In the sight gag at the disco, Robo is The Macho Ultimate in part because he's insensitive where he's been unsexed.
  2. RoboCop is a cyborg, a cybernetic organism combining parts of a human being with machinery and computer hardware and software. As Bob Morton tries to make clear to Officer Lewis, RoboCop is a program and a product, not a person with a name. What do you think about Morton's assertion? How do you feel about it? We know that Robo is at least a "subject" in the sense of a perceiving individual: we perceive with him in subjective shots from his point of view. But we also sometimes see the world from the point of view of the Terminator robot in Terminator, and I wouldn't want to sit next to someone identifying with a Terminator robot. Consider carefully how you feel about Morton and OCP: "Poisoning the Well" is unfair in debate, but in art it's standard practice to undermine an idea by assigning it to a hateful person.
  3. Note images of containment. A perceiving someone who was and will again become Alex Murphy is enclosed in RoboCop, who himself is either at work or "resting" in a chair surrounded by machinery and enclosed in a chain-link cage. Is this positive, nurturing womb-like containment or threatening containment, like a prison cell or torture chamber? To what extent is the real action of this "Action" flik Murphy's busting out of OPC confinement?
  4. Nancy Allen gets second billing in RoboCop. Is Officer Lewis really the co-star of the film? If so, why make Lewis a woman? (The name doesn't require a woman.) Does this casting choice fit the imagery of rebirth and Robo, as well as Enforcement 'Droid 209, as infants? Is this a "buddy" movie where the nearly self-sufficient Robo must learn to relate to Others, and a really other Other would be a human woman?
  5. In a comedy, a new and better world would coalesce around Robo and Lewis for the resolution of the film. All we get, though, are Robo's lines to the injured Lewis, "They'll fix you; they fix everything" -- and his going off to get the villain connecting the Suite Crooks with the Street Crooks. What does it say about RoboCop that Robo's final assertion of self -- "Murphy" -- and little exit smile seem as happy an ending as we can expect?