From female sidekick to wife archetype
By Julia Siedlanowska, Staff Writer
José Padilha’s RoboCop remake is a Hollywood version that replaces a lot of the original kitschy charm of the first with a more in-depth look at RoboCop/Alex Murphy as a person. Although this new version of the film presents considerably less of the humour and cynicism than the old, it does a good job of highlighting the themes of the original—possibly making them more prevalent within the story, and definitely tweaking them to America’s current political situation. However, the loss of RoboCop’s female partner, Anne Lewis, is a big hit from a feminist perspective, as a significant focus of the film is shifted onto RoboCop’s wife, who was practically nonexistent in the original film. This is a move that softens the story, taking it away from its original direction to cater to the young, action-addicted audiences of today.
The original 1987 film by Paul Verhoeven is potent and cynical. It also pokes fun at itself with humour at every turn, a move the filmmakers had to do to get an R-rating instead of an X-rating. In one scene, RoboCop saves a woman from sexual assault and she runs into his arms as if he were her saviour. He responds with a deadpan clinical response: “You have suffered an emotional shock. I will notify a rape crisis centre.” Her caricature of a damsel in distress paired with RoboCop’s nonchalant response make the moment comical.
Robocop’s partner, Lewis, is sexy, but in a sassy, independent way. She looks at RoboCop almost as a brother rather than an intimidating male presence. There is even a funny role-reversal where she teaches him how to aim his gun and she takes the traditionally masculine role of standing behind him in the iconic driving-range position.
The Lewis character is played by a man in the new version, but the police chief is played by a woman this time. She is central to the new story and is the only female character in a position of power; however, her position of power over the male protagonist—rather than a relationship of allies—removes the sense of friendship and camaraderie between the men and women in the story. In the original, the two were like Batman and female-Robin. In the new version, it’s a boys’ club, presided over by a tough woman.
The charm of Lewis is now replaced by a greater presence of RoboCop’s wife, who only exists as “the wife of RoboCop” and has no agency of her own in the story. In the original, she thinks her husband Alex is dead and chooses to start her life over. In the new film, Clara Murphy is seen in the kitchen with her son, waiting for her husband to come home; finally, we see her crying and making the decision to sell her husband to keep him alive as a robot. For the rest of the film, she fights with deep faith and devotion to get back the man she married. How have we suddenly reverted back to the ever-faithful wife archetype?
In both versions you can enjoy questions on privatization, propaganda, capitalism, and human rights. The new version also explores neocolonialism, opening (in an appropriately modern way) in a Middle Eastern country, testing out new law-enforcing drones that won’t “risk the lives of a single American.” Both versions ring true to current issues society is facing and are supremely entertaining, but I miss the camaraderie and agency of the female partner from the first. The shift in focus from an ally to a wife is telling of how the filmmakers want to see women today—or more accurately, how they want us to see women. This is also telling of how many tickets they want to sell by appealing to the masses comfortable with this version of a woman’s place in society. They might have been surprised what a non-overtly sexualized Lewis might have done for revenue. I guess they’ll never know until they’re man enough to try.