found drama

get oblique

on Robocop

by Rob Friesel

Drop it!When you walk away from Robocop, there is a temptation to describe it as a Dickian film.

Certainly the elements seem to be there:  a man with a subsumed identity and a concealed past, struggling against forces larger than him—perhaps even controlling him—in a bleak dystopian future setting.  The looming megacorporation that wipes out his memories?  His access back to those memories from his dreams?  It all seems very Dickian.

But Robocop may more appropriately by the anti-Dickian Dickian film.

Just for starters:  if Robocop had been a Philip K. Dick story, a lot more than his mouth would look human.  PKD’s Robocop would have taken place in Delta City (Old Detroit having already been razed) and instead of beautiful unique snowflake Robocop in armored metallic, we would instead have constant surveillance1 by some oh-so-human-looking-and-feeling robots.  Our hero would not have a memory loss and a sense of this is far back as we go—no PKD’s Robocop would have a whole host of false memories that gradually become suspect as they become corrupt, contradictory to “real world” evidence, or otherwise protean in nature.  And that’s assuming that PKD’s Robocop would even have been a cop to begin with.  Though perhaps “to end with” may be more appropriate?

A Dickian narrative’s (anti-)hero would become more unscrewed as the tale progresses2; his memories would become more muddied and more conflicted, his motivations would become more suspect, his alliances would become more ambiguous.  When a Dickian protagonist faces his eldritch nemesis, he finds that he is looking within and not without.

There’s just too much neat-and-tidy closure for Robocop to be Dickian.  Even at the film’s climax, Murphy/Robocop does not question his programmed Directives; he goes right on honoring those rigid rules—regardless of their consequences, regardless of their origins, regardless of their moral imperatives—right up to the end.

  1. And this is a big one, for me.  The “Old Detroit” of Robocop seems to have no surveillance going on of any kind.  We have a bunch of beat cops but there don’t seem to be any London-style CCTV cameras; and the only helicopter that we see is the Medevac.  There don’t even seem to be any informants or snitches in police payroll. []
  2. Though, to Neumeier/Miner & Verhoeven’s credit, Robocop does at least become physically (if not psychically) “more unscrewed” as the film crescendos. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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