It surprises me occasionally to hear the comment, “I don’t read much fiction. Real life is more interesting.” or “Fiction is entertaining but I prefer spending my time on something informative.” It’s clear that temperament types prefer different genres, but the way we frame art and narrative is definitely culturally constrained. Is art simply entertainment and distraction?
Frued and Jung based the science of their psychoanalysis on mythical archetypes. To this day an Oedipal complex or narcissistic personality are terms and types drawn directly from ancient narratives. Narrative and art are deeply informative about culture, identity and being and carry important conversations about justice, courage and truth. A much maligned genre is fantasy and science fiction. Written off as kiddy or nerdy or pop culture, fantasy and science fiction are the modern version of myths, legends and faery which were the highest form of narrative in millenia past.
Science fiction films, comics, graphic novels and the like are a treasure trove of philosophical, theological and psychological thought. One celebrated and iconic film is a favourity of mine – Blade Runner.
Set in a futuristic Los Angeles, “Blade Runner”, the 1980s film by Ridley Scott, explores the world of artificial intelligence. The film is based on a Phillip K. Dick novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and features a cop, Rick Deckard and his asignment to hunt down artificially created humans called replicants.
Replicants, are highly sophisticated creations of the Tyrell corporation, originally built to be indistinguishable from humans but have become banned on earth due to faults. Replicants have escaped from astro-colonies where they function as servants and soldiers, and have returned to earth to extend their life span. Replicants are genetically engineered, have implanted memories. However, Replicants have been commiting crimes, indicating a mutation in their programming and Rick Deckard [Harrison Ford] has been hired to hunt them down.
The story, not unlinke Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, explores the internal reality of a creature, their consciousness of being and in turn reflects on what it is to be a human being. Decker falls in love with Rachael, a replicant in denial of her identity, convinced her memories and family photos prove her to be human. One by one, Deckard chases and exterminates the remaining replicants, sparing Rachael due to his intimate connection to her.
The plot denoument comes when replicant Roy, breaks into the Tyrell corporation to face his creator, demanding more life. Tyrell dismisses the request upon which Roy embraces his maker and then kills him. Deckard’s final show down with Roy on the roof tops of the city shortly follows. Roy is mortally wounded and when Deckard slips and hangs from the roof top, Roy saves his life and then shares his last minuetes of life with Deckard, recounting his memories of existence and awareness of his own death.
The story artfully explores the elements of human existence. We are because we love, we are because we remember, we are because we desire life, we are because we desire justice, we are because we show mercy. Deckard is haunted throughout the narrative by dreams of a unicorn and famously, the film closes with a henchman of the Tyrell corporation leaving an orgiami unicorn in Deckards office. As the closing credits roll, the audience and Deckard are left asking, “is he a replicant?” and all of ask “are we a replicant?”
What if our memories are implanted? what is our frame of reference for existence? what gives us a common bond – our love for life? our shared experiences?
Not unlike the “Wizzard of Oz”, Blade Runner features an encounter with the Maker and the Maker comes up inadequate. Representative of the mega-corporatation ruling the world with an iron fist, the Maker is not capable of extending life and so has created something he cannot care for. Thus Roy commits patricide. Maybe Blade Runner captures the 20th and 21st century disappointment with our philosophical thinking – with religion, with God, with capitalism, with scientific rationalism.
I know another story, when humanity encounters God in flesh, their overwhelming desire was to kill the God out of rage for the existence dealt them. However, in killing God, life is reborn.
But that’s another story.