What makes us human? That is a question pondered and speculated on by philosophers since the dawn of mankind. It’s a question often explored by science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick and the central theme of many of his stories including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the basis for the 1982 film Blade Runner. The film’s story of human versus androids (known as replicants in the film) offers up a dystopian futuristic setting where basic morality is lost amongst the over-crowded landscape. Blade Runner is stylistically brilliant. It creates an entirely believable world within its own context. The dark and dreary landscape, androids more human than real people, and the disaffected performance from star Harrison Ford nearly makes up for the lack of a truly compelling story. Director Ridley Scott’s film is often hailed as a classic, but 30 years after its initial release it’s hard to ignore some of its obvious flaws.
There is no doubt Blade Runner creates a unique world and asks questions that are difficult to answer. At the center of it all is the question of whether the replicants deserve life. They’re created in the exact image of humans. They are stronger than humans, able to figure out complex problems, and possess intelligence equal to their own creators. Because of all of this, they also have developed some basic, primitive emotional responses. Due to their programmed four-year lifespan, they only live long enough to develop the emotional maturity of a two or three-year-old child. It’s a dangerous trait for beings that have been programmed to fight our wars for us. Four of these replicants have escaped the “off-world” planet they worked on and have returned to Earth. Their goal is to find their creator and force him to expand their lifespan.
It’s the job of the so-called blade runners to root out the human imposters and “retire” (a nicer word for execute) them. Rick Deckard (Ford), the best of the best in terms of blade runners, has been charged with the task of taking out the four rogue replicants. We really don’t know anything of Deckard’s life, other than his expertise at spotting replicants. This is by design. Deckard’s lack of meaning in his life stands in stark contrast with the replicants’ desire to live. The rogue replicant leader, Roy (Rutger Hauer), wants something real. He wants his life to mean more than fighting battles on the violent off-world colonies. He is also deeply in love with fellow replicant Pris (Daryl Hannah).