The movie Blade Runner was based on the short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, published in 1968 by important science-fiction author Philip K. Dick. The film deviated from the original story, but even if you hadn’t read it, the movie’s plot stands on its own.
It takes place in a dark future on Earth, though mankind has achieved off-world colonies. To help pave the way for more colonization, replicants are created to do the hard jobs, including soldiering. These human copies, however, are not androids made of circuits and hard drives; they are biological contrivances that are indistinguishable from normal humans … at least in most ways.
They differ in strength, reflexes, and most importantly, a drastically reduced lifespan. Their lives are so short that they don’t have time to develop normal emotional responses. It’s how one can determine whether or not they’re human. The Voight-Kampff Test is a method to reveal replicants masquerading as humans.
Why would replicants try to pass themselves off as human? For their freedom. When you’re a replicant, you’re created for a specific task — all you’re ever allowed to do in your short existence. You’re treated like a machine, with no choice and no rights.
When a replicant rebels and goes missing, they are immediately marked for retirement — another way of saying “terminated” in the permanent sense. Blade Runners are what they call the people who track them down and kill them.
Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, was a Blade Runner. In the movie, he is coerced back into the profession for a last job. Reluctantly, he accepts an assignment to retire four replicants who have escaped off-world and have come to Earth.
The replicants’ leader is Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer — and he is particularly dangerous. He has all the physical advantages of a replicant, and he is at least as brilliant as the scientists who created him. Plus, he’s ruthless in his quest to find a way to extend his life. He leaves a trail of bodies, up to and including Dr. Tyrell, the head of the giant corporation that makes replicants. When Tyrell convinces him that nothing can be done to save him, Batty kills him in a gruesome scene by crushing Tyrell’s head in his hands.
In the end, Deckard has dispatched all but Roy, but the last replicant has Deckard at an extreme disadvantage. Our hero is dangling by a rain-soaked beam at the feet of Batty several stories above the street, and he’s losing his grip. Roy watches dispassionately as his antagonist faces certain death.
“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave,” chides Roy.
Without his companions, and resigned to his own imminent demise, one would think the last bit of satisfaction Roy would get from life would be to see his pursuer fall to his death. But as Deckard’s last finger slips off the beam, Roy shockingly saves him. With one hand, he grabs Deckard’s wrist in midair and hauls him back over the side of the building.
Roy then sits cross-legged next to the puzzled Deckard, who is still afraid of what the replicant might do. That’s when Roy makes the speech that will forever haunt me, and color my perception of the film — and I’m pretty sure it’s not the message that the producers intended for moviegoers to come away with.
But hold that thought for a moment.
Rick Deckard is the main character of the story. He’s also its first-person narrator. When he lays there in the rain after being rescued by the now-expiring Roy Batty, he tries to make sense of it with the following voiceover:
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.
And that’s the message I believe we were supposed to come away with. An entreaty to live the fullest life we can in the time we have. It’s a worthwhile message, to be sure.
But the thing that fires my imagination most is what Roy said to Deckard just before he died:
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 darkness at Tannhauser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
I definitely experienced a sense of regret. The off-world wonders that he described to Deckard made me long for those kinds of experiences. This living being, created only to die after a short while so that humans can be spared a dangerous but adventurous existence, is sad.
We are left to only imagine his experiences, but perhaps that lent them that much more mystique. In any case, for me, the movie may as well have ended right there. The followup scenes, where Deckard is running away with a young replicant named Rachael, played by Sean Young, are anticlimactic.
What impacted you most about the movie?