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Tears in Rain: A World Repeating

* Spoilers below for Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049*

Saying goodbye to Blade Runner 2049

I felt compelled to watch Blade Runner 2049 one more time. When the eye opens to behold a fractal of solar farms repeating across Californian fields, Blade Runner 2049 ascended from mere story into an experience, one to be savoured in the cinema before it disappears.

In revisiting Blade Runner 2049 last week, a line from the original Blade Runner circled my mind.

‘All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain’

A nihilistic statement about human impermanence spoken by dying replicant leader Roy Batty; after a fraught cat and mouse game between him and blade runner Deckard through a crumbling L.A. apartment block. Having won the fight and Deckard bound to fall to his death from the rain soaked rooftop, Roy saves Deckard. Reflecting on what he has witnessed as his four year lifespan reaches its end, Roy’s soliloquy reframes his struggle for a longer life into the most human desire, to have enough time leave a mark on the world.

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Deckard saved by Roy

Staring at the ensuing erosive tide of eternity, we distance our mortality through legacy like a raft amid darkened storms. The physical shell dissolves into a husk but a part of what we were remains on this plane, even if just for a moment longer. Accepting death, Roy saves Deckard in a last bid to remain in this world through the memories of another.

A World Repeating

Surveying Blade Runner 2049, Roy’s words have been proven wrong. The world of 2049 is seared by the actions of Blade Runner in 2019. After the murder of the replicants’ creator Tyrrel by Roy’s hand, the Tyrrel pyramid once the apex of the L.A. skyline lies dark and dormant. Replicants now have embedded memories just like Rachael, an experimental Nexus-7 replicant. Assumedly, the Blade Runners have been eventually replaced with replicants due to Deckard’s flight from L.A.

Observing Tyrrel’s dead pyramid for a second time in Blade Runner 2049, the perspective is changed. Looking from the ground up,  the palace has become the cornerstone for the headquarters of Tyrrel’s successor, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Layering the new atop the old, Blade Runner 2049 is the reincarnate of the world and the people from 2019.

The marks of  Blade Runner’s 2019 still linger in the physical space of 2049. Tyrrel’s pyramid is silent and the L.A.P.D. remains, anchoring the two worlds together by the thread of action and consequence. Yet in the characters of Blade Runner 2049 do the echoes from 2019 meld together. Created by Wallace to be his assistant, Luv embodies the polar extremes of replicants in Blade Runner. Luv is both Rachael and Roy, caring and cruel, childlike yet ruthless. She can be devotedly attentive, caring for the crazed industrialist Wallace even when he disembowels a newborn replicant. For those who cross her, Luv is a sadistic monster, shedding tears as she kills and cruelly toying with victims before death.

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Luv attacks

The parallels between industrialist Niander Wallace and Blade Runner‘s Eldon Tyrrel are clear. Industrialists who save humanity from crisis through invention. Tyrrel’s replicants propel humanity to the stars and Wallace’s synthetic farms keep Earth’s civilisation alive following environmental collapse. Fathers to the replicants, the pair are gods flawed by vision. Tyrell is a god of wisdom distracted by hubris. His eyes, bulging in their thick glasses, have the appearance of seeing but his pyramid is an ivory tower, obscuring Tyrrel’s understanding of what the replicants are. Wallace is a crazed oracle, accepting that replicants are the slaves to build a new human civilisation, he is literally blinded by his prophecy of spreading mankind far beyond the solar system. Tyrrel and Wallace may or may not see the replicants for what they are, but both are in the rut of complacency of the master, to believe that the slave will never rise up.

Not Heroes: Deckard and K

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Madam forewarns the breaking of the wall and the world

Writing this piece was partially inspired by a Washington Post article about Blade Runner 2049 by Alyssa Rosenberg. The article is an interesting read but what sparked my attention was the title;

Blade Runner 2049 is about learning that you are not the main character in your own story.’

Speaking after finding Rachael Tyrell, L.A police chief Madam confides in K, saying

‘The world is built on a wall that separates a kind, tell either side there is no wall, you’re brought a war.’

