Martyrdom and Future of Humanity

Sharif Corinaldi

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is a brilliant film, not just for its new-meets-old merge of film noir and futuristic science fiction themes, but also for its subject matter. Effective in humanizing the misbegotten replicants to even the most non empathetic person on earth, Blade Runner, by its completion has the feel of a movie about martyrdom. From the opening shot, in which the unfortunate replicant murders to avoid discovery, to the final, unusually painful scene in which the last of the gang's life runs out, Scott portrays the replicants with no air but one of desperation. And rightfully so, for if we judge the replicants by the film's treatment of their stuggle, that judgement upon which we rest can only be one that invests them with all the qualities we hold dear in ourselves. Replicants love; they fight bravely for their causes; they risk; they mourn, all with a lot in life as bleak as any within humanity's. And what can we say of humankind here, besides that its greed and disregard has nearly made its home planet unlivable. Scott plays an interesting game throughout all of Blade Runner. He'll show us Decker at work in the protection of a status quo, and then play up the status quo's alien appearance enough to make us question how much it merits saving. In one such display Scott sends Decker in pursuit of a replicant employed as a stripper. After a wildly panicky, frightened attempt to kill Decker the android flees, is shot, and plummets(accompanied by slow motion coverage and beautifully sad music) through a tunnel of glass, eventually winding up a crumpled heap on the floor. Indeed, Ridley Scott's direction makes it a point to show us each replicant after its moment of death, often in childlike, helpless, and finally (as with the death of Rutger Hauer's character) christlike poses. With all of this martyr imagery floating around in the film, one must wonder how to interpret. Do the replicants represent a betterment of humanity, something we've lost, or something to we're headed?

Such a question deserves an answer, one I feel is provided indirectly when Rutger Hauer's character mentions to an engineer that worked on his creation, "the things I've seen with your eyes." He is, at that point and with those words, saying precisely what he is. The replicant is humanity's child;With its artificially limited lifetime, and perfectly functioning and reasoning capacities it is the only possible child of a humanity so technically proficient that it can reach the stars, but so short sighted that it cannot maintain its own home. By the end of the movie we witness a human(?) replicant couple fleeing the system and watch a replicant's (Decker's) self realization from the point of view of the identity in question. Such strong shifts masterfully work to redirect and confuse the normal cathartic reaction more Hollywood movies aim for, instead giving a brief insight into a hopeless and groundless existence, the horrible, horrible life of a replicant.

[To other discussions of this topic by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

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