Dark and Fallen Angels: More Human Than Human

Peter Peng '08, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Spring 2005)

As one of the most dynamic characters in Ridley Scott's Bladerunner, Roy Batty (Replicant) parallels and exposes humanity's view of itself as moralistically superior to all other forms of life or entities. Initially, Roy appears to view himself as a fallen angel of sorts – that is, one who is somehow superior to all other beings and one who has once been perfect, but since fallen from grace and is now trying to reclaim his place (sanctification). Desmond Morris once said, "Human beings are animals. We are sometimes monsters, sometimes magnificent, but always animals. We may prefer to think of ourselves as fallen angels but in reality we are risen apes." Bladerunner and many works like it such as William Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy and the anime Bubblegum Crisis, explore the idea that humanity is the best there is – humanity is supposedly sensitive, caring, sentient, and moralistic. Traditionally or maybe idealistically, we view humanity as a righteous way of life, but with many recent atrocities like September 11th, beheadings in the Middle East, and suicide bombings, the question has been raised over and over again: what has become of humanity? I think, however, a better question is: what is humanity to begin with? Furthermore, what is morality?

While some critics and viewers may dismiss Roy as a two-dimensional, flat character (simply an evil murderer), clearly, Roy undergoes an internal transformation that can represent humanity itself. First, he appears as an emotionless, ruthless villain (as he first appears in the movie and in Chew's lab). Second, he loses his calm and becomes overwhelmed by rage, passion, and/or ego (when he meets and kills Tyrell and when he seeks revenge for Pris's death). Finally, he comes to terms with his emotions and achieves saint-like perfection (when he saves Deckard's life to share his thoughts and philosophical last words). Analysis of Roy's character reveals much about what it might mean to be human and what humanity might be.

Discussion Questions

1. From what I understand about Christianity, one of the founding concepts is that humans are not perfect and cannot be perfect (perfect defined by the moral laws set by God, many laws which are consistent with humanly perceived moral precepts regardless of religion). The quote, "Nobody is perfect" probably directly stems from this idea. But accepting this Christian idea demands we take the fallen angel perspective on humanity. How do you think the Replicants were designed? Were they programmed as "fallen angels" (innately good, but something has distorted or destroyed that magnificence, so they seek reconciliation and perfection) or "risen apes" (innately evil, but seeking sanctification)? What reason would there be for designing Replicants one way as opposed to the other? Is there even any difference?

2. What is humanity anyways? Is it seeking moral perfection or is it the actual achievement of perfection? Or is it something else?

3. There are two interpretations of Roy's humanity that follow the three major stages of his character development. One interpretation is that Tyrell engineered Roy to be like a human in that he has an ability to learn and feel emotions. In this case, Roy's transformation is an emotional growing process identical to the one we (true humans) experience from birth to death, building and learning from every incident. Would this process make Roy and the other Replicants truly human?

Another interpretation is that Tyrell programmed certain emotions into Roy from the beginning, probably murderous emotions fit for a ruthless Replicant soldier. In this case, all that changes from the beginning of the movie to the end is that Roy learns to express and reconcile those emotions, which makes his transformation a pursuit of the ideal of humanity (moral perfection) rather than being part of humanity (at least not a part of humanity in the movie). In other words, he moves to achieve human perfection, yet he is not considered human. If Roy unlearns the killing emotions embedded in him and begins to have emotions of his own, does that make him human? Which of these interpretations do you buy?

4. One of the themes in Bladerunner is being more human than human. If someone or something can be more human than human, then humanity is obviously not the best or perfect aspect of life. The pursuit of human perfection is over; the only way to be more human than human is to be perfect. In the breakfast scene when Roy asks Sebastian why he is looking at them, Sebastian responds, "Because you're so different, so perfect." This statement indicates that Nexus-6 has already achieved perfection. Yet, Roy and the Replicants hardly feel perfect. Roy drops his view of himself as a fallen angel and stops thinking himself as better than humanity when he says to Tyrell, "I want more life, fucker" instead of "We want more life, fucker." Roy understands his selfishness in this scene. Why does Sebastian see Roy (and Pris) as perfect when Roy obviously is not? Do you think Sebastian's view changes when he sees Roy kill Tyrell? What do Sebastian’s views represent and are they important?

Sources


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