The world of Blade Runner is the wall, the barricade between replicant and man. Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 are one conflict, each side pushing at the boundary entrapping the other, be it a life longer than four years or the gift of children. Deckard and K, pawns from the beginning dragged unwillingly into a larger fight. Deckard is forced from retirement during Blade Runner to draw out Roy and the other rogue Nexus-6 models. K is commanded to destroy all traces of Tyrrel’s secret of replicant reproduction. Deckard is almost a villain in Blade Runner as he coldly tracks down the escaped Nexus-6 models. After every killing, the replicants become more human and childlike. In Blade Runner 2049, Deckard is not the wise man who can answer K, but an old outlaw hiding in the bones of a dead city, pursued for what he knows rather than for any threat he poses.

Against the foreground of Blade Runner’s events, Deckard and K are the heroes of their own stories. They are two characters from different sides walking towards the wall. Finding the wall absent, each discover their humanity. Both begin their long walk towards the wall assured of the structure of the world and their place within it. Deckard firmly believes he is human and that replicants are simple machines, until meeting Rachel and almost being killed by Roy. In finding love with Rachel, Deckard questions his assumptions about replicants and whether he is indeed human. Deckard’s crisis about his own existence is clearer in Phillip. K. Dick’s ‘Do androids dream of electric sheep?’, but it is still present in Blade Runner. Rachael is the catalyst for Deckard’s doubt about himself, remaining silent when Rachael asks if he has ever performed the Voight Kampff test on himself. By Blade Runner 2049, Deckard no longer distinguishes between human and replicant. When asked by K whether his dog is synthetic Deckard replies;

‘Ask him what he thinks.’

Deckard’s response repeats the understanding  he briefly flashes in a slow blink as Roy quietly dies at Blade Runner’s end. For Deckard, he finds his humanity through love, through empathy, in connecting with the replicants he has hunted so very well for so long.

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K gets to hold the hand of someone he loves, Joi

The mirrored reflection of Deckard, K walks from the opposite side towards the wall. If Deckard finds his humanity through discovery, K finds his humanity through loss. Deckard finds connection to the rest of the world, while K wants to be connected. A Nexus-9 designated to hunt the outlawed Nexus-8’s, K initially accepts he is a machine, telling Morton Sapper when asked if he likes ‘scraping shit’ that;

‘We new models don’t run.’

In K’s world, life is one where ‘Joi’ is an illusion and ‘Luv’ is a monster. The baseline K is routinely subjected to tests whether he has begun to see himself as human. The faults the test searches for are the desires we take for granted: ‘to be interlinked’; to hold the hand of a loved one, to be part of a family. Each question asked in the baseline are desires K hides even to himself. Desire make replicants human. For Roy it was legacy, for K it is love, to feel connected to the world. Believing himself to be Rachael’s child, K desperately searches for Deckard, asking him about the mother he never had and why Deckard left.

Rooftop Revelation

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K and Joi one more time

It is K’s A.I. girlfriend Joi that makes him believe he is unique, encouraging the search for Deckard and renaming K ‘Joe’. After losing Joi, K discovers he is the decoy, the replicant implanted with the fabled child’s memories. Rescued and tasked with eliminating Deckard by the replicant resistance, K encounters a gigantic sexualised version of Joi on a rooftop.

For Deckard and K, clarity comes atop the summit. Deckard is raised up from death by Roy, now Christlike with a nail driven through his palm, while K gets to see Joi one more time while staring at the city from a rooftop.  By calling him ‘Joe’ again, Joi’s programming makes K realise that he does not need uniqueness to be a person, to be connected. Raising Deckard’s pistol, K chooses his own path. K saves Deckard and the two men wash up from the water, arriving together at the wall which divides the world, cutting L.A. from the oceans beyond.

By sacrificing himself, K just like Roy connects himself to something greater, love and legacy. For many of us, our only legacy will be loved ones, the family that remain after we fade like tears in rain.

