Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner

Are humans the only beings who can learn emotion, and is this the fundamental idea that comes to define and separate us from other beings? Director Ridley Scott explores these and other ethical issues in his 1982 film Blade Runner, a masterpiece of American science fiction. Based on novelist Philip K. Dick’s 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner has been immortalized as one of the greatest works of late twentieth century cinematography thanks to its standard-setting cyberpunk set design, eclectic soundtrack, and thought provoking questions about the extent of human rights.

            The year is 2017, and, as we would expect, the streets of Los Angeles are crowded with masses of people. However, in this era, rickety, crude spacecrafts, tremendous, towering black obelisk buildings, and animated billboards hundreds of stories tall add to the already chaotic setting. The city is under a constant state of torrential downpour and fog, with a seemingly endless amount of dirty neon signs peering through the gloomy musk. Muted colors, constant smokiness, and a score of synthesizers and futuristic sound effects all inspire the film’s finely executed gritty urban dystopia setting.

In the film’s universe, science has developed to the point where the creation of “Replicants,” genetically engineered beings who can be designed to be mentally and physically equivalent or superior to humans, is possible, and they are widely produced in the aim of slave labor by the Tyrell Corporation. They are given no rights under law, and are banned from existence on Earth. The title of the film refers to a sect of the police force who hunts down escaped Replicants and destroys them. Rick Deckard, himself a Blade Runner, is tasked with finding a group of advanced models of Replicants who are hiding themselves somewhere in Los Angeles in an effort to find a way to extend their genetically coded four year lifespans. As he searches for and finally confronts the renegades, he finds that the minds of these Replicants have tremendously developed beyond their initial design, and must consider the grey area between an intelligence that’s natural and one that’s artificial.

Replicants are created by humans with the sole purpose of servitude. One of the female Replicants is described as being a “… basic pleasure model…” and the others, thanks to their above-human strength, are used for hard labor. They are more than simple robots; they are designed to look, act, and think like we do, or often at a superior level than us. Thus, the central question posed by the film: what separates us from these beings we have created in our image? When the Replicants begin to behave in ways that were not originally intended and their behavior even further resembles that of humans, is it correct to strip them of the same rights we give ourselves, ban their presence from the Earth, and give orders to shoot them on sight?

The film’s commentary on the extent of human rights is similar to some of the themes raised in Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel Brave New World, albeit in a different context. In this world, a person’s place in society is decided at birth, and they are chemically manipulated to their benefit or detriment as appropriate to their class. It is said and accepted that everybody shares equal rights, but we as readers know this is not true because some people’s basic abilities to think and reason for themselves are forcefully taken away from them. In both Brave New World and Blade Runner, members of society are born to varying levels of physical and mental prowess. The practice is widely accepted by the people of both societies without issue. However, as viewers looking in on the worlds depicted by Huxley and Scott from our time, their works raise several questions of equality in human rights and ponder the possibility of an intellectual being that is described by the mighty Tyrell Corporation as “more human than human.”

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPcZHjKJBnE

Opening introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbWNZkoQHuE

Poster: http://www.impawards.com/1982/posters/blade_runner_xlg.jpg

4 thoughts on “Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner

  1. Blade Runner reminds me of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the second season episode, “The Measure of a Man” Data is put on trial to see if he is a machine and therefore property to be studied or a sentient being with rights of his own. Data is ultimately recognized as a sentient being.

    It’s interesting that androids in Blade Runner appear to be as sentient as Data and yet have such low status in society. It seems to me that if the androids are to be so low, why would they need to be sentient? Wouldn’t it be better to give them lesser intelligence, the minimum required to do their job, so that this issue doesn’t come into the picture?

  2. Until you explained why, I would have never compared Blade Runner to Brave New World. Now, I see the connection that you are making regarding life being determined at birth. After watching the film and reading your post, I think the biggest theme in the film (and throughout the class) is the idea of how life should be lived. These replicants treasure life so much because they know they have it for such a short time as opposed to humans who don’t pay much attention to it.

    I found that the set design and overall depiction of LA in 2017 was so interesting because it really took the grime to another level as well as the overpopulation of asian immigrants into the city.

  3. Though this movie was somewhat disturbing, it did make me think about some of the deeper themes of the class. The idea of artificial intelligence specifically comes to my mind, and is growing increasingly more relevant to our society. We have robots joining our families (Jibo- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3N1Q8oFpX1Y) and also have constructed computer systems that are smarter than us (Like Watson, the computer that competed against Jeopardy champions and won first place).

    Ironically, I found the Replicants to have more human aspects than the humans themselves, as you quoted, “more human than human.” I found myself rooting for the Replicants’ side from the beginning. The tears in rain monologue, one of the few (if not the only) truly beautiful parts of this movie, was not even the product of a human character. Also, Rick (who is presumably a Replicant) gets the shakes when he “retires” Replicants, and Rachel begins to cry when she discovers her whole life has been a carefully constructed lie. I had a harder time connecting with the human characters in the film.

    I couldn’t help but think of Blade Runner’s parallels to the story of the fall of man in the Bible, a theory sparked by the encounter between Tyrell and Roy, creator and created. God created man in his image (humans created Replicants in ours), yet man was enticed by the serpent (was Zhora’s serpent a coincidence?) to be like God (Replicants want to live as long as humans).

    On a side note, the Los Angeles city setting reminded me somewhat of the movie Dark City (1998), another disturbingly cool movie.

  4. I really enjoyed this movie despite the nightmarish vibe that I felt throughout the movie. Initially, I didn’t like the gloomy, musky design of LA, but having watched the entire movie, I really do appreciate it. I really loved the ending of the movie ( not the part where Rick finds out about his identity), where Roy profoundly quoted “I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe.. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain “. The fact that it takes a non-human to show the atrocities that humans have created shows how ignorant and egoistic humans can be. Somehow, this scene also reminded me to re-evaluate the value of my pursuits. Much like how Rick was forced to hunt down all replicants, while not knowing that he was also a replicant, I think about the times when I was blindly doing things without evaluating the real reason I was doing them.

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