Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) has many layers of themes. The last time I watch it (again), I think it is also speaking about human’s survival will. The will to survive and to keep the narrative going.

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)Replicants, just like humans, have limited life cycle. After four years, their systems will shut down and they will, technically, die. Roy Batty (played by Dutch actor Rutger Hauer) doesn’t want his “life” to end, so he struggled to meet his maker, Eldon Tyrell, for a prolongation of his life. Tyrell can’t do that, so Roy killed him. He doesn’t need his maker then. He rebels against his creator because Tyrell was, in fact, as feeble as he is. Who needs a God that is not omnipotent? When Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is hanging on the edge by his fingers, literally, Roy saved him only because of one thing: He knows life cycle is coming to an end and he can’t stop it. So there are only one thing that he can do before it comes: continue his narrative. Roy lift Deckard, saved him, and said:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die.”

Roy Batty is dead, his bodily existence is over, but his last words made a big impact to Deckard. He is smiling while facing his death, because his narrative has transferred to Deckard. From Roy, Deckard realizes now what life is all about: Survival means keeping the narrative, the story, going on. To the end. Roy valued life so much because he knows he was at the end and he can do nothing about. He continues his existence by saving Deckard. Thus by doing this he kept his appraisal of life and at the same time transferring his ideas to Deckard. In turns, Deckard then realized the importance of keeping the narrative going, goes home and fled to the north with Rachel (Sean Young). They know that both of them wouldn’t live, just like what Gaff said about Rachel:

“It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again who does?”

Watch this clip if you’re not familliar with that scene:

The unicorn Deckard found at the end of the movie symbolizes impossible dreams for replicants (and humans) to have prolonged life. Replicants die. Humans die. Who does alive indefinitely? But one has to keep the story going. That scene are like this:

So the quest of the replicants to risk their life returning to Earth (replicants are meant for off-world harsh works and are forbidden on Earth) are a quest to meet their maker, Eldon Tyrell, who they hope can give them prolonged life. This is was Blade Runner is all about, it’s about man’s quest for God, for the survival of their existence, which is turn is then defined as the narrative that one experienced.

Richard DawkinsNarrative can be defined within the boundaries of semiotics, but Richard Dawkins has another idea. A narrative or an idea can be seen within the context of memetics. We can see a narrative as collection of memes, which is the smallest unit of culture. A cultural evolution is then the transfer of ideas, or memes, to one another and how it changes from one person to another. A small idea like habits might survive in its original form because it composed of small numbers of memes, but “big” ideas like religion or ideology might change drastically from person to person or from adherents to adherents because they are so big and complex. They might adapt into another kind of religion or ideology or branched into sects (or tendencies) because people interpret those big collection of memes differently (more memes mean high probability of changes within those collection of memes).

Back to Roy’s action in saving Deckard. That’s his way of continuing his narrative, to transfer his memes into Deckard. He then adopts this memes and act according to what he experienced, he adopted it into his conditions and thus born a new narrative. Deckard and Rachel then move on with their life. They knew that their life are going to end, but like Roy Batty they are also refusing their narrative to be lost like tears in the rain.

Deckard's dreams of a unicorn in 1992 Director's CutHey by the way, is Deckard a replicant? This is a very long debate. There are arguments for it and against it. I personally thinks that the story is more exciting and interesting if Deckard is a replicant. It can be inconsistent with the logic of the story (If he’s a replicant, Deckard should be implanted with a memory of his past, like Rachel. But why they implant a bad memory about the cops when he is supposed to be working for them?), but well…it’s more thought provoking. Ridley Scott seems to be liking this idea also and put an extra scene in the 1992 Director’s Cut where Deckard has a daydream about a unicorn. This changes the significance of the unicorn origami at the end of the movie. Gaff knows what Deckard thinks, what Deckard dreams about, and Gaff’s unicorn origami makes Deckard realize that he was, in fact, a replicant. Again, here‘s the scoop (the uploader doesn’t allow embedding. Don’t be lazy once in a while and go there).

The origami unicornOkay, so Deckard is a replicant. So what? What is its implication to the whole story? Well…can you imagine a moment when you suddenly realize that you are actually not who you thought you are? That you a suddenly…a thing that you hunted. At first it would raise confusion, but then…a question will dawned: What is it means to be human? How do we define humanity? Replicants are so humanlike. They have the thought and memory and humans, even Tyrell Corporation motto is “more human than human.” Technology makes it possible, and with the dawning of a new age of genetic engineering, cloning is now becoming more and more of a possibility, and this question has now become more relevant. Is a replicant (or a clone) are also a human being? We sometimes thought anybody that are not “ours” are not human (or a subhuman), so even in the domain of ethics these questions are also valid.

Descartes once gave a definite answer, “I think therefore I am.” Only humans thinks, but now…that is no longer the case. With the rise of computers and the study of artificial intelligence, machines made by humans are also capable to think, to learn and to make decision. Even likewise, humans are also capable to become machine, lose their minds, and do or think something that they are programmed for.

So if Deckard is a replicant, these big questions have more resonancy in the movie. It rang hard, demanding answers. How can we define humanity? How can we know whether we are human or just…machine?

Written by Tri L. Astraatmadja

After living for 10 years in Europe as a Master's student, PhD researcher, and a postdoc, in 2016 Tri L. Astraatmadja moved on to the United States for a second postdoctoral appointment at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington DC. He is now in his third postdoc at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD.

3 comments

  1. When you decide not to ‘kill’ that’s a proof of your humanity.
    When you decide to be responsible that’s a proof of your humanity.
    When you decide to improve ‘conditions’ so ‘other’s can have ‘choices’ not to’kill’ in order to ‘live’ that’s a proof of your humanity.

    Phisical abilities and to certain ‘extent’ brains and other ‘living’ thngs could be replicated.But can spirit&//soul be ‘created’

    Clones can be created, but none of ther spirit&//the same as the original cells.

  2. No you can’t.

    You never know who or what you are. A machine, perhaps. A human being, probably. There’s no such certain thing in this universe.

    It’s all just an idea. An idea of what a machine is. An idea of what a human being is. And, an idea, as memetics as it can be, well, just an idea. Will it survive?

    Will it extinct, as universe will also, someday, cease to exist.

    So, what’s the point of all these. Do you have to think first before an idea comes? What about the idea of thinking to think an idea? Was it there before you think.

    Actually, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t have any slightest idea about it.

    Probably this is only a machine, an autoreply for every stupid question on the internet. This might be a prove that machine can think, and you, human, won’t realize it.

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