Man or machine? Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” remains a thoughtful masterpiece

By William Yanes
Elm Staff Writer

“Blade Runner”: The Final Cut” is just one of many renditions of the “Blade Runner” films.  According to IMDb, there are at least seven different versions for people to see.

“Blade Runner”: The Final Cut” follows Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a retired “Blade Runner”, a form of bounty hunter, as he is called out of retirement for one last mission. Deckard, who is spending his retirement drowning himself in the bottle, is brought into conflict with the charismatic and brutal Roy Batty, leader of the renegade Nexus-6 Replicants.

The central conflict in the film is the return of Nexus 6 Replicants from an off-world existence of slavery and sexual exploitation to confront their maker.

 The world they return to is the eternally rainy, polluted, and dark Los Angeles of 2019. The only bright color in the background comes in the form of commercials encouraging people to go off-world.

Under this canopy of darkness, an alcoholic ex-cop and robot hell-bent on revenge battling out in Ridley Scott’s cinematic triumph.

Most action films have their hero as a paradigm of virtue who can do no wrong. Deckard, however, is different; here is a man who is depressed and alone in the world.

The opening scene shows his retirement consisting of little more than sitting in the rain, while later scenes establish his home life of of dreary nights spent drinking. 

This characterization does a great deal in humanizing Deckard.

If this film has a sole strong suit, it lies in the humanization of the characters set before us. Deckard is a fully fleshed human being, which includes his somewhat complicated relationship with the female replicant, Rachel Rosen.

The film is primarily concerned with the question of “what makes a human different then a robot?”  To that end, the film uses the replicant to tease out this answer.  The Replicants have all the powers of robots: yet, unlike most films, they are driven by human emotions.

After all, the motive for their return to earth was the fear of dying.

In one of the most moving scenes in the movie, Roy goes to confront his maker, and when told of the inevitably of his death, murders his maker in a fit of rage and grief. The film goes out of the way to drive home the similarities between man and machine.

In the most captivating exploration of this theme, Deckard and Pris, a replicant, both are shown engaged in the act of deceiving another character, and when the character turns, this is the same predatory mask.

It is a haunting moment because it shows that these robots, who were created and used as slaves, had the same emotional abilities as humans. They process trauma, rage, grief, and pain all as a human would.

The most famous controversy surrounding “Blade Runner” is the status of Rick Deckard. Specifically, whether he is a human or a Replicant.

Sir Ridley Scott, the director, has said in an interview about Deckard, that “he is a replicant.” While serving as a fun debate topic amongst film fans, in truth, the debate has little effect on the movie, or even the ending.

In short, Deckard tracks down the remaining replicants and they engage in a fight. He is completely outmatched, and should have died.

Were the replicants not prisoners of their own morality, Deckard would have surely died. Yet, it is his weakness that brings out the mercy from Roy. Deckard has his fingers broken on his shooting hand, and so finds himself defenseless.

Roy does not kill him, but saves him, saying, “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” He forces Deckard to view life from the alternate perspective, making him realize the terror that is life as a slave.  This ending flips the traditional concept of hero and villain on its head.

 “Blade Runner: The Final Cut” (2006) is a cinematic classic.  It is a visually stunning and emotionally spellbinding tale of love and loss in a dark, dystopian Los Angeles.

Avoiding the moral simplicity that haunts modern cinema, particularly in 1980s action films, here is a film that dares to present humans as humans.

Instead of creating pointlessly simplistic characters of the human person, this film elevates man to a pedestal. It shows that human brokenness is a universal struggle, but yet it is not the final determinant of destiny.

Deckard redeems himself by saving at least one Replicant from certain death. In Roy a simple robot is transformed into a man battling to overcome the constraints of biological death.  The clash between the two serves as a backdrop for arguably the greatest science fiction movie of all time.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.