Friday, January 21, 2011

Film Friday: Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is brilliant. This is filmmaking at its best because it takes science fiction and stretches it to its fullest potential, both in terms of storytelling and as an intellectual experience. It’s also noteworthy for being massively culturally relevant because it redefined “dystopia” for a new generation, and in so doing, it signaled the end of the counter-culture’s influence in science fiction.

** spoiler alert **

Loosely based on “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner is the story of Richard Deckard (Harrison Ford), a police specialist who hunts down and "retires" escaped androids, known as Replicants. Deckard is pursuing four Replicants, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), who illegally returned to Earth to find their maker, who they believe can extend their lifespans, which are artificially limited to four years. Despite the seeming simplicity of this summary, Blade Runner is a highly complex and innovative film. Indeed, it singlehandedly redefined the confines of science fiction as well as our view of dystopia.
Dystopia Lost, Dystopia Changed
Prior to Blade Runner, dystopian films invariably involved societies that appeared perfect on the surface, but were soulless underneath. From Logan’s Run to Rollerball to Fahrenheit 451, these societies appeared health, happy and peaceful, but something was always missing, some element of humanity was stripped away. This concept fit perfectly with the clash between the counter-culture and the conformity society created after World War II. But Blade Runner changed that.

The dystopian world of Blade Runner is dark, dirty and full of the twisted dregs of humanity. This is a world that destroyed itself, not with a bang but with neglect, where those who could escape to a better life moved to the off-world colonies, leaving humanity's flotsam to fester in the collapsing, polluted world left behind. Moreover, this dystopia came about because society fell apart, not because society was too tightly controlled, as was the case in prior dystopian films. Thus, whereas the pre-Blade Runner view of dystopia was the counter-culture’s view of the worst aspects of conformist society run amok, the dystopia in Blade Runner was society’s view of the worst elements of the counter-culture run amok. And with rare exceptions, this has become the view of dystopia which dominates films today. Blade Runner marks this serious shift in societal attitudes.
Where No Science Fiction Has Gone Before
Blade Runner also singlehandedly expanded the bounds of science fiction. How? By realizing that science fiction need not follow the trappings and conventions of science fiction, and by realizing that any story can be interpreted as science fiction. Indeed, nowhere in Blade Runner will you find spaceships or laser-gun fights or aliens and strange planets. Even the very dialog of Blade Runner is unlike anything that came before. For example, whereas science fiction always had a penchant for long, quasi-melodramatic dialog and grandiose plots, Blade Runner introduced the minimalism of film noir, with punchy but sparse dialog and inwardly focused plots.

All of this was new and it showed that any story could be told as science fiction, not just stories about rocket ships. In fact, I would argue that Blade Runner actually demonstrated that science fiction was not so much its own genre, as it had always been understood to be, but was really a setting in which other genres could be played out. In other words, Blade Runner showed there is no such thing as a science fiction movie, there is instead a crime story, or mystery, or comedy, or love story set in a science fiction world.
It’s Great Because It Expands Your Mind
Finally, let’s finish with what makes Blade Runner such a great film. Beside the obvious, i.e. great acting, super writing, and eye-catching settings, it was the philosophical questions that lifted Blade Runner to another level. The primary question Blade Runner asks is what does it mean to be human. It does this through an examination of three characters: Deckard, Rachael and Roy.

Rachael (Sean Young) is a Replicant who doesn’t know she’s a Replicant. She works for the head of the Tyrell Corporation, the creator of the Replicants, and her life seems real enough. She has an apartment, a job, photos of her childhood, and even memories of growing up. She walks, talks, breathes, thinks and appears to experience the complete range of human emotions. Yet, she is a machine. But does that really matter? She seems human in every way. She is emotionally aware. She has no expiration date like the rest. And she doesn’t even know she’s a machine. So what makes her different than the humans around her?

Roy is easily the most interesting of the three; he’s also the most human (intentionally so). Roy is programmed to be an assassin, and he knows he’s a Replicant. He also knows he’s designed to expire after a five year lifespan, a safeguard put in place because Tyrell discovered Replicants would develop full-blown emotions after five years. . . a quicker time than human children mature. Roy desperately wants more life, and the way to get that, he thinks, is to confront his maker. But when Tyrell tells Roy it’s impossible to extend his life, Roy kills his creator. He then decides to toy with and kill Deckard as a form of spite for his own pending death. But at the last moment, just before Roy expires, he suddenly realizes the value of life and he saves Deckard from death. In effect, Roy fully matures from a mere tool to an emotional child to a fully-mature adult, which is a remarkable transformation for a machine.

Here we are given several issues to consider. First, we are asked what makes Roy not-human. Unlike Rachael (or even the other Replicants who came to Earth with Roy), Roy has fully repudiated the false past he was given. He’s also thrown off his programming and set about becoming his own man. He's an independent being with free will, and he craves life and, ultimately, comes to understand its value. In this way, Roy becomes more human than many real humans will ever be. Yet, he is a machine. So is he alive or isn’t he? And what makes him so? Also, what of Roy’s relationship with his creator? What does Roy killing his creator say about Roy’s independence and ours? Would we lash out the same way if we learned that our creator was some flawed, mortal creature? Would that set us free or would it lessen us?

Lastly, we come to Deckard, the human we use for comparison. But there’s a problem with Deckard. . . we’re not actually sure he’s human. At no point does Blade Runner ever say or even openly suggest that Deckard is not human, but the evidence is there. He has no real life outside of his job and no past about which we learn. He has memories of childhood and photos, but they are very similar to Rachael’s packaged memories. He’s emotionless, cold, and functional, i.e. he’s machinelike. Moreover, the one character we know to be human, because he’s physically defective, is Gaff (Edward James Olmos), and Gaff treats Deckard with disdain much as if he knows Deckard is merely a deluded machine. So is Deckard human or not? We don’t know and that’s the beauty of the writing. We are left to try to justify his humanity in ways that differentiate him from Roy and Rachael, and in the process we explore what it is that makes us human and alive.

Finally, one last issue worth discussing is hinted at throughout the film: why make Replicants at all? Why not just make functional robots, rather than making them look and act human? One possible explanation involves the purposes to which these Replicants were put -- “off world hit squad” and “pleasure model,” i.e. because they would need to blend in. But what does that say about us? It’s easy to see these as purposes to which we would actually put androids, but that means we would be striving to put ourselves on a par with God, only to use our greatest achievement (creatures created in our own image) to satisfy our basest instincts or our most evil desires. That doesn’t say much for us, does it? And what does it say that we don’t even give these creatures free will? As self-made God, we certainly seem to come up short. So could we create real Replicants to achieve only our better instincts? Would we? And if they are alive for all practical purposes, should we even try to create them, given our obvious flaws?

