Genealogy of Abdul Ben Hassan

article_hozien_01Blade Runner (Scott, 82/92) a complex film with many underlying themes. One of these themes is the issue of race. Race is presented at many different levels in the film that has many other themes such as what it is to be human, vision, disutopia, the environment, nostalgia, ethics, revolt, class struggle, materialism, clutter, etc. to go into any of these themes in detail would require a separate detailed paper for each of the concurrent themes. The film presents L.A. of the future as a hellish place complete with an inferno. The film is also teeming with different races mostly Asians. In this paper I would like to deal with both representations of race, namely the replicants – as the other – a coded non-white race and the various races that we literally see in the film.

The Replicants as a race

Replicants can be seen as race in addition to the various races one finds in the city. This is made very obvious by the opening text:

Replicants were used Off-world as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets.”

As well as voice over commentary [1] of the original film’s release. Bryant calls the replicants “Skinjobs” and Deckard compares this to calling a black man a “nigger”.

Even without this reference the advertising blimp that is constantly hovering above the city streets with its intrusive bright lights and sounds beams:

“A new life awaits you in the Off-World colonies. The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure. New climate, recreational facilities…..absolutely free. Use your new friend as a personal body servant or a tireless field hand–the custom tailored genetically engineered humanoid replicant designed especially for your needs.”

Further in the end Roy tells Deckard:

“Quite an experience to live in fear [2] , isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.”

The replicants are made or in racial terms “trained/raised/bred” for a specific task. Roy is made to be a combat leader with high intelligence and super human strength [3]. He is clearly the group’s leader. Pris is a prostitute – your “basic pleasure model” – and dresses the part to ensnare Sebastian [4]. All the replicants are very strong, at least the escapee’s that form the group. Zhora is a prostitute retrained as an assassin who Bryant describes as “beauty and the beast” rolled into one. Leon [5] is the infantry type and has low intelligence but not without a sense of humor. After beating up Deckard and before his “final blow” he says “Wake up its time to die!” [6]

Roy’s extreme whiteness becomes a metaphor for “blackness” in blade runner. What makes these replicants a symbol for race is not their physical characteristics but treatment by humans. (Buktaman. 2000. p. 76). Another distinction between the races that is made in subtle way is the location where they reside. Tyrell and Deckard live very high up. Deckard lives on 97th floor whereas Tyrell lives on the 700th floor [7] (Sammon, p. 137). The police station is very high up too. The Bar where Zhora [8] works is on the ground level. Leon does not live very high up. Sebastatian lives in deserted area away from everyone and it is not clear how high up he lives but given the ending chase sequence it seems very high. [9]

The law of the land says that it is illegal for replicants to come back to earth and any that do will be terminated. On a superficial level it is a cop story about a bounty hunter that hunts down dangerous fugitives or renegades. These replicants have escaped from off-world colonies. They ran away from their masters and that is similar to the run away slaves of the south in slavery era of American history. Slaves used to run away from their masters to the north to escape their plight. Some were captured by bounty hunters and brought back or killed in the process. Some were made examples of in order that other slaves would not try to escape en masse.

Deckard’s life is saved twice by replicants and that transforms him. He promises Rachel that he would not come after her even though his boss informed him that he must. Roy also saves him from falling off the edge of the building. Deckard’s transformation is similar to Huckelberry Finn who muses that even if he is going to go to hell for helping an escaped slave “Jim” he is willing to go the distance for this friend [10]. He takes Rachel away even if it could mean that he will be killed in the process to uncertain future.

Deckard’s identity even as a human being is being called into question through out the film. Rachel is responsible for most of the attacks; first she asks him if he ever “retired” a human by mistake; then she asks him if he ever took the Voigt Kampff test [11] himself. Roy at the end chase of the film teases him about shooting an unarmed man and his supposed “good guy” morals. He even says that he is not a “man” by claiming that his actions are “unsportsmanlike”. Gaff at the end says that “you have done a man’s job”. All these call into question his humanness [12].

The film also is not that simple and defies easy categorization. On another level it could be seen as anti revolt film in which any disturbance to the status quo will be put down violently [13]. If anyone gets out of line he will be put down with extreme prejudice.

Another reversal that the film does is the emotional dimension. Replicants are not supposed to have feelings however they are the ones who show the most feelings. Everyone else starkly lacks emotions. From Holden when he is testing Leon, to Gaff, to Deckard himself. Roy is the most human of all the characters and shows the full range of human emotions. Roy is compared to both Lucifer and Adam in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and the monster in Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” [14].

Barringer sees this lack of emotion as further credence to racial coding. He sees humans/whites as representing “order, rationality, and rigidity” whereas blacks/replicants as “disorder, irrationality and looseness” [15]. Further when Rachel finds out she is a replicant her hairstyle changes from being fixed in a tight bun to a natural falling style.

The Voigt Kampff test it self that is determines who is human is designed to illicit empathy for animals and not humans [16]. It is as if the question of having an emotion for humans is complicated and it is simpler if one considers helpless animals. At another level if one can not even have any sympathy for helpless animals how can one be expected to have feelings for fellow human beings.

Sebastian’s place becomes also a mirror for the movie. Here has his very own replicants which he calls friends. They are his mistakes [17] from work. His place becomes a microcosm created in Sebastian’s vision of the ideal world where the replicants coexist side by side with humans in harmony. This dream is crushed when Roy kills him at Tyrell’s home. Barringer states that “Tyrell and Sebastian [18] not only masters but also their slaves’ creators, paradoxically increasing the closeness they feel to their creations while reinforcing the creator’s distance: if I made it, it must be a thing.” (Barringer, p. 14).

Sebastian’s attitude [19] towards the replicants is similar to that of engineer to a mechanical contraption. Upon learning that Roy and Priss are replicants he asks them to show him something that they can do instead of trying to understand them. He follows this comment with “Your so different, your so perfect.” (Barringer. P14.)

Roy’s murder of Sebastian is quite troubling in which the one person who is willing to help the replicants is eliminated. It is as if this is to serve as a lesson to those that betray their kind will be pay with their life. In the words of one reviewer “one only is made to feel sorry for the replicants in their murder.”[20] (Fitting. 1987. P.344) The only good replicant is a dead replicant which is a very racist when one substitutes the word replicant for any racial subgroup.

The film presents a picture of the future in which “the technocrats think, we’ll get it right: we’ll program them with a four-year life span to keep them from getting uppity. Even better, we’ll make them white.” (Barringer, p. 15). The four-year life span is the equivalent to “planned obsolescence” that is built in today’s consumer goods[21].

In the novel in which the film is based on Deckard becomes more dehumanized as he is hunting the androids whereas in the film he becomes more human due to the kindness they show him [22] . (Sammon p. 285)

The Other Races in Blade Runner

The idea of American as a melting pot of cultures here is materialized literally on the screen. The Los Angles of the future looks very much like the Los Angles of the past, present and the future put together. Everything is here and more, as if it has been over grown its space. There is much clutter, nothing is thrown out and replaced, and everything is recycled, reused in other terms retrofitted. That is why we see the Los Angles of the 40’s and 80’s with the 21century all in one, layer upon layer. Not only is this in the design of the film but in the sociological make up of races of the city.

article_hozien_02You have the Japanese [23], Chinese [24], Cambodian [25], Spanish [26], Arab (Egyptian [27]), Indian [28] (Hari Krishna’s) and of course white American [29]. There is a now famous photo of Harrison Ford on top of one of the futuristic cars with Hari Krishna’s walking followed by punk rockers. This photo has become an icon and it explains the iconography of the film. All the street scenes are filled with neon lights. Neon whether it is for signs many of which are not in English but in an oriental language. The video billboards that are on sides of huge buildings also feature oriental icons, namely the geisha. There are bright lights everywhere in lieu of the sun. It is as if the sun has been retrofitted with xenon light [30].

It is as if you place so much “foreign” culture in the melting pot what you get in the end is not European but Asian. This could be interpreted as xenophobic statement that America of the future will be decadent and oriental, a mere shadow of its former glory. In the city there is a marked lack of blacks [31]. There are no blacks anywhere [32].

English is no longer the “linga franca” of the city. It is as if every language is spoken except English. Everyone understands but few use it. Only the whites speak English a shadow of its former inhabitants.

The other race that is clear is the Asians. This film was produced at the height of the Asian crises. The Japanese economy was in high gear. Note the other two movies that were produced around that same period namely Black Rain and Rising Sun. William Gibbson’s Neuromancer that was affected by this film in both the look and the pervasiveness of the Asian culture on American/western culture (Asian Invasion). There are many who consider that Blade Runner as a forerunner for the whole cyberpunk genre. (Bukatman. 2000. p. 74).

