The Replicant Variation [podcast]

Since being filmed in 1986, the film Blade Runner itself has become a replicant, and replicated seven times over. Countless versions exist with insertions, deletions and reimagings, so it’s hard to follow continuity within it. But its notions and theme exist on throughout every replicant version of the film, hence why Blade Runner is a lasting classic, and poignant in speaking of human anxiety about androids and robots altering the human condition. Hence why we are all forced to study it through high school.

Blade Runner deals with a lot in the space of two or so hours, and I am quite interested in seeing how it continues on with its sequel three decades after the original, and with the technological advances and paranoias of today to build upon. I haven’t read the book source material for the film but its author did not have much faith in human progress, as evident in his fictional explorations. He predicted a world of environmental desolation, so advanced humanity fled its pollution and animals became all but extinct (Stanley 2015). Those with disabilities or imperfections, are trapped on Earth.  

Our dystopian views on our own technological future are not that dissimilar. We fear the dark bleak world Blade Runner presented to us, where robots become ‘more human than human’. Replicants were a way to rid unwanted qualities and enhance the desired ones. They are stronger than us, more intelligent than us and feel no pain. They were created for slave-labour, building colonies, being muscle power or ‘pleasure models’. Replicants were the perfect technological device for humans, until they started realising the shorthand they had been dealt in life.

So what obligation do we have to them? We curse them with existence and sentience, but also with the knowledge their life is not a real life? Or perhaps worse, implanted false memories of a childhood they never have, living in the shadows of what they even are. Is there an obligation to tell Rachael the Replicant she is not human, when that is all she is programmed to know?

Painted as the villains in this futuristic world, we are supposed to root for the humans because we are humans too, but humans are not the heroes anymore. It is a ‘dehumanised world where the replicants are keener to live, love, and be free. Who is actually human in Blade Runner? Which species possesses the qualities of a noble sentiment?’ (Cerqueira 2015). The repertoire of a Blade Runner unit is their machine to determine empathy in the test subject; which reveals if they are a replicant or not based on their ability for compassion and humanity. So how is it the humans pass this test? When all we are shown of them is callousness. ‘What does it mean to be real, like the replicants who insist they are more than just microchips (Stanley 2015). And what does it say about us, and what we envision ourselves becoming. Juxtaposed against the Replicants, the debate of what is human forces us to reconsider our beliefs. Replicants, Robots, threaten to reduce the value of life, yet simultaneously expand and redefine what life truly is. If anything can possess life, and for infinite amounts of time their mechanical bodies would permit…we include fail-safe’s to ensure the sanctity of mortality.

Roy Batty is more of an anti-hero than villain or hero, he still killed and tortured and was generally creepy, but was driven by this innate desire to survive, and to continue living. Batty had compassion and love for his fellow Nexus-6 group, and mourned their deaths. He pleas with his maker for more life, and what obligation does a creator have when it’s machine wants to stay alive?

As Tyrell remarked, the lifespan of technology is not built to last, the best technology finitely so. We see it already, in our smartphones, operating systems, we ‘perpetually update’ our devices almost every two years to stay relevant in the technological world. The moment a new phone comes out the current models become antiquated and irrelevant (Huls 2014). What ever happened to the Nexus 1-5 before Nexus-6 was created? Did they desire an extension of life, dreamed of electric sheep and sought to secure their own humanity? What does the constant cycle of re-invention mean for the androids? A’ melancholy, and obsolete existence as they fall behind in developments of today’ (Souppouris 2014). ‘Retiring’ a smartphone seems no different to retiring a replicant, as we dismiss their humanity like tears in rain. Exterminating replicants because they desired freedom, or even had the audacity to realise they wanted freedom, is the denial that something could be more human than human. That the thing we created to be more perfect than us, and to do the things we couldn’t, realised themselves that they were the superior species, and deserved more.


Stanley T, 2015 ‘Philip K Dick saw our future – and it drove him crazy’


Cerqueira J, 2015 ‘Slave Runner: Genetic Engineering, Slavery, and Immortality in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982)’ http://brightlightsfilm.com/slave-runner-genetic-engineering-slavery-and-immortality-in-ridley-scotts-blade-runner-1982/#.VzffgzB96he

Huls A, 2014 ‘Why ‘Blade Runner’ is Still Relevant’ https://filmschoolrejects.com/why-blade-runner-is-still-relevant-f3cdca47963

Hunter R, 2015‘30 Things we learnt from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner Commentary’ https://filmschoolrejects.com/30-things-we-learned-from-ridley-scotts-blade-runner-commentary-c7850623f659?gi=882e572def7b

Newton M, 2015 ‘Tears in rain? Why Blade Runner is timeless’

Souppouris A, 2014 ‘Inside the real-life ‘Blade Runner’ replicant lab’ http://www.theverge.com/2014/6/16/5804958/the-man-who-created-his-android-clone