By Saul Shimmin

I have written more about Blade Runner here. If you have yet to see Blade Runner 2049, hopefully our review can persuade you.

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Ridley Scott and the value of life part two: Life, replicated

 

This article is part of a mini-series exploring the themes and ideas in Ridley Scott’s Sci-Fi films; for the first part click the link here.

*Spoilers ahead for Alien and Blade Runner*

Blade Runner, based on the seminal novel Do androids dream of electric sheep? is a futuristic world sculpted by the Cold War. By 2019, the Tyrell corporation has created humanoid androids. The androids, called replicants, look like humans and surpass us in intelligence, speed, and strength. Despite their similarities to us, replicants are treated like tools, exploited as slave labour across the solar system and forbidden from coming to Earth.  Blade Runner begins after a group of escaped replicants arrive on Earth, which prompts retired Blade Runner, Deckard (Harrison Ford), to return to his old profession and hunt down the replicants.

Alien challenges our position in the universe and our assumptions about intelligent life. In Blade Runner, Ridley Scott turns his gaze from the stars to earth, providing a condemning account of human society from the bottom-up. The replicants of Blade Runner are humanity in the neo-liberal age, dehumanised and robbed of an identity. They are the low-wage worker of today, an expendable commodity sacrificed for the benefit of the elite. The only difference is that replicants do not get a zero-hours contract but only four years to live.

Beyond our present day, the replicants represent ‘the other’ in society. They are the oppressed elements within every nation and culture branded as lesser and promptly exploited. The plight of the replicant parallels the medieval serf, the slave trade and the colonial subject. Despite its futuristic setting Blade Runner biopsies how society quietly exploits those at the bottom while we individuals, just like Deckard, look away.

Replicants: Machine or human?

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(Tyrell in all his glory)

Tyrell (Joe Turkel), wearing an imperial purple suit and thick glasses, is the god who underpins Blade Runner‘s society through his knowledge and technological prowess. The escaped replicants’ leader Roy (Rutger Hauer) even address Tyrrel as ‘The god of bio-mechanics’. Tyrrel’s apartment, guarded by an owl, symbol of the wise goddess Athena, is an Olympian temple supported by classical pillars, swathed in golden light from the sinking sun atop the pyramid superstructure witnessed in Blade Runner‘s introduction.

Deckard indulges Tyrell’s request to use the Voigt-Kampff test on Rachel (Sean Young), a supposed human. Deckard confronts Tyrrel after the test stating that Rachel is a replicant and asking, ‘how does she (Rachel) not know what she is?‘. Tyrell’s response is ‘commerce’. To Tyrell, replicants are a faulty product, becoming increasingly unstable as they develop memories and emotions. Rachel is ‘an experiment’ embedded with memories to believe that she is human, making her a more stable product.

Rachel reveals to Deckard that replicants are not just machines, but are parallel to regular humans through her morality and emotions. Ironically, it is Rachel, not any human, who questions Deckard about the moral and philosophical dilemmas of his work, asking him whether he ‘ has ever retired any humans by mistake?‘.

During Deckard’s attempts to chase and kill his replicant targets he begins to see them as increasingly human. At each encounter with an escaped replicant, the story shifts to their point of view, rendering Deckard and the human world around them to be cold, machine-like killers.

Challenging our assumptions

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(Our first encounter with Leon)

Leon is the audience’s first introduction to replicants when he is questioned by Dave Holden, another blade runner.  Leon is unstable from the beginning, his rage and confusion building until he abruptly shoots Holden in his stomach. Leon’s actions panders to the widespread view of replicants, repeated by Tyrell himself, as a tool that becomes a menace if they run amok. Later on in Blade Runner, Leon toys with Deckard after capturing him, stating to Deckard ‘painful living in fear isn’t it?’.  Deckard’s torture by Leon is Leon’s attempt to make another understand his suffering and pain.