Everywhere Deckard went Asians predominated Los Angles of 2019. We see him first at a Sushi bar arguing with the owner over the number of fish on his plate. He is a regular customer and he is well adept at using chopsticks. Signs everywhere are in Asian scripts [33]. There is Chew, the eye designer who is Chinese. There is also a Cambodian lady who has an Electron microscope in her shop that identifies the scale as snake. He buys Asian liquor from a white woman with defect. The city looks more like Hong Kong than it does Los Angeles [34].

The portrayal of race in the film is that of Ghetto dwelling immigrants who settled in Los Angles that work and live in their own enclaves. We see children -or perhaps deformed midgets- playing on top of Deckard’s car. These children are not white or foreign, as they do not speak English. We also see a group of Chinese Bike riders pass by as Roy and Leon make their way to Chew’s store. At the street level we get to see the ethnic mix where as above the city in the police station and the Tyrell corporation there is no other races except white. It is as if they are – the whites – are in their own world within a world perhaps aloof above the decadent world below. The street level “world” serves as a getaway for the whites; Dekard finds peace; the revelers go Taffay Lewis’ Bar and similar establishments. The street level is a place where whites find Hedonistic pleasures as well as mystery and danger.

Many members of different ethnic groups in America have distinguished themselves in all fields. There are black actors, lawyers, Supreme Court Justices, etc. the same is true of many of the other racial groups such as Jews [35], Latinos and Asians. The film seems to portray a xenophobic world of the future in which one could say what is the world coming to. A fact should also be taken into consideration is that the Los Angles of the future is a decadent world that is no longer fit for humans to live in. From the opening show we are seeing Hell on Earth literally [36]. Even by the end of the film we are not sure if the non-white races have made Earth a hell or if it is a warning that if we are not careful in abusing the environment it will become a city fit only for third world people and other outcasts.


Author’s note: There are many notes in this paper that are crucial to understanding of the text above. I would appreciate anyone having any comments on the above to e-mail me directly at

Baringer, Robert. “Skinjobs, humans and racial coding.” Jump Cut41 (1988) p. 13-15, 118.
Bukatman, Scott. Blade Runner. (London: BFI, 1997).
Chapman, Murray. Blade Runner FAQ: Version 2.4 (July 1995)
Desser, David. “The New Eve: The influence of Paradise Lost and Frankenstein on Blade Runner.” In Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Ed. Judith B. Kerman.(Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1991). 53-65.
Desser, David. “Race, space and class: The politics of SF film from Metropolis to Blade Runner” In Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Ed. Judith B. Kerman.(Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1991). p. 110-123.
Fitting, Peter. Futurecop: The Neutralization of Revolt in Blade Runner. Science Fiction Studies. Volume 14, November 1987.
Sammon, Paul. Future noir: The Making of Blade Runner (New York: HarperCollins, 1996).
Scott, Ridley. Blade Runner (1982) 117 min.
Scott, Ridley. Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut (1992) 112 min.


[1] The voice over commentary is helpful however it was overkill for some scenes. There are some rather memorable lines such as: “Replicants were not supposed to have feelings and neither were blade runners”; “They don’t advertise for killers in the newspapers”; and when Roy dies: “I don’t know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life, anybody’s life, my life. All he’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was sit there and watch him die.”

[2] Leon also says to him about the experience of living in fear but does not mention slavery. He does mention an “itch that you can’t scratch” but that refers to the limited life span of four years.

[3] All the replicants are of the highest physical rating, as for intelligence Roy is “A” level; Pris and Zhora are level “B” whereas Leon is level “C”. (Sammon p. 121.) In racial coding he is the equivalent to Malcolm X (Barringer, p. 14).

[4] She wears a dog collar, heavy makeup, fur coat over miniskirt and fish net stocking. (Barringer, p. 14).

[5] An equivalent to marginally-skilled worker whose historical antecedent is a field hand or street thug. (Barringer, p. 14).

[6] He also has another line when he grabs Deckard, “How long do I have to live? that is longer than you”!

[7] I am not sure of floor number and I can no longer find the reference. I thought it was in Sammon but could not find on the second look. If anyone knows the floor number that he lives on let me know.

[8] Zhora is an exotic dancer and her act is that of Middle Eastern flavor. Although when we hear the announcement for the dance once gets the impression from the accent of the announcer, the mentioning of sand. This is sort of feeding on the west’s fascination with the image and mystique of “Orient” namely of the Middle East. Also note that the music that is played is distinctly of a Middle Eastern flavor.

[9] This distinction of up/down and high/low is made in David Desser’s article “Race, space and class: The politics of SF film from Metropolis to Blade Runner” in Retrofitting Blade Runner p. 110-123. He also compares this with Metropolis where the workers live underground and the ruling class lives up in the high towers above ground.

[10] I could not find the reference for this but I remember reading it as example of friendship in Mark Twain’s Novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

[11] A test of empathy that focuses on the eye to look for emotional reactions based on hypothetical situations. Basically the test can determine who is human or not. Deckard throws doubt on the test in his meeting with Bryant in the film. “What if the test doesn’t work?” Deckard says and Bryant remains silent with I don’t know kinda of look on his face.

[12] Also the pictures [used by replicants religiously in the film] that he has on his piano; the unicorn dream and the unicorn origami figure [an infusion of Japanese culture in deep seated psyche of the residents of Los Angeles of the future] that Gaff leaves as his signature.

[13] Fitting, Peter. Futurecop: The Neutralization of Revolt in Blade Runner. Science Fiction Studies. Volume 14, November 1987.

[14] Desser, David.”The New Eve: The influence of Paradise Lost and Frankenstein on Blade Runner.”In Retrofitting Blade Runner. pp. 53-65.

[15] Actually Barringer notes Dyer as the source of this insight. In the copy of the article that I have I am missing the final page of the article in which this reference is mentioned; see page 118.

[16] This is reported by Barringer p. 14. However it is exclusively true. Leon blows a fuse when he is asked about his mother. The role of animals is more important in the novel then in Film. It is interesting to note that each character is associated to animal. See the Blade Runner FAQ. In a significant break with the novel the film contains no real animals. All animals are bio engineered replicants.

[17] Ridley Scott told William Sanderson this as reported in Paul Sammon’s Future noir. P. 144

[18] Barringer also compares them to the historical equivalents of “Bad Massa [Master] / Good Massa”. P. 14.

[19] It is interesting to note a few personality quirks of Sebastian. He lives alone in an abandoned sector/building. It could be that this place that he lives in is of some nostalgia for him where others have all left. He refuses to let go to the very end. Perhaps he is one of those diehards who never abandon their place of birth or where they were raised up. It could also that due to his genetic defect he shuns company but allows himself to be used by others. Also note the fear and fascination of the replicants. In the novel he finally loses all sympathy for them when he sees them torturing a spider and sees them for what they are a simulacra, a mere copy. In the film, when Roy kills Tyrell Sebastian just stands nearby in awe and fear, perhaps a bit of spectatorism on his part.

[20] Riddly Scott in an interview with Paul Sammon had mentioned that he had wanted to film a scene that would take place early in the film. This would have led to the audience to empathize with the plight of the replicants but was forced to not to film it for budgetary reasons. See Sammon p. 381. That said the film should be judged based on the finished product.

[21] This idea according to Hampton Fancher came from meeting his friend the actor -Dennis Hopper- who was driving a converted yellow taxi cab when asked why he was driving this vehicle; he stated that it was the only one that did not have built in obsolescence. See Sammon who interview Fancher early in the book.

[22] I believe this comment is made by Philip K. Dick himself as quoted in Sammon.

[23] The Sushi master who argues with Deckard.

[24] Roy interrogates Chew the eye designer.

[25] A female in the film she helps Deckard identify the scale as snake skin and not fish as he originally thought.

[26] Gaff, he is an interracial character of a varied racial makeup. Note his blue eyes; black hair; his style of dress; use of cane; his mustache all which serve to create quite a devilish and foreboding look.

[27] Abdul Ben-Hassan, the Egyptian snake maker played by an unaccredited actor, who looks like “M. Ferrare” the Fez wearing Sidney Greenstreet from Casablanca. There is also Arabic music in the background when we see Abdul on screen and a female singing: “O my kind heart” He is the only Arab seen in the film. He wears a Fez that was worn by upper class Egyptians at the turn of the 19th century while under Ottoman Turkish rule. Note that Abdul is not a complete name but a truncation of double name. Abdul means “worshiper of” it is always followed by one of the names of God. Christian Arabs also adopted this mode of naming hence that name Abdul-massiah “worshiper of Christ”.

[28] One of them looks distinctly of Indian origin.

[29] Deckard passes by a blonde haired blue-eyed women in a taxi while chasing Zhora. Also the clientele of Taffy Lewis’ bar are all white Americans.

[30] Sammon mentions that the production team had used very bright xenon light the ones used to light sky for major advertising events -it was also the for bat signal in Batman movies.

[31] Barringer states they are two black females at Taffy Lewis’ Bar. (p. 13.)

[32] According to Barringer p. 13 he states that they were exterminated perhaps through involuntary sterilization an idea that Dick had used in his other novels.

[33] Many are in Neon while the walls contain many graffiti in Chinese. They are wishing people good fortune and peace. See Sammon.

[34] There is an article in Science Fiction Studies comparing the Los Angles of Blade Runner to Hong Kong.

[35] Dresser -in his article “Race Space and Class”- points out that there is deliberate attempt on the part of the director to suppress the Jewish character of Tyrell, Rachel and Sebastian. Further there is no mention of Jews anywhere in the film.

[36] In the script it is even mentioned as Hades.

Written by
Muhammad Hozien

Copyright Muhammad Hozien, 2001.

How & Why the Movie is Different

article_oleniacz_01Writers often choose a situation specifically to illustrate their points, but a very similar premise can be used to prove either side of an argument with equal effectiveness. Philip K. Dick’s novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, inspired the much more well-known film “Blade Runner”. Both works involve the same topics: androids hiding on Earth, humans hunting them down, and the shades of gray involving the distinction between man and machine. Although some of the characters and plot elements remain relatively unchanged, the film drastically alters the style and presentation to support a view almost completely contrary to that of the book.

Since the movie was adapted from the book, it is no surprise to see that there are certain similarities between the respective plots. Androids (or “replicants” in the movie) are biomechanically engineered humanoids that have been outlawed on a harsh futuristic Earth. After several escape from the colonies, it is the job of Rick Deckard to hunt and “retire” them. From this basic starting point, however, both pieces move in different directions. The movie maintains its focus on the primary conflict and seems a bit more concerned with why the androids have returned. The novel goes deeper into Deckard’s personal life and takes the opportunity to touch on the social aspects of its futuristic world. The two plots diverge and position themselves to uphold their respective attitudes.

In addition to the plot, characters are also altered, renamed, and, in some cases, removed from the story entirely. Since Dick wanted to examine Deckard’s social situation more closely, he required more characters. It would be foolish to include them in the movie when they do not serve a real purpose in the modified storyline. In the book, Deckard’s wife satirized life in the American home. The film deliberately left Deckard single to emphasize his loner status and allow for a more acceptable relationship between him and Rachel, a female replicant. Buster Friendly, the ubiquitous entertainment personality that Dick used to parody modern commercialism, also made no appearance in “Blade Runner.” Phil Resch, an almost unfeeling colleague of Deckard’s, deserves to be mentioned for being another among those left out. The most significant character omission, however, is unquestionably Mercer. Mercer is a religious figure whose doctrine includes both pain and empathy. “Mercerism” is not only an exploration of religion in society, but the ideals are the primary vehicles in which Dick introduces his definition of humanity.

Perhaps even more conspicuous than both plot and character changes, however, is the radical shift in both presentation and tone. The most obvious difference is the switch to film for “Blade Runner.” This allowed director Ridley Scott to visually influence viewers but at the same time limited his scope. The film embodied the gritty nature of a brutal metropolis. The book also stressed the scene of urban decay, but at times, things were rather light and even humorous. Indeed, the opening scene at Deckard’s apartment with his wife and their emotion generator is a prime example of Philip K. Dick’s particular brand of humor. The book is sprinkled with the mind-bending twists and confusion that have become synonymous with the author. Where Dick uses satire, however, Scott chooses to use abstract symbolism. Many scenes were even cut from the original release due to their ambiguous relevance. The film becomes a darker, neo-noir take on the novel’s theme, but loses the feeling of the original author’s style.

All of the aforementioned revisions and removals ultimately lead to a different take on the basic question being asked: what is and is not human? Initially, the two stories lead the audience to believe that the androids are just as “human” as human beings. There is even the insinuation that the artificial beings are, as is the motto from the movie’s Tyrell Corporation, “More Human Than Human.” Whereas the movie ends on this particular note, Dick switches it up one more time. Instead of falling in love with Rachel and living out the storybook ending, Deckard is used by the android and subjected to the severe logic of artificial intelligence. This is a much more powerful statement. The film views androids and the possibility that they too can experience human emotions. Dick recognizes these emotions as inherently not human. The novel is more of an outlook on humanity, and the point is made that people can sometimes act like machines rather than the other way around. These two respective views are similar without being the same, with neither requiring nor being exclusive of the other. In the end, it is obvious that both are amazing individual science fiction pieces rather than a retelling of the same story.

Written by
Jeffrey James Oleniacz

Copyright Jaffery James Oleniacz, 2001.

Blade Runner – Demystified

Ridley Scott, director of Legend, Thelma and Louise, Alien, Someone to watch over me and Black Rain, directed Blade Runner in 1982.

Blade Runner’s narrative begins before the film starts, with the aid of a written account of events which occurred during the year 2000 – 2017. White writing was used on a black background. It tells the viewer that in the 21st century robots have been made which are almost identical to humans but the are stronger and intelligent. They were used in off world colonies until they mutinied and had to be exterminated. Blade runner units had the job to get rid of them by what was known as retirement. This summary sets the scene for events which come later in the film.

Blade Runner has a very complex narrative and is best described as an combination of several themes. One of the most obvious narratives is of similar content to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr Frankenstein creating the monster in his own likeness, or usurping God’s role, only for his perfection to go into demise, ending in the creation killing his maker. In a similar way, Blade Runner involves a creator, Tyrell, creating replicants to be as perfect as himself. Even the name replicants is important as it suggests a copy. Supposedly the replicants are meant to be a copy of Tyrell, but better and much more beautiful. The replicants are as flawed in their structure as Frankenstein’s monster. Whereas the monster gradually decayed, the replicants had a finite life-span with no way to change it. For that reason the replicant Roy Batty, killed Tyrell. However the opening screen states that the replicants were better than humans but it seems only in strength and intelligence, not in emotions.

Involved in the film is a separate narrative, only implied, but which plays an important part in the feel of the film. Unlike a lot of futuristic films which portray the earth of the future as a clean place such as in Star Trek, 2001 a Space Odyssey and 2010, Blade Runner established a bleak vision of the future. It was not however a post holocaust world because the belief was that the world will turn bad even without a war. It tells the audience that if we carry on as we are especially with regards to the greenhouse effect, the world will go into decline. It was also a world where the West and the East had congregated making the futuristic Los Angeles one completely different culture. Most of the street sellers are Japanese and the advertising airship which hovers over the city displays a Japanese lady. The buildings are a mix of original stone in decay and much larger glass structures towering above them. In this respect, Blade Runner can be connected to Ridley Scott’s Black Rain which showed exactly what happens when the West and East collide in the way that the American police-man could not fit in with the Japanese Police Department.

The whole nature of the Blade Runner plot seems to illustrate a hunt, this is similar to Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ where the aliens were hunting the humans. There was a different type of hunt presenting itself throughout the film. To begin, there are the individual pursuits of the replicants by Deckard, the hunting down of Zhora, Leon, Pris and Roy Batty. There was also the hunting of Sebastian and Tyrell by Leon and Roy Batty and another through Deckard hunting Rachael because he wanted her. Ultimately Deckard being hunted by Roy Batty in the extensive fight scene between the two. There was however a twist in the plot when Deckard, who throughout the film was the hunter, ends being the hunted, not only when Roy Batty chases him in Sebastian’s apartment but also by Deckard and Rachael trying to escape at the very end. However, hints were made about the idea of Deckard himself being a replicant, such as the unicorn dream, the photographs on his piano being as important to him as they are to Rachael and Leon. This is important because the replicants did not have memories of their childhood, only photographs which showed that they did have one. Also a hint was made by Rachael saying to Deckard :-

“Have you ever tried it on yourself?”

