Welcome to 21st century earth. The firmament flashes with belching mushroom clouds of fire and smoke. The rain falls, as it always does, soaking the fouled earth below. Far below the dark clouds and torrential rains sprawls a city of glass and steel. The human race exists, as it always has, but the numbers dwindle as crime and pollution drive the people to Off-world locations in search of the literal and proverbial new world. It is a time of change, and the beginning of a new era, embodied through the mythical quest of a single man….a Blade Runner.
The protagonist, known as Deckert, is an ex-cop and self described killer in retirement. No longer working for the police, Deckert is first encountered in the streets, waiting in the rain for a stool to open at an outdoor sushi shop. Overhead, a huge airship projecting advertisements of “adventure” in an Off-world location hovers by. Deckert looks up from his newspaper.
“They don’t advertise for killers in the newspaper.”
Without a job, Deckert is encountered walking the streets. He is solemn and dark. He moves laboringly, apparently without purpose. He walks to the newly opened stool and orders his food. Soon, there is a hand on his shoulder. Turning slowly back, Deckert looks into the eyes of a dark skinned man – Gaff – and begins his own mystical journey.
The setting in Blade Runner is dark and brooding. The city, perhaps due to its perpetual rain, has a lingering fog and darkness that is penetrated only by the neon street signs and huge video advertisements. Flying cars soar through the city’s skies, and people of all races and colors crowd the rainy streets. In the distance, there often rumbles a dark and unknown sound like thunder. From the onset, the music of Vangelis vibrates and rumbles as the viewer is transported to this futuristic city. It is a city in decay, all vestiges of nature having been long since eliminated. Even the people, now a mish-mash of English, Asian, Hispanics, and more people are slowly leaving the planet to an Off-world location.
The backdrop, with its powerful imagery and stark landscape, is the perfect setting for the modern myth. It is a time of societal decline, where technology has polluted the earth and seized control of the cities. As in all myths of creation, this setting contains the necessary chaos and destruction to force the rise of a new age. The sky, with its drizzling rain and bolts of lightening, portrays the violence and power of the gods. In an older era, it would be as if a god such as Thor himself were watching from the heavens and punishing the people below. And like the Phoenix of Egyptian mythology, we see a hero arising from its fiery coals. The hero is Deckert, and he is an unwilling hero.
Facilitating the mystical journey of Deckert throughout the movie are numerous archetypal characters. Through his journeys, we are introduced to a virtual pantheon of influencing characters. Among these are the archetypal creator, the tempter, the holy redeemer, the mother, and integrally linked dark and light deity figures. Perhaps most important to the action of the movie are the dark and light deities. Although these deities each have their own polar identity, their motives and purposes are not easily defined. Indeed, like the Yin and Yang of the Tao, they play upon each other to facilitate change. The dark figure, who is introduced at the start of the movie in the character of Gaff, serves as a kind of passive observer, in accordance to the traits of Yin. The light figure, encountered in the form of Roy, is a violent and active motivator of change. Roy embodies the spirit of conquest and change associated with the Yang of the Tao.
Gaff first approaches Deckert at the outdoor sushi bar, delivering a message from a man called Bryant. As it turns out, Gaff and Bryant are both policemen on the Blade Runner unit. Speaking in city speak, Gaff arrests Deckert and brings him to speak with Bryant. High in the metal tower of the police station, Deckert is given a choice to either rejoin the police force, or become “little people”. To Deckert, the threat is obvious – either work once more in the blade runner unit, or face the constant persecution of the police.
In this scene, Bryant is taking the obvious role of the biblical tempter. Like the snake in the garden of Eden, Bryant presents an irresistible choice. Deckert has little choice but to comply with his offer, simply to protect himself. To add to the temptation are the unusual circumstances of the emergency. As it turns out, six NEXUS 6 Replicants have escaped from an Off-world location, murdering over twenty people. Of these six Replicants, three are male, and three are female. Even the Replicant group’s make-up is significant as these three couples are reminiscent of the preparatory pairing of species on Noah’s Ark before the great flood. Deckert learns that the Replicants have for some reason returned to earth. One of the Replicants was found “fried” by a perimeter defense device at the Tyrell corporation. In addition to the immediacy of the problem is the fact that the NEXUS 6 line is the most advanced and self-sufficient model of all the Replicants, and thus potentially the most dangerous. Faced with blackmail, Deckert has very little choice but to accept the assignment.
