Favorite Movies A-Z: Blade Runner

Ridley Scott creates one of the defining modern visions of dystopia with Blade Runner. A contentious film in its making, the “definitive” edition on Blu-ray actually gives you three versions. The theatrical release famously (infamously?) had a narrative voice-over by Harrison Ford that was added late in the production when test audiences had trouble following the movie. Scott was opposed to it, but lacked authority over the final theatrical cut; in the “final” cut on disc it’s removed.

The one to watch is the “final cut” which, though revisionist from the original release, presumably best aligns with Scott’s vision for his work. Despite the passage of about 40 years, the film holds up well as a dystopian vision of humanity’s future. The effects as well are still solid and there is a beauty in the realization, despite portraying a dirty, gritty, dark, and damp cityscape.

An enormous element of the film’s lasting power is the subtle meditation on what it means to be human. Perhaps one day we won’t need to have discussions in society about whether or not to consider some segment of the population as fully human (we moved past race-based slavery, only to later dehumanize the unborn), but until then the primary question of this film will have an urgent currency. When reading or hearing people discuss this film, I’m constantly surprised by how many of them refer to the replicants as “robots”.

Perhaps there is some justification, given their status as artificially constructed beings; they are creatures of artifice rather than nature. But since that word is inextricably bound up in my mind with mechanical instead of biological composition, it seems inapposite. Status as a human person seems to me to be ineradicably linked to biology and utterly foreign to the mechanical man. No matter how clever, Asimov’s tales never hold any power to make me question humanity. Similarly, the time given to exploring the “humanity” of Joi in the sequel Blade Runner 2049 seems like a wastefully indulgent digression.

It’s worth noting too that this film’s primary question is not “are replicants people too?”, but rather “how and why do people refuse to recognize them as such”? That Roy and his companions are human should be beyond debate. Why then does society refuse to accept this? Beware! Follow those answers too assiduously and you my find they have uncomfortable implications. As a result, however, even should technological progress make the setting seem quaint someday, I think Blade Runner will always feel relevant because its themes are so…human.

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