Last night I watched the Ridley Scott film ‘Blade Runner‘ as part of my Modern and Post Modern course from Wesleyan.
This is the note from President Roth.
I chose Blade Runner because the question of the “really real” plays an important role throughout the film and gives it much of its energy. What is the status of the replicable and how can we claim to know who is a real human and who is an imitation? This, you will recognize, is a question that was crucial for Rousseau, and it haunts modern thinking. Here are two scenes you can watch as reminders:
Who (or what) is Deckard? One version of the post-modern response is to dissolve the distinction between the original and the imitation, between the real human and the replicant. Maybe a capacity for empathy or suffering is more important than ontological status. I’ll leave it to you to decide how the film comes out on these issues.
I saw this film many years ago and it was great to come back to it from a fresh angle. More than one angle actually. The second of the above clips together with a clip from the end of the film ‘tears in rain’ have already been posted on this blog for my course “The Ancient Greek Hero” but I can see its relevance throughout the courses that I have done so far.
For E-Learning and Digital culture we looked at the themes of Utopia and dystopia in popular films. As a dystopian science fiction action film this film would have fit the bill. The Steve Fuller video on defining humanity is also interesting to come back to after this film. How much less human could we consider Racheal to be than any other human. I wonder if Nick Bostrom would consider the replicants transhuman or a diversification of the species. They were construed genetically and felt themselves to be human.
In the Introduction to Philosophy Course we considered the philosophy of the mind. We looked at Descartes and his statement ‘I think therefore I am‘. The replicants think and therefore they exist but are they human? We also looked at radical scepticism and the question of whether we are real, how do we know that we are not a brain in a jar. For that question I looked at the film ‘The Matrix’ and in particular the scene where Neo finds that he is indeed a brain in a jar. The Blade Runner goes one step further. We might has a physical being but how do we know that we are not a replicant?
In the Ancient Greek Hero course we looked at the second clip (above) of this film and the idea that having total recall in memory is not the same as lived the moment. Rachael’s memories are implants so although she remembers them she did not live them. This is similar to recalling the songs in Homeric poetry. We also looked at a clip towards the end of the film in hour one. The clip was of the death scene where Roy talks about all the moments of his life being lost. His life will not be written in song or poetry. I can see another link here towards the Iliad and that is the scene where Deckard faces Leon. He manages to kill Leon but I can see this as a sort of dress rehearsal for facing Roy. Some of the script is repeated in these scenes “painful to live in fear isn’t it?” and of course the memorable “time to die”. So we can see this is similar to Patroklos facing Apollo in a dress rehearsal of the final scene when he dies.
Also in that course we looked at the film Total Recall which was also based on a Philip K. Dick story, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”; many similarities between Total Recall 2070 (the television series that pre dated the film) and Blade Runner have been noted.
Now we are looking at the film in the light of the ‘really real’ which loops back to the philosophical question above, how do we know what is really real, how do we know we are not a brain in a jar or a replicant? Looking at the character of Deckard we can see that although he is a ‘Blade Runner’, trained to kill or ‘retire’ replicants he falls in love with Rachael. In the ‘tears in rain’ scene he watches Roy die after having been saved by him. The way I saw that seen I think there is some final understanding, some human connection between the two. Deckard understands his own mortality and the very human wish to survive that Roy and his associates had.
The other scene that I thought questioned human emotions was when Pris entered Sebastian’s apartment. She was charmed by two of his animated creations. This was quite significant because it showed the ability of a replicant to feel human emotions and also that of humans to feel emotions for inanimate objects, particularly those which show humanistic qualities.