Any great science fiction story will be layered with important contemporary issues, either subtly or overtly and Blade Runner is no exception. With Blade Runner 2049 releasing in October of this year lets take a look back at the original film. We will look at the themes and messages and their relevance in today’s world.
Blade Runner is a 1982 science fiction film noir directed by Ridley Scott. It is based on the book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” written by Philip K. Dick. The film follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) on his mission to hunt down a group of rogue androids known as Replicants led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). On the surface, the film is a dark action/thriller that follows closely the tropes and conventions of classic film noir. However, much like the Replicants of the film, under the surface there much more.
Overpopulation is an issue touched on in different ways throughout the film. From overcrowded streets to the giant advertisements offering a “new life” on an off-world colony, it’s clear Earth has become far too crowded to properly support its inhabitants. I hope they expand on this issue in the new film. Today there are 7.4 billion people on Earth and it is estimated there will be 11.5 billion by 2100. How long can Earth support or growth as a species before we need to start seeking off-world colonies?
The continuing destruction of our environment is an ever-present message in the film. The streets of L.A. are dark and bleak and the rain never seems to stop. There are to trees or greenery to be found. Animals seem to be extinct or extremely rare, being replaced by synthetic variants. Some say we are headed for a similar future if we don’t change our ways.
One of the most obvious themes in the film is xenophobia. Humans created Replicants to serve us in a variety of way but they also fear what they are capable of. Highly restricted, any Replicant that is found unauthorized on Earth, is hunted down and executed by the Blade Runner unit. This is a normal and accepted practice. Replicants are seen as tools to be used as we see fit and discarded just as quickly. There are Replicants for manual labor, there are Replicants for sexual pleasure and any other service human beings may need.
Inequality is probably the most important issue the film looks at. Replicants, as portrayed in the film appear to have very similar emotions, desires, and fears as human beings yet are treated as slaves. Roy knows he is more than a tool, more than a slave. He and his gang are not mindless robots, they think and feel, have hopes and desires and they want what we all want. They want to live and be free. Roy Batty’s speech at the end of the film is an attempt to make Deckard understand in some way what it is like to be a slave.
The end of the film brilliantly uses action to draw the audience in and then completely changes gears. When the audience is most engrossed in the film, it springs its true message on you. Even Deckard is surprised. We realize Roy is not an evil, single-minded robot. He is just a man who wishes to live and be free. As Roy Batty dies leaving all his memories to be lost in time like ‘tears in rain’, He releases the dove he had been carrying and it fly’s away symbolizing the freedom Batty could only find in death.
The end of the film scene does an amazing job of turning the audience expectations on their heads, turning the main villain of the film into an incredibly sympathetic, nuanced and interesting character in a matter of seconds. It makes you question the entire film and who the “good” guys and “bad” guys really are in this story. I hope the upcoming sequel will be faithful to the ideas and messages of the original and expands upon its concepts because I feel they are more relevant than ever in today’s world.
Blade Runner is my favorite film and touches on a number of important issues and does so in a way that serves the story. The beautiful, horrible future Blade Runner presents us with filled with subtle warnings about where our current world may lead us. If you haven’t already, please check it out. The sequel, ‘Blade Runner 2049‘, will be release October 6, 2017, starring Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling.