The 1982 film classic Blade Runner, turns 35 this year. Set in 2019, its dystopian future paints a world destroyed by nuclear fallout, most animals and plantlife eliminated and many humans living in off-world colonies. This foreboding view of planet earth that has not yet eventuated…..Not yet.
While initially met with mixed reviews and a rather underwhelming box office performance, the film has subsequently become a cult classic and is now regarded by many critics as one of the best science fiction movies of all time.
This film noir/ femme fatale movie pays homage to the detective thrillers of the 1930s. Set in Los Angeles the film creates a kind of retrofitted futurism, in which old world charm, now decaying is mixed with neon-cyberpunk-holographic and artificially intelligent future. At the same time, the story plumbs the depths of Greek drama and Biblical epics in its exploration of themes of human hubris, mortality, memory and being.
Frankensteinian in its quest, the story asks “what makes us truly human?”
Originally titled, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the film now has a sequel, written by the same screenwriter Hampton Fancher, entitled Blade Runner 2049. Released in October 2017, the sequel staring Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, has quickly chalked up $165 million in global revenue.
Set 30 years after the original, little has changed thematically between the two films, however the quest for meaning deepens. Gosling plays K, a Nexus-9 model replicant of the Wallace corporation, engineered to be obedient. He works for the LAPD, and much like his predecessor Deckard [Ford], is a Blade Runner, responsible for hunting down and retiring old model replicants.
In his quest he finds the bones of a deceased female Nexus-7 replicant, who mysteriously, died during childbirth. This surprising discovery threatens to upset the tender balance between obedient replicants and their human creators. Consequently he is ordered to destroy the evidence by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi and to find the child and retire it.
Troubled by the discovery and a burgeoning consciousness that “being born means having a soul,” K sets out on a journey to discover the child. He traces the child to an orphanage where his own memories alert him, memories he is convinced are implants, to a hidden toy with a date on it matching the birthdate of the missing child. Troubled by his memories he then tracks down Deckard, in hiding for nearly 30 years.
Challenged by the replicant freedom movement to kill Deckard, lest the identity of the missing child be revealed, K is left with the painful choice. K, who has fantasised about being a “real person” is left with a choice, which ultimately makes him a person with a soul or not.
Does he free Deckard or retire him as is his duty?
Are we human because we have emotional responses? Are we human because we have memories ? Are we human because we can give birth ? or be born ? Are we human because we have a conscience and free will? Ultimately are we human because we desire life, we sense beauty, we feel sorrow, loss and wonder?
Or are we human because we sacrifice for others? This is almost the secret to all of life’s questions and so marvellously captured in this story.