These are the kinds of questions Blade Runner raises and we can spend hours debating them. Indeed, this is where science fiction draws its strength, in its ability to ask these questions without angering the audience by insulting their faith, or race, or gender, or whatever. And by injecting these kinds of questions into what would otherwise be a simple story about a police officer hunting some escaped killers, this film suddenly takes on a level of depth that makes this more than just a film; it becomes an educational experience, as we are asked to examine our own beliefs and thereby understand ourselves a little bit better.

And that makes it pretty darn cool.


ScottDS said...

I'm sure I'll have much more to add later but in the meantime:

-For future reading, check out Paul Sammon's book, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner and Charlie Lauzirika's 3.5-hour documentary, Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner.

-I really don't want to believe Deckard is a replicant. They even discuss this on the DVD/Blu-Ray: Ridley Scott says he is, Harrison Ford thinks it's a stupid idea, and filmmaker Frank Darabont says that making Deckard a replicant destroys the character's arc. I also have a friend who'll argue with me, "If the director says he is, then he is!" (even though the screenwriter disputes the idea)

-So how many versions of the film have you seen? The Blu-Ray release includes five but the three important ones would be the original 1982 version, the 1992 Director's Cut, and the 2007 Final Cut which fixes several errors.

T_Rav said...

So Andrew, I gather from this that you thought it was a better movie than Inception :-)

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, Just by a little! LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I've seen each of the versions and as sacrilegious as it may sound, I actually do like the version with the narration, though I don't like the happy ending they tacked onto the end. I think the film should end with a lot of ambiguity.

In terms of Deckard being a Replicant, there is no answer. In the book -- which I do not recommend -- it's a little clearer that he is a machine, but the book is nothing like the movie. In the movie, there is a lot of evidence that he's not real, but not enough to say one way or the other. And the reason for that the philosophical problem of proving what life is. What can we ourselves point to that Roy can't other than the fact he's encoded with serial numbers?

And I do agree with the idea that it ruins the story arc if he is a machine. Indeed, if he is a machine, then I think a lot of what makes Roy's decision at the end so special. If he's just another machine, then Roy's decision and Rachael's decision to turn to him suddenly seems rather ironic or comedic rather than dramatic. So I tend to think he is human.

Feel free to add any thought9s) later, I'll be around. This is one of those films with a lot to think about.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I haven't actually seen anything more than a few fragments of this movie, although I am familiar enough with it to know about all the ambiguity with Deckard. I'd always heard the debate turn around the point that he doesn't dream, though, and whether that meant he couldn't or just didn't. In a way, having read your review, it would make a lot of sense if he did turn out to be a Replicant, but then it would also seem to cheat a lot of the storyline. Either way, I'll have to make a mental note to see it; it's one of those I know I should watch but just haven't gotten around to it.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I'm going to pretend you were stopped from seeing this film by pirates who held you hostage! Arrrrgh!

Seriously though, you need to see this film. This is one of the most important science fiction films and it's just a great movie!

To me, the biggest clues that he's not human are that that he's a normal, healthy looking person. All the humans in the film are twisted somehow. He's not. Secondly, he doesn't seem to have a real life outside of the film. It's like he lived in a box until they woke him up to do this job. Third, Gaff's treatment of him, which is not at all like a colleague. And fourth, the fact that he can hold his own against an android that's been built for combat.

But there are clues in the other direction too, like the fact that he eats in one scene and that fact that the Tyrell scientists seem to be able to spot the Replicants from their parts, but no one ever calls out Deckard.

In the end, I tend to think of Deckard as human. But that's also the point -- what makes him (or us) different than Roy? We know that Roy was manufactured, but apart from that, he's very human. And this isn't just a theoretical question either. With artificial intelligence coming along that mimics humanity in every way, we need to ask, at what point can a machine cross over into becoming a living thing? Where are those bounds? The truth is that there is no real answer yet as to "what is life."

Any thoughts on that point?

Also, I know you're deeply religious, what do you make of the idea of Roy finding out that his creator is flawed and mortal? How do you think it would affect humans if they somehow discovered (or believed they'd discovered) the same?

Ed said...

Great review and a lot of deep thoughts for a Friday morning! Lol! Great point about the change in the form of dystopia. I hadn't realized that, but you're right. This movie really changed what we saw as the worst possible future. Nice catch!

Ed said...

Interesting point too about science fiction not being a genre. Also, I hadn't thought of that either because everyone automatically calls is a genre, and in a way it is. But you make a really good point that science fiction doesn't stand alone. For example, you can't a "science fiction story." You need to have some other kind of story that is emersed in science fiction. I wonder how many other genres aren't really genres?

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Ed! I think it is an interesting point. I think it reflects the chaos created by the counter culture. In the 1960s, the counter culture presented itself as standing up for the individual against a repressive borg-like society that demanded conformity. And I think people could sympathize with that because no one wants to be part of the collective. And since society seemed to be getting more and more conformist, it was plausible to see a repressive future where individuality was stripped from people.

But then chaos struck. The counter culture turned out to be a bunch of drugged out hippies who wanted to destroy everything and take away the safety and prosperity society promised. So our worst case future suddenly seemed like a future of chaos rather than excessive order/conformity. Thus, the nightmare world of Blade Runner is not the perfect society with the dark underbelly, it's the society that lapsed into chaos. And that's become the norm every since -- with a few exceptions.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, The genre issue is something I've thought about a long time and I keep debating writing a post about it. Some genres are clearly their own genres. Take "mystery" for example. You can write a mystery without ever touching upon any other genre.

But some "genres" really can't stand alone. Science fiction and comedy come to mind, for example, as both require a collaboration with another genre before you can create a film. Now I suppose it's possible to produce a purely technical film as "pure" science fiction -- the closest that comes to mind would a fictional remake of Appollo 13. And "pure" comedy is probably stand up. But outside of that, you really do need to marry the story up with another genre to get an actual story. That's why I think they're misclassified as a genre.

Why does it matter? Because it explains why it's so hard to compare science fiction films, because lumping a mystery sci/fi with a romance sci/fi is as unnatural as comparing a mystery with a romance. Plus, if people grasp this idea, then maybe they will realize that science fiction is capable of more than it's given credit for and we'll start seeing a broader range of science fiction.

CrispyRice said...

Excellent review, Andrew and good thoughts!

