Blade Runner: What It Means to be Human?
Our times are dominated by transforming technologies. Advances such as artificial intelligence, mechanical implants, biotechnology, voice-activated programming, virtual reality, robotics and computer graphics—all once thought to be mere science fiction—are now a reality. These have not only blurred the distinction between human and machine, they have also opened the door to cloning and genetic manipulation. This was the overriding message of director Ridley Scott's ground breaking film Blade Runner. However, when Blade Runner opened in 1982, it was routinely panned and attacked. And even though it opened in over 1,200 theatres, it was a certified box office flop.
Three key, yet profound, questions contribute to the core of Blade Runner: Who am I? Why am I here? What does it mean to be human? Fortunately, the film's discovery on cable TV, videocassette and in revival houses revealed not only a cult film par excellence but an emotionally challenging, thematically complex work whose ideas and subtexts are just as startling as its now-famous production designs. Moreover, according to a recent poll conducted by the British newspaper The Guardian, Blade Runner was chosen as the best science fiction film ever by sixty of the world's top scientists. With this latest honor, perhaps the film will finally gain the audience it deserves and the truths it has to teach us can be revealed. Set in Los Angeles in the year 2019, Blade Runner shows a world where the sun no longer shines. Instead, a constant rainy drizzle adds to the dark character of this futuristic landscape. The opening shot's aerial perspective suggests a modern Los Angeles, but the audience soon discovers a very different city—the endless archipelago of suburbs have been replaced by a dark and ominous landscape lit only by occasional flare-ups of burning gas at oil refineries. An energy shortage has crippled life in the future. The earth is decayed, and millions of people have been forced to colonize other planets. Those who remain behind live in huge cities consisting of a conglomeration of new buildings 400 stories high and the dilapidated remains of earlier times. The crunch and crush of the modern population seems overwhelming and totally dehumanizing. Genetic engineering has become one of the earth's major industries, with humans now assuming the role of "maker" and "creator." Since most of the world's animals have become extinct, genetic engineers now produce artificial animals. And artificial humans called "replicants" are manufactured by the mega-giant Tyrell Corporation. The replicants only have a four-year lifespan, however, and were created to do the difficult, hazardous and often tedious work necessary in the colonies on other planets. When the replicants somehow make their way back to earth, they are systematically "retired" (but not "killed" since they are inhuman) by special detectives or "blade runners" trained to track down and liquidate the infiltrators. The point is that the replicants have no right to be on earth because they were developed for off-world situations—military, industrial, mining. They are a second-class generation developed for inhospitable environments and dangerous or boring work.
The most vital question confronting us is how to maintain humanness in the human race in the face of overwhelming technology that tends to dehumanize us. The film shifts dramatically when the replicants, who are on a mission to extend their short life span, display a stronger sense of community than the human beings on earth. After his three partners are destroyed by explosive bullets, the fourth replicant, Batty, succeeds in finding his way to Tyrell himself, the master of the Tyrell Corporation and the genetic engineering genius who designed him. Batty wants to have his genetic code altered to extend his assigned four-year life span. He simply wants to live. But when he discovers he cannot, Batty kills Tyrell...
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