Probably one of the most significant films to be made within the science fiction genre. Its visuals and aesthetic can be seen influencing films 30 years after its release. But then when Blade Runner truly released, was it the theatrical release, was it the first home video release, was it the extended cut, was it the director’s cut or was it the final cut?
Now it is not uncommon for a film to be changed when it is released for home media, or for the director to change his product (yes George Lucas, we are looking at you) but here it is something very unique as each of the cuts changes the meaning of the film. As from start to finish you can see the idea of Deckard being a replicant changing, in each cut of the film. Those of you who have read the book from which it is based, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, will know that he is not a replicant from that, but then this film is a world and a story sculpted by Ridley Scott rather than the exact tale of Phillip K Dick.
To me and many others, BR is a visual experience. It doesn’t need to say or announce what is happening; we are shown. Now the pedantic ones of you are thinking “well duh, it is a film” to you I say shut up and go away (Editor: No we don’t, please stay). Do we need to be told that Tyrell is playing god? No, we are shown it. In the image above he is closing a window but does he need someone to do it for him, or do we see him do it? No, he speaks it and it happens, not only that but through command alone he is able to block out the sun. What speaks more than this action alone is that he does it not because it is needed but because he can, a demonstration of his power to Deckard. Yet this is but the simplest demonstration of what he can do, as what does he/ his company make, androids but some so sophisticated that they can be almost indistinguishable from real humans (we shall look later at what is a real human). The slogan of the corporation “More human than human” can send a chill down your spine as not only do they believe they can make something better than humans. But what they make is often used in place of humans in war, dangerous jobs or where it would be hazardous for humans to be. So they are making superior beings to be slaves, as humans are no longer worthy of slavehood or just are not simply good enough. And if we look at the NEXUS 6 androids, they are superior in every way other than emotionally but near the end of the film that itself comes up for debate; as they are faster, stronger, smarter than anyone but they live just four short years.
Four short years “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy. Look at you: you’re the Prodigal Son; you’re quite a prize!” but are they really short years as in that time he has seen things us people would not believe. He may not live the full life span as a human but then he is not human, is he really better than a human? As he could do things no man could ever dream of, go places where man would die but just like man he cannot escape the fate of death. Though we see that Roy has one of the most human traits still built within him, the desire to live longer. This causes him to seek out of his maker, Tyrell, as man has tried to discover theirs of thousands of years, to beg for more life but that is something that not even Tyrell can grant. A man who would play god with life but when it comes to death is just as helpless as anyone else and the life that he created becomes his undoing; his demise. Though right up until the end Tyrell sees Roy as a prize, as a crowning achievement of his mastery of life. He does not have the empathy to consider what Roy is feeling while on the verge of death, what it is like to live in fear. Yet, this four-year life span is one that is built into them as a fundamental flaw, a limiting lifespan; perhaps this is reflective of the fear that these androids instil in the people of both the Blade Runner world and in real life. As they have already been made to be better than us in almost every way conceivable way so it would make sense for us to limit them, not just out of fear but out of necessity. As with the power they have been given if they lived for more than four years, four years as slaves, would it take them long to rebel against those that created them. Another interesting point is that Ray calls Tyrell “father” which could be something that Tyrell programmed into all of his creations but then would he have expected to ever have one seek him out? And that would play into the arrogance of Tyrell accurately as he lives in a 2019 pyramid where people visit when summoned, away from the rest of LA; even his close friend Sebastian has to prove that he is worthy of Tyrell’s time by giving him a chess play. So would such an arrogant man be above making his creations see him as a father? Probably not but sadly that is not the answer this time as in an earlier cut of the film Roy called Tyrell a fucker when asking for more life. So it can be derived that Roy did come to see Tyrell as a father, as a creator, as a bringer of life and then he realised this was all a fantasy when the wish of life could, or would, not be granted.
Perhaps Tyrell is the only man who realises just how bad the world he is living in is. He lives in self-imposed exile, he creates life that he hopes will make life better for those within the world. These creations do the menial jobs that man does not want to do or man cannot do without hazard, this can be viewed as depriving man of his work and purpose. But in fact these creations should allow man to advance, it would give man the chance to ponder our existence to further ourselves. But instead of this we grow to fear these creations as what he has made did make us question what it means to be human and we might not have liked that answer. As we now hunt these creations that made us look for that answer, they are to be snuffed out so we can go back to a blissful life of ignorance. So perhaps he did want to play God but rather than creating his own Eden in which to rule, he tried to change the world of man but never stopped to ask if that was a change man wanted. He saw a tainted world where man was flawed, so he created perfect beings yet the only limitation he imposed on them was the one of life, they could live a better life but doing so would kill them sooner; just like man’s world, the longer we live the sooner we die “It’s a shame she won’t live but then who does”.