#1 - Re Deckert not being human, I watched this movie for years without that thought really coming to me. Once it did occur to me, it seems almost unavoidable. Indeed, if anyone who can goes to "live the good life in the off-world colonies" then why hasn't he? He undoubtedly earns well, given his job. He has no physical or mental deficiencies. He really has no reason still to be on Earth, if he could leave.

#2 - Re Roy destroying his creator. This fits very well with your take that he goes from being a child to an adult right at the end of his life. I think you'd find plenty of toddlers who don't really know how to handle their anger or rage sometimes. And if they had the power of a robot/replicant, they might do some serious damage to their parents when they were told "no" too, without really realizing the full consequences.

Finally, I'd just add that I was never fully convinced that the off-world colonies do actually exist. We never see it; we never see anyone go or come back. It's almost like the beach in Dark City. It's supposedly there, and you might get there one day, but does anyone? Maybe this is honestly all that is left of society?

DUQ said...

I agree with your point about the genres. Westerns, for example, are a very well-defined genre. You know exactly what you're going to get, within some very strict boundaries.

Sci-fi, though, ranges from comedy to fantasy to horror to romance to social commentary.

I'd argue that your example of an Apollo 13 "pure" sci-fi story still isn't. It would be a historical drama, really.

Blade Runner would fall into part crime-story, part social commentary.

And speaking of societal commentary, how about a review of 2001?

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I've had that exact thought several times. . . are there really off-world colonies? What are they like? Maybe it's just a way to motivate the people who are left to keep working even though the world has fallen apart? IF... if I was ever going to make a sequel to Blade Runner, I think I would explore that question.

In terms of the growth of Roy, I think you're right. If a child had the power that Roy has, it would be easy to see them being highly destructive until they gained the maturity to use that power. And Roy certainly seems to be lashing out in the only way he knows how at that point at the disappointment of learning that his creator is flawed. But at the end, he seems to have grown to the point that he suddenly realizes what life is really about, or how precious life is. It's not clear exactly what his thoughts are at that point, but they are clearly profound and represent a deep change of heart. It's actually very touching, and makes for a heck of an ending -- especially when we're so used to seeing movies end with extreme violence, suddenly here's a violent movie that ends with a moment of peace. That's impressive.

In terms of Deckard being human, that's one thing I love about this film -- it NEVER beats you over the head with anything. There are all these issues (and more) in the film and it never once has the characters stop and look at the screen and say "well? Think about this dammit!" Instead, it let you figure it all out by yourself.

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

I've only seen this movie once or twice, so I don't have much to say about it, but I look forward to seeing it again. Nice review!

BTW, I watched The Thirteenth Floor on your recommendation, and I really liked it. I didn't see the "twist" coming at all. Very thought provoking! I actually enjoyed it more than Inception.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, That's true, Apollo 13 would be a historical story. You could do a technical version of the first manned trip to Mars, for example, which would probably be "pure science fiction." But the thing is that I don't think people would watch it unless you brought in a story from another genre.

In any event, I think the concept is valid that science fiction is not a true genre and should be looked at in a much broader sense than it is today.

In terms of Blade Runner, I actually would not call it social commentary. There is some suggestion that it's talking about the relationship between white cops in the 1960s and blacks (i.e. as Replicants), but I think there's no real commentary there. I think it's meant to give the noir feel more flavor.

Moreover, I think it's hard to call the philosophical questions raised a social commentary because it really doesn't comment, except maybe to say that humans are flawed.

But I see the point.

2001 huh? Hmmm. That's a tough one!

AndrewPrice said...

Pitts, Thanks! I'm glad you liked the review. Definitely check it out again, I'm sure you'll like it even more the second time. I've seen this film many times and it always stands up to repeat viewing.

I'm glad you liked Thirteenth Floor! Yeah, the twist kind of took me by surprise too! All in all, I thought it was a very interesting movie with some good acting and an excellent idea!

CrispyRice said...

Andrew, I like very much how it doesn't hit you over the head. That's one of the reasons I really, really (REALLY) prefer the directors cut over the one with the narration. (Never mind the screwed up "happy" ending! >>eyeroll<<)

It lets you very much think about the movie on your own terms. I like the pace of the quiet.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I see your point and I know that you're right. . . BUT there's just something about the narrated intro that speaks to me -- it has more of a film noir feel to it, like from the 1940s noir films.

In any event, I totally appreciate movies that don't try to beat you over the head with their message or force feed you ideas. And Blade Runner is near the top in that department. It puts the messages and issues out there and trusts you to pick them up or not. That's strong writing when the writer isn't afraid that their message will get lost.

DUQ said...

I would say social commentary in terms of where we as a society are heading.

Especially if you take the movie at face value that everyone with means has left the planet, then this is what's left. What happens if the "betters" stop caring and just abandon the poor and helpless?

Also with the replicants - we created these machines to make our lives easier and less dirty, but have we really considered what happens when things go astray with them? That's a common sci-fi theme, of course.

And yes, 2001. And maybe Planet of the Apes. We've had a "monkey-themed" going on around here. Don't ask why...

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, Any month-themed series would need to begin with Planet of the Apes! ;-)

I see your point about the social commentary. And I think that's almost implicit in any dystopian film, so I will agree that this is both a crimes story and a social commentary. :-)

ScottDS said...

There's a blog called Script Shadow that reviews spec scripts that are submitted to the studios and agencies. Some are filmed; many are not. They held a writing contest and later published 100 log lines of scripts that were submitted. This was the funniest:

"Blade Runner: In a world where all movies are made with pre-existing fanbases, the star of the "Blade Runner" remake, Zac Effron, is kidnapped. The studio sends the writer and their best team of actors on a rescue mission, taking them deep in to the jungles of South America." Ha! I doubt this script will ever be filmed but it brought a smile to my face.

On another note, any thoughts on the look of the film? I still can't believe they shot it on the WB lot in Burbank on the same streets where they shot NY scenes for Friends. Years before I saw the film, I'd assumed it was shot in the UK since seemingly all the big sci-fi/fantasy films of the time (Star Wars, Indy, Superman, Alien) were shot in the UK.

This was Ridley Scott's first film shot in the US and to call the experience stressful would be quite an understatement.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I'm obviously firing blind so far as the movie is concerned, but these are points I've thought about. I've never really bought the idea of machines becoming self-aware and having emotions. I mean, theoretically it's possible--there's no particular reason why organic material can be sentient and metal contraptions can't--but as you say, I do look at it from a religious perspective, and the notion of machines becoming man's equal has some troubling implications on a philosophical, even theological level. If you believe that our souls originate with God, then He must have put the breath of life in these androids as well. Why? Has He finally given up on humanity (for understandable reasons) and decided to make the machines the new master race? Maybe not, since it appears that like us, the Replicants can sin and also receive salvation (of sorts).

