Blade Runner – a look at the human condition

I came across an essay I wrote in Uni on one of my all time favourite movies, Blade Runner. The movie, with its underlying themes, is as relevant today as it was back then. I’ve posted it below (sans the footnotes).

We gaze from an elevated distance; below us a sprawling urban jungle, with monstrous skyscrapers reaching wretchedly to a sun that never penetrates the acid tinged rain falling endlessly on its inhabitants. Great smoke stacks belch forth flames and we are assaulted with images of urban decay, mass consumerism, mass advertisement, a post-industrialism of the worst kind. It is the year 2019 and this is Los Angeles, the setting for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

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Blade Runner is a contemplation of what life will be like in the future; morally, technologically and politically, and the dystopian world that it posits is an echo of our future discontents. It is a postmodern pastiche of the science-fiction genre, the hard-boiled private eye detective genre and the horror genre, dealing implicitly with the anxieties of postmodernity; the nature of reality and simulacrum in a world governed by corporate capitalism and huge screen television the nature of humanity in the world of technology, and the apprehensions that beset present day society. It also acts as a satire on our society with its excessive consumption and waste, a mirror of post-World War II mass consumerism; and the Cold War paranoia (an obvious reality) of nuclear war is apparent in Blade Runner’s ecocidal landscape. Contentious issues such as abortion, animal rights and racism are represented in the dialectics surrounding Deckard and the Replicants (who are essentially fighting for the right to live) that he has to ‘retire’.

What does it mean to be human?

This philosophical question and the ambiguities it raises is one of the central themes of Blade Runner. Made for Man, by Man, the Nexus-6 had a shelf life of four years and perhaps the only thing differentiating them from the rest of humanity is the fact that they were not born of human egg and sperm. Blade Runner presents these replicants as possessing traits of humanity that by far outweigh any of the humans in the film, Deckard himself being referred to by his ex-wife as, ‘sushi…cold fish’. We are told in Deckard’s Chandleresque narration that ‘Replicants weren’t supposed to have feelings’, yet it is through the Replicants and their noble fight for a meaningful life that our deepest emotions are touched. The tears that spill down Rachel’s face as she discovers that she is a replicant are very real and the camera portrays her as being essentially ‘human’. We watch the close-ups; reflecting upon Rachel’s perfectly made up face, the ‘tremors of emotional dawning’, and it is through Rachel that we see the film’s ‘most delicate embodiment of frail humanity struggling for re-emergence’ . At the opposite end of the spectrum is Roy Batty, the leader of the rebellious replicants. The ultimate Aryan superman whose vitality and passion for life makes him essentially ‘more human than human’. It is Roy who expresses fundamentally human characteristics; Revenge of a Shakespearian quality as Roy murders his ‘maker’, his face contorting with rage and pain; grief over the death of his lover Pris, fully vented with each wolf owl of agonising pain; irony as he says to Chou, “If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes”, and underlying all this is the keen awareness of mortality. It is with this tragic Promethean hero that we empathise. In the short time they have to live, the replicants develop an awareness of their full potentiality and with this comes the knowledge of their impending death. We feel the pain that Roy feels as he realises all the things that he will never be able to do, all his accomplishments that will never come into fruition, future experiences made obsolete when he killed his creator, Dr Eldon Tyrell. The emotion we feel, ‘a profound sense of loss of potentiality’ is akin to the one that accompanies the death of young children, for in essence Roy and his friends were in fact children, still developing and maturing their sense of identity and self. As he saves Deckard from plunging to his death, just moments before his own death, Roy is in fact saving the one part of himself that is truly human , his empathy for others, non-human and human illustrated in that selfless act. And as he bids adieu to the world that loved him not, the pathos and eloquence of his lyrical words will resound forever in our heats as the most profound moment of Blade Runner;

    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 dark near the Tanhauser Gate…
    All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…
    Time to die.

