The science fiction classic Blade Runner is more than a futuristic film noir. Blade Runner can also cause the viewer to have various interesting musings, mainly, what is it to be a man, a woman, a human, or a machine? Blade Runner can be a spring board to exploring concepts of identity.
Blade Runner came out in theaters in 1982, and was based on a 1968 novel entitled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, penned by Phillip K. Dick. The crux of the film, is the concept of life, or time on this earth as a corporal being, and wanting more of it. Blade Runner is set on planet earth, in 2019. Typically, replicants are relegated to the outer colonies, and are designated to do either dangerous (or occasionally tedious) work that is deemed not worthy of human sweat. The band of rogue androids in the film (herby known as “replicants,”) escapes the outer colonies and return to earth, in order to expand their four year life spans. In order to protect the human general populace of earth, reprobate replicants are hunted down and “retired” (or terminated) by a specialized police force, that are often referred to as “blade runners.” Theories outlined within Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities would argue that the concept of humanity and android are nothing but imagined communities.
Although originally used to describe the concept of nations, Anderson’s theory can be applied to the concept of being a human or being a replicant in Blade Runner. Anderson claims that a nation “is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” In Blade Runner, thanks to the blade runners, humans may not know most of their fellow humans, or even hear of them, “yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” The replicants that break the social contract created by humanity are punished and destroyed, restoring order to future human society. The same can be said of Blade Runner’s group of replicants on the lam, and their imagined community of replicants. When Roy sneers “I want more life, fucker (*father),” at his creator, Tyrell, Roy is not only speaking for himself. Roy is communicating for the entire imagined community of replicants.
For women, or replicants that are made to be women, the future is bleak. Two of the female androids, Rachel and Pris, are created and used solely for the amusement of men; Rachel by her creator to see if an android can be “tricked” into becoming human, and Pris for sexual fulfillment, as she is “your basic pleasure model.” Notably, Pris doesn’t have the highest level of intelligence possible for a replicant, which shows that in the future, humanity is not seeking intellectual pillow talk. Even the other female replicant, Zhora, once she returns to earth, works in a field that caters to the male gaze, as she is an exotic dancer. To a feminist viewer, it is disconcerting that in the future, patriarchal gender roles still exist. Much like Mary Wollstonecraft claimed in A Vindication of the Rights of Women, women are simply silver rattles for men to play with, only in the future, in lieu of a rattle; men will have a full functioning android.
If human and android communities are imagined, can androids have existential crises? Although Blade Runner was first released in 1983, the questions the film raises about gender and identity are contemporary, and warrant a closer look through an academic lens.
*Dependent on the version of Blade Runner, Roy will state:
“I want more life, fucker.”
“I want more life, Father.”
“I want more life.”