But it does change the game if their Creator is not God, but one more flawed human (or group of humans). In that case, how would an android like Roy truly receive salvation? And can you blame him for disillusionment and anger when he finds out his soul was just cooked up in a laboratory? Honestly, I'd be pretty ticked off too. In that connection, I suppose the Replicants could also be viewed as a warning about man's hubris. If the scientists believed they could manipulate life to the point of endowing their creations with emotions and independent thoughts, well--be careful what you wish for, I guess. It brings to mind Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger in "The Lost World": "I don't know if there is a God. But I do know man is no substitute if there isn't."

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, LOL! "In a world were all films come with pre-existing fanbases...." That's not only the future, that's pretty much here. Have you seen the list of what's coming in 2011? I don't think there's an original film in the bunch!

On the look. The look is brilliant. In Alien, Scott exploits our fear of being locked in small spaces. Here he exploits the opposite, our discomfort at being alone in these vast cavernous spaces. Plus, with the darkness, the constant rain, and the debris everywhere, he gives you the perfect image of a world that's fallen apart. Moreover, he does a great job of not overdoing it. While the world is kind of crappy, he mixes in enough livable space that the world is believable -- something which most of the copies fail to do, and thereby lose their sense of realism.

Also, I think his use of technology is great. It's there in the background, so we know this is the future, but it doesn't dominate the scenes, it hasn't replaced the human element, and he's not doing anything that makes the movie feel dated when our own advances outstrip the ones in the film.

So all in all, I'd say the look and feel of the film is brilliant, which is why it's been become the template for all future dystopian settings.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Excellent analysis! I think that may be the lesson to draw from the creation of the Replicants. I think the real reason they created these Replicants in the image of man is hubris, it's a way of saying, "I'm as good as God!" But you see right away that man is no substitute for God. Indeed, the very reason for creating these Replicants is the wrong reason to act, and then they are put to immoral purposes, and they aren't even given free will. Ultimately, this proves a recipe for disaster. So in many ways, you can see this as a warning -- don't play God, you don't know what you're doing.

And in that regard, this issue actually goes way beyond the film. It calls into question why we would do certain things? For example, if you asked people, "should we create Replicants?", I'll bet the answer is a resounding "sure, why not?" but should we really? Indeed, aren't we acting for all the wrong reasons? And the same question and answer applies to a lot of other things, like genetic manipulation, e.g. if you could change the color of your child's eyes, would you? should you? Is there really a valid reason to do that?

As science moves forward, I think these questions are quickly becoming more important.

In terms of machines becoming sentient, I'm not convinced either that machines can ever be considered life. But here's the catch, where do you draw the lines and how do you define life? That's a pretty deep philosophical question. And even if they aren't life, do they have rights? I don't know. My inclination is to say no, but then I can think of scenarios where it seems they should, i.e. if you come upon a planet of just robots, wouldn't they have the right to continue unmolested or could we land and start stripping them for parts?

Tennessee Jed said...

To me, the most amazing thing about Blade Runner was that it was made in the early 1980's. It is one of the timeless classics that stands up just fine today. It is one of the first films I can remember, to be shot so darkly. The themes and questions raised are complex and of the highest level with the most crucial for me being the forcing of the viewer to examine exactly what it means to be human. For that alone, it deserves to be ranked with the best films of all time, even if it was difficult at the time to see Hans Solo in such a disparate role.

My only criticism . . . . and it is a forced one to be sure, is that the themes are almost too complex, the pace somewhat slow and the visages too dark for much of the viewing public. This fim was made before the VCR. It really demands to be viewed multiple times, and, if possible, in an adult education seminar where scenes can be picked apart and discussed with a good instructor and fellow classmates. Which, in a way, is what you are attempting to do here! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's exactly my goal! :-) I don't see these are reviews so much as dissections and discussions, at least as much as is possible without creating a treatise on these films!

I agree completely that this is a film that calls out to be seen multiple times and discussed. This isn't just a film you toss in and watch, though it can be seen that way. And in the end, I think that's why this film found an audience, because it relied on people who weren't just looking for fights and explosions, but wanted films that made them think. And those are the people who kept the word of mouth going, keeping this film alive.

Interestingly, it bombed when it first came out, but it came out opposite Star Trek II and E.T., so it's hard to say how it would have done on a better weekend? In any event, it's stood the test of time and earned a place near the top of the movie hall of fame.

In terms of this being a different role than Han Solo, I agree completely. This was a real change from Han Solo and a lot of people were shocked -- just as Presumed Innocent was another shock for people. I think it was this willingness to take on out-of-character roles early on in his career that made Ford such a great actor at the time. It's too bad he sort of fell into a pattern later in life, because I think that limited his career later.

rlaWTX said...

This is one of those movies that I have seen pieces of and can even discuss in a limited way - but have never sat down and Watched it. Now I gotta!!!

It is interesting to note the difference between Replicants & Asimov's robots (NOT the movie I, Robot). Asimov created the laws of Robotics to limit some of the prolblems that y'all see in the Replicants creation. And yet even they can learn (at least the one who discoveres the Zeroth Law)...

And now I also have to go pull my Asimov books out of storage!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I'm glad to hear I've piqued your interest in the movie!

You're absolutely right that the Replicants are not programmed with Asmiov's three laws. In fact, Roy and some of the others are specifically programmed as killing machines. So when they escape, they have no qualms about killing humans.

Unfortunately, I suspect that humans are more likely to ignore Asimov's laws than they are to make sure they're programmed into robots. Maybe Replicants are the result of that?

I terms of "I, Robot," I did like the movie -- it was fun, but it was pure mush. The book was sooooooo much better. That said, the same is not true with Blade Runner. Blade Runner is a great movie, but "Electric Sheep" is a very poor book. In fact, unlike Asimov, who I think is a great author, Dick was a rather poor author. He had some great ideas and themes, but he just wasn't a very good writer -- plus, all the books of his that I've read fall apart about halfway through, as if he lost interest in finishing them.

FYI, my favorite Asimov book(s) are the "Foundation" series!

DUQ said...

Wow, you guys took a turn for the deep! Which is nice on a slow Friday afternoon.

I'll agree that the book was awful. I read and could not for the life of me understand how they got the movie from the book.

