May 11, 2011
Introduction by Ian DeWeese-Boyd
It’s the future, it’s bleak, and the best people may not even be human.
Set in Los Angeles in the year 2019—nearly forty years in the future at the time of filming—Blade Runner envisions a city that is dark, dirty, and dystopian. Those who were able have left for a better lifeoff-world. In this cyberpunk future, fraught with high technology, corporate hegemony, and social squalor, the Tyrell Corporation has succeeded in developing nearly perfect androids—known as replicants—which are virtually indistinguishable from humans, but limited to a four-year lifespan. Employed in the hazardous exploration and colonization of off-world planets, replicants are a new slave race. When a group of replicants executes a bloody revolt off-world, they are banned from earth. Blade Runner Units are set up to track down and kill rogue replicants.
Retired Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is forced back into service when a group of replicants hijacks a ship and returns to earth to meet their maker, Tyrell, and demand that he extend their lives. In pursuit of these replicants, Deckard goes to Tyrell, where he is introduced to an advanced, experimental replicant, Rachael. As he begins to fall in love with Rachael, he becomes increasingly uneasy with his task, unclear about the real distinction between replicants and humans, and unsure of his own identity. At a pivotal moment, Deckard reflects that these replicants only want “the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got?”
Based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner’s apparently straightforward sci-fi crime-thriller plot takes on metaphysical and moral depth, as it raises probing questions about technology, identity and meaning.
Humanity and Identity
Blade Runner challenges our notions of what it means to be humand, and, more specifically, what it means to be me. Personal identity seems to be grounded in the memories that link us to our past selves. But, replicants, like Rachael, have to face the fact that nothing, not even their most intimate memories, belong to them; replicants are constructs of human artifice. And, yet, they hunger for meaning and identity. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek contends that, paradoxically, replicants are authentically human precisely because they recognize their constructedness, their artificiality, and live out of the uncertainty this creates for their identity. Commenting on Rachael's recognition of her replicant status, Zizek writes : "The silent grief over the loss of her 'humanity,' the infinite longing to be or to become human again, although she knows it will never happen; or, conversely, the eternal gnawing doubt over whether I am truly human or just an android--it is these very undecided, intermediate states which make me human." Ironically, these technological objects may be the truest subjects, confirming Tyrell's promise to make them "more human than human." Where does that leave us?