Representing Robots : The Appearance of Artificial Humans in Cinematic Media

Damian Schofield


Cinema featuring robots, cyborgs, androids, or automata often contain scenes that depict opening the artificial body; someone ejects a face plate, pulls back artificial skin, removes a skull covering, reveals a chest panel, lifts clothing, or pushes a button, thereby rendering visible the insides of the fascinating human-like machine. The interior space may include flashing computer lights, elaborate wiring, metal surfaces, old-fashioned cogs and wheels, or sophisticated electronic equipment. Sometimes the inside is stark in its dean modem efficiency, a gleaming metal box, but it can also be gooey, shocking, or opaque, display a minimalist emptiness, or reveal incongruous skeletal structures that seem unlikely as weight-bearing supports. Interpreting these anatomical structures provide an act of revelation suggesting new meanings, that the technology inside might explain the human form on the outside. Perhaps the robot's interior will be understandable, logical, or orderly in contrast to the organic body on the outside. This technological revelation promises clarity or understanding, even when it unveils a confusing interface behind the removable face. The mechanical efficiency can inspire a human desire for replaceable body parts and the absence of pain, the transposition of the materiality of the human.


Immediately recognizable, culturally ubiquitous, androids, cyborgs, and robots, need no introduction. Yet their very familiarity obscures their participation in culture and media, and our perennial fascination with such artificial human devices when seen on the screen. This paper attempts to unpack how humans see these artificial humans and how we interpret their representation in cinema.


Robot; Android; Cyborg; Cinema; Representation; Appearance; Gender

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