Like the snake, in the garden of Eden, Bryant is a rather loathsome image. He is fat, drinks heavily, and is often prone to vulgarity. To add to his malevolence, he is clearly portrayed as a racist. Deckert states that Bryant is the kind of person that in past history would call a black person a “Nigger.” The personification of this racism now takes the form of hatred for Replicants, whom he calls “skin jobs.” It is his hatred for the Replicants that causes him to blackmail Deckert into his service, and hence precipitates a chain of events that follow. It is interesting to note that Bryant never seems to understand the full import of what he has done, instead remaining ignorant in his own world of hate. At the finish, Bryant never quite realizes what has transpired. It could be that this lack of a greater understanding is yet another element found in the evil archetype. In historical literary convention, evil figures have failed in that they do not understand the larger issues at play. Bryant is certainly an example of this singlemindedness and ignorance.
While in the police station, Deckert views a video, which is a recording of a Replicant that was discovered at the Tyrell corporation. After the first Replicant was found dead, the Tyrell corporation ordered a VOC-COMP test of all their new employees to search for potential infiltrators. As it turns out, they managed to find one. The video tape shows a small room with two men. Between them is the VOC-COMP machine, which measures pupil dilation electronically. The test, which is comprised of a series of shocking questions, is designed to provoke an emotional response. When the interviewee (in this case a Replicant named Leon) is questioned, he becomes more and more agitated. As more questions, which contain concepts repulsive to humans (e.g. Dog Soup), are asked, Leon becomes confused. Leon becomes more and more agitated – eventually to the point of killing the Blade Runner interviewer with a handgun.
Reluctantly accepting the mission, Deckert gets up to go. As he walks towards the door, we see the dark man, Gaff, taking a piece of paper from the ashtray. After folding this paper into the form of a chicken, Gaff sets it into the ashtray as Deckert walks out.
This oragami figure is not the only one to be found in the film. Oragami figures appear at several times throughout the film to indicate a linear sort of progress. Gaff, the dark observer, creates these images out of trash and refuse with great purpose and clarity of mind. The oragami figures that Gaff create throughout the film detail the stages of Deckert’s progress on his quest.
Deckert discovers that the NEXUS 6 model has a unique destiny. This model, which is by far the most intelligent manufactured being to date, is thought to be capable of developing emotions. To eliminate any possibility of rebellion, all NEXUS 6 models are engineered to have a 4 year life expectancy. The irony is that just at the time when their experiences have provided them with the necessary experiences to develop their own emotions, they are mandatorily “retired” from service. This life expectancy is engineered into their very being, and cannot be changed. The NEXUS 6 Replicants, flawed with mortality, are not much different from their human counterparts. As it later turns out, the Replicants, like humanity, seek only to go beyond their limitations – to cheat death. This search for meaning and immortality is found throughout history and mythology. Humanity has always placed a great meaning on immortality, and has historically placed it into the realms of divinity. This quest, then, is not one that is only held by humans. The Replicants are a model for humanity, they humanity in a modern mythology. In this fable, this new mythology, it is the Replicants who act as surrogates by seeking life and enlightenment.
This movie depicts a world in which humans, now in decline, watch a new species rise from the fire. Although it is Replicants that struggle so hard to find their identity, it is not so far detached from humanity as one might think. The Replicants are an example for the humans to follow, a remnant of the quest that they once undertook but has since been quashed by pollution and technology. By viewing their struggle for definition, humanity (as exemplified by Deckert), comes to realize its battle once more. In this case, a new element of co-operation is added into the spiritual quest that lays ahead. Now, not only must humanity deal with issues of existence and mortality, but must also make way for a new species of intelligent life. Indeed, the whole definition of humanity is changed by it’s interaction with the Replicants.
Deckert is sent to the Tyrell corporation to investigate the case further. He meets with the monarch of the Tyrell corporation, Mr. Tyrell himself. Tyrell is the mastermind behind the creation of the Replicants. It was his genius, and his company, that created and refined the Replicants throughout time. He is the one man who has overseen all aspects of their creation, and in particular, created their minds. Tyrell has asked Deckert to perform a test on a Replicant to demonstrate the VOC-COMP’s efficacy. Tyrell asks Deckert to first demonstrate it on a “human subject”, a woman by the name of Rachel. Rachel is a beautiful young woman, an assistant to Mr. Tyrell. She is intelligent and polite. She creates an aura about her which seems to captivate both Mr. Tyrell and Deckert as she speaks and moves. She seems the perfect person. Unbeknownst to her, she is also a Replicant.
