Welcome to my page of thoughts and reflections on characters and themes in Ridley Scott’s "Blade Runner", starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer et al..
This is a film which works on several levels – from noirish action thriller to a philosophical piece. This page came about because I was asked for my thoughts on the theme of existentialism in the film. It is therefore from that start point that this page has been written.
When considering the film from the point of view of existentialism it is useful (and perhaps even essential) to bear in mind that its definition extends beyond lack of morality to incorporate lack of faith, identity and purpose.
The androids (or "replicants") are self-aware and seek answers to age-old questions about identity and purpose. They question themselves and seek truth, answers, reassurance and direction.
The humans get on with life without question. Life, for them, has been reduced to the completion of a series of task with little time for emotion or reflection on life.
In many ways the androids appear more human than the humans who, in turn, appear more robotic than the androids. The androids also incite greater sympathy and interest while the humans fulfil functions and can appear almost "dehumanised".
It is also worth noting that a great deal of the film’s existentialism is suggested by the atmosphere Scott creates – perpetual rain, darkness and shadow, all excellently accentuated by Vangelis’ downbeat musical score. The whole creates an impression of a bleak, even hopeless, future for society as everyone hustles and bustles about their business. These images have at least as much impact as the script in creating an impression of a society (or a world?) which has lost its way.
Deckard (Ford) is a Blade Runner, a policeman whose job it is to "retire" (or destroy) replicants (androids) who manage to make it back to Earth, having been created to serve in off-world colonies.
In the director’s cut there is a strong implication that Deckard is himself a replicant. While I appreciate the irony of the situation, I think it is a far more interesting concept to have Deckard remain human, but displaying fewer signs of humanity, curiosity, loyalty and affection than those replicants he is pursuing.
This might have brought to the fore the whole question of what it is to be human, or even just to be alive.
As it is, a group of androids has come to Earth seeking answers and wanting to meet their maker. They wish to extend their lives and naturally enough they expect their maker to be able to help fulfil their wishes.
It is a commonly held view that meeting one’s maker will help make sense of life – everything will fit, and each one of us will see and understand our place in the grand scheme of things. These androids are no exception – they have spirit, passion, and a thirst for knowledge.
Unfortunately, Roy (Hauer) finds his meeting with Tyrell (whose corporation produces the androids) vastly disappointing. Tyrell offers no solutions and even rather patronisingly suggests that Roy should appreciate the life he has enjoyed up to now. In despair and anger, Roy crushes Tryell’s skull, and we are left with the feeling that the creation is greater than the creator, thus leaving the creation with a feeling of emptiness and pointlessness.
Man, on the other hand, appears quite disillusioned – he has long since learned to live with the emptiness of his existence and lacks spirit, drive and direction. As a result, the androids appear more attractive, if more tragic – perhaps it is better to travel in hope than to arrive and be met with disappointment.
Man has lost his humanity and has descended into disillusion, perhaps because he has lost his god, his direction, and his social cohesion. In creating androids man has himself become god-like (in the creative sense), but just as man slipped into chaos and disillusion, so too might the replicants as they discover their own potential and ambition, but also that man is no god – just a finite creator.
Yet in the scenes between Deckard and Roy towards the end of the film, Roy not only spares Deckard’s life, he actually saves him – just moments before Roy reaches his expiry time. Why? Perhaps because Roy has learned to appreciate the value of life – all life – as he faces his own death. This is a selfless and humanitarian act, suggesting he had achieved a greater understanding of the human condition than had his creators.
Life on Earth appears cheap, self-centred and devalued, yet in his final scene Roy talks poetically of the tragedy of death and the loss (presumably to humanity) of his experience and all the knowledge and wisdom he has gained. Again, he appears superior to the humans in the film, to the extent that one might wonder exactly which race is the replicant.
"Blade Runner" is an excellent and thought-provoking film which did fairly poorly at the box office on its initial release, but which has gained cult status and refuses to go away. It works very well as a noirish action thriller, but it works equally well as a philosophical piece inviting us to ask ourselves fundamental questions about the very nature of humanity and where we come from.
My thanks for taking the time to read this page – I hope you found it of some value.
I would, of course, be delighted to hear from anyone wishing to discuss these notes or the film further. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .