Musings on Blade Runner: What does it mean to be human?

As promised in my Friday post, I finally saw the cult-favorite Blade Runner last Friday. I see what all the fuss is about now, and to those who vouched for its important place amongst the best sci-fi movies ever made, glad to say it didn’t disappoint.

It’s impressive given this was made 20 years ago in 1982, the cinematography and art direction of the futuristic world is striking. Instead of opting for a slick, polished look, Ridley Scott’s vision of Los Angeles in 2019 (heck, that’s less than a decade from now!) is dark, gritty and downright bleak. Gone is the warm, glowing sunshine, the city’s now assume the climate of London or Seattle 🙂

To those who aren’t familiar with this movie based (as I was until a few days ago), here’s a brief summary from IMDb:

In a cyberpunk vision of the future, man has developed the technology to create replicants, human clones used to serve in the colonies outside Earth but with fixed lifespans. In Los Angeles, 2019, Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a Blade Runner, a cop who specializes in terminating replicants. Originally in retirement, he is forced to re-enter the force when six replicants escape from an off-world colony to Earth.

Deckard with the Voight-Kampff machine, a polygraph-like device to test whether a person is human or replicant

We’ve seen a lot of sophisticated science fiction movies since then that deal with a similar subject of rogue bio-engineered creatures, but this film based on Philip K. Dick’s novel seems to stand the test of times because it’s more than just about gadgets and special effects, so even when the technology feels dated, the theme is a timeless one. There are so many thought-provoking themes open to analysis, but one that filmmakers and audiences alike still grapple with and will perhaps continue to do so is…

What does it mean to be human?

Rutger Hauer in one of his most memorable roles

The common theme that countless sci-fi movies about man-made robots/clones share seems to be that the conflict stems from the inherently-human ability to feel. These bio-engineered robots are created with a purpose to serve their human masters, and as long as they are obedient and just do as they’re told, things are fine and dandy and we can co-exist peacefully. But of course, stories after stories tell us that the robots develop emotions, and that’s when problems arise. For if they have the ability to love, automatically they too, have the ability to hate. In a pivotal ‘tears-in-the-rain’ scene involving Deckard and the ‘villain,’ a replicant named Roy, the very human Deckard looked at his opponent and reflected upon what Roy’s kind is all about: “All they’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us wanted, where have I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got?”

Deckard & Rachael… is it love?

Interestingly, whilst all these inhuman androids in sci-fi movies want to feel and see feelings as a privilege they wish they have a right to, a lot of romantic comedies with real people seem to want to do the opposite. Even within the last few weeks alone, there are three upcoming rom-coms dealing with the same theme: can we just have sex without emotion? Because let’s face it, feelings just complicate things, right? As you can see in the Friends with Benefits trailer (you can find it on YouTube), the guy asks the girl ‘why does [sex] have to come with complications?’ to which the girl agrees, ‘… and emotions!’ The guy continues, ‘It’s a physical act… like playing… tennis.’ The other two movies No Strings Attached and Love & Other Drugs are no different, they’re toying with the notion that in this modern, career-oriented, busy world, people just have no time to be emotionally-involved. Come on, feelings are only for the radically conservative and old-fashioned folks who should have better things to do with their life. It’s apparently more hip and in vogue to keep relationships strictly physical.

I’m not singling out these movies as it’s by no means a groundbreaking concept. I just find that this no-strings-attached notion mind-boggling, and to be honest, quite tragic… the fact that people even want to deny what it means to be humans… one that separates us from the rest of God’s creations. To rid ourselves of the gift of emotion, whether it’s joy or sorrow that comes with every relationship, romantic or otherwise… it seems not only pointless but futile.

In any case, for a movie about mechanically-engineered beings, it’s a very ‘human’ story that takes a poignant look at our humanity. No, it’s not warm and fluffy the way most rom-coms are, but this movie is certainly not heartless.


Those who’ve seen and loved Blade Runner, feel free to add your own thoughts about it below.