Science Fiction Film & Television

Party animals

Nonhuman sociality in Netflix’s Russian Doll

Science Fiction Film & Television (2021), 14, (1), 21–43.


This article examines the Netflix series Russian Doll (2019) to consider the narrative and ideological positioning of its nonhuman characters. The series formulates a sort of game whose successful completion requires the protagonists to resist their solipsistic instincts and embrace intersubjectivity and interdependence. Appearances by Russian Doll’s nonhuman characters are fleeting; however, they serve an important function, both as symbols for the protagonists’ development as social beings, and as obstacles that the protagonists must overcome in over to fully actualise as such. In so doing, the series prioritises inter-personal relationships by reinforcing anthropocentric narrative conventions. With its resolution, however, the show promotes a form of compassion that is not contingent on the promise of reciprocity, thereby presenting a model that can be extended to conceptualising a more ethical human-nonhuman sociality.

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here

Works cited

Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Continuum, 1990. Google Scholar

Belk, Russell W. ‘Metaphoric Relationships with Pets’. Society and Animals 4.1 (1996): 121-46. Google Scholar

Best, Steve. ‘The Rise of Critical Animal Studies: Putting Theory into Action and Animal Liberation into Higher Education’. Journal for Critical Animal Studies 7.1 (2009): 9-52. Google Scholar

Carter, Jennifer and Jane Palmer. ‘Dilemmas of Transgression: Ethical Responses in a more-than-human World’. Cultural Geographies 24.1 (2017): 213-29. Google Scholar

Chang, Chia-ju. ‘The Art of Self-Emptying and Ecological Integration: Bae Yong-Kyun’s Why Has Bodhidharma Left for the East?’ Screening Nature: Cinema beyond the Human. Ed. Anat Pick and Guinevere Narraway. New York: Berghahn, 2013. 225-40. Google Scholar

Clark, Nigel. Inhuman Nature: Sociable Life on a Dynamic Planet. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2011. Google Scholar

de Waal, Frans B.M. ‘The “Russian Doll” Model of Empathy and Imitation’. On Being Moved: From Mirror Neurons to Empathy. Ed. Stein Bråten. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2007. 49-69. Google Scholar

Fox, Rebekah. ‘Animal Behaviours, Post-Human Lives: Everyday Negotiations of the Animal-Human Divide in Pet-Keeping’. Social and Cultural Geography 7.4 (2006): 525-37. Google Scholar

Griffiths, Huw, Ingrid Poulter and David Sibley. ‘Feral Cats in the City’. Animal Spaces, Beastly Places. Ed. Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert. London: Routledge, 2000. 59-72. Google Scholar

Gross, Terry. ‘Natasha Lyonne on Being a “Tough Guy” and Finding Herself Inside “Russian Doll”’. Fresh Air, NPR (27 Mar 2019). Accessed 3 Mar 2020. Google Scholar

Haraway, Donna. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003. Google Scholar

Hodgetts, Timothy and Jamie Lorimer. ‘Methodologies for Animals’ Geographies: Cultures, Communication and Genomics’. Cultural Geographies 22.2 (2015): 285-95. Google Scholar

Ivie, Devon. ‘How Russian Doll’s Oatmeal Went from Stray Cat to TV Star’. Vulture (21 Feb 2019), Accessed 7 Oct 2019. Google Scholar

Kant, Immanuel. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals.1785. Trans. James W. Ellington, 3rd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993. Google Scholar

Kessler, Sarah. ‘Alone Again Tonight: Russian Doll’. Film Quarterly 73.2 (Winter 2019): 23-30. Google Scholar

Kreilkamp, Ivan. ‘Petted Things: Wuthering Heights and the Animal’. Yale Journal of Criticism 18.1 (2005): 87-110. Google Scholar

Laurier, Eric, Angus Whyte and Kathy Buckner. ‘Neighbouring as an Occasioned Activity “Finding a Lost Cat”’. Space and Culture 5.4 (2002): 346-67. Google Scholar

Lennard, Dominic. “Jacques Lacan: Giving All the Right Signs.” Thinking in the Dark: Cinema, Theory, Practice. Ed. M. Pomerance and R.B. Palmer. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2015. 89-100. Google Scholar

Montgomery, L.M. Emily of New Moon. 1923. New York: Bantam Books, 1983. Google Scholar

Morrison, Carey-Ann. ‘Heterosexuality and Home: Intimacies of Space and Spaces of Touch’. Emotion, Space, and Society 5.1 (2012): 10-18. Google Scholar

Nast, Heidi. ‘Loving… Whatever: Alienation, Neoliberalism and Pet-Love in the Twenty-First Century’. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 5.2 (2006): 300-27. Google Scholar

Nibert, David. Animal Rights Human Rights. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Google Scholar

Pick, Anat and Guinevere Narraway. Screening Nature: Cinema beyond the Human. New York: Berghahn Books, 2013. Google Scholar

Regan, Tom. All that Dwell therein: Animal Rights and Environmental Ethics. Berkeley: U of California P, 1982. Google Scholar

Sandlos, John. ‘From Within Fur and Feathers: Animals in Canadian Literature’. Topia 4 (Fall 2000): 73-91. Google Scholar

Shukin, Nicole. Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2009. Google Scholar

Simons, John. Animal Rights and the Politics of Literary Representation. London: Palgrave, 2002. Google Scholar

Sorenson, John. ‘Constructing Extremists, Rejecting Compassion: Ideological Attacks on Animal Advocacy from Right and Left’. Critical Theory and Animal Liberation. Ed. J. Sanbonmatsu. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011. 188-203. Google Scholar

Tuan, Yi-Fu. Dominance & Affection: The Making of Pets. New Haven: Yale UP, 1984. Google Scholar

Twine, Richard. Animals as Biotechnology: Ethics, Sustainability and Critical Animal Studies. New York: Routledge, 2010. Google Scholar

Vint, Sherryl. Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2010. Google Scholar

Watts, Vanessa. ‘Indigenous Place-thought & Agency amongst Humans and Nonhumans’. Decolonization, Indigeneity, Education & Society 2.1 (2013): 20-34. Google Scholar

Wolfe, Carey. Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Boyce, Margaret