A question which Deckard ignored. At this point, the audience’s idea of Deckard being the perfect hero are changed, making him seem a fatally, if slightly flawed victim of his own actions. In this respect it made Deckard out to be a film noir character, a cynical, lonely hero, very similar to the character Marlowe played by Dick Powell in ‘Farewell My Lovely ‘. This was shown through Deckard having no idea of what he was destroying or why, he was suspicious of the authority’s motives, but they are the best available. This noir aspect was most evident in the first version of Blade Runner with its typically Noirish voice over. It is definite that Ridley Scott wanted people to believe Deckard was a replicant because in ‘Starburst UK’ on ‘Blade Cuts’ No51 Nov 82 Ridley Scott said:-

“When you are doing a film noir, you may as well go right the way through with that theme, and the central character could in fact be what he is chasing”

Ridley Scott’s idea of making Deckard out to be a replicant was heavily criticised by actor Harrison Ford who thought that the audience needed someone to cheer for. Also there was a great deal of doubt whether the replicants are good or evil. They only wish to prolong their life-span, and Deckard was only doing what the Corporation wanted.

This scene was one of many which discussed the differences between humans and replicants and tries to find the underlying problems of replicants existing. In one scene Deckard returns to his apartment to find Rachael waiting for him, something made him suspicious that someone was there and so he pulled out his gun ready for a fight. This was quite suggestive in that the
gun was meant to be a phallic symbol. When Rachael saw the gun pointing at her you see that she was frightened as she stepped back in fear. This reaction is as if she is frightened by his masculinity and therefore was afraid of him. Deckard took no notice of this fact and simply put the gun away and opened his flat. By doing this Deckard was showing his soft inner self by realising that Rachael was afraid of him. He seemed to struggle with the door key and Rachael offered to help him. Deckard being quite disgruntled said

“What do I need help for”.

By saying this he was making a statement about himself. He was a tough cop, he worked alone, it seemed as if he had never had help before and therefore could not understand why someone would want to help him. Also to accept help from a woman was even more undermining. However we could tell by his reactions that he was really a hard cop on the outside but soft on the inside. She said to him that she didn’t know why he (Tyrell) told Deckard what he did. This harkens back to an earlier scene where Deckard found out that Rachael was a replicant and Tyrell agreed. As soon as she said this Deckard told Rachael to ask him and slammed the door in her face. She shouted that he would not see her.
At this point it becomes clear that Rachael had some idea that she was a replicant and that she had gone to Deckard to confirm this. Deckard let her in and offered her a drink. She declined and said

“You think I’m a replicant don’t you?”

to which Deckard disagreed with a short sharp “No”. This made distinct the fact that she doubted herself being a human, and also showed Deckard to have an ounce of feeling by saying ‘no’ so that he did not hurt her feelings. Then Deckard took some examples from a Voight Kampff test and tried them on her. The reason for this is that Deckard was a bad liar and when Rachael realized that he was lying he decided there was no point in proving otherwise.

It is interesting that the second test had an ulterior meaning, in that the question was about a spider building a web, one day there was a big egg it , the egg hatched and baby spiders came out and ate the mother. This can be related to the scene of Roy Batty killing his maker Tyrell. When Rachael finished off the question and answered it, Deckard, looking very stupefied, put it down to brain implants of the memories of Tyrell’s niece. It seemed strange to Deckard that telling Rachael that she was a replicant would hurt her feelings, after all she was a replicant and surely replicants could not be distressed by this fact, but it did. After seeing a close-up of Rachael standing there, eyes welling up with tears and bottom lip quivering and you hear Deckard saying

“Bad joke, I made a bad joke, your not a replicant. Go home”

you realise that at this point she knew that she was a replicant because her one and only piece of evidence to prove otherwise had gone.

article_mills_01Although contrasting, the very end, during the chasing of Deckard by Roy Batty is a very important and effective scene. The scene involved Deckard on the roof of a building after being chased by Roy and in fear he tried to jump from the roof to the next building. He missed and is left dangling from a metal strut. This was now showing the fear and weakness of Deckard whereas in the scene with Deckard and Rachael a completely different character of Deckard was shown. What the audience was seeing at this point was the true side of him. The way he acted in the Rachael scene was just a front. This was also shown in the way that after the fight with Leon, Deckard went to his flat and washed his mouth out with water and one could see the blood pouring from his mouth, also when he was drinking the whisky and blood trickled into the glass.As Deckard was hanging, Roy was seen holding a white dove. You see him go to Deckard and say

“Quite an experience to live in fear isn’t it ?, that’s what it is to be a slave”.

This remark was to show how replicants live constantly in fear and was aimed to give Deckard a taste of Roys life. Roy helped Deckard up using the hand with a nail through it and placed him on the ground, Deckard tried to back away in fear. This is interesting in that even though Roy was on the verge of death, he still had the ability to define right from wrong. This is one way in which the film questions humanity and makes the audience think whether the replicants were worse than humans. In actual fact the action of Roy makes it seem as if the replicants had more moral standing than humans. When Deckard was on the roof and Roy was standing over him, you recognise the music being slow and eerie, not dominating the action in any way but noticeable to be the same music played during the Deckard – Rachael scene. Next Roy crouched down with dove in hand and crossed his arms, this being a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion. Then he said

“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. Time to die”

This last speech by Roy brought in the importance once more of eyes. All through the film eyes were important. The Voight Kampff test was based on eye movements and pupil dilation. When Roy killed Tyrell he pressed on his eyes and the first person Roy and Leon went to see was the genetic eye maker. In this speech Roy was making clear the fact that even though his eyes were synthetic they were still as important as humans and that they had seen more than any humans could.

The rain poured down on Roy, he bowed his head and went still. The dove from his hand became free and flew up toward a blue patch of sky. This is significant in two ways, firstly because the dove itself is a symbol of peace, important at this part of the film because when Roy batty died he was at peace with Deckard, secondly because the release of the dove could have been a symbol of his soul flying up to heaven, the whiteness of the bird meaning purity, also connected with Rutger Hauer’s white hair. If the dove was a symbol of purity then it was probably to make the replicants look purer than humans. This creature could also represent the dove which was sent to find dry land in the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, seeing as the bird flew through the rain towards a small amount of blue sky.
The main similarity between this scene and the scene between Rachael and Deckard is that both raise questions about humanity and morality. In the scene with Rachael the question arose who is human and who is not. With the Roy Batty scene it was more a question of who is better, humans or replicants. Both scenes involve two people, although with Roy Batty it was not a conversation, rather more a lecture.

The real emphasis of attack seems to be against the Corporation and Tyrell, the inhuman who looks down on everyone from the top floor of the Corporation building. Possibly a symbol of God looking down on the world from heaven, also backed up by the replicants being created by Tyrell and the fact that he owns everything, including a free spirit such as a bird of prey. Blade Runner can be associated with Robocop by the way the evil in the film is part of the Corporation.

Also coming into play are images of religion and mythology, all of which are used ambiguously at some time or another. These are particularly demonstrated in the way Tyrell is portrayed as being a God like creature, the Tyrell Corporation building representing the heavens and Los Angeles being all that he surveys. The dove was a symbol of purity and the mythological unicorn played an important part in Blade Runner, as it did in Ridley Scott’s ‘Legend’. In Blade Runner it appeared twice, once in a dream Deckard had and again when Gaff, the Blade Runner inspector made a miniature origami unicorn out of silver paper. There are several reasons for the use of the unicorn. It is supposed to have a temperament which is similar to the actions of the replicants in that when it is backed into a corner it becomes violent. This can be identified when Leon was being put through a Voight Kampff test, when the Blade Runner asks about his mother, Leon shot him, also when Deckard started asking Zhora questions and she tried to strangle him and run away, and the same happened when Deckard cornered Pris in Sebastian’s flat and she attacked him. The whiteness of the unicorn is a symbol of virginity, purity and innocence which is emblematic of the replicants who were in many ways innocent. Especially because it represents Rachael’s status. Unicorns have often been a symbol of Christ crucified which is represented in Roy Batty dying in order to save Deckard. Unicorns in the film have supposedly become extinct and by Gaff making an origami unicorn it was a way of saying the same about Rachael, due to her limited life-span.
Tennessee Williams wrote about a unicorn in “The Glass Menagerie” where the horse was different and would always remain different because it had a horn and therefore Rachael is different by being a replicant. In the ‘Glass Menagerie’ the Unicorn falls over and the horn is broken off making it a normal horse. In a similar way Rachael knocks the origami horse over, making a statement that she is escaping from Tyrell.article_mills_02

Serpents were shown in the film when Zhora danced with a snake and had a tattoo of a serpent on her neck. This was a representation of evil in the Garden of Eden and also of knowledge which returns to Tyrell who had knowledge. The chess game was also important in that it was representative of the two people playing it, Tyrell’s chess pieces were of men because that is what he made and Sebastians chess pieces were of birds because he made animals. The chess game itself is significant as it is named the “Immortal Game” and was played by Anderssen and Kieseritzky in London in 1851. It holds the concept of immortality obviously associated with the ensuin confrontation between Tyrell and Batty. With any director the style of a film differs. This is especially true with Ridley Scott. Blade Runner is described as having:-

“Some of the most beautiful miniature sequences ever filmed, depicting a heavily polluted Los Angeles of the future. A masterpiece in visual art” David Hutchinson – Film Magic – Schuster 1987.

