What Exactly is Sonnies Edge?: Thinking About Womens Bodies in Love Death + Robots The Vault of Culture


14. April 2019.


Kelly Williams

More than one friend asked me to watch the new Netflix fantasy anime anthology,Death of Love + Robots. It was a good recommendation – I love science fiction, especially stories with robots – and I love anthologies with different authors and creative teams. Although the animation was excellent and I really enjoyed some of the episodes, in general I couldn’t help but see some striking examples of women being or becoming victims of sexual abuse.



Death of love + robots (Netlfix, 2019), advertising image

Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), advertising image


[Editor’s note : Season 1 Death of Love + Robots, released on Netflix on the 15th. March 2019 (link), with eighteen episodes from different production and animation studios and produced by Joshua Donen, David Fincher, Jennifer Miller and Tim Miller].

For example, the witness tells the story of a sex worker who witnessed the murder of a person who looks like her and who spends most of the episode with a naked body for the pleasure of the voyeuristic viewer. Behind L’Aquila’s mistake is a graphic montage about sex specifically aimed at heterosexuals, while Good Hunt is primarily a victimisation of a female character.



Witness, dead love + robot (Netlfix, 2019), one of the most problematic episodes of

Witness Death of Love + Robot (Netlfix, 2019), one of the most problematic episodes.

I’m not alone. The critical consensus on rotten tomatoes is that this anthology of animation has enoughDeathcreativity to satisfy cyberpunk fans, theLoveof hisRobotsto have some heavy metal influence, but the sublime ambition of the series is often cut off by the concern for sorrow and excitement. Abby Robinson ofDigital Spynotes that each episode is accompanied by a warning of sexualized violence, and we see female bodies in disturbing and threatening scenarios in which very real traumas are used as props. (Your witness analysis is fantastic – I recommend you read it.) Ben Travers ofIndieWirewrites that the first third of the hypermasculinity episodes is disturbing; five out of six contain images of naked female breasts. Some of these women have lived, some have died, and some are not women at all, but each case seems more unreasonable than justified – and together with the violence, bitterness and fearful admiration of these two women, this gives the series a second-rate quality. Peter Rubin ofWiredwrites Depending on the order in which you look at them, you may be disappointed to feel like an endless parade of stoic supermen and women who are cheated or run away.

I have nothing to add to these reports. Instead of watching the series or one of the episodes, I would like to read the first episode, Krai Sonny, which tells the story of a survivor of an assault who took part in an underground gladiator fight between genetically manipulated monsters.

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), commercial image

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), promo picture.


[Editor’s note : Sonny Kray (link) – Director : Dave Wilson, based on a script adapted by Philip Gelatta from the story of Peter F. Hamilton (link); it was hosted by Studio Blur].

Warning: language, assault, violence, misogyny and disturbing sexual images].

Based on the novel of the same name by Peter F. Hamilton, Kray Sonny follows an invincible heroine as she arrives at the scene of a clandestine fight, refuses a bribe to lose and emerges from the ring as the victor. Only then does a man whose bribery she had previously refused come to her. The story is told in the attributes of a rape revenge fantasy; although we don’t see Sonny’s rape on the screen, we witness a series of scenes in which this trail is used as a frame.

In the first series, Sonny and his team enter the arena with their monster, their beast, and it seems that the story becomes a feminist story in the underground fighting genre. The beast rolls into a wagon, and an antagonist, a rich man named Dicko, tries to bribe Sonny to lose while he looks at him with admiration:

DICCO : Can I see it? I’ve heard so much already. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s awesome!

SONNY: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, that’s it.

DICCO : Oh. Of course, I apologize to him.



Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Wild watching the animal

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Wild looks at the beast.

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Jennifer presents

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), by Jennifer.

Like Sonny says: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s it, the camera makes her look at Dicko’s beautiful blonde (female) companion, Jennifer. Tell me about the lesbian sexual tension that will manifest later. Wild then asks Sonny to lose the game, which she refuses and suggests the next trade:

DICCO : And what makes you so special?

SONNY: I’m not special. He’s unique. No other team uses a female pilot as a pet.

DICCO : So that’s it, then? Your advantage? Do women fight better than men?

SONNY: But this one does.

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), first appearance of Sonny

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny’s first performance.