Leon creates and later destroys the audience’s perception of replicants though his character arc. Leon transitions from a pyschopathic machine to a slave resisting his masters through the language they taught him, which was violence. Blade Runner uses Leon to challenge our own assumptions about ‘the other’ within society, by underlining how our opinions, just like Deckard’s can be unwittingly formed by convention. When given the chance to speak, the replicants, and ‘the other’ within our own society are exactly like us.

Violent recognition

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(Tyrrel’s death)

Both the audience and Deckard slowly begin to recognise the replicants as equal to humans. Then why does Tyrell, god of Blade Runner and father of the replicants still perceive them as below human?

The answer is found in Hegel’s philosophy.

According to Hegel, self-consciousness is not only the recognition of the self, but the recognition of that self by another self-conscious being. In human society, there exists a dominant and subservient consciousness with each recognising the other. This is what Hegel calls the master-slave dialectic.  Over time, the slave, having laboured for the master for so long, recognises his position as the inferior and demands the level of superiority enjoyed by the master.

Yet In Hegel’s words ‘Each (consciousness) wants to be securely recognised- has its certainty, but yet not truth.’ 

The master and the slave both want their identity to be recognised as superior. The master perceives his superiority due to his independence and power over the slave. The slave gains their own sense of superiority through the skill and hardship of their labour. Neither side will compromise and recognise the other as equal, causing as Michel Foucault states, a continual ebb and flow of power between one group and another within society as different identities emerge and conflict.

Tyrrel is the master and the replicants are the slaves.  He cannot recognise his own creations as more than human for fear of losing his own position. Tyrrel’s very identity and status in Blade Runner is literally built off the replicants and like the ancient Pharaohs he mimics, Tyrrel cannot be a god without an army of slaves beneath him. Roy’s quest to meet his maker Tyrrel is a struggle for identity, to climb the pyramid and be recognised by the master. Roy finally meets Tyrell, who continues to treat him and the other replicants as objects, calling Roy ‘a prize‘. Roy, disastisfied by Tyrell’s rejection, gauges Tyrrel’s eyes out.

At Blade Runner’s beginning, a superimposed eye blinks and dilates, reflecting the hellish cityscape of 2019 Los Angeles before it. The eyes in Blade Runner represent our own individual struggle with self-consciousness and recognition. The Voight-Kampff test, used to sniff out replicants, revolves around pupil dialation while the sodium orange flare of certain characters’ pupils teases who may be a replicant. After all, it is through our eyes alone that we perceive and recognise world, just like the eye gazing at 2019 Los Angeles. Roy’s gauging of Tyrrel’s eyes is the literal destruction of a worldview that rejects the replicants. Leon, in revenge for Zhora’s death, tries to do the same to Deckard before Rachel intervenes.

What about J.F.Sebastian?

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(J.F. being manipulated by Pris)

Perhaps the most unfortunate character in Blade Runner, J.F.Sebastian (J.F.), played by William Sanderson. He is a brilliant genetic designer who helped create the nexus 6 model of replicants. Befriended by replicant Pris (Daryl Hannah), J.F. is manipulated and later killed by Roy as part of his plot to meet Tyrrel. Afflicted by a genetic disorder accelerating his ageing, J.F. is denied ascension to the heavens and life among the solar system. Instead, J.F. dwells alone in a hellish derelict apartment block slowly succumbing to flood water.

J.F. blurs the artificial boundary between replicant and human. Deemed a faulty product, J.F. is valued for his productive capability like the replicants, while his desires are ignored and he is reduced to living alone. J.F’s plight is each our own tragedy, although the humans of Blade Runner are supposed to be superior, J.F. has been exiled and ignored by his fellow man. Strip back the scapegoat of today; be it the banks, the immigrants, or the replicants and we are only valued by society for our economic output while we each in turn dismiss the hardship of others. In a way, we are all replicants without realising it.

Writing about J.F. has made me eager for Blade Runner 2049 From the glimpses given in the reveal trailer, Blade Runner 2049 will witness the crumbling of the artificial line between replicant and human which J.F. straddles. Whatever happensI am more excited about Blader Runner 2049 now than when I reviewed the trailer.

By Saul Shimmin