Working in 65mm on miniature sets makes scenes look life size. Doug Trumble (Photographic effects supervisor) is a pioneer in scaled atmospheric effects. By fogging an entire miniature set, the effect would be sixteen times dirtier. This technique sets Blade Runner out from all other films because it gives it a gritty texture. It was a technique along with the use of a blue filter, which Ridley Scott went on to use in ‘Alien’. The use of a unicorn is unique to Scott, something which was used a few years earlier in making ‘Legend’. It could be said to be a part of his style. Blade Runner is quite a different film to Scott’s “Thelma and Louise” in the treatment of women.

“Ridley Scott’s ‘Thelma and Louise’ was described as a ‘feminist road movie’. Scott’s own Blade Runner was certainly not noted for its pro-feminist stance – in fact the representation of the female replicants caused not simply unease but also protest among feminist critics.” – Stuart Price – Media Studies – Pitman 1993

This is shown in the portrayal of Rachael. The first time the audience saw Rachael was when she tottered into Tyrell’s room with her hand on her hip, almost as if she had been trained to walk like that and more like a toy doll than a person, as well as being so weak and feeble during the lead up to the love scene with Deckard. Also Pris was a replicant whose purpose was to please the humans on the off world colonies or so we were led to believe. In this way Blade Runner is very different to “Thelma and Louise” and also “Alien”, where the women are in control and are the leading ladies. The scenery for the film was organised to how Ridley Scott wanted it –

“Ridley Scott gave us his imaginative vision of Los Angeles in 2019 in Blade Runner” – Kate Haycock – Science Fiction Films – Wayland – 1991

This tells us that it was Ridley Scott’s ideas and beliefs of the future which are enveloped in the film. He demanded that the sets were to be “Authentic and not just speculative”. This is proved by his hand in making the sets; when they were making columns for the Tyrell Corporation building he ordered for them to be turned upside down. This is a way in which one can see his own personal style. His specifications for the set were to be “Hong Kong on a bad day”. Something which the art directors had to accomplish.

After the release of the film in 1982, Blade Runner went through a series of make overs. Firstly it was test screened to get people’s reactions. It failed to be a hit. At the time this was a major failure having $15 million spent on the making of it. The idea of test screening films is one universally despised. Even if the film is good, just the mention of a new ending and bits added to the final film give it a bad review. This happened in the case of Blade Runner. The studio prescribed the film to have a happy ending, something that Ridley Scott was against. This however was done and was part of the reason why the film failed to be popular. After only making enough money to cover the costs, the film was consigned to the vaults. In October of 1989, the head of film restoration came across a 70 mm print of Blade Runner. A few months later he was asked for it in order for it to be shown at a film festival. As soon as it was shown, everyone realised that it was the Directors cut, the film which Ridley Scott had intended to be shown rather than the rejigged, tacked on happy ending film which had been shown eight years earlier. It turned out that it was not a Final cut of the film, only a rough- cut, work-in-progress. Nevertheless, the studio now wanted the film to be shown in 15 cinemas as the directors cut, heralding it as “The original director’s version of the movie that was light years ahead of its time!”.

After Scott complained that it was not his cut, the studio compromised by releasing it to two cinemas. One cinema set the house record in its first week and the other made $94,000-plus in a seven day take. For some reason the film had suddenly become a huge success. This could be put down to the eight years it spent in the vaults, allowing for the bad reviews of the film to die down, and giving people who did not see the film in its first showing a chance to now. Another reason why it may have suddenly become so popular when the first version failed to do so, is because it was the wrong audience. The audiences were probably not prepared for what they saw. They were probably used to more predictable fare. During the eight year gap, people may have come to understand that the sociological side of the film could be quite real. For example, the fact that the world seems to be affected by the greenhouse effect. Or that the World is becoming overpopulated. It may have seemed way ahead of its time in 1982 but eight years later it is given the credit it should have had earlier. Another reason for its bad reviews the first time round is because it was released in the same month as E.T and had to take a back seat. In 1982-83 an official Blade Runner computer game came out for use on Commodore 64’s. This shows that even though it failed to be a hit in 1982 it was believed to be worth making a computer game for it. However, the idea of making a computer game might have been a way of making more money from the failed movie.

Blade Runner is recognised as being a cult movie because when it was first released it seemed to have a few followers. Therefore the film found a minority niche in the market. However the fact that after eight years of it being released, VCRs became more widespread making it easier for those people who had seen the version eight years earlier could now buy the video in order to play it at home on their VCRs. This made the re-evaluation of the film a lot easier. After the film had been revived, it would have been difficult to get financial backing for the re-run if video recorder were not an option. The film would have needed to be shown either in a minority slot on television or at small independent cinemas. However the cheaper alternative was to make the film available on video so that people could get it if they wanted it. Also with new films being produced it would have been difficult for Blade Runner to get a good following in order to keep up with the competition. With this new way of discovering the films popularity it was easier to show the re edited re cut version and made up on the sales it had lost. Blade Runner is a good example of how a film can become a cult favourite. It now has a large number of people who enjoy the film and have on video. Even though it has tough competition from the latest movies, it is still one of the most enjoyed films of the Eighties.

Written by
Wez Mills

Copyright Wez Mills, 2001.

Appreciation & Assessment of the Dir.Cut.

This film deserves a higher status than that of cult, and is much more than just an acceptable homage to Philip K Dick, author of many original science-fiction novels, often laced with philosophical perspectives on reality and human dependencies. The film is multi-layered; thrilling and unsettling, part dark science fiction and detective film noir, realistic and dream-like, intelligent, mature, artistic and powerful. Purely on the surface, it has a visual richness which is wonderfully atmospheric (enhanced by the soundtrack of Vangelis), drawing one into a dystopic vision of the future which is not only a sprawling, technological metropolis, but an empty, soulless place. It is a film which not only incorporates the strong themes presented by Dick (disillusionment and control) but also adds its own sorbefacient mood, which though aloof and tragic includes through its characters a sense of life’s contained desperation. They are withdrawn, living in a mellow dream but primarily lonesome and in need of basic human love or compassion. The indication that many people have left Earth for the (deluded?) attraction of a utopian, resort-style Off-World colony increases the sense of their world as forgotten and abandoned. The characters seem random, everyday people of the city, but through the story are united by an accepting will to survive because there is nothing else, nothing but fear. Death to the replicants is represented by their own heightened sense of mortality and the outside embodiment of the Blade Runners; stalkers such as the weary Deckard.

article_campbell_01Throughout the film, life and death are displayed in ways that illuminate their surrealness; life in the case of a radically imposing world – large, expansive, beautifully decadent, grown strange even to the hero Deckard – and death, especially in the example of Zorra’s death sequence, as a sprawling, slow-motion operatic and disjointed event. Survival is a weary task amongst such decadence, but it is a prominent theme; the replicants are not human yet they want life, Deckard scrambles extensively on the rooftops and at one classic point, is moments from certain death. The film itself is called ‘Blade Runner’ suggestive of the confrontation with danger that hunting replicants for a living invites. ‘Quite a thing to live in fear isn’t it?’ Towards the climax the film attempts to bring the viewers as close to the ledge of death as possible. ‘4,5 – how to stay alive’ shouts Batty chasing Deckard with a nail plunged through his hand, an attempt to retain his failing sense of sensation by an infliction of harsh pain. This is all artistic nerve touching, and with the roles reversed to Deckard as the prey, the viewer senses the hopelessness of Deckard’s situation.