Through the story, Rachel takes on the Role of the Archetypal mother. Despite the fact that she is a Replicant, she is clearly a force for peace and good in the story. Rachel, despite her supposed lack of humanity, saves Deckert’s life. This act further fortifies the premise that she acts as a life-giving influence in the story. Deckert discovers that Rachel is a special Replicant, an experiment of sorts. Rachel’s programming has no time limit. Tyrell, in his role of creator, made Rachel to live forever. Rachel is the first and last hope of the Replicant species. She is the first of the Replicants in history to be given a chance for life – for survival.
Rachel’s role as a mother figure is clearly reinforced by her precisely chosen name. In the biblical accounts, Rachel is found as the wife of Jacob. In the account, god found that “Rachel [was] barren” and unable to bear children. This is clearly indicative of the vital missing element of the Replicants – the ability to reproduce their own. The lack of fertility can easily be equated with a lack of humanity, yet Rachel persists as a mother figure. In the biblical account, Rachel circumvented her infertility by the use of a handmaid, saying “Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.” (Genesis 30:3) Thus, the biblical Rachel was able to become a mother, though she lacked the physical ability to do so. The naming of Rachel, then, is clearly not accidental, but rather a precise reinforcement of Rachel as a mother figure using biblical precedence.
At Tyrell corporation, Deckert discovers the truth about Rachel. Knowing that even Rachel herself does not realize, he sends her out of the room. Questioning Tyrell, Deckert discovers the secret to the NEXUS 6 line – memories. In their creation, Tyrell has given them all a set of their own manufactured memories. These memories, Tyrell explains, give the Replicants a padding against their own inhumanity. It gives them a buffer against their glaring lack of continuity, and allows them the psychic space they need to develop themselves. This buffer, then, gives them the unprecedented ability to acquire emotion in their short existence.
Later, at Deckert’s apartment, Rachel appears seeking answers to the answers that Tyrell refused to give her. During the VOC-COMP test, Rachel began to suspect that she was a Replicant. Tyrell, by refusing to speak with her about this issue, drove her from the proverbial nest. Rachel, who has run away from her world as she knows it, goes to Deckert. Deckert tells her the truth. Her memories, which she has always claimed as her own, turn out to be that of Tyrell’s niece. Her family pictures, manufactured by Tyrell, which were once her only proof of existence, are shown to be forgeries. In tears, Rachel sneaks out of Deckert’s apartment and into the streets.
The importance of history in the definition of self-concept is not unprecedented in humanity. The human experience plays a great role in defining what humans are. All of humanity’s events, beliefs, and myths provide a framework for understanding. Without history, humans would be as lost and confused as the Replicants. All of the NEXUS 6 Replicants, including Rachel, have a set of fake photographs and memories. These photographs become icons for the Replicants, integrally linked with their concept of self. The six rogue NEXUS 6 Replicants all cling to these photographs, knowing full well that they are not real.
Upon searching the apartment of the Replicant Leon, Deckert find his photographs. Hoping for a clue, Deckert analyzes the pictures carefully using a computer. The picture shows a woman in a mirror’s reflection. The picture leads Deckert to another Replicant, a woman by the name of Zhora who is an exotic dancer at a club.
Deckert encounters Zhora dancing with an artificial snake in a strip club. Zhora’s dance is integrally twined with this serpent. The serpent, in this case, is a symbolic image. The serpent, the central image of kundalini, is indicative of great spiritual change. In a historical context, the rising of kundalini or “life force” in the yogic tradition, is linked with an opening of intelligence or spiritual insight. Thus, Zhora is used as a device to show the infant awareness of self that was budding in the Replicants. Ultimately, Deckert pursues and eventually kills Zhora in a crowded marketplace by shooting her in the back as she flees. Deckert examines the body coldly, and walks away into the night. Silently, Leon (who has observed the death of his fellow Replicant) follows Deckert into a dark alley. Surprising him from behind, Leon begins beating Deckert mercilessly asking:
“Painful to live in fear, isn’t it?”
Just before the striking blow, Deckert is saved by Rachel who shoots Leon from behind. Reeling from the physical pain and mental anguish, Deckert and Rachel return to Deckert’s apartment. Inside, Deckert’s guilt is apparent. Feeling the guilt of the murders of Leon and Zhora, Deckert begins to question his own beliefs. Sharing this trauma with him is Rachel, who realizes that by law she must suffer the same fate of death as the other Replicants. Deckert’s exhaustion overtakes him, and he falls asleep.
