Skip to content

Essays Blade Runner Analysis

  • 1

    How does Ridley Scott indicate that Deckard is disillusioned and unhappy with his life without explicitly saying it? Provide examples, both visual and from the script.

    First of all, Gaff has to arrest Deckard to even get him to come to the police station and hear about his new assignment. Deckard resists but Bryant gives him absolutely no choice. Deckard's apartment is dark and unwelcoming, and he drinks to excess by himself, indicating that he is using alcohol to self-medicate. He accepts that he has to do his job, even though he clearly dislikes it and it gives him the shakes; he tells Rachael - "it's all part of the business". When Deckard meets Rachael, his life starts to change. The transition is evident when Rachael comes to his apartment for the first time. At first, Deckard points his gun in her face and slams the door on her. Then, moments later, he opens the door and lets her in - and she eventually becomes his reason to live.

  • 2

    One of Hampton Fancher's inspirations for his adaptation of Blade Runner was to critique the growing power of corporations as a result of Ronald Reagan's economic policies. How does this critique manifest in the film?

    Tyrell Corp is housed in the grandest structure in 2019 Los Angeles - which is indicative of its power. Tyrell has made his fortune creating artificial human beings to do subhuman jobs, like prostitution - but it is vital to the success of his business to keep them under control. This is why the Nexus 6 Replicants have limited lifespans - Tyrell is completely aware that the sophisticated design of the Nexus 6 generation could potentially lead the replicants to develop emotions, like human beings. He even seems to anticipate the Replicants' indignation; he is not surprised when Roy Batty walks into his chambers. He is aware of the injustice of his practice, at least on some level, which could be the reason that he remains so elusive and protected. However, Tyrell chooses to ignore the moral implications of advancing the technology of making replicants because it continues to be profitable.

  • 3

    Although it is pretty clear in Blade Runner: The Final Cut that Deckard is a replicant, earlier cuts were much more vague on that subject. How does Deckard's status as a replicant or a human change the film's ending on an ideological level?

    Through the course of the film, Deckard discovers his humanity. If he is a replicant, then the ending becomes ironic - Deckard finds a reason to live at the same time he realizes that his life is artificial. It also presents the question at the core of the film - what makes a person human? At the end of the film, Deckard has found a reason to live, and he is in love with Rachael. He exhibits many of the emotions that define human beings. If Deckard is indeed a replicant, then the film implies that humanity is what makes a person human - and that our lives are all short, and we must live them as fully as possible. If Deckard is NOT a replicant, he is still a man who is in love with a machine, but he cares about her more than he has ever cared about a human being. In this way, the film implies that these replicants deserve the same nurturing care that human beings receive, because they can understand the injustice of their treatment enough to want to escape from it. There are conflicting opinions surrounding what it means for Deckard to be a replicant, however. Rutger Hauer felt that if Deckard was indeed a human, he was "a little sick because he ran away with a [machine]". Scott Bukatman feels that it is "urgently important that Deckard's status remains an open question, rather than settled doctrine" (Bukatman 9).

  • 4

    Why does Deckard tell Rachael that she is a Replicant? What does this mean for his character?

    Deckard is disillusioned from killing Replicants - it has taken a toll on him to the point that he quit his job. When he goes to Tyrell's office, Tyrell introduces Deckard to Rachael - who does not even know she is a replicant. This is a new level of technology and something that clearly throws Deckard for a loop - he asks, his tone uncharacteristically excited, "how can it not know what it is?" and Tyrell responds, "commerce is our goal here at Tyrell". He calls Rachael an "experiment, and nothing more". It becomes clear at this point that Deckard has started to feel a nagging sympathy for the androids he is supposed to be targeting. When Rachael comes to Deckard's apartment, she is desperate for answers - but Tyrell won't see her. Deckard obviously feels that she deserves to know that her memories are false, and tells her because he sees her as more than an experiment. Rachael is the linchpin around which Deckard's awakening occurs.

  • 5

    What are the relationships between the Nexus 6 Replicants like? How does this tie into the idea of what makes humans human? Use visual evidence from the film.

    The escaped Nexus 6 Replicants have no real history or family (unlike Rachael, they have not been given artificial memories) - and have therefore formed attachments with one other. One of the reasons Leon Kowalski considers his photographs so precious is because they are the only memories he has - physical manifestations of his fondness for his fellow Replicants, especially Zhora. When Roy Batty finds Pris' body at J.F. Sebastian's apartment, he puts her tongue back in her mouth, a symbolic burial - showing her a level of human empathy, whereas Deckard just shoots her point-blank. The Nexus 6 Replicants have clearly formed emotional bonds with one another, and behave just like human beings when their friends are killed - which adds to the argument that Replicants should be treated with more dignity in this society.

  • 6

    Describe the arc of Deckard and Rachael's relationship. How do they change each other?