Good discussion and thoughts. Thanks to everyone.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks for your comments too DUQ, everything's more fun when everyone contributes! In terms of getting deep, deep is where it's at! :-)

StanH said...

The cinematography is simply incredible in this movie, through dreary, beautiful to look at. It put Ridley Scott in his own category as a director. And as you say this movie has generational legs, my daughter (19) asked for the box set for her birthday, and considers it a prized possession…smart girl. I haven’t watched this movie in decades, I think I’ll borrow my daughters box set and give it another look.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, Smart girl indeed! It's pretty amazing how timeless this film has become. It seems to transcend generations.

And I agree about Ridley Scott, he really is in a class by himself. In fact, his films are often the best whatever genre he chooses to work with, and they're usually timeless. Consider Alien, that's as fresh today as it was the day it came out.

Ed said...

Great comments! This is a lot to think about. Allow me to toss this out there. When Roy kills Tyrell, he frees himself from a false god. That allows him to see the universe for what it really is. When he's holding the dove (could be a pigeon, but I always thought it was a dove), I have always taken that for him realizing that there is a real God who is not the twisted Tyrell, but something truly magnificent. I see it as a religious metaphor - he loses a false faith and gains a real one, and that is when he decides not to kill Deckard.

Tennessee Jed said...

Interesting that you mention Ford's role as Rusty Sabich in "Presumed Innocent." This was a remarkable novel that was transferred beautifully to the screen as was Barry Reed's "The Verdict." I love Steve Martini's sense of humor, but have always thought Turow was the best fiction writer of the lawyers turned best selling authors. Arguably, his first two which involved Sandy Stern are probably still his best, however. Assuming you have read his books, what do you think of Turow in general and did you like "Innocent?" Given that you and Hawk are both in the profession, that might make a fun discussion some rainy day. I could see where you guys could go either way (love them or don't touch them.)

T_Rav said...

Andrew, your comment about robots and how we would treat them got me thinking how they and animals are often portrayed in the movies. Especially in animated stuff but also in more mature films, they are often portrayed as talking and having independent thoughts and emotions--in other words, souls. I think on some level this is the expression of an innate desire for companionship; there's this feeling that even if we can't converse with animals or robots in the way we can with another person, their existence ought to be valued.

Think about animal rights. Obviously no one here takes that to the extent of impoverishing an entire state for the sake of a minnow or throwing fake blood on people who wear furs (right?), but we all recognize such a thing as animal cruelty, and that a certain respect ought to be shown to animals. Even if they don't have souls, at least not in the way that we do, there is a certain amount of dignity to their own lives. We don't have a problem exploiting animals for our own benefit, but we usually remember not to take those animals for granted or to treat them as just raw meat.

In this connection, I think if robots grow sophisticated enough, we'll probably see them equated with animals more and more. Not in exactly the same way, of course, but in terms of their relationship with their human masters there won't be much difference. So I think that's the answer, perhaps, to the question you posed, of whether robots have rights: yes and no. No, in that we built them to serve us and we shouldn't shirk from that; but yes, in that just because they are essentially buckets of bolts is no reason to abuse them. (Because then maybe they'll go easier on us once they become self-aware and launch the uprising.)

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, That's a fascinating take, and one of the things I love about films like this -- whether that was intentional or not (and I don't know if it was or wasn't), that's a very plausible explanation which opens yet another avenue for consideration. These kinds of movies offer so much, and that's why I love them!

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I hate Grisham. His plots are so unbelievable and so unlike anything you will find in law that I just can't stand them -- they are utter nonsense, and I hold them in total contempt.

Most other lawyers turned authors fall into the same category. They either never practiced or never did anything while they practiced (which is probably true -- few lawyers will ever handle a case), and they end up just making things up that are little more than action movie cliches with occasional visits to a place called "court," where nonsense happens that drives the plot. I could literally spend pages tearing apart every one of those books from the first page to the last.... there's nothing even close to reality in them.

But "Presumed Innocent," is a whole different world. This book IS what you will find at the county level where most crime is prosecuted. The politics, the court procedures, the dirty deals, the good and bad attorneys, the corrupt cops. . . it's all there. Even the feel of it is real in terms of how little you really "know" as a lawyer compared to how much you are just guessing -- like whether your client is telling you the truth, what the other guy will say, the surprises, the stares of the jury, the unpredictability of the judges, etc. Turrow gets all of that right. Even Sandy Stern, every jurisdiction has the one guy that all the lawyers would trust with their own cases, and Stern is written to perfection in that role.

In fact, of all the legal fiction I've read, nothing comes anywhere near reality like "Presumed Innocent." Add in wonderfully clear writing and a Turrow's knack for storytelling and you've got a great book. It's one of my favorites.

And I thought the movie did a great job of translating the book to film. I highly recommend both the book and the movie!

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Right, always keep the robot uprising in mind! LOL!

I think you're right. I think there is a sense of a "not-quite-human but almost" out there, and animals fall into that. Thus, I would never say that a dog should have the right to vote (unless he's Republican), but I would also say that I don't have the right to treat a dog the same way I might treat a rock.

And I think you're right that robots will fall into that category if they are made to appear human AND we start to anthropomorphize them. In other words, the more human-like we make them, the more we will want to see them as human and the more inclined we will be to want to give them rights, just like we are more willing to give a dog rights than we are a rat or a fly, because they seem more like us. How far that goes, I don't know. But it's easy to see people arguing for the right to marry a robot or set their robots free to live independently. All of that will need to be addressed some day.

What may really test this model one day will be if we go to other planets and we start finding quasi-intelligent life. Supposed you find a race of dog-creatures with IQs in the low 80s and a spoken/written language. Suddenly we have a dilemma, how do we see them, i.e. do they have rights or not and are they equal to human rights? I know this is kind of arguing in a vacuum, but it gets us back to the question of how do we define intelligent life?

(This is one thing I love about science fiction because it lets us ask these questions and, in the process, rethink how we see ourselves, because to answer some of these questions requires us to answer fundamental questions about ourselves first -- like "what makes me alive".)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hi Andrew, good review, questions, comments, and ideas being knocked around here the last few days.

You said: "At no point does Blade Runner ever say or even openly suggest that Deckard is not human, but the evidence is there. He has no real life outside of his job and no past about which we learn. He has memories of childhood and photos, but they are very similar to Rachael’s packaged memories. He’s emotionless, cold, and functional, i.e. he’s machinelike."

I didn't get that impression, although I can see how that might raise questions.