The value of life as something precious, something that cannot be, must not be, wantonly commodified, is mirrored in these replicants. They serve as a critique for people, ‘by allowing examination and moral scrutiny of ourselves, our technology, and our treatment of other beings, and by defining in their tragic struggle what is truly human.’
Biblical and literary metaphors abound throughout the film. Roy’s enigmatic lines to Chou;

   Fiery the Angels fell, Deep thunder roll’d around their shores,
   Burning with the fires of Orc.

paraphrases William Blake’s, ‘America: A Prophesy’;

   Fiery the Angels rose, and as they rose deep thunder roll’d
    Around their shores; Indignant burning with the fires of Orc.

and establishes the replicants as fallen angels. Their banishment from Earth parallels that of the Edenic legend and of Milton’s, Paradise Lost, with Roy being at once Satan and Christ. Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Roy as the Prodigal Son ascends the pyramid structure of the Tyrell Corporation (its structure is that of the Mayan Temple of the Sun reminding us of human sacrifices) to meet his maker, ‘the God of Biomechanics’. It is in the chambers of Tyrell’s opulent bedroom , as he argues with his maker for ‘more life’ that we begin to see the first signs of Roy’s inner moral conflict over the ‘questionable things’ he has done. And after he kills the only men who can save him we can only wonder what Roy’s thoughts are as he gazes in silence at the stars above. As he clenches his fist Roy is aware that the numbness is a sign of death (unlike Frankenstein whose fist clenching is a sign of life) and so drives a nail through his hand, an act symbolic of Christian crucifixion. Just as Man’s ’felix culpa’, fortunate fall, is occasioned by Satan so too is Roy the cause of Deckard’s fall and like Christ, he redeems him in the end not only from his literal death but by giving Deckard the most precious part of humanity, love for life and all things loving. As Deckard sits there in the rain across from the being that saved his life, the being he was meant to ‘retire’ we see his humanity reflected in the tears in his eyes, in his comprehension as he watches Roy die;

   All he’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us want:
   Where do I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got?

It is as much a story of Deckard regaining his own humanity, expressed in his doubts about himself; “What the hell was happening to me?”, and his function as a blade runner whose had “a belly full of killing” and finally developing empathy for living beings, much like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner.
In an environment which fosters the dehumanisation of its inhabitants, Blade Runner, with its visual/narrative tonalities of despair is ‘a metaphor for our post modern condition’. At first glance Blade Runner’s , “and they all lived happily every after” ending seems to contradict the whole film; Deckard and Rachel escaping the dystopia of Los Angeles into a pristine, magical landscape akin to Eden itself while we’re told by Deckard/Raymond Chandler that Rachel has no termination date, Hollywood nostalgia rearing its head again. Yet by the same token, this film deals with the nature of redemption, the desire for other alternatives, a utopian fantasy that acts, “not to neutralise the force of the social criticism, but to intensify it, leaving us more or less suspended between the intolerable conditions exposed in the films and our desire for more adequate solutions”. Rachel and Deckard’s escape is a rejection and resistance to violence, to the intolerable conditions projected in the film, and like Roy they are fighting against a corrupt system that would make slaves of them, shackled by fear. Blade Runner can then be read: “in terms of the utopian dialectic that combines social criticism with wishful thinking in order to arouse the desire for some kind of alternative.”
I could write volume upon volume about Blade Runner, waxing lyrical with every new gem unearthed and the brilliance of Blade Runner lies in its inexhaustible supply of , shall I say, “moment’ that will never be lost in time.

By Mai Chi Tran


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Museum Insel Hombroich – “Museum on the Hombroich Isle”

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A meandering gravel path leads through pastoral fields, where groves of ancient trees whose gnarled branches and hoary boles evoke a sense of reverence and enchantment. Here, Nature is the landscape upon which Man layers his artwork, his creations of … Continue reading

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Aotearoa – The Land of the Long White Cloud

I’ve seen the land where the purple grass grows,

Watched oceans boil as the barbed wind blows.

I’ve seen the land where the dragon’s back rises,

Ridge upon ridge, against the clear horizon.

I’ve seen the land where the amber hills roll,

And Nature frees the fettered soul.

I’ve seen the land where the thunder falls spray,

A curtain of rainbows that shimmer and sway.

I’ve seen the land where the mighty peaks soar,

Head crowned in mist, deep roots by the shore.

I’ve seen the Land of the Long White Cloud,

Where countless stars glittered above a love unbowed.

(c) Mai Chi Tran, 2017

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Save Bukit Kiara & Beauty

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This morning, my husband and I joined several hundred residents and supporters in a peaceful rally to protest against the further development and destruction of Bukit Kiara, a tract of virgin rainforest within TTDI. This is the second such protest … Continue reading

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Music to Soothe the Savage Beast

I’ve hit the replay button over and over and over and over again. I can’t help it. There’s something that reaches out to me, creates a yearning, a desire, an obsession that can only be tempered by listening to its voice. Over and over and over and over again.