That’s a good feminist statement, isn’t it? If Sonny’s team supports them, they say the fight isn’t about money. It’s personal. The reason, as Ivrina, a member of the women’s gang, will soon explain, is revenge:

Pussies like you fucked her all the time. A year ago Sonny kidnapped a gang from the grounds and when they finished using them, they started cutting and leaving traces on their meat. Can you imagine such pain, such humiliation, etched into his skin? A memory of that day that lasts a lifetime. So if Sonny goes in the hole, she’s not fighting for pride or status, and certainly not for your damn money. She eliminates the men who did this to her.

At this point, the advantage (at least as represented by her Ivrina) seems to be Sonny’s personal need to take revenge on the men who raped and signed her. The visual and narrative elements of the episode facilitate this connection, especially during the arena fights. Sonny enters the ring through his beast to meet his male opponent Simon, who controls a monster called Turboraptor, who sexually challenges her along the way. Her first words to her: What a sweet little girl. You’re coming down. Then he goes on, sticks his head in her crotch and imitates an act of fellatio.


Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny rival Simon

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robot (Netlfix, 2019), Simon Sonny’s rival.

Sonny Edge, Love Death + Robot (Netlfix, 2019), Simon Pantomimes pushes his head in the cross.

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Simon Pantomime, presses his head into his crotch.


When Sonny’s monster strikes first, he yells at her: Fucking cunt. The monsters keep fighting, and when Hanivoru is beaten several times, it becomes clear that Sonny panics despite his calm appearance. The heart rate increases and the main weapon, stretched from the back of the head, is divided into several tentacles, similar to appendages with a sharp point at each end. The weapon penetrates and delivers several blows to the enemy in the form of a group rape of Sonny.



Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Hanivore tentacle unveiled

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robot (Netlfix, 2019), discovery of the tentacles of Hanivoor.

Sonny Edge, love death + robot (Netlfix, 2019), hidden knife of Turboraptor detected

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), discovered a hidden turboaptor blade.

Hanivore finally pulls back her opponent’s hand and it looks like she has won. But at that moment it appeared that a bone knife was embedded in the humerus of the Turboraptor. A leaf jumps and cuts several appendages of the Chanivor, and the camera slows down when the Chanivor screams and pops itself. In the next picture the Turboraptor is hunting a Hanivora standing on the ground and still screaming, as opposed to a predator hunting prey or a rapist approaching its victim. The following images show Turboraptor chasing a stranded Hanivor who is still screaming, not as a predator in search of prey or a rapist approaching his victim.

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), predator hunt, with Hanivor on Earth

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robot (Netlfix, 2019), predator hunt, with Hanivore on the ground.

Hanivore is dragged on his feet, beaten against a wall and stabbed in the intestines. The hand of the Turboraptor is sharp, the edge of the ring is exciting and the position of the monster – the male presses the female against the wall and penetrates her graphically – clearly resembles a sexual position.

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Scream of Sexual Ecstasy in Hand

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robot (Netlfix, 2019), Freehand Squeak of Sexual Ecstasy.


Other bone knives penetrated Hanivore’s body at close range and I was convinced at the time that we were dealing with sexualized violence.

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Turboraptor enters the Turboraptor with his
knife .

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Turboraptor enters with his knife.

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sex on the opposite wall

Sonny Edge, love death + robot (Netlfix, 2019), sex on the wall.

Hanivor then opens his eyes and plunges his knife into the Turboraptor’s chest, killing him and winning the game. She rips his head off and supports him in victory before she throws him to the ground.



Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robot (Netlfix, 2019), Turbot failed
.

Sonny Edge, love death + robot (Netlfix, 2019), Turboptor defeated.

Of all these elements it seems that the champions of the episode dominate their strikers in the same way as the champions of Steig Larsson The girl with the dragon tattoo : Sonny treats his wound with (symbolic) retribution. But the episode doesn’t end with Sonny’s victory. After the battle, while his teammates are partying, Sonny catches the blonde Jennifer walking around the warehouse where Hanivore’s body is stored in a hanging tank. Jennifer admires his courage and seduces Sonny. This is what the story of the rapist avenger is all about. Sonny explains that his victory in a male-dominated world has nothing to do with his traumatic past. She says

SONNY: Hate is what I had to learn. You don’t give birth to hatred. It’s of the utmost importance. It fills your feelings. You can see how he hears, you can try, and he keeps me alive.

JENNIFER: But that night, the gang.

SONNY: Rape. That’s not the point. You can’t look into the past. No one can. But that’s not what gives me the advantage. A bad girl who wants revenge. He believes in this shit because he wants to. They all do.

JENNIFER: Everyone sees what they want to see.

