Making Amends: Blade Runner (1982)

This is an amendment/addition to my original review.


I think there are some people who have misinterpreted what I have said about the love scene between Deckard and Rachael. I have gotten into a few discussions about its “reprehensibility” and, conversely, its merits recently and I feel like I should make a post to talk about it. Admittedly, I barely talked about it the first time through, despite considering it one of the more important scenes of the film. I think there are several ways to look at the scene, and several reasons why I believe it adds tremendous significance. If you are looking at the entire scene from the eyes of a sympathetic human being, then, sure, I guess it looks and feels distasteful (maybe so extremely). But depending on the point-of-view, the scene transforms, even if it is not always for the better.

I admit it: when I first saw this movie many years ago, the scene didn’t particularly do anything for me. I didn’t find anything “wrong” with it (in terms of its placement or its content). On subsequent viewings, it started to dawn on me. The way I treated the scene was as such: it was two dejected beings who try to discover what love is; if Deckard is a replicant, it is all the more poignant, because then it would be two replicants trying to ape humanity by mimicking its most “beautiful actions” (though I suppose people might argue with that, too). It was supposed to be bittersweet in a movie that was all depressing and dystopian. More on that bit later. Then, after a while, it seemed less a scene about “love” (whatever the fuck that is), and more on the characters and the theme of humanity. If you look at the scene within the context of the film’s primary themes: identity, humanity, memory, alienation, amorality, etc., then it becomes a very important scene, if morally questionable. Another of the film’s themes, perception, is echoed: that you can take a particular scene and study it from so many different angles also leapt out at me.

I have heard some say that it is one of the reasons they do not like Deckard. Last time I checked, you are not supposed to like him. Even if he didn’t engage in forced robot sex, while he wouldn’t be the most detestable character, you would be hard-pressed to find something likable about him. He is an anti-hero, but not on the level of Han Solo. He is the hard-boiled anti-hero, a relic of the old film noir days, trying to make his way in a late capitalist future dystopia. He’s alienated, a loner, depressed, potentially morally-ambiguous or amoral, and seemingly rebellious, and in some sort of an existential funk or ennui. It also seems to me that the filmmakers do everything they can to make him unlikable. He is very identifiable. There are many of us alienated, lonely, or depressed. But is he likable? Hardly. He seems existentially dead. Compare him to Roy Batty, who, while committing murder and other such heinous actions, seems much more alive and human. Deckard spends the entire film as if he is simply going through the motion of life; Roy Batty seems intent on outright living.

Who is the more human between them, or, at least, who seems to be? If we assume that Deckard is human, how does one account for his actions? What makes him any better than Roy Batty or his fellow escapees? Pretty much nothing. Contrast the two characters, and you’ll find some of the most interesting contrasts of all. One seems vibrant and alive (even though he is near death; or, more accurately, his “battery life” is about to run out). The other seems existentially dead. One seems amoral and manipulative and a believer of nothing, killing and taking advantage of people for the hell of it. The other, while committing atrocious acts like murder, seems to cling to his brand or system of beliefs, and seems to love life despite the fact that he’s artificial. One is born “natural” but then acts as if programmed. The other is “artificial” (that is, not the artifice of nature) and programmed, but somehow defies his own programming.

In fact, it lends credence to the belief that Deckard is himself a replicant. If not his utter disregard for life, that’s the only other thing that would explain his lack of emotion… And, subsequently (or consequently), his actions towards Rachael. He is either a very alienated and socially-maligned (or socially-malignant) human being (as many of us are, also), or he is a replicant. Perhaps he just doesn’t know better. Perhaps this is his way of trying to exhibit that human emotion called love. It would make it pretty sad, wouldn’t it? For him to try to understand love simply by copying the actions of a human. It also brings to mind questions of what it means to be human. What separates us from robots? Our actions or our thoughts? Does the resulting action make him and/or them even less human, as a colleague of mine aptly suggests? Such is arguable. On the one hand it does seem dehumanizing, to attempt to mimic human beings in such a way. On the other, two (or even one, to think of it) “robots” trying to learn what it means to be human, and what it is to love, seems to be the most humanizing thing of all, and, yes, that is even if the circumstances of the scene are less than likable.

I remember that to one person I said that the scene was “beautiful” because it was about two replicants (if you are of the opinion that Deckard was one) trying to discover their own humanity, albeit in a very awkward, some would argue, reprehensible, way. Again, does it make him more or less likable or human? Who knows? That is not up to me to decide. I then said that if you did not believe Deckard was a replicant, it was perhaps not “beautiful”, but almost “bittersweet” (this is what caused them to brand me as some sort of a “rape apologist”). I repeat: what does it mean to be human? To dismiss the scene for its reprehensibility, one is apt to miss the bigger picture.

Perhaps arrogance and manipulation and advantage and power and amorality are what define humans. There is no “human” better than “replicant” in the film. It is a movie, essentially, with no heroes (and, consequently, no real villains). If you interpret the scene in such a way, then Deckard is really no better than the bioengineered beings that he is ordered to kill. Amoral human beings have created beings in their own image, and they, too, are amoral. So why kill them? (Because we can?) On the other hand, it then potentially allows one to then see Rachael in a different light; in a sea of characters, she seems the one to elicit the most sympathy from the film’s viewers. If she is a replicant, why do even care if she is taken advantage? Why do we care that this asshole protagonist exercises his power over her? Because we sympathize with her. In a movie of alienated loners and replicants, she seems the most human to us.

On the other, other hand, perhaps the scene was meant to be bittersweet. I am sure there are those of us who think so. That, other than perhaps murder, it seems to be Deckard’s singularly reprehensible act. Nothing like it precedes or proceeds. He is either so desperate to reach out, that he commits such an act, or he doesn’t know any better, because he isn’t human. Maybe he tells her to do those things because they’re both dejected robots in need of some fucked up sense of companionship. In any and all cases (many which have been explored in this post), it does not make what he does better, but more understandable. Again, it may even make him less human, as my colleague states. Or… It may make him more human. The idea of power, the emotional struggle, the errors of judgment and action… It’s all so human. Who else but human beings would act in such a manner? The replicants only do so for their creation at the hands of human beings.

That the scene bothers so many people might already be the start of answering the question of what it means to be human. But that it adds nothing to the movie (as someone said to me) is something I cannot agree on. I think it is one of the most important scenes of the film, because it causes one to take side of the humanity issue. How one interprets that scene might show how one will interpret the entire movie, as a whole. The themes have been assembled for us. What do we make of it?


3 responses to “Making Amends: Blade Runner (1982)

  1. It takes a lot to respond to your readers so thoughtfully. Well done! I don’t exactly love Blade Runner myself (although I recognize it’s a great and influential film), but defending your opinion really does take character.

    • Thanks for your feedback.
      I don’t normally write follow-ups, actually. I was getting into conversations in a surprisingly short amount of time with a few people on this particular criticism, so I decided to write this up. There was another piece I did on the Alien franchise that turned out to be pretty contentious. I was going to do a complete rewrite at one point, but it never came about.

      Thanks for reading.

      • Oh I hear that. Way back when I started reviewing movies, it was actually because I was tired of explaining myself over and over again. I figured I’d just write it down, and then point people to the review.

        Consequently, that’s actually how a lot of my post ideas come to fruition now. Not all of them are reactionary, but it’s not a bad way of coming up with ideas!

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