As he sleeps, Rachel quietly sits down in front of a mirror. Slowly and deliberately, she begins undoing her tight bun of hair. Her hair falls to her shoulders in curly locks. This symbolic gesture points towards a kind of acceptance of both herself and her womanhood. Releasing herself from the constrictions of society, as exemplified by her prudish bun of hair, she moves towards self- acceptance.
Upon awakening, Deckert encounters her in this state. In moments, they find themselves in each other’s arms. As they fall into a love-making embrace, Rachel bows her head in tears. In this coupling, there is a clear parallel to that of numerous mythical stories. In particular, the story of Adam and Eve bears a most striking relevance. Where in the original story, the coupling of Adam and Eve was the first male-female match of history, so also is a human-Replicant coupling a significant milestone. It is the first occurrence of inter-species love in the history of humanity. The old testament traces the root of all humanity to Adam and Eve. It is not unlikely that the love between Deckert and Rachel is the root of a whole new era of life. With Deckert (the searcher) and Rachel (the mother) we can see foreshadowing of a new future for both humans and Replicants.
While all of this is happening, the other Replicants have been working towards their goal. The last two living Replicants are Roy and Priss. Roy, a combat model programmed for “maximum self-sufficiency,” is the leader of the Replicants. Priss, a “basic pleasure model,” is his lover, and last remaining Replicant female. After having confronted the bio-technician who designed the NEXUS 6 line’s eyeballs, Roy discovers the name and location of a genetic engineer privy to the confidence of Tyrell. Roy sends Priss to meet this man, J.M. Sebastian, at his home.
Priss gets to know J.M., who is far from an enemy. He gives Priss clothing, food, and protection from the elements. Inside of J.M.’s home, there are dozens of genetically engineered “friends.” J.M., a genetic engineer, has created and given life to his own friends. J.M., a genetically flawed individual with a lymphatic disorder, is sympathetic to the plight of the Replicants. In JM, we are able to see a microcosm of the story. J.M., a secondary creator figure, has created life as Tyrell has. Further, he understands the plight and feelings of the Replicants. Perhaps because his own life expectancy is limited by his genetic disorder, he sympathizes with the Replicant’s situation. Upon meeting Roy he is persuaded to bring him to Tyrell.
Surprising Tyrell, Roy begins to ask the questions that he has had for so long. It is a proverbial reunion between the father and the son. The father, the godlike Tyrell, clothed in white robes admires his “prodigal son” with a kind of pleased benevolence. The son, a frantic Roy, puts aside his deference to his creator stating “It’s not easy to meet your maker.” Roy probes Tyrell with technical questions about his genetics, life expectancy, and birth date, until he is at last convinced that Tyrell truly cannot help him. Explaining sadly that “we made you the best we could” Tyrell gazes at Roy resignedly. Roy takes his father by the shoulders and embraces him. Slowly, Roy’s fingers move up to Tyrell’s face. Roy gouges out the eyes of his father, and kills him violently.
By gouging out his eyes and slaying him, Roy avenges his plight. In the story of Oedipus, Oedipus gouges out his own eyes in remorse for unknowingly killing his father. This somewhat altered use of the imagery bears striking resemblances to the classical story. In addition, as in the Mythological fable of Polymnestor, the gouging of eyes was a revenge killing. In the fable, Polymnestor’s eyes were gouged out as revenge for the death of others at his hands. When Roy killed Tyrell, he was symbolically avenging the deaths of the Replicants. So also was he able to ensure that no more Replicants could be made to share his fate. Roy, then, is the motivating force behind the conflict of the Replicants. It is he that masterminded their actions and determined their fate. Roy sought answers and meaning for their lives. He embodies the yang force of the Tao. His actions push Deckert down the path of awakening, and allow Deckert to deal with this journey. He embodies the light. Before Tyrell dies, he shows his understanding by saying:
“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long”
Back at J.M.’s home, Deckert is on the trail of the Replicants. He discovers Priss, and is attacked by her. He is almost killed, but manages to shoot her at close range. She is hit, and in a spectacle of spasmatic mechanical convulsions expires on the floor. Deckert once again gazes into the face of yet another Replicant victim and contemplates his actions grimly. Soon, Roy returns to J.M.’s home. Finding her dead, he begins to howl in pain. He rubs his fingers on Priss’s bloody wounds, and holds them to his lips. Tasting the blood, he begins howling once again and s runs in search of Deckert. The symbolic act of drinking blood, prevalent in numerous religions (especially Christianity), has a clear meaning. Priss, his friend and lover, whose life he considered more important than his own, was what he considered holy. By drinking her blood, he partook of her divine spirit.