    When Deckard first meets Rachael, he believes she is human, until a Voigt-Kampff test proves that she is a replicant - but doesn't know it. Deckard has a somewhat emotional reaction to this fact, and allows Rachael into his apartment when she shows up at his door suspecting the truth. When he is at the Snake Pit, he tries to call her. It's clear that he has started to form some kind of attachment. Meanwhile, Rachael goes from being a cool, collected executive who seemingly has it all together to a confused mess. Thanks to Deckard, her world is suddenly turned upside down - she doesn't know if anything she wants or feels is legitimate. In their love scene, Deckard forces her to admit that she has feelings for him, and that she should stop questioning their validity. Ultimately, Rachael give Deckard something to live for, and Deckard saves Rachael from life as a slave - a comfortable slave, but a slave all the same. He saves her from a life of fear and she saves him from a life of disillusionment.

  • 7

    There is never an explicit explanation as to how the world has changed in Blade Runner's vision for the future. What can you discern about the future - simply through the environment and the story of Blade Runner?

    There is a very prominent Asian presence, especially in the city's iconography and looming advertising, showing that Asian economies have become more and more powerful. There has clearly been some kind of climate change that results in more frequent rain in Los Angeles. Corporations have unchecked power - Tyrell is making replicants without any kind of regulation - and the Replicant industry is a profitable one that also benefits individuals like Hannibal Chew, the eyeball designer. Human beings have populated colonies away from Earth, which are desirable places to live - but one has to pass a medical to get there (which is why J.F. Sebastian is still on Earth). Blade Runner in general shows a dystopian view of the future, where new technology (like the replicants) presents new danger, advancing industry has destroyed much of the environment, and overpopulation has continued to drain the Earth's resources.

  • 8

    Describe the parallels between the real American slave trade in the 18th-19th centuries and the fictional replicant business.

    Many slave traders and slave owners believed that slaves that came from Africa did not deserve the same human rights as white Americans and thus treated them like lesser beings. Similarly, in the world of Blade Runner, replicants are treated like lesser beings despite the fact that they have the ability to develop the same emotions as real human beings. The slave trade was a commercial enterprise that was based on the buying and selling of actual human beings. Many justified this practice by stating that the African slaves were not as mentally or emotionally sophisticated as their white American counterparts, which somehow justified them being shackled and controlled. Slave owners devised different kinds of tactics to oppress their slaves and keep them under control - just as Tyrell has implanted fake memories in Rachael to keep better control over her. Of course, replicants are not biological human beings and the African slaves were - but at the time, many involved in the slave trade did not see them that way.

  • 9

    After Roy Batty realizes that there is no way to prolong his life, how does his character change? What drives him in the film's 3rd act?

    Roy Batty came to Dr. Tyrell assuming that he would be able to prolong his life, but Tyrell shoots down every single option that Batty presents. It is possible that Batty kills Tyrell out of punishment - especially since he is a trained killer - but also so that Tyrell cannot create any more replicants who will have to "live in fear" just as Batty and his fellow replicants have. This could also be Batty's motivation for killing J.F. Sebastian - who has been kind to Batty but also sees him as more of a machine, since Sebastian is the one who designed him. In the final conflict between Deckard and Roy Batty, Batty is doing everything he can to prolong his life - getting jolts of adrenaline by pushing a nail into his hand. He celebrates life by stripping himself down to his rawest, most animalistic instincts. He saves Deckard's life - perhaps because he wants the agonizing moment of his death to be preserved in Deckard's memory, or because Batty feels that Deckard deserves to live. After Roy Batty finds out that he cannot stop his impending death, he takes certain actions to ensure that the human beings around him will not be able to continue making artificial humans, and perhaps Deckard, enriched with Batty's memories, will speak out against the creation of replicants.

  • 10

    The love scene between Rachael and Deckard in his apartment is controversial - Production Executive Katy Haber felt that it was too violent, while Michael Deeley claims that Scott intended it that way. Editor Terry Rawlings feels that it was too short and violent and should have been more sympathetic. Do you feel that this scene works with both Rachael and Deckard's character arcs? Why or why not?

    Once Rachael finds out that she is a replicant, she becomes confused and lost, like a little girl. She runs away from Deckard, unable to handle the weight of this revelation and what it all means. The second time she comes to his apartment is after she has saved Deckard's life and retired Leon Kowalski in the process. At this point, Rachael is a marked woman - she has run away from Tyrell and even if Deckard won't kill her, another Blade Runner will. Deckard refuses to let her leave for a second time, because he is frustrated that she won't accept that she has feelings for him and that her life is in danger if she goes back out on the streets. He is certainly not a character who has an easy time expressing his vulnerability. However, had Rachael and Deckard's kissing scene been more romantic, perhaps the love between their characters would have felt more plausible and heartfelt. Sean Young felt that the scene was too violent and that she couldn't relate to Rachael kissing Deckard after his misogynistic behavior. Rawlings commented that the "sadomasochistic" feel of the scene also is rooted in the fact that "the sexual and political environment today is much different than it was then" (Sammon 165).

