Monday, June 29, 2009

More Human Than Human

Blade Runner(1982)
Directed by Ridley ScottSomeone asked me whats the point of "Blade Runner" besides "Replicants are human too, duh".
I think it isn't that in "Blade Runner" the Replicants are human too, they are the ONLY humans.Deckard, the three scientists who are in charge of designing, the eyes, the body, and the brains, of the Replicants, and Edward James Olmos, are all just doing their jobThey exist to serve a function, and to perform a task and they do so, like machines. The scientists are practically on an assembly line, each designing a piece, so as not to comprehend the meaning of the whole. "The eyes are the window to the soul" Rutger Hauer notes, meeting the man who designed his eyes, yet this man knows nothing.
The first image in Blade Runner, is a close up on eye with the city reflected from it, as if within the soul there is nothing but a dark city full of smog, fire, and billboards (eyes and screens are recurrent visual motif that come up again and again in this).The first view we are introduced to, the perspective is that of someone whose soul contains nothing, but a reflection of the world around them. Deckard is a little annoyed that he has to come out of retirement, but what are you gonna do, "your not us, your little people" as his boss tells him.Only the replicants ask human questions and are driven by human desires like who am I, why do I exist, how can I escape death. For Ridley Scott and Philip K. Dick (author of "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?" on which this film based), it would seem, these are the fundamental questions which all sentient beings must ask themselves, in order to become human.
Without which we lose what makes us any more than biological furniture. "More human than human is our motto", as the good doctor says about his clone factory.
Deckard and the rest of the future, is trapped in a constant darkness where the sun never comes up and the only light comes from giant advertisements, that absorb the landscape into themselves.

People scurry about like ants (unconcerned or unaware of the world around them), and even Deckard who has the benefit of not being "little people" spends his time, like a burn out film noir detective, in a dim apartment, killing time. The Replicants have become more human than the human beings. They like Deckard used to kill for a living, but abandoned that for the possibility of something more, which he has not. Their actions are driven by a need to live as something more than an object and body.
Theirs is an existential ordeal, in a world of economic determinism. Their actions though possibly futile are still authentic, they are their actions, and no one elses.
Hauer killing off his creator, is a little like Don Quixote fighting off his windmills, an absurd waste of energy, though it's Hauer's awareness and Quixote's lack there of, which defines them as a character, and human beings.
We assume that since Harrison Ford is the lead we are supposed to empathize with him, which I imagine is where all the irrelevant conjecture about him being a replicant comes from. It doesn't matter if he is or isn't, because the real criterion for humanity is not birthright, but performance.

It's only through meeting the scientists assistant who doesn't know she is a replicant, is he faced with doing something that violates his "social programming". By the end it's implied, that he will save the woman, risking himself for someone who will only live four or five years anyway.
He has recognized not just that Hauer or those he killed were real thinking people like himself, but that they in fact were better than him, closer in classic terms to being authentic people("the unexamined life is not worth living"etc), because at least they know they are fake, and chose to struggle anyway.
Are you a repli-can or a repli-can't?
Only when faced with artificial reproductions of ourselves (be it robots, stories, paintings, photos, movies, sculpture, etc), do we get a reflection of what is to be human.
Or as one of my favorites PKD quotes, says in other words "So we and our elaborately evolving computers may meet each other halfway.

Someday a human being, named perhaps Fred White, may shoot a robot named Pete Something-or-other, which has come out of a General Electric factory, and to his surprise see it weep and bleed.
And the dying robot may shoot back and, to its surprise, see a wisp of gray smoke arise from the electric pump that it supposed was Mr. White's beating heart. It would be rather a great moment of truth for both of them." So not exactly an "I, Robot" film about robo-equal rights, or a Matrix cautionary 'the machines will get us" story. Instead Ridley Scott shows us a world where human beings are less than machines, more privileged, colder, less aware, and without compassion, and does so in a visual landscape unlike anything movies had seen before.

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