Not my favorite movie, but it’s a sci-fi cult classic in large part for its dark, gritty portrayal of the future city.
Is it better to burn twice as bright but only live half as long? Such was the fate of the replicants in Blade Runner, synthetic humanoid beings designed to do jobs that humans deemed too dangerous or undesirable. They had gifts like superhuman strength and toughness, but they were also designed to die after a set amount of time. Such was their gift and their curse.
Roy Batty and his gang are set to ‘expire,’ and they have returned to Earth seeking a way to extend their lives. Their creator cannot and/or refuses to help them, and in the end, Roy resigns to his fate with poetic wistfulness in one of the most famous quotes in sci-fi:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those…moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” Roy Batty
Is it better to burn twice as bright but only live half as long? This is not an idle question – many people have lived tragically short but brilliant lives, whether by choice or accident. Many visionary artists and thinkers also go this route, such as Vincent Van Gogh and Friedrich Nietzsche. Philip K. Dick, the author of the story on which Blade Runner is based, was a gifted writer whose life was cut short by drugs and a mental breakdown. Instability seems to be the price they pay for living so close to the edge, the creative, the great unknown. Anonymity and under-appreciation during their lives only makes it worse.
We remember these luminaries not just for their contributions, but also for their brevity on this earth. We can’t help but wonder, ‘What if they had lived longer?’ What other wonders could they have bestowed on humanity?
You might even know such people. They may not be of the earth shattering variety, but they are brilliant and special to you in their own ways. Appreciate them while they are here, before they vanish like tears in rain.
2 thoughts on “Blade Runner”
This film asks what it is to be human, and questions the humanist meta-narrative. Harrison Ford seems less human than Roy Batty, and Roy’s quest to meet his maker and extend his life mirrors man’s search for purpose and origin in a creator. Humanity has often thought their creator loves them and that they were made to be special. It’s assumed the intelligent designer should care deeply for its creation. However, when we create we don’t show that love and often trash our creations like we have with machines and will do with AI in the future. Man has found there to be no creator yet, just evidence of a cosmic “accident” or uncaring process. Being an AI and finding your creator must feel similar and just as disappointing when man finds himself to not be a special creation with a destiny, just inevitable oblivion. The replicants treasure life more than the Blade Runner, which is why Roy Batty does not kill Ford as Roy realizes the beauty of any life as he expires. Life no matter how it came about is precious, and even if we have no grand design or special status our lives are precious to ourselves and worth cherishing. Our fear of AI becoming like us or even surpassing us is that humanism doesn’t like the idea that our emotions and memories can be replicated to the point that there is no difference between man and machine. That we may be analogous to a complicated machine, and that our souls are the result of emergent properties. We look down on robots because they are purely material, we know because we built them; however, we fear we may just be material as well. This is why we make so many movies about fighting robots and AI. AI movies are generally about projecting human concerns unto robots and anthropomorphizing them. Its hard for us to comprehend other value systems and different ways of existing, as we privilege our conscious intellects above all other options.
Thanks for sharing, Spencer. Very insightful!