Although the film Blade Runner articulates fears and neuroses about the future, it would be a mistake to call the film a majestic exercise of futuristic prognostication. Rather, the film exercises postmodern conceptions of memory and humanity and declares that it is not only memories that make us human but the relationship we have with said memories and the value we place upon them. Loosely based by screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples on a short novella by pulp sci-fi auteur Philip K.
Dick (which director Ridley Scott admitted he never fully read), Blade Runner samples the dystopic hyper-imaginings of various present concerns and turns them into a discombobulating future-stew version of West Coast America. Jenkins notes that the filmmakers explore the potent implications which corporatism, globalization and advanced technology have upon certain philosophical, religious and moral conventions, all while indicting the hubris of man’s folly as traditionally exemplified within Greek tragedy.
On the surface, Blade Runner is a rather uncomplicated love story and detective mystery set in Los Angeles, 2019 – where the world is highly globalized, politically corporatized and environmentally devastated. However, the film’s thematic range is broadened by the very presence of synthetic humans called replicants who, after a violent revolt on an off-world colony are declared illegal on Earth, evokes the paranoia of Western immigration concerns. Also present is the ironic reliance the detectives have on advanced technology, namely the advanced bio psychological testing device known as the Voight-Kampff test, to spot the replicants.
It is quite telling that the Voight-Kampff test draws particular attention to the eyes of the subject. It, in addition to the opening shot of an extreme close up of an eye reflecting the infernal landscape of 2019 Los Angeles, prefigures its visually thematic importance. Nottingham observes that eyes recur throughout the film as a visual motif that serves to underscore a variety of ideas and themes. Roy Batty’s first stop in his quest to meet his maker is at the laboratory of a genetic designer who specializes in eyes: BATTY: If only you could see the things I have seen with your eyes.
This line is not without its significance, as it informs viewers of the importance of sensory perception to the formation of identity and the self. In effect, the remarkable experiences that Batty has beheld with his eyes are what make him who he is, regardless of his origins as an artificially designed genetic construct. With this single line, Batty is crediting the designer with his development as a unique individual. Batty summarizes his uniqueness in his dying monologue at the end of the film: BATTY: “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 lost in time. Like tears in the rain. ” This is further expounded upon by the sentimental importance of photographs to the characters in Blade Runner. In Leon’s old room at Hunterwasser, Deckard finds some photographs which are presented as being of emotional importance to Leon. These photographs further extend the eye then, as cameras are essentially artificial eyes and the photographs they produce are physical extensions of memories.
Memories play a crucial role in the interrogation of humanity in Blade Runner. While memories and experiences play a fundamental role in the formation of identity, there are incidences in which the memories of the characters are entirely constructed. This leads one to speculate on the humanity of characters like Deckard and Rachael. The latter is revealed to possess the implanted memories derived from Tyrell’s niece, while the former is hinted at possessing a similar artificiality of memory, as suggested by Gaff’s cryptically prescient ability to shadow Deckard’s actions and know about his dreams.
As such, Rachael and Deckard only believe they are human insofar as their memories have been supplied to them, and interestingly enough behave in rather un-human ways. Rachael is a curiously antiseptic individual whose only spark is her dry wit. Deckard is not just dour, he’s curmudgeonly devoid of any emotion other than a worn-out and exhausted kind of anger. In effect, they have taken their humanity for granted, and it is not until two things occur that they begin the process of acquiring it.
First, Rachael is revealed to be a replicant after being subjected to a lengthy Voight-Kampff test by Deckard and second, Deckard begins to fall in love with Rachael over the course of his search for the missing replicants. Deckard begins to acquire a sense of empathy towards the replicants as he finds it increasingly traumatic to ‘retire’ them one by one, while Rachael begins to experience a nigh hysterical range of emotions that come from the loss of her sense of self. Returning to the eye motif, there are several occasions in the film in which we see a strange golden glow in the eyes of characters.
A retrospective analysis of the film reveals that the glow-eyed characters are replicants. Scott maintains that this is “an entirely stylistic device”, meaning it is visible only to the audience and not the characters and as such, could be construed to be a covert means of breaking the fourth wall. However, while Scott has acknowledged the validity of according significance to the relationship between the eyes and the replicants, he supports a differing view: I was also trying to say that the eye is really the most important organ in the human body.
It’s like a two-way mirror; the eye doesn’t only see a lot, the eye gives away a lot. A glowing human retina seemed one way of stating that. (Sammon) Given the rather listless demeanor of the humans in Blade Runner and the emotional range of the replicants, the glow of these eyes seem to suggest that the replicants have begun to develop human-like qualities, as they burn with a passionate intensity that seems to have been extinguished within humans. Additionally, the slogan of Tyrell Corporation is “More human than human. ”Even Tyrell wonders in amazement at the vivacity his creations exhibit despite their limited life spans:
TYRELL: The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long. And you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy. Roy and his fellow fugitive replicants, despite being aware of their simulated biology express themselves across a gamut of personalities: short-temperedness (Leon), mischievousness (Pris) and coarseness (Zhora) while Rachael and Deckard only seem to be going through the motions of living. As such, they seem to draw much greater personal enrichment from their memories than Deckard and Rachael do, and feel even stronger about their lives given how finite they are.
When Roy confesses the real reason to meet his maker, to request for a longer life span, Tyrell responds with the remark that it is not possible, though given the clipped nature of his response and the rather technocentric explanation, it is unclear whether Tyrell is stating the truth or merely denying the request. Regardless, Roy murders Tyrell by gouging out his eyes, almost as if to imply that in playing God with Roy, Tyrell is lacking in humanity and soul. The above mentioned soliloquy which Batty utters before his death serves another function.
Not only are his experiences and memories remarkable for their quality, but they valuable to him insofar as they affirm that his life, its brevity notwithstanding, was lived with merit and value. Because replicants like Batty face a much shorter life span than humans do, they inevitably come to appreciate life more and seek to make the most of it in ways that humans or at least, individuals who assume themselves to be human, do not. Blade Runner asserts that humanity is far from just a biological state of being, but an emotional and psychological one.
Memories play a crucial role in the development of our self-image, but without a keen appreciation or an emotional connection to them, our humanity is null and void.
Scott, Ridley, dir. Blade Runner: The Final Cut. Two- Disc Special Edition. Perf. Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Edward James Olmos, and Joanna Cassidy. Warner Brothers, 2007. Fancher, Hampton, and David Peoples. Blade Runner. 23 Feb. 1981. 4 Mar. 2008 <http:// www. dailyscript. com/scripts/ blade-runner_shooting. html>