More Human Than Human
February 6, 2017 § 3 Comments
If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. My guess is that the futuristic dystopia in which Blade Runner is set has put an addendum on this old saying: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck or a replicant duck so call in a trained professional who can tell you which it is and whether you should “retire” it on the spot. (Disclaimer: I realize that in the Blade Runner universe replicant animals would not have carried the same “kill on the spot” stigma as replicant humans. But you get my point, right?)
The film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick, matches its optimism for human engineering capabilities with pessimism for human capacity for empathy.
The replicants of Blade Runner are a major departure from robots the like of Asimov’s in a number of ways. First, and most obviously, we have physical appearance. From sight alone it is effectively impossible to tell human from replicant (in fact, watching this film for the first time as a kid I definitely thought they were clones or something). The Tyrell Corporation has created them guided by the ideal “More human than human”. Which is just such an interesting concept to me. Replicants are essentially a slave-labor force. Why would society want their slaves as “humanlike” as possible if there was any other option? What does this say about mankind in the year 2019? Maybe not mankind as a whole, but at least the Tyrell Corporation is depicted as having serious god-complex/sadistic tendencies. As we saw with Frankenstein, there is something very dangerously empowering about creating an imitation of humanity. (Don’t worry, more on why the Tyrell Corporation is the literal worst later.)
Another factor that sets the replicants apart from other depictions of robots is that they themselves are the villains of the story. “What are you talking about, Olivia? Robots are vilified all the time in literature and film!” You’re not wrong, internal projection of what readers must be thinking. However, generally speaking, robots become villains due to the direct influence of humans (i.e. humans manipulating them directly or robots misinterpreting their programming). The Terminator and HAL-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey are prime examples of this. In this scenario, however, the replicants have very distinctive, very human motivations, and they are actively choosing to take action. These “human motivations” I speak of go back to Tyrell Corporation’s slogan “more human than human”, as well as my reasoning for why they are the worst. Tyrell created his replicants to be identical to humans in every way, except for emotions. However, the corporation hypothesizes that they will begin to develop emotions after a few years. To combat this, they implement a “failsafe” four-year lifespan. The implication of this is that Tyrell allows his creations to live just long enough to have the capacity to care about life, and then he kills them.
I have stated that the replicants are the villains; however, had Blade Runner been told from the perspective of the replicants this film would have been completely different. There was no evil plot in this movie. No robot trying to take over the world or enslave humanity. First, before the events of the movie, there was a group of replicants, enslaved by humans, who led a “bloody mutiny” in a bid for freedom. Then we have a group of replicants who look, think, and feel as humans do, and have realized that their time is almost up. Fond of the notion of being alive, they seek out their creator in hopes of salvation. Sure, there was some brutal skull crushing along the way, but if you take nothing else from this blog please know that Dr. Eldon Tyrell deserved it. (Disclaimer: I do not condone murder or violence of any kind)
This is a world where robots have profound emotions and desperately want to live and enjoy them. On the other hand, humans are largely portrayed as cold and merciless (with notable exceptions in Deckard and somewhat in Sebastian). That said, in spite of basically everything I’ve said in this entire blog, while watching this movie I was rooting for Deckard and the downfall of the replicants. As a human I am naturally inclined to side with humans over robots. Even in this case where the robots may in fact be more human than the humans.