  • Perhaps it goes without saying that the best science fiction stories are the ones that present us with ideas about our humanity, rather than just pursuing the logic of technological futurism. The impending release of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus this Friday prompted me to revisit Scott’s previous foray into science fiction approximately 30 years ago: his 1982 masterpiece, Blade Runner. I want to offer some, perhaps obvious, ruminations upon the questions I see the film posing, such as: What does it mean to be human? Who is the true protagonist of the film? What is our relationship and ethical responsibility to our creations?

    To me, some of the most intriguing philosophical aspects of Blade Runner are the ways that the filmpushes the limits of the definition of human. The definition is complicated through the relationships of the characters, both the replicant “skin jobs” and homo sapiens. The world of Blade Runner, like Alien,is an ambiguous one, in which characters must navigate the interplay of human vs. the non-human, and the lurking threat of monstrosity; in it, the ontological status of one’s humanity is no guarantee of non-presence of the monstrous. Such is the case in Scott’s first science fiction feature, Alien, where the threats are as various as the android, Ash, and the thoroughly “Other” xenomorph which bursts from within the chest of one of the protagonists.

    Monstrosity in Blade Runner is slightly more ambiguous. Roy Batty is in fact a fairly perfect “human” specimen: strong, handsome, and erudite. There is also the monstrous uncanny of Sebastian’s creations, the strange and ungainly precursors to the replicants he designs for Dr. Tyrell. Monstrosity is also present in the human characters. See for instance the coldness with which Deckard, along with Bryant and Gaff, respond to the assignment of “retiring” the replicants; the use of the verb absolving them of any moral wrongdoing. To say “kill” would be to grant the replicants some semblance of autonomy, even if merely the status of a living being; to “murder” them would be to tacitly admit their humanity.

    The status of the replicants in Blade Runner is not unprecedented in science fiction. In fact it is a reworking of one of the oldest science fiction stories: the story of Frankenstein, or “The Modern Prometheus” as Mary Shelley subtitled her novella (the more one probes these things the more connections one sees across Scott’s science fiction films). Dr. Tyrell creates his replicants with fixed life spans of four years in order to prevent them from getting out of control. Like Victor Frankenstein, Tyrell is complicit in creating a lifeform for which he will not be responsible. Batty’s plea to Tyrell is simple, “I want more life, father!” One could interpret Batty’s subsequent murder of Tyrell as justified punishment for Tyrell’s promethean hubris and refusal to grant Batty more life. Batty’s final speech about all he has seen in his admittedly brief life and all that will be lost, “Like tears in the rain,” after he has saved Deckard’s life (while Deckard has been trying to kill them the whole time) forces the viewer to question his or her initial assumptions about the replicants humanity. Batty’s sheer enjoyment of life, desire to live, and willingness to show mercy is perhaps more “human” than the callous and drained existence most of the human characters live out. As a new version of Frankenstein’s monster, perhaps Batty is more frightening for all the ways that he does seem to surpass the human. Such is Batty’s status that he could be seen as a kind of hero of the film, though a tragic one done in by flaws that are not his own fault. The logic of how we deal with our creations, whether clones, AI, or the kind of advanced combination of bio- and computer-engineering that the replicants represent, is already present in any kind of reproductive ethics, stressing the importance of Batty calling Tyrell “father.”[1]

    The standing order to “retire” the replicants may seem like a moral preservation of human identity, drawing a clear line between what is and is not human. But it is an abdication of responsibilities. The solution for pacifying the new breed of replicants raises another ethical quandary; the new replicants receive the implantation of false memories, so that the replicant Rachael doesn’t even know she is a replicant. She believes at first that she is Tyrell’s niece. How then do we deal with an “other” who doesn’t even know they are an other? Such dilemmas further blur the lines between human and non-human.

    One of the things that Ridley Scott sought to heighten in his 2006 “Final Cut” was the suggestion that Deckard himself may indeed be a replicant. Whether one finds the suggestion lends the film a stronger ambiguity in terms of judging Deckard’s actions and his relationship to both Batty and Rachael, it is unnecessary in order to show that the line between the humans and replicants is not as clearly marked as one might initially think. If anything, leaving Deckard, who has displayed callousness and an obsession with the past - all the supposed trademarks of the replicants he hunts, as a human makes the thin line between him and the replicants more poignant than if the explanation is simply that he is also a replicant. If anything his encounters with the replicants, both Roy and Rachael, have made him “more human.”

    Despite its broad influence on the science fiction cinema that would follow (especially in set design and special effects), Blade Runner remains very unlike other science fiction films. It’s languorous pacing and lack of closure highlights the ambiguity of its world. One could see it as incorporating some of the modes of art cinema practice into the mainstream science fiction film. Will Prometheus follow suit, or will it be a bit more conventional? Either way one hopes that it will offer food for thought on par with Scott’s last science fiction opus, with its resonant title and its own android character played by Michael Fassbender. But perhaps that’s too much to ask.

    [1] In earlier cuts of the film, Batty’s line is ambiguous: either “father” or “fucker.”

    Blade Runner (1982 [2006 Final Cut])

    Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick; starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah