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BLADE RUNNER: TECHNOLOGY STEALS THE SOUL

"This clever cinematic creation, set in 2019 A.D. Los Angeles, intertwined twenty-first-century science fiction and forties-style detective film noir, and was a bold new step in futuristic filmmaking, taking a revisionist look at humankind's obsession with technology, as well as the dangers and pitfalls that same obsession may ultimately bring about to both humans and to machines they create."   

by Tom Waltz 

COPYRIGHT 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

In 1981, Warner Brothers released director Ridley Scott's film masterpiece, Blade Runner, to an unsuspecting and, one might say, not-so-ready movie viewing public. This clever cinematic creation, set in 2019 A.D. Los Angeles, intertwined twenty-first-century science fiction and forties-style detective film noir, and was a bold new step in futuristic filmmaking, taking a revisionist look at humankind's obsession with technology, as well as the dangers and pitfalls that same obsession may ultimately bring about-to both humans and to the machines they create.

Mr. Scott's message was a complicated one, flying in the face of the "Blockbuster Culture" of the seventies and eighties, where popular belief had it that technology was a savior, not a menace, and that the pursuit of technological advancement was essential to (and went hand-in-hand with) human advancement. Scott disagreed, proposing through the stark images and deliberately vacuous dialogue of Blade Runner that the pursuit would not only bring about the near destruction of Earth's already weakened environment, but would also create a culture wherein the line between what is machine and what is human becomes, for the most part, transparent. In Scott's vision, technology turns humans into cold, unfeeling robots; robots (or Replicants as they are called in the movie) into emotionally viable beings; and the important questions of "what is real" and "who has the right to decide what is real" fall unanswered from the dying lips of both humans and Replicants alike.

On the surface, the story of Blade Runner is a fairly simple one. Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) is a retired Blade Runner-a specialized police detective whose sole purpose is to hunt down and kill genetically engineered Replicants, which were produced as slave labor for Off-world colonies (presumably on the moon or the planet Mars), and which have become illegal on earth. (Interesting to note here, the killing that Deckard engages in is not called that by his superiors. Instead, the murderous deed is simply referred to as "retirement," bringing to mind the same emotionless tags that were attached to governmentally sanctified killing in the seventies and eighties, such as referring to the deaths of innocent civilians during warfare as "collateral damage.") After a bloody mutiny on an Off-world colony by six Nexxus 6 (as the particular model was called) Replicants, and their ultimate escape to earth, Deckard is forcibly brought out of retirement to destroy the four renegade Replicants that remain loose on the streets of Los Angeles (two were killed during the mutiny). The Replicants have come to earth in order to seek out their maker, corporate giant Eldon Tyrell (played by Joe Turkell, oddly looking very much like an older Bill Gates), as they see him as the only person who can grant them existence beyond their pre-designed four year life span.

Deckard soon discovers that the Replicants were also manufactured with the memories of real humans, and that, over time, they have developed human feeling and emotion, making them more dangerous and unpredictable. Deckard does not want to return to his Blade Runner ways, but he knows that his own survival depends upon it. "No choice?" he asks police chief Bryant (played by M. Emmet Walsh) during the surprise mission briefing. "You know the score, pal," Bryant unflinchingly responds. "If you're not cop, you're little people." The innuendo of the statement is clear: kill or be killed. Unwillingly, Deckard takes the job. And thus begins a tragically beautiful game of cat and mouse, where both man and machine desperately push themselves to horrendous extremes in order to achieve the same goal. Life.

As the chase ensues, director Scott provides us with typically noir settings (dark rooms, smoky bars, barren alleys and abandoned buildings), but he also displays the grim effects technology has had on the environment. Nearly every shot shows an overpopulated urban metropolis, where the sky is always black (air pollution), where the rain never seems to stop (global warming), and where Replicants can easily intermingle in a human population that has become nothing more than vacant automatons, shuffling mindlessly through the densely crowded streets. In fact, when the viewer finally does meet the Replicants being pursued, in particular Roy Batty (who is played marvelously by Rutger Hauer), it is discovered that, in many ways, the so-called artificial humans have become more humanlike than their creators-more real and more in tune with the precious sanctity of life. As Deckard violently eliminates his prey, he begins to see their humanity (as well as his own robot-like approach to "retiring" them), and questions the validity of his mission, as well as the meaning of his own existence. Ultimately Deckard is successful-in the sense, at least, that he is able to eliminate the four Replicants.

However, there is no happy ending to Blade Runner, as Deckard (and the viewer) are left wondering what the point of all the destruction was. In truth, Deckard knows, the Replicants were no different than he. They did what they had to do in order to survive and, like Deckard (and like all humans), they did not ask for the cards they were dealt. In the end, both Deckard and the Replicants are left asking the same questions: Who am I? Why am I? How long do I have? Where do I go from here? By ending Blade Runner on such a mysterious note, director Scott attempts to show, as mentioned above, the complicated consequences of humankind's technological fascination. We play God, building our own little worlds within worlds, forgetting all the while that we, ourselves, have yet to come to grips with our own creation and design. If we do not know who we are, how can we believe that we are capable of (or worthy of) deity status?

The answers to life's mysteries, Scott seems to say, are not found through the external creation of machines. No, this (as in the case of the movie's Replicants) only brings about more questions. The true answers are to be found within the Self, through the exploration of human-ness and humanity. Otherwise, as Blade Runner so aptly conveys, the machines become us, and we become the machines, lost forever together in an empty dance of life and death, where only questions, not answers, await us in the end.


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