Blade Runner: Humanity at its Edge
Blade Runner is a 1982 science fiction film directed by acclaimed director Ridley Scott (Aliens, Gladiator etc.). Based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by novelist Phillip K. Dick, Blade Runner follows the story of Rick Deckard ( Harrison Ford) – a retired blade runner by profession (specialized police trained to hunt down and “retire” [kill] rogue replicants) as he is forced back into the line of duty. Reinstated as a blade runner, Deckard is faced with the task of finding and “retiring” four genetically manufactured beings (generally known as replicants) hiding in future Los Angeles. Replicants in this dystopian future function as “slaves” and are used mostly for dangerous and degrading work in Earth’s off-world colonies. This enslavement has caused a rebellion and since then replicants have become illegal on the home planet. The year is 2019 and Deckard is tasked to find Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) a combat model replicant, Leon Kowalski (Brion James) a nuclear fuel loader, Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) a martial arts-capable assassin replicant and Pris (Daryl Hannah) a “pleasure model” replicant. A fifth replicant also features in the movie and is named Rachael (Sean Young) who believes she is human thanks to her implanted memories, an enhancement her creator Tyrell is experimenting with.
The movie Blade Runner (and the novel from which it was based on) is thesis on what makes humans human. The movie (and novel) also discusses other environmental and moral issues but none are quite as compelling as its take on humanity – even using non-human characters (the replicants) to hammer in the point. Because of this, the movie has become a cult favorite and is deemed a film icon. One of its most striking scenes is the scene near the end of the movie where Deckard has finally been able to find Roy. In this scene, the two are seen on a roof-top chase in the middle of heavy rain. Roy Batty in this scene is already nearing his expiration date (replicants are designed to live only a maximum of four years) while Deckard is already badly injured. At some point during the chase, Deckard jumps across the roof of one building to another but falls short and instead ends up clinging for dear life on an overhanging beam. Roy is then seen making the same jump and makes it to the other side easily. Holding a white pigeon in his left hand, Roy glares down at Deckard’s character as his hands start to loose grip of the iron beam and Roy speaks the lines: “Quite an experience to live in fear isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” At the final moment Deckard loses his grip, and in a surprise turn of events, Roy reaches for the protagonist and lifts him up to safety. The scene climaxes with a monologue from Roy where he states:
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 Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…Time to die.
The above mentioned scene, most especially the monologue delivered by Roy in the end was the director’s way of throwing the audience the question “What makes us human?” In the scene, the viewer was allowed to see an irony of sorts for though replicants are viewed as something less than real humans, the replicant Roy however manages to portray that replicants are capable of displaying [authentic] human behavior. They feel fear, they think, they have memories and that they are capable of showing compassion. In the end, the director forces the audience to question the nature of humanity in both actual humans and the replicants for sometimes the former can behave far lesser than the latter who originally is deemed the lesser being. With Roy’s dying lines, the audience is given a window to Roy’s thoughts and that these thoughts border on sentimentality. To some extent the audience is made to feel a sense of Roy’s regret, and these things are something very typically human.
Ridley, Scott, dir. Blade Runner. Perf. Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer. Warner Bros., 1982.