But Deckard ain't the only cop I've seen in movies or stories that pretty much only has his job, and didn't talk much about his (or her) past.
As for "machinelike" or not having much emotions, I viewed Deckard (like many noir cops/pi's) as world weary, seen too much, tired but can't quit (a love/hate relationship with his job), type of character.

I'm not saying he's a generic noir character, but that he does have many of the same characteristics.
And most film noir doesn't often get into childhood memories or very emotional heroes (or anti-heroes) depending on ho they're depicted because there is some leeway.

Or perhaps a better way of putting it is Deckard seems to control his emotions well but you can see subtle emotions nonetheless.

Actually, it never occured to me until a few years ago when I read it being debated online that Deckard could possibly be a replicant so I watched it again soon after that and I still didn't get a feel that Deckard could have possible been one.

Maybe I just can't see it, or maybe because Ford never believed he was one and that came through somehow and somehow I picked up on that subconciously (although I can't specifically say what that thing or things is per se), but for whatever reason(s) it never seemed to "fit" least from what I perceived, and I have seen this great flick several times.

As for AI, IMO it's impossible (at least as far as any uniqueness or personhood or self-awareness as we understand it) because even the most powerful computers can only do what they are programmed.

Although there is now chess programs that can beat the best grandmasters, it takes the knowledge of several programmers thousands of hours, plus all past knowledge of recorded chess games, openings, patterns, tactics, etc., backed by very powerful computers with lots of memory to do it.
Thus the grandmaster in effect loses to a host of people including fellow grandmasters, not a lone computer that is thinking up the moves by itself.
Basically, a glorified calculator.

I mean, no matter how much information we can cram in a computer (or robot/android brain) it's still only programmed information.

Is it possible to get human mind "imprints" into a computer?
Perhaps someday, but wouldn't that still be the person imprinted and not the computer itself? Or merely an extension?

Could several human imprints be mixed together to create a new, unique, self aware AI? Not really, because that would be copying, or copying and mixing. Nothing created or unique. Not really artificial either.

Okay, it's not easy to say some of this with just a few words or grat detail, but regardless, it don't bother me to see the concept of AI in movies or stories.
I just don't see the possibility of free will and self awareness ever being added to programming and I'm hope I'm right for obvious reasons.

However, just in case I'm wrong and skynet is being built right now I'm with T-Rav in sayin' we shouldn't abuse them. :^)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"(This is one thing I love about science fiction because it lets us ask these questions and, in the process, rethink how we see ourselves, because to answer some of these questions requires us to answer fundamental questions about ourselves first -- like "what makes me alive".)"

Me too! That's one of the reasons I like metaphysics, philosophy and science (as well as religion).
Also good when it's in entertaining stories or movies, because it does get one to think and contemplate really deep and that can be very rewarding.

I appreciate when an author, musician, director, writer, actor, producer, etc., raise these questions without politicizing, racifying, sanitizing, goin' pc, insulting or preaching at me.

That includes terrific blogs such as Commentarama and Big Hollywood (to name a few). Thanks Andrew, Lawhawk and Bev! And thanks to all you guys who comment. I learn a lot. :^)

AndrewPrice said...

USS Ben, Thanks!

On Deckard, I read that Ridley Scott actually meant the character to be the most machinelike and emotionless character so the comparison to Roy would be more difficult. But I agree with you that in many ways that's just the noir style. In any event, I agree with you that my first impression of Deckard was that he is weary of the world and that he's just very good at keeping his thoughts, emotions, and personal life out of his work. In fact, if this had been just a noir film, I don't think there would have been anything suspicious about his life.

But when you add in the theme of "what makes us human," and you start comparing him to the "known humans" and the "known Replicants," that's when questions start to arise. But the issue is never solved and we are never given anything more than a few clues in either direction, so I think both views are perfectly plausible -- so I certainly can't disagree with you. I see the possibility, but I prefer to think of him as human. But I can see where either view would be right.

And I think you're right that Ford does imbue the character with a lot of emotion and depth, even though it's all subtle and has to be read in his eyes and in his pauses. I honestly think it's an impressive bit of acting. Indeed, Ford gives a ton of depth to the character that just isn't there in the words or deeds of the character. It's pretty rare that an actor can pull that off.

In terms of AI, what I think could (possibly) make a computer self-aware, would be if one was taught to learn, so that it could move beyond it's programming. For example, if it could run into an issue it has no solution for and then set about coming up with a solution that was not already in it's programming, that could (possibly) equate to awareness, depending on how far beyond it's programming it could get.

And yes, just in case Skynet is out there and listening, SkyNet is A-OK in my book! ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

USS Ben, You're welcome, and thanks for commenting! I agree with you. I like talking politics, but not all the time, and I think philosophy and science and religion are fascinating topics to delve into. And I totally appreciate it when these ideas end up in films -- not only does it usually add depth to the story, but it gives you something to think about, which is great. I wish more films would do it!

Individualist said...


Almost missed this. I agree, Bladerunner is one of the great scifi movies. I think the main problem a lot of science fiction stories have is the notion that everything the protagonists do affects the future of the world and mankind. I call it the "Tolkien" cliche. It still works for some movies, Independence Day comes to mind, but it makes for fewer notes to be played on the musical scale of the plot as it were.

I have not read the book but I checked the plot synopsis online and in the book earth is savaged by Nuclear War, the androids or "andys" were made originally as servants to help the colonits populate off world. So the book probably is much different in its feel than the movie.

The one interesting element not shown in the film is that most of the animals are extinct, so to own an animal is a sign of status. Evidently Deckard in the book owned a sheep but it died and was replaced with a robotic one.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I'm glad you didn't miss it!

On your point about the book v. the film: I did read the book and the difference between the film and the book are pretty stunning. It's one of those moments where you say, "how did they get the film out of that book?"

In the book, most of the planet is destroyed, but I'm honestly not sure it's nuclear. Dick kind of says it is, but then he talks about red dust or something like that which makes it sound biological or like dangerous pollution, and I'm not sure he ever really settles on a reason.

In any event, most of the planet is uninhabitable. I believe all the animals are dead (or only a handful are left), so people are buying these fake animals as pets. Deckard is married and he's saving up to buy a fake animal himself, and there's some dispute with his wife about what to buy. Beyond that, the story is more like a fever dream. Things happen seemingly randomly, people appear and disappear, there seems to be some conspiracy where people know things about him and they know what's really going on -- which we never find out.

There is a bit of a mystery about the Replicants, in terms of how advanced they really are and who they are and the such.... but this is where the problems with Dick's writing come up: none of it makes a lot of sense. I'm not sure if Dick ever bothered to think his whole world through or just kind of made it up as he went and didn't really think beyond the immediate needs of the chapter.

