Representations of Dystopia in Ridley Scott’s Blate Runner (part 3)

Technology:

The most prominent technological ‘achievement’ is clearly the replicant. Elizabeth Paddon says that in science fiction writers have ‘Invented new words or repurposed existing words to describe speculative ideas that have not yet been achieved by science.’[1] The word ‘replicant’ was clearly born out of replicate, meaning to make an exact reproduction of something. Replicants are artificial beings that have been created by the Tyrell Corporation to be used as slave labour on the off-world colonies. They are indistinguishable from humans, but only have a life-span of four years to enable their human masters to remain in control.

Due to the ‘more human than human’ nature of these machines they can be considered to be simulations of reality, an embodiment of Jean Baudrillard’s third order of simulacra. The replicants exist as copies of humans but do not have an original.[2] They are hyperreal, which poses moral implications. Joseph Francavilla writes:

The replicants in Blade Runner have virtually no right to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness…[the film’s] artificial form of the double presents a moral question about the creator’s responsibilities towards his living creations (and their rights) that remains a vexed one.[3]

This problem becomes prominent due to the increasingly emotional side the viewer sees of the replicants, which emphasises the dehumanised portrayal of the human characters. This is ultimately displayed when Roy Batty, leader of the Nexus-6 group of replicants, allows Deckard to live; knowing that he himself is coming to the end of his short life span.

Ultimately it is Roy who is the hero of the film, highlighting how blurred the line of good and evil has become. This theme has also been raised in the television show Battlestar Galactica, which also revolves around humans battling against robots they created and who have since evolved to emulate them.[4] The show adopted the term ‘skin-jobs’ to describe the machines also known as ‘Cylons’, a derogatory term initially used in Blade Runner for the replicants. Mark A. McCutcheon says:

As the series progresses, questions of human responsibility for the Cylon ‘machines’ deepen and overlap…the Cylons routinely blame humanity for its own annihilation…Battlestar’s ‘war on terror’ allegory is deeply ambiguous in blurring the lines between good and evil, friend and enemy, human and inhuman.[5]

Frequently we see the Cylons act more justly than our main protagonists. Just as they seek revenge on their makers, the replicants strive for justice for the hand they have been dealt. Mirroring Frankenstein’s monster, Roy murders Tyrell; but which of them can be considered the real villain here?[6]

The replicant Rachael is used as an experiment by Tyrell. Initially she does not know what she is and believes she is human. This is due to her having been given prosthetic memories by Tyrell. After Deckard tells her she is a replicant, Rachael defends herself with photographs from her past. Alison Landsberg states that: ‘The photograph, she hopes, will both validate her memory and authenticate her past.’[7] These pictures serve as proof of her existence, but really only show the lengths Tyrell will go to in the name of science. False memories and photographs as evidence are also used similarly in Ghost in the Shell, again raising similar questions of identity and humanity, such as whether a cyborg can possess a soul.

Photographs are used in a second example of technological advancement, this time in relation to the ‘Esper machine’. This device allows Deckard to search a photograph intensely, going beyond the limits of the image captured on camera. Judith B. Kerman says this is ‘Stunning as a commentary on privileged sight as an aspect of power and as an extrapolation on the tradition of the Private Eye.’[8] This is an extreme take on surveillance, proving how policed this world is. Nothing can remain private, showing the limited freedom of its citizens.

In Part 4 I will investigate how gender – particularly femininity – has played a role in Blade Runner’s dystopia.


[1] Elizabeth Padden, , ‘The Word-Pocalypse: Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse and Dystopian Language’, Student Pulse, 3.11 (2011) <http://www.studentpulse.com/a?id=591&gt; [accessed 1 April 2012] (para 15 of 96)

[2] Jean Baudrillard, ‘Simulacra and Science Fiction’, Science Fiction Studies, 18.3 (1991) < http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/55/baudrillard55art.htm&gt; [accessed 2 April 2012]

[3] Joseph Francavilla, ‘The Android as Doppelganger’, in Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, ed. by Judith B. Kerman (London: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), p. 9.

[4] Battlestar Galactica. Sci-Fi Channel. 9 December 2003.

[5] Mark A. McCutcheon, ‘Downloading Doppelgangers: New media anxieties and transnational ironies in Battlestar Galactica’, Science Fiction Film and Television, 2.1 (2009), p. 7.

[6] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (London: Penguin Books, 2003)

[7] Alison Landsberg, ‘Prosthetic Memory: Total Recall and Blade Runner’, Liquid Metal: The Science Fiction Film Reader, ed. by Sean Redmond (London: Wallflower Press, 2007), p. 245.

[8] Judith B. Kerman, ‘Technology and Politics in the Blade Runner Dystopia’, in Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, ed. by Judith B. Kerman (London: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), p. 19.

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