This highlights another interesting factor which distinguishes Blade Runner from being a conventional sci-fi thriller to a surprisingly relevant and resonant work; the mix of the traditional with the untraditional. We have the typical cop hero in the character Deckard, found in a downtown bar at the beginning, wanted for an assignment by the chief. The role of film noir is interesting in that such stereotypical characteristics are drawn upon and then overturned so that out of cliche emerges a great originality of vision – the future is not just visually dark and pessimistic but also fundamentally old in a spiritual and physical way. There is the usual love interest in Rachel, the main villain Batty and his boys heading for a showdown, a few minor characters of interest and behind it, the clever scientist whose plans backfire. Before long however, all is out of joint; the baddies are not evil, but confused creatures of Frankenstein seeking like us all, extended life and answers for the pain and suffering caused by grief and heightened doses of emotion. Rachel, one of them also, complicates Deckard’s task and in general there is a sense of confusion, horror in Zorra’s realistic death scene and complexity in man’s modern creations and lack of control. Technology, it seems has surpassed our ability to control and relate to it. This futuristic city is forlorn, lonely and lost. The characters are world-weary; they have seen and done it all, and are none the wiser. Rutger Hauer devised Batty’s death speech – a touching scramble for poetic words to distill the moment’s emotional(?) complexity – and he shines as one of the most three-dimensional film enemies ever. Instead of a great showdown with this enemy where the viewer witnesses good triumph over evil, we have a prolonged, desperate fight. Our everyman hero is disarmed, forced to flee and is saved by the enemy who is dying anyway. It is a scene where we wait to see if Deckard will survive and return to salvage all that he now cares about – his strange love for Rachel. After this case, we may discern that Deckard ‘won’t work in this town again’.

It has been suggested that the film suffers from an identity crisis through not knowing whether it is a science fiction thriller or a clever detective film noir. This was never the case. Like in the book, Deckard in the director’s cut is a conventional cop confronted by an unconventional case (Nexus Six replicants with memories and primitive emotions) which will bring him close to confronting a hazard that is inherent within us all; the darker more horrific desire for holding onto life. For this is the struggle of Batty and the replicants – how to live with dangerously acute powers and sensibilities bestowed by people such as the arrogant scientist Dr. Tyrell. They are not happy with their gift; playing second-rate to humans, living in fear of death, and by the end, suffering a painful, protracted and useless end. Their inability to comprehend their own mortality and loss of experiences (‘like tears in rain’) mirrors our own. This is the result of arrogant science, of playing Prometheus, and as a powerful theme resonates to the consideration that human life is not dissimilar. It is true perhaps that this fundamental idea of ‘what it means to be human’ may come over better in the book than in the film; a stronger depth inherent in the film is that of hunter and hunted. But what we do witness is Deckard’s natural but ironic predicament of falling for the enemy, i.e. Rachel. This is perhaps the only goodness in a film illustrating the fallibility of humanity; love and the need to be loved. It is here where we get the dream image of the charging unicorn, a symbol perhaps of an attainable goodness and simplicity amid such dark modernity and angst. Deckard doesn’t find an enemy as such in the replicants, but beings every bit as fallible as himself; confused, fearful and understandably dangerous when threatened. A more apparent interpretation of the unicorn is that it is a memory implant given to Deckard – himself a replicant, confirmed at the end when he notices the silver origami creation of the cane-man Gaff (a real Blade Runner?) Have they used Deckard as a thief to catch the thieves? Gaff shouts to a slumped Deckard ‘You’ve done a man’s job sir….’ Is Deckard a man and has he done the world a favour? At the beginning he was just an everyman in a fast-food chinese, but by the end doubt about reality and his relation to it has emerged and been confronted (a typical Dickian theme). Personally, although this is a strong connection, I prefer to think that there is still room for suggestion here, that the dream unicorn may also be a real dream, but perhaps attaches to a deeper meaning shared between the Blade Runners. This however is the cleverness of the subtle ambiguity in the film; that it works on these levels.

There are other groundings for understanding Deckard as a replicant, with his unemotional dedication to completing the task set for him by the chief. The reaches of Tyrell’s influence on the positions of the city are uncertain. Possibly it is all one engineered experiment by the god-like mental Tyrell; introducing Rachel to Deckard, their relationship, Holden’s incapacitation at the beginning by Leon, and the need for a being able to match and destroy Batty. But this is relatively inconsequential and merely adds strength to the theme of presenting the experience of humanity – its strange needs and compulsions – through the concept of replicants. The fact that the reference to their murder is classified ‘retirement’ draws attention to an unjust but deliberate discrimination. What these cops are tracking down in the Nexus Six replicants are mirrors of themselves, suffering from a lack of empathy. The film is laced with a subtle, ironic perspective.

By the time Deckard enters Sebastian’s building it becomes apparent that Deckard from this point will hardly be likely to just kill Batty and walk home to Rachel. We are not at all sure that Batty should be ‘retired’ – indeed nor any of them. The climax distils the running of the blade for both characters and for all people. Ultimately, as Rachel and Deckard rush to escape the vicinity of other Blade Runners, but of still inevitable death, their weakness and futility matches Batty’s. But they have a sort of love, one that possibly only Deckard feels, and we guess that they will cling to this as they enter the lift and the difficult future. The door slams, life goes on; the players have left the stage. They are left threatened, for possibly the cane-man Gaff will ensure that Rachel is hunted down. ‘It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?’ This statement could also be a hint to Deckard that he must leave and take Rachel away – but if they are both replicants then their lives will be half-lives in any case.

Blade Runner is an artfully crafted set-piece in that it displays the dispassion that is its primary theme, although it can really do no more on an emotional level. The interest of the replicants are as a device for depicting a negative condition where communication is lacking and individualism is strong; an inability to express the weight of our tragedy. The replicants group awkwardly together in the shadow of the oppression that is death. Empathy it would seem is what makes us human; our ability to feel for others. Deckard is not sufficiently possessed of this until he is taken to hand at the end by (ironically) Batty.

The definitive version of the film is the director’s cut, which retains the proper level of ambiguity by subtracting the ill-fitting, unnecessary happy ending. Instead we may wonder whether the unicorn of hope, love and purity (my interpretation) can live, or deserve to live, outside the dream and inside such an exhausted, dead-end of a world. This film is serious; both far-fetched and realistic, bleak in setting but finally unresolved, hopeful even, striking a powerful chord with its searching, struggling characters. Crucial aspects of
the human condition are here on display in surely what is a fine creation.

This essay does not include the vast religious parallels that can be read into the characters and their actions eg. the replicants as fallen angels returning to Earth to confront their maker, Batty as a symbol of mankind, Deckard as God’s agent of death and Sebastian as an intermediary Jesus Christ. (Read Jean-Paul Gossman article Blade Runner – A Postmodernist View)

Written by
Adrian McOran-Campbell

Copyright Adrian McOran-Campbell, 2001.

Blade Runner – A Postmodernist View


The Postmodern reply to the Modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot be destroyed, because it’s destruction leads to silence, must be revisited : not innocently but with irony ‘. Umberto Eco, Postmodernist Fiction.

Roy : ‘ Fiery the angels fell, Deep thunder roll’d around their shores, Burning with the fires of Orc.’

Bladerunner is not a pleasing film. Visually it is stunning and at the same time frightening. Unlike Stanley Kubick’s, ‘ Space Odyssey 2001 ‘ with it’s pristine images, Bladerunner sets out to shock. It paints a picture of a world where the sun never shines, where it rains incessantly. The crowded streets are narrow and filthy. People rush by dressed in weird attire. The images are magnificent yet decadent. There is a feeling of eeriness and the atmosphere is thick with expectancy. Each frame is like an abstract painting. When viewed, it says different things to different people. There are so many things happening at the same time. The bombardment of the visual effects and the double tongued dialogue has the viewer totally perplexed an this is what the film purposely sets out to do.

For once, the viewer is asked to think. Yet there is no clear – cut plot and everything is not what it seems. What is there is yet not there. What is said has a totally different meaning to the words spoken. The film has a subtext and it is within this subtext that it reveals itself. The behavior of the characters does not tie in with the story – line. There are hidden meanings in everything they say and do. It is not even clear who is human.

The film failed to find its audience because it could not be clearly understood. Understanding is what it demanded. Like all Postmodernist works, it did not conform to the norm. Instead of being a passive consumer, the viewer had to take an active part in the consumption of meaning.

Bladerunner is a parody. It revisits the past, mimics it and holds it up to ridicule. There are definitive religious and philosophical parallels and these are Milton’s Paradise Lost and humanity itself. It goes as far as to question God, mock Him and finally kill Him.

