The Old Testament is full of examples of chiasmus, which is a figure of speech used in ancient times to emphasize balance. It lists a bunch of ideas or things and then repeats each of them in reverse order. It’s often not an identical repetition. It frequently uses the opposite of what came before or something similar to it.
Here’s a simple chiasmus I came up with to show you what it looks like:
A. The cat was heavy
B. She ate too much food
C. Something had to change
B. I gave her less food to eat
A. Now she’s less heavy
The first and last lines are similar, the second and fourth lines are opposite but related, and the third line is the turning point that links the ideas contained in the chiasmus.
Why am I giving a grammar lesson? Because I’ve noticed this same pattern used in films – a Cinematic Chiasmus, if you will. That shouldn’t be too surprising. Good storytelling involves setting up ideas and then paying them off over the course of the story. But some films have second halves that so closely mirror their first halves that it makes them truly breathtaking to behold once you notice their chiasmus at work.
RoboCop (1987) is the first film I reviewed on this website, so it’s fitting that it should be the first that I talk about here. Get ready to see how RoboCop is an almost perfectly symmetrical film.
First of all, I’ll write out the chiasmus in the film’s sequence of events:
A. Main title
B. Media Break 1
C. Main character identifies himself as Murphy
D. OCP Junior Executive Kenny is killed after holding a gun in a meeting
E. Bob Morton goes over Dick Jones’ head to initiate the RoboCop Program
F. Clarence Boddicker makes his debut
G. Car chase with Boddicker and his cohorts
H. Partners Alex Murphy and Anne Lewis separate to take on Boddicker’s gang
I. RoboCop is born and he tests his abilities at a shooting range
J. RoboCop causes property damage in the name of law and order
K. Media Break 2
L. Lewis reminds RoboCop who he really is
M. RoboCop visits the home where he lived
N. RoboCop hunts for Boddicker
O. Boddicker reveals he’s working for Jones
P. RoboCop gets shot at by a lot of drug dealers in a warehouse
Q. RoboCop arrests Boddicker
Q. RoboCop attempts to arrest Jones
P. RoboCop gets shot at by a lot of cops in a parking garage
O. Boddicker gets another assignment from Jones
N. Boddicker gets a tracking device to hunt RoboCop down
M. RoboCop hides at the steel mill where he died
L. RoboCop sees his own face for the first time
K. Media Break 3 (Note: This is the only thing that’s out of order. It actually takes place where O is)
J. The bad guys cause property damage in the name of chaos
I. RoboCop fixes his targeting system
H. RoboCop and Lewis split up to take on Boddicker’s gang once again
G. Car chase with Boddicker
F. Boddicker is killed
E. RoboCop plays a recording of Jones saying, “I had to kill Bob Morton because he made a mistake”
D. Jones is killed after holding the same gun Kenny held in a meeting
C. Main character again identifies himself as Murphy
B. Media Break 4 (Note: Deleted scene)
A. Main title
Now let’s go through each of these points to see their similarities in greater depth.
A. Main Title
This is pretty straightforward. The movie is bookended by its title. “RoboCop” is the first thing we see. No “A film by Paul Verhoeven” or “Orion Presents” preceding it. And “ROBOCOP” is the last thing we see before the end credits roll.
B. Media Break
In the first Media Break, we learn that a police officer is in critical condition after a gun battle with Clarence Boddicker. Plus, OCP Senior President Dick Jones says of the cops who are threatening to strike, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” In the final Media Break, which was deleted from the final cut of the film, Officer Anne Lewis is shown to be recovering after a gun battle with Boddicker. She repeats Jones’ line from her hospital bed.
C. Main Character’s Identity
When Alex Murphy arrives at his new precinct, he tells the Police Chief, “Hi. Murphy, transferring in from Metro South.” At the end of the film, when the Head of OCP asks for his name, he replies, “Murphy.” It’s a subtle thing, but it’s meaningful because it shows how RoboCop has regained his humanity by returning to his level of self-identity from the start of the film.
D. OCP Executive Killed During a Meeting
In the first demonstration of ED-209, a junior executive on the OCP Board points a gun at the giant robot and is promptly shot to pieces, landing on a scale model of the planned Delta City. In the final scene, a desperate Dick Jones uses that same gun to take the president of OCP hostage. However, RoboCop soon shoots Jones many times until he falls outside the building.