Though Blade Runner is not just about who is or is not human, it shows us that it is more a question of degrees of humanity. In a world where androids are indistinguishable from human by nothing but the Voight-Kampff test that measures one’s emotional response to a situation. We see this test done at different points of the film to different people but most importantly it is only done to those who are clearly identified to us as androids. Though Roy and Deckard are ones who never take it which is very intriguing as you could see Roy as the one who is more human than Deckard. The ones we do see take the test are Leon (the first of the androids we see) and Rachel; Leon within a few questions reveals himself to be an android by shooting the questioner. Rachel on the other hand takes many many more questions and the editing suggests that hours pass in the time in which her questioning takes place. Yes, she is an android but one that could fool anyone without the use of the test and even with the use of the test is hard to discover. So emotionally the androids are becoming just as complex as humans, taking on the memories of humans to seem human in their four years, yet people in this world do not mind something that has just as much a right to life dying for those jobs man should not do. But this is also something they fear, androids are banned on Earth as they could become that person next door or a performer of the arts and you would never know.
However, throughout the film Roy grows just as emotionally as a character as anyone else, he is able to become more than he was designed to be; in the face of death he had realised what he had become. He comes to Earth in search of his maker to beg for more life but the way he takes to get there is one of death and murder which could play more into the idea of Tyrell being a god, after seeing his creation sin why would he grant more life, he would surely confine him to death. But that is what he made Roy to be, a killing machine, able to kill men more efficiently than any man could though he does not reward this, only marvel at it. So what Roy does when faced with death is what he has known in life, kill. He kills the only man that could have saved him, perhaps he realised Tyrell was a false god and slayed him for it. Though if Tyrell was God that would make Roy Christ, the son of God, and this works as well; as in the final showdown between Roy and Deckard, Roy puts a nail through his hand to keep himself alive for longer. Before his death he shows mercy towards Deckard and saves him from falling from the roof of a building; a mercy that Deckard would not have shown. In fact, Deckard is the least merciful in the film as he could be seen as a coward for shooting Zhora in her back as she flees his chase. He could have let her escape as she would have died from her ‘natural’ lifespan and she was performing for the people of that future LA; yet he still turned up and killed her for what she was made to be. She was providing a Performance for the people of Los Angeles which was creating joy and happiness, and happiness is a thing rarely seen in the Los Angeles of Blade Runner. And yet in his hunt for her Deckard creates panic and fear of the people, so can Deckard really be seen as doing good for the people?
We’ve been talking about Blade Runner for 2000 words now and have yet to really mention the eyes, well don’t worry that is to be fixed now. As everything in Blade Runner is about the eyes as they are the window to the soul which is at the very core of BR. The test to tell between a man and an android is one that measures responses in the eye, looking in to see if there is a soul in that person. And yet as we saw earlier, this is not always a clear cut test so perhaps these windows are not as clean as we would like to believe. When Roy kills Chew and Tyrell he be does it by pushing his thumbs through their eyes, perhaps wanting to damage their soul, to kill their true self and the eyes present the path to get there. Yet a test designed to identify an android can struggle to see if one is one but we can see from the eyes who is. Every android in the film has an eye glint to them obviously identifying them to us as an android but it is likely within the world that is something that is not seen. Though what is interesting about this is, for one scene, we briefly see Deckard with this eye glint. Just one scene and it is unlikely that Scott didn’t do this on purpose, as every aspect of this film is made with meaning on mind. This is not the only thing we see Deckard having just like the androids, another being him collecting photographs of his past. We see him with many of them lined up on his piano, which is a nice reference to DADOES, and this is something that androids are seen to do. As at Leon’s apartment we see he has dozens of them stored in a drawer with it being mentioned that they keep them, to enforce the reality of the implanted memories they have. So with these two traits that he shared with androids, is it beyond reason that he is one too?
One last comment on the eyes if I may, and I think I will. The famous soliloquy at the end of the rooftop scene “tears in rain” has Roy reflecting what he has seen with his eyes and how these are sights that we wouldn’t believe. And perhaps they are, as the role of Man seems to be defined by what an android is too good to do, so these could be sight’s that man may never see, of sights he wouldn’t live to tell others of. Though did Roy cry? Did he actually shed the tears of his ending life into the rain, so just like his memories, the last thing he gives will be lost and unnoticed? But can Roy cry, would he be built with the ability to shed tears as that ability would in no way enhance him as a warrior he is meant to be.
So after all of this it would be easy to think the message of Blade Runner is a core question of whether Deckard is a replicant. And to a degree that is a question of the film but I think that issue is a sub issue of a greater theme of the film, what does it mean to be human? It shows us that there are degrees of humanity that are not measured by a test but by how one reacts and chooses to exist in this world. We see Deckard is the cold and removed human in the film, remorselessly hunting down those that he has been told could threaten peace, someone who will show no mercy or concern for the safety of others; he is set on his mission and he will complete it. Whereas Roy is a counterpart for this showing some of the most basic human emotions and thoughts, to seek more life, to find his creator and at the end of his life he is the one that shows mercy to Deckard. So perhaps Tyrell was successful in creating something “More human than human” by making an android that was a truer human and in turn making a man become what a machine is seen to be.
This article was contributed to us by Duncan Cushenan.
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