Roy and his followers : Pris, Zora and Leon are Milton’s fallen angels. They were created by Tyrell ( God ) and given a four year lifespan. God created man and gave him a four – score lifespan. The parallels are quite apparent.

Roy is the symbol of mankind. He was created by God and was separated by his maker, when he was sent off world ( expelled from heaven ). And like Lucifer, sets about on a course of destruction. Milton’s battle takes place in heaven. Here it is fought on earth.

The selected extract is part of the dialogue that takes place between Tyrell and Roy when they first confront one another. The latter cannot approach Tyrell directly. He has to make use of an intermediary ; Sebastian ( Jesus Christ ) as his link to God. Biblical teachings has it that God can only be approached through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Sebastian is the only true human. He is flesh and blood. He is the composite of both man and replicant as Jesus is a composite of God and man. Just as Jesus Christ lived among men, Sebastian lived among the replicants. In the scriptures, Jesus Christ attempted to bring humanity to God and was killed by those he tried to save. The same thing happened to Sebastian. He brought Roy ( man ) to his creator and was killed for his trouble.

Sebastian was Tyrell’s subordinate just as Jesus was God’s subordinate. But whereas the Bible says that the score between Lucifer and Christ is yet to be settled, Ridley Scott decides to settle it there and then. He takes advantage of the liberties afforded him by Postmodernism by deciding to rewrite the future. He does not wait for the prophecies as per the Book of Revelations and the final battle. He has Satan kill Christ there and then.

article_gossman_02The camera angle used to film the lift ascending to Tyrell’s headquarters gives the viewer the impression that it is actually going up to heaven. The interior decor resembles that of a cathedral and there is an aura of holiness about the place.

The dialogue between God and Satan when they finally face one another is frightening. What transpires in the room has a shocking effect on the viewer. Tyrell like God, speaks softly, and does not anger, whereas Roy like Lucifer is tormented and angry.

Tyrell : ‘ I expected you to come sooner .’
Roy : ‘ It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker . Fiery the angel’s fell, Deep thunder roll’d around their shores, Burning with the fires of Orc, I want more life Fucker ! ‘
Tyrell : ‘ The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long…and you have burned so very, very brightly Roy.’

Satan is not satisfied by the answers given to him by God and begins to make demands. But it falls on deaf ears and like humanity who pray to God for release from their sufferings, he is left unanswered. Biblical myth has it that humanity must not question God or His motives. The sentence of death placed on mankind will not be rescinded by Him. Humanity cannot sit in judgement of God but Roy Batty kisses his creator, judges Him and kills Him. This is perhaps the most shocking moment in the film as the viewer is left horrified, as Batty with tears rolling down his face gorges out His eyes. He obviously loves his creator but in this scene, he takes on the role of humanity and on behalf of humanity, executes God.

We are asked not to judge. We are born with the sentence of death hanging over us. We cannot question or may not question why we have to suffer through this life. Our prayers for help are most often left unanswered. Thus, when Roy kills God, however horrific it may seem, perhaps finally humanity can pass it’s own death sentence on God.

With God and Christ dead, Satan becomes almost a Christ – like figure. There is an aura about him. He glows as if he is all seeing and all knowing. But he is under a death sentence as he is pursued by Dekkard, God’s executioner. He has no alternative but to confront the Grim Reaper head-on. He fights the battle not only for himself but also for mankind. Whereas mankind at all times tries to avoid death, Roy turns to confront it. A further significance to substantiate his transition into Christ is that he pierces his hand with a nail, a symbol of Christian crucifixion.

article_gossman_03The final scenes in the film are also of great significance. The violent struggle on the rooftops is fought in semi – darkness and pouring rain and it is as if it is taking place in the very bowls of Hell. With the end near, Batty, goes through yet another change. This is manifested in the fact that he prevents Dekkard from falling to his death and indeed becomes his savior.

As they face each other, Roy seems to come to terms with his own mortality and the inevitability of death. He ceases to struggle against what he cannot change….the ‘ hand of death ‘. He looks back at what he had done and seen.

‘ I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe, Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, I watched seabeams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate, All those moments will be lost, like tears in rain, Time to die ‘.

By the time he dies, he has redeemed himself by following in the footsteps of Christ. In order for God to forgive him, he spares the life of the man who killed his beloved Pris. As he dies, the white dove he had been holding flies free into the sky. Finally his soul is purified and on the way upward.

The ‘ Angel of Death ‘ ( Dekkard ) looks upon the dead Batty and muses.

‘All he’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us want.
Where do I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was sit here and watch him die ‘.

Written by
Jean-Paul Gossman

Copyright Jean-Paul Gossman, 2001.

The City, Eyes and Christ

When Blade Runner came out in 1982, it dazzled audiences with its representation of humanity’s fallen social and technological structure. Utilizing unparalleled set design, the film presented a dark visual predicament of our future through the use of monstrous industrial environments, out-of-control scientific advancements, and urban decay.

Blade Runner ultimately asks the question about what makes one human. Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) leads a team of replicant (android) rebels who arrive in Los Angeles from the Off-World colonies in an attempt to confront the head of the Tyrell corporation which manufactures them. Limited to a four year life span, the team wants to find a way to extend their purposely limited life-spans. Since replicants once mutinied in a space colony, they are not permitted on earth under penalty of death. Hunted by Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who belongs to a special police unit of robot killers known as Blade Runners, Roy Batty manages to answer the film’s critical question only moments before his own death.

Although the name Blade Runner is taken from an idea by author William Boroughs, the film is loosely adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1969 science fiction story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Ridely Scott, a director with a solid background of 3000 television commercials and the successful films The Duelists (1978) and Alien (1979) reportedly committed to making the film without reading the book. Collaborating with industrial designer Lawrence Paul, art director David Snyder, and cartoon artist Syd Mead, Scott’s usage of repeating visual patterns, ocular icons, and recurring forms make it possible to explore the film using the formalist theory approach. The focus of this paper will be the examination of the three major image based motifs of the film: the city, the eye, and the representation of Christ in an effort to uncover their visual significance and meaning.

The opening scene of Blade Runner is terrifying. Fire explodes upward from an endless sea of lights into an eternal nighttime sky. Massive smokestacks belch pollution and neon lights burn coldly in the darkness. This revelation of Los Angeles in the year 2019 appears more like Hell than earth. The film’s universe as a post-apocalyptic vision on excessive capitalism and technology run amok manifests itself in the images of buildings resembling cancerous growths and the different angles in which the cinematography presents this vision (Kerman 54).

article_amotz-_01For example, the Tyrell corporation inhabits two 700 story towers built in the resemblance of Mayan Temple pyramids. The towers represent the basic premise to the entire concept of building in this universe. Instead of tearing down buildings or dismantling established technology, modifications and additions are built and added to existing structures.

The depiction of these images is conducted through the use of aerial special effects shots and ground level scenery. From the air, the buildings are a fascinating array of rectangular, tube, triangular, and cone shaped dimensions. Devoid of ambient sound, the city is a collage of different geometrical shapes offset and distorted by harsh lights and the blackness of the sky.

The street level poses a less glamorous approach. The futuristic urban center of LA is crowded, dirty, and congested. Asians, punks, and midgets walk the streets as cars maneuver through traffic lights that flash colors and speak commands. There is limited visual perception of the horizontal plane due to the masses of inhabitants and there is also limited visibility on the vertical plane because of the skyscrapers and slow moving blimps that advertise Off World explorations and consumption of mood pills. After the opening shot of hell-on-earth, the next shot in Blade Runner is a full frame close up of a blue eye. The eye reflects the image of the city against its cornea and establishes the importance of eyesight throughout the entire film. It is apparent that this eye belongs to Roy Batty, demonstrating his ability as an artificial construct to see. In support of this reality, Batty and another replicant named Leon enter the laboratory of Hannibal Chew, a genetic scientist who specializes in the creation of eyes. Interrogating the scientist, Leon rolls an artificial eye on his shoulder as Batty supports his ability of optical perception by saying to Chew, “If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes!”

