Blade Runner, I Think, Therefore I Am
In Ridley Scott’s film, Blade Runner, the distinction between humans and machines, or replicants, is blurred. Throughout the film, those that appear human regard replicants as objects of possession. However, these replicants continue to question this image for the audience through their intellectual, emotional and almost spiritual sense of being. This is supported not only by the dialogue that they have with humans, but also by the camera angles, mise-en-scene and lighting that Scott uses to reinforce this obscure division.
What are labeled as machines, replicants, are almost identical to humans with the exception that they lack empathy. When we think of typical man-made machines, we usually think of subservient items to help us with the mundane jobs of life. They are under our control and are here solely for our use. However, the machines that are created in Blade Runner are, as Tyrell says, ‘more human than human.’ They have almost all of the characteristics of humans. They have feelings and emotions, intelligence and understanding, and desire for the same things that humankind does.
The film, however, starts out with a disassociation between replicants and humans. The opening text states that the replicants are not being ‘executed’ but ‘retired.’ It uses such language as ‘mutiny’ which in and of itself brings images of traitors and rebels. The word brings a negative opinion to the audience of replicants. But then again, the word brings images of an act of will, a free decision made by these so called machines. If they are only machines, then how can they decide to rebel against their creator? The question of whether replicants are just machines that can be thrown away when done with or are they truly ‘human’ is continually addressed in the film.
One replicant that sways this balance between machine and human is Rachael. She is implanted with artificial memories, those of the creator, Tyrell, niece’s. Upon Deckard’s discovery of her being a replicant, he states ‘how can it not know what it is.’ The use of the pronoun ‘it,’ again, isolates the class of replicants in the audience’s mind as something foreign. They are not to be considered as beings with a free will and mind, but something indefinite. Tyrell then gets rid of Rachael because Deckard was able to distinguish her. He doesn’t care for what he creates, no matter how ‘more human than human.’ He only wants to control them and make them indistinguishable from humans. He failed with Rachael because she was detected, even though he can “control them better” with memories as a cushion. As he tries to make them identical to humans, he won’t give them the same respect and equality as he would another human being. This begins the audience’s questioning of why replicants do not have equality with humans.
When Rachael returns to Deckard after Tyrell will no longer see her, she tries to prove that she is not a replicant because she has a photo with her mother. Deckard reacts as if she has no emotions, treating her like an ‘it’ as he stated to Tyrell. “Those aren’t your memories, they’re somebody else’s.” Scott uses the camera effectively here to show the conflict that is arising within Rachael. The angle is straight-on to Deckard, reiterating that fact that the audience is on the same level of Deckard. Scott then uses a low-angle for Rachael. This places her above the audience and as she is visually disturb and begins to cry, the audience feels a compassion for the pain she is going through. An emotional response to the affront that her memories are not her own, she is giving an obviously human response.
As the movie progresses, the audience sees the replicants to continue to be confronted with the fact that they are merely possessions. Such an instance is when Roy and Pris, also replicants, meet with one of their ‘genetic designers,’ J. F. Sebastion. Upon finding out that they are replicants because they appear so ‘perfect,’ Sebastion states, ‘there’s some of me in you, show me something.’ He thinks ‘his’ replicants are toys and as such, Roy, who is visually offended, states that they’re ‘not computers.’ Roy gives an emotional response to Sebastion’s personal insult. Pris follows with an intellectual response and says ‘I think, therefore I am.’ As the humans begin to assume that the replicants are satisfied living as ‘slaves’ to their creators, the replicants answer with an affirmative ‘no’ by the emotional and intellectual responses they are giving.
In the film, the audience is asked to relate to several of the replicants. The viewer cannot but help to feel pity at times for them. As Roy gives his final monologue at the end of the film, an overwhelming sadness about his death is conveyed. Scott again effectively does this through the use of camera angles and mise-en-scene. The scene is a dreary landscape with a white rain falling upon Roy in melancholy. The camera is at a straight-on angle to Roy’s face and this establishes a direct connection between the audience and what Roy is experiencing. As he talks about his memories that like tears will be soon lost in the rain, the audience finally becomes aware that these replicants are not just machines with idle feelings, but are human in nature. His poetic discourse about the sights he has seen that humans will never see, leaves a feeling of emptiness when they are lost forever with his death. Scott challenges the viewing audience to understand what these machines are experiencing. That they are not just objects of possession, but have free will.
Although there are times that the audience feels sympathetic for specific replicants, there are also times when we feel disgust and anger. While we can all relate to the inevitable end we will face, some acts we are just not able to condone. Such an act is the opening scene of violence where Leon kills Holden, a Blade Runner. Another would be when Roy crushes his creator’s, or father’s, skull. However, these are instances where the replicants are only responding to the mistreatment that they are given. They were created without an ‘emotional cushion,’ and basically act like three year old children at times. This does not excuse their actions, but can explain for their actions.
Clearly Ridley Scott wants us to ponder and think about the relationship the majority has to those it ‘enslaves’ and those that may be considered as the minority. He is socially critiquing society with a futuristic appeal. He also challenges us to define what makes us human and by what right do we play ‘god.’ And if and when we do play ‘god,’ are we creating possessions, or are we creating free willed beings.