In Blade Runner, human beings become God. They replace the sky with an advertising machine. They recreate animals. Tyrell replaces Jehovah as the name of God. The Tyrell Corporation is as faceless as any God in today's religions. What, then, is the nature of humanity in this world?
With humans achieving the status of God, the robots that they create become a sort of humanoid, with a lifespan known only to Tyrell. People also have a natural tendency to find out where we came from, by creating genealogies, tracing our evolution from other animals, or performing anthropological research. In his search for and reunification with his father, Roy Batty finds his origins and also becomes a Christ-like figure because his father is God, an idea driven further by the nail he pushes through the palm of his hand.
However, instead of dying for the sins of people, Batty fights for longevity, for more life. Tyrell's creations only last a few years, then they die without leaving their memories, something that humans can do by leaving offspring to carry on their name and to remember their ancestors, or by leaving artificial marks such as writing, sculpture, etc. Tyrell feels that his androids should be happy that they can accomplish so much within their short life, but his vision is flawed, as his glasses demonstrate. By being sentient, the instinct for self-preservation kicks in, something which Tyrell does not understand about his creations. He seems to feel that they should remain pawns in his little chess game, not wishing for anything more than to do as Tyrell pleases.
A chess game gives players a brief feeling of being God-like by letting the players determine the actions of chesspieces in the microcosm of the chessboard. In order to even catch a glimpse of his creator, Batty has to beat Tyrell at (t)his game, by fooling him into a checkmate. Angered by Tyrell's refusal to help him find longevity and knowing that he can beat him mentally, Batty proceeds to beat Tyrell physically, crushing his eyes. The wounding of the eyes is important because they are the primary sense for memories and the windows to our souls. God created man in his image, and by allowing Batty to die, Tyrell refuses to see his creation alive, so Batty takes away his ability to see (or to be alive). The imagery of eyes shows up frequently in Blade Runner, such as when the replicants are tested or the visit to the Chinese scientist who made the replicants' eyes. An owl, with its eyes reflecting its retina, frames Tyrell's death scene.
Sebastion, as a creator of the robots, curiously does not have the same power as Tyrell. Sebastian lives in a tenement, suffers from progeria, is mentally weaker than Tyrell (he has beaten Tyrell only once in chess), etc. Maybe Sebastian is only a half-god, capable of creating robotic toys, but not deceptively human androids.
In questioning the nature of humanity, the idea of slavery comes up. What is the difference between the robots and humans? If the robots show more humanity than the actual humans, then are they more human? If the robots are human, then are they in slavery by being created to work for humans?
Is it murder when humans hunt the robots and kill them off, as they do in Blade Runner? Or when robots kill each other, as in Ghost in the Shell and The Bubble Gum Crisis? Can these killings fall under the rubric of "hunting" as a sport or as a necessity for the survival of humans, such as killing animals for food or for protecting ourselves?
Rudy Rucker's novel, Software, also deals with these topics. Cobb Anderson is the God-like figure who finds a way to allow his robots to evolve into sentient beings. The robots are sent to the moon to work as slaves until one of Anderson's creation, Ralph Numbers, leads a revolt against the robots' human oppressors. We also learn that the robots have a very short lifespan of only 10 months, and that they can evolve like humans by "sexual reproduction," that is, by the joining and cooperation of two robots to create a new one, or they can evolve by being mutated by the Cosmic Rays. The robots thank Cobb Anderson by giving him immortality, a useful feature if you're God-like.
[To other discussions of this topic by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]