Robocop… An almost perfectly symmetrical screenplay

For sci-fi and action fans, ROBOCOP appears on any list of The Best Of All Time. But screenwriters and structure aficionados have found a sneaky Easter egg hidden by writer Ed Neumeier. ROBOCOP is a chiasmus. By definition, a chiasmus is a symmetrical structure where plot devices or moments reoccur in reverse order. In a nutshell, Neumeier has crafted a structural palindrome, where the story beats read the same frontwards and backwards.

With gratitude to Robert Lockard at The Deja Reviewer ( who first spotted Neumeier’s structural coup, here is how the story breaks down – with the central pivot point being the attempted arrest of Clarence Boddicker (“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!”)

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.

To learn how to structure your story in exciting and invigorating ways, you can attend the LSF’s sessions on The Beginning, The Middle, and The End. See the current list of sessions HERE.

And to learn more about writing Sci-Fi, Robocop, Starship Troopers, and the magic of political screenwriting, you can meet Ed Neumeier at this year’s LSF.

Get your pass for the festival below…

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