The follow up to the 1982 dystopian Science Fiction film Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott and set in Los Angeles in 2019 (now oh so close), has hit the movie theatres to great critical acclaim. It takes place 30 years after the first instalment and those who watch it in 3D can get the immersive dystopian horror almost as if part of their own lives. Funny, since one of the themes is the technology capable of creating implanted memories.
Considering the hype created around its launch it may just become one of those films watched by a large part of the population, that is, it could become a cultural object. Therefore it is interesting to look at its possible influence with a critical eye.
Like its predecessor the themes are environmental degradation, pollution, exodus of all humans to other planets except for the least affluent, takeover of the world by Big Corporations (this latest incarnation begins with Sony first amongst its opening credits, the irony seems to be lost to the producers) and androids or replicants hunted down and killed, in the old movie for developing their own ideas, in this one for being obsolete models.
Like so many dystopian sci-fi films it is not really discussing the future but it is intended as a critique of the present. The nuclear holocaust is implied but muted, it happened, we are in a post-apocalyptic situation but people survived.
Corporate takeover, automation driven unemployment, AI killer robots, they are all becoming all too real inducing a paranoid feeling in the population which the film depicts (or exploits) to perfection.
The new film has been directed by Denis Villeneuve who also gave us Arrival (the guy likes his mist). In both Blade Runner films the capacity of the replicants to become truly human (Pinocchio is subtly present when the replicant is told he could become “a real boy”) is the recourse used by the films to discuss what is the meaning of being truly human, the central philosophical point of Phillip K Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” on which both films are loosely based.
In the 1982 version the replicant achieves humanity at the point of his death by developing compassion. He refuses to kill his now helpless enemy and a white dove flies away, like a kind of soul reaching for the heights. Perhaps that was the point that slowly penetrated the public’s consciousness as the film evolved from not great at the box office to all times cult movie.
The 2017 version posits that what makes us human is sacrifice. This is more in line with traditional Hollywood war hero’s movies designed to convince the young that distant psychopathic politicians have the right to send them to unnecessary and unethical wars because dying for your country is a great honour. It is also part of the brain washing of terrorists. Sacrifice assumes there are things more valuable than human life, and if some people are prepared to die for them surely they will be also prepared to kill for them. Unless this happens in the context of a strong nonviolence driven moral position like Gandhi’s “There are many causes I would die for. There is not a single cause I would kill for.” None of this for our replicant hero, he gives as good as he gets, and no white doves for him.
The wisdom of humanist proposals like “nothing above the human being and no human being above another” and the Golden Rule of “treating others the way we would like to be treated” (1) is that they are not based on sacrifice but on solidarity and this has the capacity to create a better reality. Because what makes us truly human is intentionality, our consciousness creates our reality and gives it a direction. Memories of affection from mothers and fathers, understanding from teachers, positive role models, unexpected help from strangers, sympathetic smiles, the warmth in the look from lovers, all add to a direction towards everyone’s well being. Bad experiences do the opposite and yet we have the capacity to rebel against mechanical desires of revenge.
If we are left purely with this film’s message, filing it uncritically in our memory archives, then it’s just another night out, we have been ‘entertained’. But if the film awakens a desire to discuss with others the meaning of being truly human and how that can be achieved in a dehumanising system, then it may contribute to the winds of change to start blowing with more strength.
1. The principles of valid action, Ch XIII, The inner look by Silo.