Before I begin, let me state unequivocally that this post will focus solely on the original Blade Runner film. It may reference its sequel, Blade Runner 2049, but the main focus of the article will remain on the 1982 film. Also, considering that Blade Runner has numerous different versions, I’ll be talking about the 2007 cut, namely The Final Cut. With all this in mind, let’s get started.
Blade Runner is a cyberpunk film that came out in 1982. Ridley Scott directed it, inspired by Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep. Originally a box office failure, the film eventually gained a cult following, making it one of the most discussed sci-fi films of all time. It has received a sequel film since then, with an anime series coming out later this year. Before going further, do watch the original Blade Runner trailer.
There is one question in the film that resonates throughout its runtime, which is what it means to be human. The question may not make any sense to us, but it becomes a dispute when the context is the world of Blade Runner.
In the film, Tyrell Corp manufactures Replicants, or simply-put, fake humans. They use these Replicants as laborers, soldiers, or to test the living conditions of other worlds. Therefore, every Replicant exists to serve humanity, irrespective of what they want. This slavery of Replicants leads to their dehumanization and objectification, and why wouldn’t it; they do exist for us, don’t they?
Blade Runner follows the character of Rick Deckard, a Blade Runner in LAPD. A Blade Runner’s job is to hunt down rogue Replicants and “retire” them (as the film puts it). After four Replicants escape from an Off-World colony, Rick is given the job to retire them. On his hunt for the Replicants, Rick comes across Rachael, a Replicant who is oblivious to her reality and falls for her. This leads to Rick questioning his entire occupation along with his prejudices.
As Rick questions the humanity of Rachael and other Replicants he has and will retire, we see the story of Roy Batty, one of the escaped Replicants. Replicants are built to last for only four years, and Roy is searching for a way to delay his death. After eventually learning that there is no way to escape his inevitable end, Roy goes on an insane rampage where he comes across Rick Deckard himself.
Blade Runner interestingly presents its events, with the protagonist being Rick and the antagonist being Roy. This binary morality could not be more wrong. After all, Rick is a cold-blooded murderer who murders Replicants without hesitation, but Roy is a man who merely wants to live longer. This morality switch is expanded further by presenting humans in a cruel light and the Replicants as merciful towards others. In the climax of the film, Roy had every reason to let Rick fall of the building ledge. Instead, Roy saves Rick as a last act of mercy before his death.
By being empathetic, Roy proves that he is, as the slogan of Tyrell Corp says, more human than human. Despite being hunted by Rick throughout the film and losing all his friends to him, he saves Rick. That is because Roy knows what it feels like to be at the mercy of others. He even summarizes this beautifully in his last words.
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 Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.Roy Batty
This act of kindness helps Rick overcome his prejudice, completing his arc. He realizes, along with us, that the Replicants are no less human than him. He rushes back home and escapes his life with Rachael, dedicating his life to keeping her safe.
So, what does it mean to be a human? Is it simply about being empathetic to others, or is it much more than that?
Aside from being compassionate and loving, the Replicants show many other humane traits. They desire freedom and want to live longer. They wish to exist beyond their slavery and pave their destinies. And on the other hand, humans have made peace with their slavery to the big corporations such as Tyrell Corp and showcase no craving towards a better life. Rick opted to live on his terms only after witnessing Roy’s efforts for a better but ultimately futile existence. He ran from his old Blade Runner job, which as the beginning of the film shows, he had no desire to be in any way.
Ultimately, to be human is to be free, free to choose your own life. In his last moments, Roy chose to save Rick and show mercy. His free will is what made him human. It is what makes all of us human in the end.