Dick Jones might be one of the most underappreciated villains in movie history.
Do you know how the filmmakers make you hate him?
Dick Jones is a villain in the film Robocop.
Robocop is a masterpiece.
Not just by 80’s standards but by cinema history.
Part of what makes Robocop the film so special is every time you watch it, you get something new. It’s a film that gets better and better with each viewing. It’s like the Torah. The film hasn’t changed, you have.
Robocop got me thinking about some of the stuff that it does really well. One of the things is that it manipulates your sympathies.
Here’s the thing with a film. What you don’t see is as important as what you do see.
Dick Jones is an excellent example of this.
Who is Dick Jones?
Dick Jones is a corporate bad guy, second in command at OCP (Omni Consumer Products).
For context, there’s the main villain Clarence Bodiker. Clarence is a criminal overlord responsible for the death of the hero Alex Murphy. He’s violent, kills his own men, is sadistic and tortures people for kicks. The filmmakers don’t have to do try too hard to get you to dislike him.
Now Dick Jones is a bit different. The filmmakers have to work a little harder to set you against him.
First, there are the obvious ways they make you dislike him.
Dick Jones is
- Blase when a colleague gets gunned down due to one of his slip-ups
- He’s incompetent, the ED 209 malfunctions.
- He’s jealous of Bob Morton.
This is just the first scene he’s in. The filmmakers have already established for you that this is a bad guy.
Now you know he’s a bad guy but do you want him shot out a window?
The next scene he is he physically threatens Bob Morton in the men’s bathroom.
Next scene he’s in is on a video screen in Bob Morton’s house gloating over how he’s getting Clarence Bodiker to kill him.
The next scene after that, he tries to get Robocop blown up. It’s revealed he put in a programme that prevents Robocop from arresting him.
You’re now hoping Robocop finds a way around it and serves Dick Jones justice.
But recently I noticed a really subtle way that the filmmakers make you want Dick Jones shot out of a window.
Want to know what it is?
Before I tell you to let me talk about how the filmmakers get you on Bob Morton’s side.
When Bob Morton gets blown up, you feel sympathy for him.
Well, you shouldn’t.
You know Bob Morton indirectly is the person who gets Alex Murphy gunned down. He’s the one who signs off on the transfer that gets him killed.
He’s ecstatic when he gets to launch the Robocop programme. He seems to have forgotten his colleague Kenny had been turned into mincemeat by ED 209. When his friend laments his death, his response is a blase “That’s life in the big city.”
He refers to Robocop as “product”.
Bob Morton is not a good guy.
But because he’s ambitious, passionate and created Robocop, you like him.
Also when Robocop is getting built Bob Morton comes visits and is nurturing towards him.
It’s helped that Miguel Ferrer is a charismatic and likeable screen presence.
The last time we see Bob Morton, he’s been shot in the knees, in his home and is begging for his life. You don’t like to see people suffer.
Even though Bob Morton is not a good guy, you still feel sympathy when he dies.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
Anyway back to Dick Jones
The subtle way they make you hate Dick Jones
The subtle way the filmmakers make you dislike Dick Jones.
This is so simple I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to realise.
Here it is:
You never see Dick Jones away from the office.
It so simple, but it’s so effective.
Dick Jones is never out of the office. We see him in the bathroom. The only time he’s seen outside the office is on a TV screen in Bob Morton’s house right before it is blown up.
Even when Robocop goes to arrest Dick Jones late at night, he’s in the office.
The effect that this has on you is that it keeps you at a distance. When Dick Jones gets shot out a window. You don’t think who has to tell his wife. Nor do you think, his dog is going to miss him. You think shot ’em, Murphy.
The genius of the filmmakers when it comes to Dick Jones isn’t what they show you but what they don’t show you.
Now here’s the thing. Below is a short writing exercise that explores Dick Jones out of the office. It’s quick and a bit of fun I had but would you mind giving it a read because it shows Dick Jones from the other side.
When you’re shown a bad guy in a film, and you don’t like them ask yourself not what are thy showing me. Ask, what aren’t they showing me?
Does this happen in “real” life?
Could you take this principle and apply it to your own life?
When you clash with someone consider asking yourself, what am I not seeing?
It might make you more understanding. At the same time, it might not.
What follows is my writing exercise.
The name for it is flipping the premise. You take a film and flip it around and tell it from the bad guys’ point of view.
It’s great for generating ideas. It’s a fun writing exercise.
In fact, it could be turned into something more substantial. For example, what is Joker but a flipped premise?
