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  • Writer's pictureAlanna Grayce

#58: Movie of the Month- BLADE RUNNER

Blade Runner was released in 1982, directed by Ridley Scott. It’s a dystopian cyber punk noir detective movie that holds a place in history as one of the best sci-fi movies ever made, and is kind of a cult classic- but upon its original release, it was actually a box office flop.

Let me set the scene, ok? The movie is set in 2019 Los Angeles- and in 1982, that was quite a ways away, ya know? The world is polluted, over populated, and everyone in it is consumed by technology. The elites are still rich white men, no surprise, and the poor are migrants and trade workers, dredging through dirty streets and dirty air, fighting for survival. There’s no sun hitting the surface anymore thanks to pollution clouds smothering out the light. Cars fly, humans are colonizing planets other than Earth, and androids called REPLICANTS are being produced to serve as slave labor off-world, personal servants, and sex slaves.

Our main character, anti hero kind of dude Richard Deckard, AKA Harrison Ford in the real world, is asked to come out of retirement and back to his job as kind of a police officer/bounty hunter situation. He is a Blade Runner, a name which I will be honest I never truly understood- he hunts replicants that are illegally hiding on Earth and “retires” aka MURKS them.

The tea is that the replicants he’s hunting, lead by home boy Roy, are trying to increase their four year lifespan to that of a “real” human’s. This life span is a built in failsafe- these are the most advanced iteration of replicants yet, and they even look like humans. Deckard’s boss eloquently refers to them as “skin jobs” which feels gross. So the designers, in the movie, figured that these replicants were so advanced that they might begin to develop their own emotional responses eventually… thus the built in life span. So that’s what Roy and his crew are trying to undo, to live, past. They’ve begun to develop thoughts and feelings of their own. They want to be human, and they want to live. This brings up some major questions right?

The opening scene of Blade Runner is an extremely close up shot of an eyeball, and it shows the pupil dilating… where at first you see a dark void. But then in the reflection, we see the dark shadows and flying cars of LA. This just begins the questioning, right? And this carries through as the eye is used HEAVILY throughout the film as a form of symbolism. The way the replicants eyes created a bit of a kickback glow, this was purposeful by the director to create a sense of artificiality. Further, it highlights that the eye does not just see, it also shows. This is relevant to that opening scene, as well, because many argue that the dark void of the dilated pupil is to show the emptiness of the soul of the replicants- since technically they shouldn’t have a soul, since technically they’re artificial beings. But that’s the whole dilemma of the movie- do replicants have souls?

The eye is also instrumental in the movie because of its importance in our making memories. Replicants are often given false memories, to kind of make them seem more human and make them able to make conversation, etc. There are scenes, however, where the replicants share about the real memories they’ve made. Roy, a replicant, tells the man who designed his eyes “Chew, if only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes” which is sort of a joking double entendre, because they kind of are Chew’s eyes since he made them. But there is honestly a more iconic moment in the movie that has stuck with me since the very first time I saw it, my senior year of college in 2017 (crazy omg).

The “tears in rain” monologue is the last words of Roy, the head honcho of the replicant rebellion that Deckard is ordered to quell. One critic (Mark Rowlands) described this monologue as “perhaps the most moving death soliloquy in cinematic history”.

The monologue is almost at the end of the movie, after Deckard has chased Roy across rooftops. Deckard misses a jump and nearly falls off the roof- Roy turns around and gives him an oh how the tables have turned moment, but helps him up. Deckard is shocked, but Roy realizes he is still about to die- so he begins reflecting on the experiences of his mortal life.

I've 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 Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

Even more symbolic, he’s holding a dove in his hands. When his time expires, he lets go of the dove. The dove is freed, and so is Roy.

These words were a reflection of Roy’s desire to have some kind of mark on existence, according to Hauer (one of the writer/editors). These were his experiences, his memories- and these were the things that drove his desire to continue living. These things FUELED his thirst for life.

A major philosophical point of this film can be found in Rene Descartes seventeenth-century musings- the idea of what makes a human. That’s basically what the whole film is about, like in a nutshell. So Descartes says that when he watches from a window, and sees humans passing by on the street below him, he sees “hats and cloaks that might cover artificial machines, whose motions might be determined by springs.” Very ahead of his time, that one. The point is that by just looking at a person, or someone who looks like a person, doesn’t tell you that they’re human. Further, by the movie, even interacting with someone doesn’t prove their humanity.

But here’s the thing, ok? If the defining difference between humans and replicants is the ability to emote- then a lot of the “real humans” in this movie don’t live up to that standard. Tyrell, the Jeff Bezos-times-a-hundred-esque villain who runs the city basically and owns the company that produces the replicants, is a terrible person. Deckard, our anti-hero who truly believes at first that he’s doing the right thing just because he’s following orders and doing the lawful thing, is emotionless and distant from all other humans. We see him warm when he starts to have feelings towards Rachael, a legal replicant employee of Tyrell that he has befriended.

Interestingly, and with much parallel to Roy, Deckard is now beginning to question what has been programmed into him by his society, by his bosses. In beginning to soften his ideas, to question, to be kinder, to let himself FEEL EMOTION and to appreciate it, Deckard has started to become human himself.

This is a major point, ok? Like when I finished watching this movie, I was like !?!?!?! so is Deckard a replicant himself? Turns out this question is kind of answered in the sequel that came out in 2017 I think- but that’s part of the point of the first movie. You have to question Deckard, and he even questions himself. His moral ambiguity is one of the major plot lines, after all- he is struggling to understand himself, to understand his identity outside of what society and his bosses have programmed him to be. But then he starts to feel emotions and humanness when he starts to feel attached to a replicant, Rachael. And like, Rachael feels emotions for him, too. So where’s the difference between them, truly?

I do want to point out one kind of major difference between replicants and humans that isn’t really made a big deal of in my opinion in the movie, but an author (Sebastian Blum) discusses in an article i used to research this topic. He presents the argument that because replicants are engineered, they can’t choose what determines their character, which is what differentiates them ultimately from human beings. They were programmed to fulfill a function, and thus cannot truly be held responsible for their nature, because it was engineered by someone else. Humans, on the other hand, are able to create our own nature through free choice, and thus we are responsible for it. Our actions are free to make, so we can’t blame them on someone else.

This brings us to some of the huuuuuge religious parallels to be found in the movie, ok? So Roy, the replicant, has been compared to Jesus Christ, with Tyrell, his creator, of course being the “God” father figure. Tyrell even calls Roy his prodigal son, because Roy goes off on his own, outside of his creator’s control. Plus, there’s the whole question of free will and choice- does God give us the ability to choose for ourselves, or are we predisposed to make choices that all fall within the eventual culmination of His divine plan? Personally, I believe that we are made in God’s image- not that God looks like us physically, but that we are provided with the god-like abilities of choice, of emotion and love, of freedom of thought, of creation and of exertion of will. These things are Godlike, and our ability to choose whether or not we turn to God is important because otherwise humankind was just created to be an ego boost. Anyway, the fact that replicants are evolving to be able to act freely, to feel, to make their own choices that fall outside of their programing- does that make them more human? Do the humans in this movie, who are all just kind of robotically going about existence without thought or emotion and fulfilling society or their bosses’ expectations- fulfilling their programming- are they less human?

Furthermore we have the issue of dehumanization of actual people through the rise of an increasingly capitalist, technology focused society. There becomes this obsession with human versus android replicant, especially as the replicants become more advanced and the artificial intelligence gets to the point that it can eventually begin to feel and think for itself, outside of its programming. Again, this creates huuuuuuuuuge ethical issues of what makes a soul, and what makes a human- i mean y’all i took a whole class where we focused on this movie for like a fourth of the time.

So- I’d love to know what y’all think. If you’ve not watched the movie, go watch it and let me know. If you have, tell me your thoughts. Do souls have to exist in a natural body? Can they evolve into existence in artificial intelligence? Does artificial intelligence scare and confuse you as much as it does me? Write in and let me know!!!


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