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Revisiting 'Blade Runner'

One day, I’d like to teach a class with my husband (a political scientist) on faith and ethics, worldview, philosophy (or some such thing) using science fiction novels and films. And one of the films I’d include is Blade Runner.

I recently saw the film again, albeit a TiVo’d AMC version (which means it was edited for television). It is a dark, violent tale (that definately deserves its R rating) that asks what makes us human and what constitutes life—and ultimately affirms life as sacred and beautiful and dear and to be preserved. Set in 2019 Los Angeles and a dystopian world beset by pollution and corruption (a world people are leaving in droves for others), the story follows jaded ex-policeman Rick Dekkard (Harrison Ford) as he’s reluctantly recruited back to his Blade Runner duties—hunting down and “retiring” rebelling Replicants, androids who are so close to human you can’t tell them apart except by a kind of futuristic lie-detector test. Dekkard, however, is beginning to wonder how much of a difference there actually is between humans and Replicants.

The film—visually stunning for its day and still has many dazzling moments—is layered with meaning and questions and themes that take you in all sorts of directions.

For example, the Replicants Dekkard is hunting were designed as military units and are brutal and violent, having slaughtered scores of people without an apparent second thought. However, even designed this way, un-designed and unintentional elements of compassion and longing and loneliness creep in. They exhibit deep connections with each other. They mourn each other’s deaths. One even saves Dekkard’s life even as he’s dying himself. This mixture of evil and good is a human quality, and this film begs the question as to what makes us that way. How much influence do we have over the development of these elements in ourselves—and each other? How much do we “make” each other into who we are? As Christians, this topic comes up in formation: who is forming our souls—God or the world? With whom are we cooperating in that formation? And how are our actions influencing the formation of others?

Then there’s a kind of anti-creation story. Tyrell, the man (and company) who created the Replicants, is a secular god almost completely opposite of the biblical One. Tyrell creates life not as eternal but with fail-safes (a short life span) to control his creations and he creates not out of goodness but for his own use and benefit and profit. While his creations hold a fascination for him, he has no love for them. In a sense, Tyrell creations awake not to find themselves in Eden but in hell. Ultimately, like all false gods, Tyrell is ousted from his grandeur by those from whom he sought worship.

Then there’s Dekkard’s story—what happens to us when we are confronted with a culture that de-humanizes a part of its population. We either grow hard and cold as we buy into that culture, or, like Dekkard, we start to feel remorse, compassion and empathy—even for those who are brutal and violent. We start to see people as people, as human. At that point, we’re faced with the realization that we are changing, and our actions must change to match. This is an important story—one that applies in all sorts of places in our lives. How do we think and feel about the homeless, the immigrant, the poor, our enemies, the rich? Food for thought.

In addition to the film’s impressive visuals and thought-provoking themes, the film has some great lines. It’s poetic elements—most of which ironically come from Roy (Rutgar Hauer), the most brutal of the Replicants—are also stunning. My favorite lines are delivered in hushed tones by Roy as he is dying near the end of the film:

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 Tanhauser Gate.
All those ... moments will be lost in time, like rain.
Time to die.
There’s a plethora of critical and fan exploration on the film, which has reached cult status. For an excellent fan site, head over to BladeZone, where I got several of the screen captures for the post. Wikipedia’s site is fairly extensive with lots of links and good analysis and history of the film. For reviews, head over to Rotten Tomatoes (where it has a 92% fresh rating). And one last reminder, Blade Runner deserves it’s R rating—it is dark and violent with elements of language and sexual content.

(Images: © Ladd Company 1982. Domestic Video and DVD package and design are the property of Warner Brothers Home Video © 1996; images via Wikipedia and BladeZone)