Although Blade Runner allows both humans and robots the capability of eyesight, determining who is human and thus bearing a soul is validated by optically inspecting the eyes. The Voigt-Kampf test is the electronic magnifying device which measures a subject’s involuntary pupil responses to a series of questions meant to illicit empathic feelings. This process is completed on the visual level, as the tester watches an enlargement of a subject’s pupil on a television screen and calculates the timing of contractions and dilation. Since replicants have no empathy, their pupils do not respond involuntarily and this is the only visual aspect of their appearance that is unlike humans. The film proposes that empathic feelings are obtained through the influence of optic memories and dreams. In Deckard, this is presented by his vision of the unicorn and in replicants it appears as their collection of photographs. For example, the replicant Rachel saves a fake photograph which she believes is of her mother and her. Leon takes amateur photographs of his hotel room and former life on the Off-world colonies. A different example is Roy Batty, who’s will to live is based upon his desire to perceive the world around him. His need to see is so strong, he breaks through walls with his hands and head, smashes windows, and defies his own death. When he finally succumbs to the shut down of his systems he mourns the loss of his own memories and eyesight, rather than his physical extinction (Deutelbaum 76).

In dealing with the imagery and stylistic attributes of eyes and eyesight that are organic and artificial, the film also explores the capabilities of the electronic eye. Deckard uses two electronic eyes as he hunts for the replicants: the Esper machine and the electron microscope. Studying a photograph that Leon took of his hotel room, Deckard decides that there is more in it than his eye can perceive. Using an Esper machine which scans the photo and zooms in and out of it by voice control, he explores areas of the photograph that are concealed to the naked eye. As an electronic eye, the machine breaks the barriers of normal visual perception by zooming into the picture and revealing a totally unperceived reality. The machine is so powerful that it magnifies the image of a mirror evident in the photograph and uncovers a reflection of a replicant in it.

Using an electron microscope, Deckard investigates the origins of a small piece of tissue he believes to be of a fish. The magnified electronic image of the tissue reveals that its individual fibers are actually made up of thick cone shaped strands and a rough boulder like surface. In effect, the process of “layering” that influenced the visual aspects of the film’s city is apparent also in our ability to perceive different images of the same object as layers of its reality.

The final scene in Blade Runner gains a religious significance not from the narrative structure but from the visual design. When Roy Batty discovers that Deckard shot another replicant in their hideaway apartment, he gives him a head start to run away. While Deckard escapes, Batty anoints his head with the dead replicants blood. He also disrobes, but before resuming the chase he loses feeling in his hand which is a sign of his approaching death. Desperate for time, he finds a metal spike and stabs himself in order to regain feeling and prolong his life for a few moments longer. His impaled hand and the blood on his head is a foreshadowing of the religious significance this final scene will have.

Batty finally corners Deckard on the roof. The Blade Runner runs away from the replicant by jumping to another rooftop. Unfortunately he falls short and manages to grasp on to metal railings before falling. Batty easily jumps to the other side of the roof and appears above him. Using quick editing, the image jumps from Batty’s face of hatred and contempt to Deckard’s terrorized face. Just when he loses his grip and begins to fall Batty grabs him with the spike impaled hand and lifts him onto the rooftop. Sitting before the puzzled Blade Runner, Batty says his last words:

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 Tanhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time – like tears in the rain. Time to die.

Batty’s last words are not rendered in a visual manner nor are the definitions he talks of answered. Instead, the film allows the audience to create the memories the replicant speaks about through their own imagination using the film’s images as a supporting factor. As Roy Batty bows his head and dies, he releases the dove he held into the sky, releasing his spirit. As the frame captures his bowed head from above in the rain, he completes the series of images that present him as Christ.

Blade Runner’s three major visual motifs: the city, the eye, and Christ both enhance the narrative structure of the film and create an interpretation entirely of their own. The city’s abundant light sources and obese structural appearance almost causes an overload of retinal stimulation to the viewer or at least creates the inability to process the entire image at twenty four frames per second. The city’s multilayered portrait reflects the different ability that humans, replicants, and electronic eyes have in perceiving the same universe. The head of the Tyrell corporation sees the city from above, the replicants perceive images on the street level, and the Esper machine uncovers hidden reality in a photograph. The eye motif serves as a visual metaphor for deciding who is human. By claiming that the only visual distinguishing trait between replicants and humans is the difference in their eyes, the film refers to the image of the eye as the image of the soul. Finally, Roy Batty’s visual relevance to Christ does not mean that he sacrificed his life unselfishly for Deckard and embodies the Tyrell corporation’s slogan of being “more human than human.”. Batty saves the man who hunted him down and killed all his comrades because he wants Deckard to witness his death. In an attempt to immortalize himself, the replicant understands that this can only be done by becoming a memory in another person.


Dempsey, Michael. “Blade Runner,” Film Quarterly, Winter 82-83 p.33-38

Deutelbaum, Marshall. “Memory/Visual Design: The Remembered Sights of Blade Runner,” Literature/Film Quarterly, Jan 89 p. 66-72

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1968

Doll, Susan and Faller, Greg. “Blade Runner and Genre: Film Noir and Science Fiction,” Literature/Film Quarterly, April 86 p. 88-100

Elitzik, Paul. “Blade Runner,” Cineaste, 1983 p. 46-48

Kerman, Judith B. Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press 1991

Morrison, Rachela. “The Blakean Dialectics of Blade Runner,” Literature/Film Quarterly, Jan. 90 p.2-10

Ruppert, Peter. “Blade Runner: The Utopian Dialectics of Science Fiction Films,” Cineaste, 1989 p. 8-13

Sammon, Paul M. Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. New York: HarperPrism 1996

Slade, Joseph. “Romanticizing Cybernetics in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner,” Literature/Film Quarterly, Jan 90 p.11-18

Wilmington, Mike. “The Rain People,” Film Comment, Jan-Feb 92 p.17-19

Written by
Amotz Zakai

Copyright Amotz Zakai, 2001.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? …No Really, Do They?

Philip K. Dick’s book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” is an all time science fiction classic, actualised by the screen adaptation “Blade Runner”. The book, and the film, rise questions about the meeting of machine and man, this is particularly the case in the way we wonder after haven read or seen the book or movie: Is Deckard an android?

I will not go into that one, there have been so many ventures in that direction, its a jungle out there, and it will be no less so with yet another monkey. But the ambiguity in Deckards character leads us to another, more exciting question: “How can man claim superiority over its creation”, or in relation to “Blade Runner”, “how can it be justified morally that Deckard kills androids?”

Because, in my view, it can’t.

A machine is so many things. Hereafter “machine” will mean the same as “structure interacting with its environment”. This opens up for the use of “machine” on many different object. For instance, if you have a computer, that is of course a machine. But the definition also says that the word processing program that you use every day is yet another machine, apart from the computer itself. And mine-sweeper is also a machine in itself.

But this is well covered by our everyday language. It is another issue when we call the system of government a machine (maybe a malfunctioning one, but anyway), or the postal system. Mail is put in the mailboxes, is sorted, transported, and is received by the rightful owner. The burial system is a machine, you die, they bury you, and if your relatives don’t go through hell (for you, that is), another guy gets your place (three feet below, good for him) twenty years later.

The social system is a machine. You have or have not connections, and they helps you (or don’t), with getting your children into Yale. All are structures that interact with their environment or each other. But now comes the juicy part.

Life is a guarded quality, especially for the ones who have it. And we tend to claim a certain superiority over the rest, because we have the gift of life. But let us see if there is really a difference between us and our subjects.

A plant interacts with its environment, a man does too. We breath and breed, we eat and puke. And thus we are a machine, a very fine and complex one, maybe, but we cannot deny the fact that we basically works in the same way that the next computer, the next local city-counsel, the next potted plant do. We are but mere machines.

We suffer under the malconception of superiority. In our own eyes we are the top of the creation. And in our own eyes and terms, we are. But its like using a ruler to measure itself. It will always measure up.

So, avoiding the blurred sight of man watching himself, what is mans true moral worth? If we also avoid the fact that man also invented moral: nothing. Good and bad is what happens in our heads. When we do biological “good” things, like reproducing, we get rewarded. If we break an arm, we get punished. Also the replicants are programmed for not getting into self-destruction. And they get rewarded if they do as told.

And: why should it be bad for the replicants to kill men, if men tries to kill them?

The following arguments can be made, based on man-moral, to kill men, not the machines (the replicants):

1. The replicants have not the once maybe successful, now outdated emotional problems, that is, they can be programmed not to have.
2. Men tend to choose their own biological solution, even if its not the best. Replicants can be programmed to reproduce the best solution, that is, they an be set to “learn” biologically, on an individual level.
3. Replicants can thus adjust to changes more easily than men.

So, in “Blade Runner”, the answer is clear: It doesn’t matter if Deckard is replicant, and if he is, good for him! The replicants are anyway morally superior.

And to answer the question “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” No they don’t. They yearn for world domination.

Written by
André Møllerhaug

Copyright André Møllerhaug, 2001.


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