Blade Runner

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"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." --Roy Batty [1]

Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott in 1982, is set in the not-too-distant and dystopian future of 2019.

The movie is based off of Philip K. Dick's novel Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep?.



Blade Runner operates on multiple dramatic and narrative levels. It is veritably full of "film noir" elements, such as the femme fatale, dark and shadowy cinematography, the self narration, and the questionable moral outlook of the hero -- in this case, extended to include reflections upon the nature of his own humanity.

It is a literate science fiction film, thematically enfolding the philosophy of religion and moral implications of human mastery of genetic engineering in the context of classical Greek drama and hubris. The film draws heavily from literary resources, most notably, from Frankenstein.

An aura of paranoia suffuses the film. Corporate power looms large, the police seem omnipresent, vehicle and warning lights probe into buildings, and the consequences of huge biomedical power over the individual are explored—especially the consequences for replicants of their programming. Control over the environment is depicted as taking place on a vast scale, and there seems to be a widespread extinction of natural life, with artificial animals substituting for their non-existent templates. This oppressive backdrop explains the frequently referenced migration of humans to extra-terrestrial ("off-world") colonies.

Eyes are a recurring motif, as are manipulated images, calling into question reality and our ability to accurately perceive and remember it. This theory is associated with how eyes are a window to one's soul and can express true emotion. These thematic elements provide an atmosphere of uncertainty for Blade Runner's central theme of examining humanity. In order to discover replicants, an empathy test is used, with a number of its questions focused on the treatment of animals—it seems to be an essential indicator of someone's "humanity". The replicants are juxtaposed with human characters who lack empathy, while the replicants appear to show compassion and concern for one another at the same time as the mass of humanity on the streets is cold and impersonal. The film goes so far as to put in doubt whether Deckard is a human, and forces the audience to reevaluate what it means to be human.

The question of whether Deckard is intended to be a human or a replicant has been an ongoing controversy since the film's release.


Starting Tropes

Machine Labor vs. Human Labor

"We're not computers, Sebastian, we're physical."--Roy

The replicants in Blade Runner are androids, made human in every way but their emotions, who are used as labor on off world human colonies. Human geneticists design every part of the robots, who are then sent to do the most dangerous jobs in the new environments that humanity has begun to colonize. Most replicants are built with an expected lifetime of four years in operation, and then they die for some unspecified reason. This is an effort to keep the replicants as machines, for by limiting their life spans to four years, the Tyrell Corporation hoped to keep the replicants from developing emotions and removing the distinguishing line, in the movie’s universe, between a human and a replicants.

Proletariat vs. Bourgeois

"Stop right where you are! You know the score, pal. If you're not cop, you're little people."--Bryant [2]

Ties in with the theme that the Replicants are the Proletariat, and the humans the Bourgeois. This is mostly evident when comparing the slums to the skyscrapers, the latter being where Bryant and other humans were often seen in the movie. The Replicant Pris, on the other hand, gathers up trash bags in an alleyway in attempt to make herself shelter, though this may have just been an attempt to pull at the heart strings of Sebastian.

Mental Labor vs. Physical Labor

"I think, Sebastian, therefore I am."--Pris

A distinct line that we currently face with machines is the ability to think for ourselves and experience emotion. Pris realizes that she has broken this line into the realm of humanity and declares herself free from the preexisting notions about machines by stating, "I am."


"I'm not in the business; I am the business."--Rachael

The context of this quote is when Deckard is comforting Rachael after she killed Leon by saying, "It's just a part of the business." This implies that the Replicants are merely the property of the Tyrell Corporation (or whoever Tyrell sold/licensed them to), and their retirement is just a form of protocol in their business. Rachael, being a Replicant, realizes this and points out to Deckard that she is, therefore, just the property of the corporation as well.

Real vs Fake

Throughout Blade_Runner humans are constantly modifying themselves genetically. This constantly asks us to consider the boundary of what is real or "less real". It has a lot of parallels with Schismatrix with how the Shapers modify themselves genetically.