Anyway, I enjoyed writing this, and I hope you enjoy giving it a read.
Richard Jones – OOP
Richard Jones opened the front door and entered his home. There was a rich smell coming from the kitchen. Tumeric, paprika and other spices he couldn’t define. Blended together as he breathed in, it was a heaven-sent aroma.
“Richard?” a woman’s voice called from the kitchen. “Is that you?”
“It’s me,” Richard replied. He took his shoes off and placed them on the mat. His jacket and tie followed and were hung on the bannister.
He entered the kitchen. There she was. Shelia Jones standing at the stove. Pan on the ring. Chicken in a sauce. Red onion in there too. The sauce a mellow orange colour.
“How did the presentation go today?” she asked.
“Now Shelia you don’t like me talking work in the house,”
“I’ll let it slide this time Richard. What’s a rule if you can’t break it every once in a while?” She said smiling. He smiled back at her. “Well?” she asked.
Richard’s face dropped, and he broke eye contact.
“It was a disaster,” he said.
“What do you mean? What happened?” Shelia took her focus away from the pan and looked at Richard. He walked over to the table. Head lowered, he drew circles with his fingers on the table.
“Sheila, a man died in the office today,”
“What?” she covered her open mouth with her hand. She took a chair and sat down. Richard couldn’t face her. He turned away and looked out the window into their back garden. The gardener was still working. Richard and the gardener waved at each other. Richard turned back round to see Shelia looking up at him. A look of concern on her face. Richard pulled out a chair and sat down.
“The thing. The ED-209 went beserk. Shot one of the junior execs,”
“My goodness,” Shelia said.
“Dr McNamara,” Richard began. “No, maybe I’m being unfair. I don’t know who did it. Either way, someone put live rounds into the ED-209. There’s going to have to be an investigation. Ultimately the buck stops with me. These are the people the old man gives me,”
“How did the old man take it?”
“He was upset of course,”
“To have an employee die like that in front of him? I’m sure,” she said.
“No. It wasn’t about that. It’s the cost. It’s the setback he’s more worried about. The cost it’ll incur,” he said.
“Then some kid stepped in and pitching his project. The old man had a back up in this case. He had this kid planning behind my back. Sometimes it feels like he wants me to fail,”
“I don’t think that’s the case,”
“I mean maybe mine doesn’t work the best but this other project. It needs like a host body almost. They need someone to die to try it out. At least the ED 209 is fully automated. I love the old man. He gave me a shot. A shot I’d always be grateful for, but now it feels like he wants to be rid of me but can’t come right out and say it,”
“Then why not leave Richard,” she said, placing her hands on top of his. “Actually enjoy some of the money you’ve made. You can’t take it with you,”
“I have work to do. The old man is running the company into the ground. With ED 209, we had contracts set up. That was money coming in. I would like it to work but who cares if it did? Maybe it doesn’t fire when it has too. Some child soldier in Africa gets to have all his limbs intact. If he wants to fund his dream, he needs money,”
“He’s still going on about it?”
“He’s had models built. Delta City. You can’t design against human nature. He thinks there’s some kind of design that will stop crime. You can’t stop crime. The most you can do is control it. If even,”
“Funny you should bring that up, Richard,” she said, withdrawing her hands. He looked up and met her gaze. “That man was looking for you. I’ve seen the media breaks, I know who he is. Whatever it is your up to. Do not bring it near our family,”
“I don’t know what else to do. The police are talking about a strike. ED 209 is dead in the water. Whatever this kid comes up with is going to be an abomination. A dead cop roaming the streets. If you can’t get the police to deal with the criminals then maybe you have to get the criminals to do it instead,”
“You don’t have to do this, Richard. Quit,”
“Maybe,” he said and stared at the tabletop.
The sauce in the pan started to sizzle.
She stood up and returned to the stove.
Richard breathed in smelling the spices again. Snapped himself out of his trance.
“Smells good,” he said, standing up.
“It’s your favourite,” she said.
“I’m going to grab a quick shower. Need to wash the work off me,” Richard said.
She stopped him.
“I love you, Richard Jones. No matter what happens, don’t forget that,”
“Thanks for listening too me. No more work talk. I love you too,” he said. Kissed her, then went upstairs.
Robocop is a genius film. Your emotions are being deliberately manipulated by the filmmakers. What you’re shown is important. What you’re not shown is just as important.
Don’t forget that.
When you’re being told to dislike someone ask yourself:
What aren’t they showing me?
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