Roy and Deckert play a game of cat- and-mouse in J.M.’s rain-soaked loft. At one point, Roy’s hand starts to freeze. Knowing that the end of his own four years is at hand, Roy exclaims “not yet” as if needing time to fulfill some great purpose. To combat the numbness, Roy pulls a long nail from the wood and impales his hand with it. At this point, Roy is clearly taking the role of the Christ-Redeemer. Like Christ at the hands of the Romans before his crucifixion, Roy has sacrificed himself for his cause.
While chasing him, Roy puts his head outside of a window to watch Deckert as he flees. As Deckert runs out of sight, Roy tilts his head and smiles as the rain pours down upon him. Once again, a Christian image (of baptism) is integrally linked to Roy. Roy pursues Deckert onto the roof of the building, and corners him. In a desperate attempt to flee from him, Deckert jumps to an adjoining building. Grappling to hold on, Deckert dangles from a precipice by two hands. As Roy approaches the edge of the building to view him, he is seen in stark contrast with his arms folded and holding a dove. Holding the dove with his arms crossed like a pharaoh, Roy silently leaps to the other building. As Deckert’s fingers slowly begin to loose their hold on the wet precipice, Roy approaches.
“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it’s like to live as a slave.”
Suddenly, Deckert’s fingers fail and he begins falling to the ground far below. At the last moment, Roy saves him by grabbing his wrist with the nail-impaled hand. He draws him up to the roof, and lays him down.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I saw sea beams glitter in the dark beneath tanhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in the rain”
“Time to die.”
Roy looks for the last time at Deckert, and smiles. As the last strength in his body leaves him, the dove he was holding escapes and flies into the sky. As the camera follows the bird, it is seen flying high into a cloudless, sunny sky. It is a proverbial dove of peace, set free in a sky of sunlight and hope. Deckert gazes at Roy in wonder, reflecting upon his sacrifice. Like Christ, Roy gave himself for humanity. For understanding. At that moment, muses Deckert later,
“Roy loved life more than anyone.”
When the police come to claim the body of the Replicant, both Bryant and Gaff are there. Bryant, triumphant in his victory, congratulates Deckert on his accomplishment. When Bryant has gone, the dark man approaches Deckert. Speaking for the first time in English, he tells Deckert that
“It’s too bad the girl won’t live. But then again, who does?”
In that single moment, Gaff shows his understanding of all that has transpired. Deckert hurries home to find Rachel. Desperate to escape the city before someone in the Blade Runner unit finds them, they gather their things. As they run from the building, Deckert spies an Oragami unicorn on the ground. This unicorn, a symbol of purity and light, was intentionally left by Gaff. It showed that Gaff had been to Deckert’s apartment. As before, when Gaff left an oragami chicken, and later when he left behind a human effigy made of a matchstick, the symbol marks a milestone in Deckert’s epic journey. Gaff had known that Rachel was there, and despite the fact that it was his job to kill her, he let them go. Deckert and Rachel leave the city, and true to the romance style, live happily in the north. Thus, the mythical quest ends, and a new era begins.
Somewhere in the country, Deckert and Rachel lived happily. They found peace together, despite their differences. The light and dark forces (Gaff and Roy) fulfilled their purpose of pushing Deckert to his destiny. The cycle of father and son, the redemption, and the myth of creation, came to fruition. Out of the darkness of a 21st century land, poisoned and polluted, rose a new beacon of hope.
To the viewer, this new mythology is a vessel. Tales and mythology are a strong part of the human experience. They help to define humanity. Through the images and icons of the old mythologies of the Greeks, Egyptians, and Indians, our subconscious racial memories are touched, stirring the hardly known emotions of the soul. We take meaning from these images, and make it our own. Through science fiction, we are able to grasp the values and lessons of a time now alien to us. Though the specifics have changed, these lessons are just as valuable as their ancient counterparts. Through Blade Runner, we see an epic quest filled with meaning and symbolism applicable to the human condition.
Copyright Mark Lachniel, 1998.