Finally, one of the Replicants hops in Deckard's car and says, "you're an android." And that warps Deckard's mind, and then the novel kind of grinds to a halt.

Despite the great ideas Dick came up with, his writing is total crap.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi (continued),

In terms of the Tolkien cliche, I couldn't agree more. It truly bothers me that so many films and television shows think that the only way to create drama is if the main characters will literally save the world in every story. It gets lame and old and unbelievable.

One of the things that always drives me nuts with Star Trek TNG, for example, is the idea that only the famous 5-6 crew of the Enterprise make the universe work. Without them, it seems that nothing would ever happen in Starfleet. I see this as a real limitation on the reality of the universes they create.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...


Good points. As you said, the open interpretation of the movie (without leaving one unsatisfied, like the book) adds much more depth to the story.
It also raises some more questions, but it's what I call a good mystery rather than a mystery (whether one thinks Decker is human or not) that doesn't make any sense whatsoever.
I would even go with another option : maybe Deckard appears less human or more android-like because of his obsession (passion?) for his job (blessing or curse or both?).

Reminds me of something Tom Clancy said, something to the effect that (paraphrasing) he hated writing but he could not NOT write (love/hate).

As you malso mentioned, what is life? Certainly, science alone cannot explain the mystery of life, let alone the mystery of conciousness (self awareness) and subconciousness (or what I like to call supraconciousness) and heart.

If a computer can be taught to learn (outside the parameters of programming) like a human can learn would that be it?

Would it ever be able to imagine and create or
think outside it's box?

Could it ever go beyond determinism or rationalism? There's even some humans that cannot or will not do that, choosing to think of the mind as merely neurons that were randomly evolved rather than conciously evolved and laugh at the notion of a soul.

Of course, if that were the case how could we ever know what higher truth's really are? How could we even be aware of it if it were a result of merely random evolution and why would that randomly evolve in the first place?

And in such a paradoxal view, what good is religion or philosophy? What good is truth that is only relative which is to say no truth at all taken to it's conclusion?
Self evident truth's would be truth's without any evidence in that case.
Indeed, some people think that religion and philosophy is a waste of time at best. (by religion I mean the religions that enable humans to become more enlightened, transcending material boundaries in deeper truth. Obviously there are some religiuons such as fundamental Islam that devolves man as such and others, such as New Ageism that is basically no different than secular humanistic determinism).

So, in a two dimensional (or horizontal) sense, I think AI is a possibility, but not in a three dimensional (or vertical) sense.
Metaphysics, teleology, religion, etc., would be impossible for
AI, as it is for animals.

So perhaps a Hal or Skynet could happen. Should we attempt to create AI? I think movies like Blade Runner, Terminator, 2001, are warnings that we shouldn't.

And for those that say what about "good" AI? Well, who would determine that and would that good be not so good from the programmers or the AI itself?
Afterall, whether one is a human or an adroid, one can be logical and rational and still be evil, and it doesn't take a belief in evil to be evil.

Like you said, Andrew, we could talk about this for several hours, lol. :^)

AndrewPrice said...

USS Ben, Great points!

I think you put your finger on something in mentioning Skynet and Hal, because their "awareness" is at a very different level. Skynet becomes "aware" but is still acting like a machine. It is acting within what could be defined it's programing, only it now sees humanity as a danger to itself, so it runs it's equation and decides to kill humanity. There's little real awareness there (as you say "three dimensional awareness").

But Hal is different. HAL has been programmed to have some traces of free will and in the process of giving HAL that, HAL experiences true "awareness" and has an existential crisis, which causes him to try to kill his maker.

Thus, I think there's a huge difference between the level of "awareness" in the two computers, and that's why HAL is so interesting on a philosophical level and why people are so curious as to why HAL did what he did. Compare that to Skynet, where we really don't care what motivates Skynet, because there's no sense of true awareness, there's just "turned on man."

Thus, HAL himself is fascinating to us, whereas Skynet is only interesting in terms of the plot it sets into motion.


AndrewPrice said...

In terms of the soul versus just firing neurons, that's the real question. Are we just a collection of random chance moments that somehow created physical bodies which became animated by some chemical/electric process? Or is there more to life? I firmly believe there's more. But how do we prove that? I don't know.

But that also causes me to think that true life (you're level three awareness) must be biological in nature, rather than mechanical. Mechanical can mimic life, but it can't be life.

Still, it's that gray area, where we don't really know what is true and what isn't, turns out to be fertile ground for science fiction, and I think that is because this question of "what makes us alive" is so fascinating to people.

In terms of humanism being pointless, I agree. If you believe in atheism, then I have to wonder what basis any philosophy makes sense other than "maximize your enjoyment and forget everyone else"? That doesn't seem to me to be a sustainable or sensible belief -- not to mention that I have serious problems with the idea that everything around us is random. I can understand people saying, "the Christian view of God is wrong," and I can accept that their view is rational, but I have a much harder time seeing the rationality in true atheism -- but that's probably beyond the current conversation.

In any event, I agree that we could discuss these things for hours and that's fantastic to me! :-)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Aye! Hal had his creator's mind and evolved into it's own unique character whereas Skynet had more of a hive mnentality and wasn't close to human (although the terminators could be reprogrammd to be "good" and in the third installment was able to overcome the Skynet programming which meant it evolved but unfortunately, never explained how or why it was motivated to do so. Maybe being cut off from Skynet for awhile enabled it to reach a different conclusion about humans?).

We also have the "bad" android in Alien and the "good" one in Aliens which I thought made the series more interesting (up to that point anyway).

Then there was V---ger in Star Trek the motion picture that eventually merged with it's "creator" to evolve. I liked that flick although it suffered from a lack of good pacing and some of the writing was basically static in the middle...or maybe it was an editing problem, because it seemed to wander aimlessly for awhile.

I think AI presented as unique individuals is more interestring than a hivelike or borglike AI but both can be entertaining at least.

I liked how each android in Blade Runner had it's own personality, and the later models had more depth to them and could evolve and transcend their original purpose.

In the end they were very humanlike, capable of good or evil and they obviously considered their own life as valuable whereas Skynet could care less if one or several terminators "died" nor did it ever evolve past its own self interest.

One thing I would've liked to see is what Skynet planned to do if all the humans were extinguished. What was it's motivation and goals?
Unfortunately those movies never explored that aspect.

As you mentioned in the past, the protagonist or bad guys are always more interesting when they are complex rather than just two dimensional and that goes for androids/robots/computer AI too, lol.

I enjoyed the Terminator series but it never reached the depths and symbolism of Blade Runner.

BTW, speaking of Scifi noir, I greatly enjoyed The Fifth Element too. :^)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

BTW, Randian atheists or agnostics don't bother me, it's the militant (God hating although they don't belive in God) atheists I find annoying.

AndrewPrice said...

USS Ben, I love The Fifth Element and did a review of that too -- LINK.

I totally agree about the one dimensional-ness of Skynet as a villain. I don't think anyone involved in the production ever asked, "what does it want to do after it kills off humanity?" Knowing that might have added a lot to the films. I thought T1 and T2 were both good films with good effects and fun stories, and I thought the time paradox was well presented, but there isn't much in the way of motivation, and that really comes across by the time you hit T3 or the very dull Terminator Salvation.

I agree about the different personalities of the Replicants, it made them richer characters. One of the problems I have with so much modern cinema is that everyone wants their characters to be written identically -- as the generic antihero. Where is the realism or the fun in that? It's the differences in the characters that make them interesting and that keep plots moving along in unexpected ways. When everyone is written the same, there's not much story to it.

In terms of the hive effect, the only time I really appreciated the hive was the Borg in Star Trek TNG. When they first appeared, they were really an unsettling villain. The idea of being absorbed into the collective and the fact there wasn't a single leader to deal with, made them a really neat villain. But then they ruined that by bringing in the Borg Queen and turning what had been a really unique villain into just a deluded cult.

Other than the Borg though, I vastly prefer the individual AI villain, especially when they're nuanced like HAL. Otherwise, I see them as little more than an excuse for the plot.

In terms of atheists, I can respect anyone's views if (1) they are thoughtful and (2) they aren't jerks about other people's views. Thus, I have no problems with thoughtful atheists, though I have real problems with the militant kind who attack religious people. But I apply the same rule to everyone, so I'm just as bothered by people who mindlessly repeat bumpersticker thoughts and attack anyone who doesn't share their precise view -- which seems to include all of Islam.

Individualist said...


I read an article in Scientific American I beleive that discussed the reason our current Silicon chip no matter how much we miniaturized it could never match the numan nueron.

This is because a silicon chip can only perfomr one function - add binary numbers. It cannot even subtract (to subtract you have to invert one of the numbers move it over then add). The connections between Silicon chips are on/off and singular. Thus a program can never recognize apples as a class. It can only walidate one apple is an apple and then only if viewed from the same angle.

The human nueron however has several (even hundreds) of conections to other nuerons. The nuerons basicly work (yes/no & maybe). The nuerons do not fire in exactly the same way to the same stimulus. Pathways develop ad the nuerons generate patterns but they can reach the conclusion even if something goes "wrong".

Thus the biological mind can have "creativity". However it also means the human mind is prone to mistakes the silicon chip does not have. The machine so long as it functions always adds this way:
1 + 1 = 1 0 (binary code)

For this reason a computer based on silicon could only become a simulation of a thinking individual because it could not create.

BTW I think the research into quantum computing might alter how a CPU processes but currently to my knowledge that research is not going along the lines of recreating nueral pathways but is aimed at increasing capacity by running several passes at once.

As far as I am concerned, if we make a robot that becomes self aware, the soul would be provided by God. We can make the hardware but the software is in his domain.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I've often wondered about that issue of 0 and 1 and something inbetween. If we can develop a computer that is capable of "maybe", that will probably be as close as we can get to creating a living computer. It's in that "maybe" that true awareness lies because that's where we use our opinions rather than just a straight up formula.

Can it be done? I don't know. Not now, that's for sure. But I'm not one to ever say that something will never happen. I've seen too many impossible things become common place to think we'll never be able to figure something out.

But I guess, the other question is, "do we want to make that happen?" What purpose would it serve to create robots that decide for themselves what they are going to do?

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hi Andrew-

Thanks for the link! Sorry for the late response. It's been hectic around here. I do intend to comment on your other review soon.

AndrewPrice said...

No problem Ben. Feel free to comment on any of the old films, with the "moderation" on, I know when people comment on them so I will respond!

Anonymous said...

I will never get why people focus on the word “machines” and “robot” when talking Blade Runner – I just watched the 1982 version last night and clearly we are talking about CLONES, not mechanical devices. They have blood and guts, all the talk with Sebastian and Tryell are about genetic codes and such. They don’t use the term “clones” in the movie because, I believe, they need to be de-humanized as much as possible and language is a big part of that. Calling them “replicants” or “machines” makes it a little easier for the police to send someone out to “retire” them. And wouldn’t it be even easier “retire” them by sending a replicant out to do the job. No human has to get his hands or his mind ‘dirty” by dealing with the problem directly.

And there are 2 dead giveaway abut Deckard being a replicant:
1) in narration about Rachel he states “she wasn’t supposed to have emotions, neither was I”
2) The first blade runner who ran the test on Leon in the opening scene looks and sounds just like Deckard. At one point Deckard is listening to the recording of the test and I thought is was his voice initially. Case closed.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, I'm pretty sure in one of the narratives that Deckard calls them "machines" and I think his boss does as well, though I don't recall specifically. They also suggest this by including manufacturers codes on each individual scale on the snake and by suggesting that they are built in parts and then assembled. And I think (don't remember at the moment) that the book is much more clear that they are artificial and not just clones.

John Jameson said...

I love this movie, and your analysis again resonates strongly with my interpretation of the film, more so than most other reviews I have read. While I agree that there is strong evidence to suggest Deckard is a replicant and Gaff knows it (the unicorn is pretty compelling), I have always thought that the ambiguity was a big part of the film's message: how can you tell the difference between a replicant and a human?

Concerning the nature of the replicants, one of Deckard's best lines (to Rachel) is "Replicants are like any other machine: they are either a benefit or a hazard. If they are a benefit, it is not my problem."

However, I agree with Anon above that this is just a way of dehumanizing them, and that the replicants are biological, not mechanical, made by "genetic design". They are not clones, because their DNA is designed rather than copied (which makes them more like GM crops than clones), and there may be an aspect of assembly involved in their creation as you suggest (for instance different cells may have different DNA).

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks John. I love this movie as well, and you are right that the ambiguity is a big part of the film's message. It tells us that we just aren't sure what is or is not life and so we should treat carefully.

I think that certainly a part of the Replicants is biological. If they are also mechanical, we don't know as that's not shown. But they aren't just human, that's for sure. They seem to be some sort of superhuman built from DNA.

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