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Wild and Jennifer, with a feeling for old money

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Wild and Jennifer, with a feeling for old money.

Despite our impression that Jennifer uses game as a means of survival, she hits Sonny on the head with hidden blades coming out of her fingertips. Wicko shows up and teases her. Are you scared now? and called her a damn stupid girl until Jennifer shattered Sonny’s head with her heels. If Sonny doesn’t die, we learn that after the rape, her original skull was too damaged to survive. So his friends saved his consciousness and put it on the processor chip. The psychic connection that normally allows people to control their monsters in the arena is actually backwards in Sonny’s case: Sonny mentally controls the body of the human doll, while his true consciousness lies in his genetic sample. His advantage, the thing that helps him win every fight, is not the need for revenge on rapists, but his fear of death. The episode ends with her real self, the Khanivore, killing Jennifer with a tentacle in her skull, and when the episode ends, probably wild. 

If we paid attention, it’s obvious that Jennifer is a femme fatale. She wears a comfortable style of clothing, including high quality gloves, which does not match the aesthetics of the other characters (except Wildly) and does not fit into the cyberpunk world in which she works. She also uses her sexuality to distract Sonny from her true motives, which eventually (apparently) leads to Sonny’s death. His physical distraction, I think, reflects the way the episode usually uses visual and narrative treatment to distract us from the reality of Sonny’s egg. Ivrina’s speech first serves as a first distraction by presenting the fantasy of an impending rape as an easily understood story. This story of revenge rape is easy to buy because he can only see Sonny fighting for his pride as a little girl. Maybe we buy it because the constantly visible scars on his face (which are riddled with deep scars) constantly remind us of Sonny’s past, or because we like to base our expectations for this episode on our knowledge of the trail of rape and punishment. This distraction is particularly interesting given that Sonny’s rape in the original short story is a red herring – although Sonny claims to have been raped by a gang, after her first victory she actually destroyed her team car while she was drunk and made her human body unrecognizable. 

Borders Sonny, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny during animal fights

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robot (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny during an animal fight


Visual effects during battle are a second distraction that deliberately blinds the viewer to hide details that indicate that something is wrong. Violence, grief and sexualized images give more time on screen than the clues that help us predict Sonny’s trick – the process of downloading kinship. When Sonny enters the arena, his teammate Wes is holding a blackboard with the picture of Hanivore and Sonny’s brain in his hand. In the first frame, the lines connect them as if they were already synchronized. When Wes activates the connection, the lines disappear and he clicks on the skull symbol in Sonny’s brain image. The color is red, just like Sonny’s headdress.



Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Wes download affinity connection

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Wes downloads the affiliate link.

Sonny Edge, Love Death + Robot (Netlfix, 2019), Wes download affinity connection

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Wes downloads the affiliate link.

During a fight, Simon, Sonny’s opponent, constantly hurts his concentration by mocking remarks and gestures that resemble those of his monster. On the contrary, Sonny is completely quiet. He doesn’t even move after victory, which gives the impression of an exceptionally cool, agile and agile fighter with steel nerves. Even if we are distracted by Sonny’s misconduct, his immobility is actually a sign that his mind is elsewhere. The affinity confirms it: When we see her, her headdress will be green. When Sonny’s voice goes through the speakers after his death, the headgear is red again.


Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny Headdress

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny Headdress.

Sonny Edge, Love Death + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny Headdress, now red, usually indicates stop.

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny Headdress, now red, usually means of.


Thirdly, the sexualized female body almost always distracts the viewer: Sonnie spends most of the episode in a T-shirt with nipples visible to the viewer, and the straps of his underwear are visible above the waiting pants. Irina without shirt, with the exception of the jacket, which emphasizes the neckline (which is still underlined in the advertising images of the series). The figures during the fight are decorated with phosphorescent paint that draws attention to the sexuality of the female body (in the case of Ivrina) or the strength of the man (in the case of Simon). These bodies are uncovered in the arena, while the monstrous bodies are pushed together at the bottom of the ring. The attempt between Sonny and the blonde is probably written for a male viewer who focuses on their sexual relationship through their emotional connection in a close-up of the blonde’s breasts, photographing her lifting her skirt, etc. The attempt between Sonny and the blonde is probably written for a male viewer who focuses on their sexual relationship through their emotional connection in a close-up of the blonde’s breasts, photographing her lifting her skirt, etc. Jennifer literally uses her sexuality to distract Sonny (and the viewer) from reality, or as she has expressed it in her exchanges: Everyone sees what they want to see.



Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny Team

Borders Sonny, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Team Sonny.

Sonny's Borders, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny's Team enters the arena; is Ivrina cold?

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny’s team enters the arena; is Ivrina cold?

When it’s our turn, we’re stuck in the episode. Just as a male (or female) character is misled by a femme fatale, we accept the visual (often masculine) appeal of the episode and the seduction of a known rape revenge fantasy, and we understand (or mock) that the characters play on our gender-specific expectations. In Wiko’s case, these distractions wind him up in Hanivore’s tentacles and probably kill him. The observer, on the other hand, was misled. (And if you don’t get conned, it would be good for you.) (The episode still actively tries to deceive you.) Even though we’re on Sonny’s side, we identify with Dicko because we both can’t handle the situation.



Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Jennifer's body as a distraction

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Jennifer’s body as a distraction

Sonny Edge, Love Death + Robot (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny, deviated, canned

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny, distracted, pierced.

Sonny’s twisted point of view proves that people can’t look beyond the rape, not even the viewers of the episode. As we focus on the stories and images of rape throughout the episode, we miss the clues that predict the turning point and do not see the deep reality of the situation: that Sonny literally fights for his life every time he enters the arena. The use of rape is consistent with the way the woman’s body is used throughout the episode: Rape centralizes the female body as a crime scene, and the fantasy of revenge rape in Sonnie’s Edge conditions crimes against the female body for male consumption. In the same way, the sexualized female body is created as a male good. Constant exposure and attention to women’s bodies obscures the reality of the situation, and it is only when the woman’s body is literally destroyed – when Jennifer hits Sonny’s head – that the truth is told to us. 

In a way, this is an opportunity: Sonny is separated from her doll body, which allows her to defeat her enemies and reveal that she has used sex expectations to her advantage. But despite all the demands of the episode not to be distracted by the female body, the twist again considers the body as an object of horror. The close-up shows Sonnie’s embarrassed faces and broken skull, his remarkably shapeless voice escaping from the speakers, creating a sense of embarrassment. 



Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Puppet body discovered by Sonny

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), the body of Sonny’s puppet has been found.



Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Jennifer is graphically pierced by

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Jennifer has a graphic breakthrough.

Hanivore stalks Wild and Blonde in the dark like all the villains in a horror movie before he graphically strikes a tentacle through Blonde’s skull. Even if we find Sonny’s catharsis of revenge, the shock value of violence and grief increases the monstrosity of Sonny’s actions in Hanivore. Sonny is depicted as a monstrous woman, in the sense that she is literally a woman in a monstrous body, and although the key to her victory is probably her very real fear of death, Sonny is in the body of the Hanivore mainly because of this rape. Because of what has been done to her, she has become a monster in the true sense of the word, and the end of the episode shows that she demands revenge from those who underestimated and abused her. 

The horror of this revelation also has to do with the sudden gain for oneself. Except in the arena, the Khanivore is chained to a trailer and has to rule the world through a puppet body. Throughout the episode, Sonny also confines himself to storytelling, in anticipation of the fantasy of space rape, which brings him to the familiar (and in some respects acceptable) limits of genres. The sexualized female body also limits them in a system where men retain power as masters of vision. When these boundaries and restrictions are lifted, she becomes most active and dangerous, suggesting that the uncontrolled woman is both a force and a threat. 

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robots (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny Hanivore hooks Dicko; food patriarchy

Sonny Edge, Death of Love + Robot (Netlfix, 2019), Sonny-Hanivore mows wild; he eats patriarchy.


I believe that Krai Sonny is ultimately a study to preserve our current cultural patterns of perception and power. Sonny tries to overcome the expectations aroused by the attention paid to his body, only to be rewritten into another kind of physical existence that repeats patriarchal prejudices. Her story symbolizes the inability to find another way to present female power (or empowerment) than as monstrous. Maybe that’s why Sonny’s Edge goes so well with Death of Love + Robots in general – despite being an inventive science fiction anthology, the episode eventually retreats to the tracks that have plagued the genre for years. Love Death + Robots The authors seem to be guided by their own self-interest – the fear of the death of a certain subset of science fiction – and then allow themselves to be limited by their own limitations. If so, Krai Sonny is the perfect metacommentary on the struggle for gender and its history of development. 


* An earlier version of this essay has been posted on Kelly Williams’ personal blog Shield Maidens (Link). Many thanks to Sean Gilmore for his editorial comments and to Jim Hansen for his comments on the original version of this article.

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