The object of my obsession is Michael Nyman’s, The Heart Asks Pleasure First. I first heard this during a high school excursion to the cinema. We were watching Jane Campion’s, The Piano, as part of our English studies. Back in class, we would dissect the plot, character development and the hidden motives of each individual. Mute Ada, whose passions and desires found their voice through her cherished piano, was an anomaly in an era where women were meant to be subservient and demure.

A swirling maelstrom of emotions

The music coruscates through me, igniting a swirling maelstrom of emotions. Soothe the savage beast? In a strange paradoxical way, the music seemed to ‘release’ the savage beast in me. Its sheer potency provided an outlet and by doing so, brought me back to where I needed to be – the present.


I’m listening to it again as I type. I’m imagining my computer keyboard are the piano keys and I’m typing to the rhythm of the music. Now I can’t play a musical instrument to save my life, but for a moment as I pound out these words with my eyes closed, I fool myself into believing that it’s my fingertips creating this magic.

That is, until I open my eyes and see all the typos and red lines across the page. I think I will need to replace my poor keyboard soon.

What song or music piece does it for you?

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A Cup o’ Happy Mood

There’s something about being gently woken from a night’s slumber by the roll of distant thunder and the pitter-pattering of raindrops. The world feels refreshing today, cool and refreshing. Perhaps it’s the body’s joy of emerging from illness, ready to embrace life with full zest again, rather than being enslaved in a torpid state of lethargy and sickness.

It’s GREAT to be well again!

The mist hangs on the outcrop of the neighbouring hills, wending its way up the green valley. My ivory tower is hidden from sight, veiled by a thick, grey curtain. Occasionally one spies the slender spire – no longer flashing brilliant but a dull, metallic grey – as the wind briefly parts the curtain of dewdrops. There’s a cool sprite of a breeze that dances through the green elephant ears, vigorously shaking the giant fronds in mischief.

There is magic in the air. One chances it through the corner of one’s eyes – a glimmer, a flash – but the full gaze fails to capture this elusive spark.

I’m drinking my ‘happy mood’, an enlivening blend of hope, giggles of childhood memories, the lingering scent of a loved one, a fistful of courage and a song of wonder.

This cool sprite is gaining strength. Spurts of energy lifting the tresses of my hair all around me. I can hear its voice now, a hollow sound.

A string of raindrops cling to the stem of an elephant ear, bent over by the force of the wind. Like crystal pearls, they bring back fond memories of a story I had read in The School Magazine – “The Girl Whom the Wind Loved” and this morning brings to my lips, a favourite tune from way back yonder;

“The Gypsy Rover came over the hill, down through the valley shady. He whistled and he sang ’til the green glades rang, and he won the heart of a lady”

The day is clearing, the rain – easing, and my cup o’ happy mood is warming the cockles of my heart.

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“Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow”

I’ve only recently discovered Jim Rohn. He is to the mind what Notes to the Universe is to the soul. Listening and reading his words of wisdom, is a gentle reminder how blessed I am with the choices I have in my life.

Here is an excerpt from Jim Rohn‘s The Five Major Pieces to the Life Puzzle.

“The problem with waiting until tomorrow is that when it finally arrives, it is called today. Today is yesterday’s tomorrow. The question is what did we do with its opportunity? All too often we will waste tomorrow as we wasted yesterday, and as we are wasting today. All that could have been accomplished can easily elude us, despite our intentions, until we inevitably discover that the things that might have been have slipped from our embrace a single, unused day at a time.

Each of us must pause frequently to remind ourselves that the clock is ticking. The same clock that began to tick from the moment we drew our first breath will also someday cease.

Time is the great equalizer of all mankind. It has taken away the best and the worst of us without regard for either. Time offers opportunity but demands a sense of urgency.

When the game of life is finally over, there is no second chance to correct our errors. The clock that is ticking away the moments of our lives does not care about winners and losers. It does not care about who succeeds or who fails. It does not care about excuses, fairness or equality. The only essential issue is how we played the game.

Regardless of a person’s current age, there is a sense of urgency that should drive them into action now — this very moment. We should be constantly aware of the value of each and every moment of our lives — moments that seem so insignificant that their loss often goes unnoticed.

We still have all the time we need. We still have lots of chances, lots of opportunities, lots of years to show what we can do. For most of us, there will be a tomorrow, a next week, a next month, and a next year. But unless we develop a sense of urgency, those brief windows of time will be sadly wasted, as were the weeks and months and years before them. There isn’t an endless supply!

So, as you think of your dreams and goals of your future tomorrow, begin today to take those very important first steps to making them all come to life.”

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