Proposed Tropes

Proposed Trope: Machine Labor: The Alternative to Slave Labor

Parallels to Other Readings

Frankenstein and Blade Runner share common themes and related tropes:

  • In both stories, the creator exerts heavy Mental Labor in order create a being capable of heavy Physical Labor. Though this may seem to imply that physical labor relies on and is ultimately a result of mental labor, both stories warn against having the mindset that mental labor alone is more important than the physical by having the physically-inclined being develop a very defined mental capability which they use in conjunction with their physical prowess to overthrow the exclusively mentally-inclined. The result is an emphasize balance between the two labor methods that reflects the strengths and weaknesses of both forms.
  • Both Frankenstein and Blade Runner blur the line of what's real and what's synthetic, but in two totally different ways. Frankenstein is a portrayal of what happens when the line is blurred and the observable results are undesirable; Blade Runner gives us a view of what happens when the results are more perfect, more beautiful.
  • The fear of potential uprising of the created "machines"
  • The creation's desire for acceptance amongst the dominant race/creator
  • In both stories, the creator's life is put to an end by his creation's own hands (in very similar ways). This raises the question of which form of labor, physical or mental, is dominant over the other.
  • In Blade Runner, Roy's motive is a benevolent one, all he wants to do is to be remembered. The one time he's seen killing someone is when he is not given what he's been searching for. He was only violent when faced with the possibility of not finding immortality. Whenever people cooperated with him, he let them live; he even saved Deckard's life when he decided he could gain immortality through his memories. Frankenstein's monster only killed because his desire to be loved was consistently denied to him. When he nearly received what he wanted and it was taken from him, he went insane, much like Roy was at the end of the movie. Both monster's gained sanity when coming close to their demise.
  • Both Frankenstein and Blade Runner explore the question of "What is Human?" In each story, a being that blurs the line between artificial life and the human life has been created. Each of these beings have similar desires to define there own humanity. In Blade Runner, Rachael finds herself fighting the fact that she wasn't human. Deckard begins to question his own definition of humanity when he is saved by Rachael. His initial hate for the replicates almost completely disappears after going back to his apartment and initiating sex with Rachael. His internal conflict with his definition of humanity follows him up until his final encounter with Roy.

The Machine Stops and Blade Runner related tropes:

  • The connections here are that Machine Labor is the dominant force and the humans have come to receive machines as a deity.

The Stone Canal and Blade Runner related tropes:

  • These two stories both explore the separation between Machine Labor and Human Labor. Both use discuss and explore what makes a creature human, and how does their process and inner workings determine what type of labor they do.


Tannhauser Gate: The story [opera] of Tannhauser involves sacred versus profane love, and how love can redeem the soul.[3]

xkcd: Blade Runner

Discussion Prompts

What is significant about the contrast between the bright skyscrapers and the city's slums?

  • The Replicants reside in the slums and are never seen within the larger and brighter skyscrapers of the city. The Blade Runner headquarters is one example where the humans (the bourgeois) are in absence of the Replicants (the proletariat). Pris is even seen covering herself with trash bags in a back-alley for shelter.

What is significant about the unicorn?

  • In a literal sense, the presence of the unicorn in Deckard's apartment meant that Officer Gaff had been to his apartment, yet had not taken or "retired" Rachael. This implies that Rachael no longer is under the risk of being retired.

Does the possibility of Rick being a replicant change the meaning behind his actions as a Blade Runner? Of the way he and the other replicants interacted?

  • Assuming that Deckard was a Replicant, we can be pushed even further into the concept of questioning what is real. It would redefine his actions with other Replicants as a sort of forced hand, and that when he began to feel sad about the fact that he was killing them was when he, as they, developed a sense of emotion for the first time. Also, it brings to question whether the Blade Runners themselves were Replicants, as Deckard said,"Replicants weren't supposed to have feelings. Neither were Blade Runners".

How does the resemblance of the replicants to humans differ from Frankenstein's relationship with mankind?

  • The replicants are physically very similar to human beings. They can live undetected in human societies for extended periods of time, and the only accurate way to tell if a suspect is a replicants is to give them the Voight-Kampff test. The Voight-Kampff test is designed to elicit an emotional response from the subject, for replicants are programmed without emotions. On the other hand, Frankenstein’s monster possesses many emotions, yet his physical appearance is so hideous, almost corpse like, that he is unable to approach human beings without being assailed as a monster. Therefore, the replicants can live in human societies without human emotion, yet Frankenstein’s monster cannot approach humans for companionship despite sharing many of humanities deepest emotions.

Why does Roy save Rick?

  • Roy searches for immortality. Tyrell denies him physical immortality, claiming that the process would inevitably kill him. When Roy is later faced with death, he grasps at any vestiges of immortality that he can reach. Roy wants Deckard to remember him, knowing that even those memories will eventually be forgotten.
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe: Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion; I've 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." -Roy

What is significant about Sebastian's (the genetic designer's) view of his creations as "toys"?

  • Sebastian's creations contrast with the Replicants, who claim that their ability to think places them above Sebastian's machines.

How can we weave the ideas of machine dominance from Frankenstein to Blade Runner?

Is Victor more similar to Sebastian or Tyrell ?


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