E. Bob Morton and Dick Jones
An ambitious junior executive named Bob Morton literally goes around Jones to pitch his idea for RoboCop to the Old Man after Jones’ ED-209 demonstration fails spectacularly. Jones gives Morton a murderous look as Morton walks off. Later, when RoboCop is asked for evidence that Jones is guilty of murder, he simply provides testimony from Jones himself saying, “I had to kill Bob Morton because he made a mistake.” His mistake, of course, was making Jones look bad in front of the Old Man.
F. Clarence Boddicker’s Introduction and Farewell
The first time we see Clarence Boddicker, he’s angry at his cohort for frying the money they stole, and he gets violent. The last time we see him, he’s angry at Lewis for frying his last henchman, and he again gets violent.
G. Car Chase with Boddicker and His Cohorts
Murphy and his new partner Lewis engage in a high-speed pursuit of Boddicker and his henchmen. Boddicker kills a wounded member of his team by throwing him out of his van, bringing the chase to a sudden halt. Later, Lewis pursues Boddicker in another car chase. Boddicker accidentally kills one of his wounded team members, which leads to an unexpected end to the pursuit.
H. Partners Split Up
After finding Boddicker’s abandoned van, Murphy and Lewis go in different directions to try to find his gang members. Lewis is wounded and unable to help Murphy until it’s too late and he’s been killed. Later, Lewis drives a car while RoboCop draws the bad guys’ fire on foot. She gets shot by Boddicker and she’s unable to warn RoboCop in time to prevent him from getting crushed by falling metal beams.
I. RoboCop at the Shooting Range
One of the first things RoboCop does after being created is test his aiming ability at a police firing range. He hits dead center with every shot. After taking heavy damage, his targeting system is off by a few inches. Lewis helps him correct it so he’s perfectly accurate once more.
J. Causing Property Damage
His first night on the job, RoboCop causes a lot of property damage in the name of serving the public trust and protecting the innocent. On the night that the Detroit Police Force goes on strike, the city’s criminals cause a lot of property damage in the name of chaos and self-gratification.
K. More Media Break
The second Media Break focuses primarily on RoboCop and how he is on his way to eliminating crime in Old Detroit. The third Media Break focuses on the Detroit Police Force’s impending strike, which will cause crime to skyrocket in the city.
L. “Murphy, It’s You”
At her first opportunity, Lewis stops RoboCop and says, “Murphy, it’s you.” This reveals his real name, which he had forgotten. Later, RoboCop removes his helmet, revealing his face, which he hadn’t seen since his death. Lewis says, “It’s really good to see you again, Murphy.”
M. RoboCop Goes Back and Tries to Remember His Family
After learning of his own murder, RoboCop visits the old home and finds it abandoned. He has a few flashes of memories of his wife and son, but nothing substantial enough to rekindle his old self. After surviving another attempt on his life, RoboCop hides out at the abandoned factory where Murphy was killed. He laments to Lewis about his family, “I can feel them… but I can’t remember them.”
N. Predators Hunting Their Prey
RoboCop goes to a night club to find a member of Boddicker’s gang who can lead him to the crime lord’s hideout so he can kill Boddicker. Later, Jones gives Boddicker a tracking device to lead him to RoboCop’s hideout so Boddicker can kill him.
O. Boddicker Working with Jones
Boddicker shows up at Morton’s home and tells his girlfriends to leave. Then Boddicker plays a recorded message from Jones, showing that he works for Jones. Later, he goes to Jones’ office and hits on his receptionist, who not so subtly tells him to get lost. Then he gets another assignment from Jones to take out Morton’s creation, RoboCop.
P. RoboCop Survives a Firing Squad
When RoboCop finds Boddicker, he’s greeted by more than a dozen bad guys all firing bullets at him. He’s unharmed by their attack and kills almost all of them. Later, RoboCop is heavily damaged by ED-209’s guns and then he faces more than a dozen cops who mercilessly fire on him. He’s weaponless, so he can’t fire back and he barely survives the ordeal.
Q. RoboCop’s Arrests
The turning point of the movie is when RoboCop arrests Boddicker. Up ‘til then, he’s been indestructible and able to handle anything that comes his way. But after throwing Boddicker through several glass windows, RoboCop is about to crush his throat when he’s reminded that he’s a cop. His programming takes over and denies him the ability to kill Boddicker. He arrests the criminal instead. Then, when RoboCop confronts Jones, he’s prevented from arresting him by his programming. And RoboCop gets knocked through several glass doors/windows by ED-209.
I have no idea if the makers of RoboCop intended for it to be so symmetrical. The fact that they accomplished this feat while still making a fast-paced action film that never feels like it’s repeating itself is simply amazing. It shows that it’s possible to make a work of art, even when making a movie with a silly title and in a genre that usually doesn’t call for much depth.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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