replicants and monsters
Table of contents
Film, the cultural medium of the 20th century, has provided us with many of our icons and has helped many both ancient and modern myths become common heritage. One such myth is the myth of the human overstepping his limits and entering the realm of God (or the gods, depending on time and culture) – with the transgressor’s destruction as the inevitable result.The myth has many forms. There is the titan Prometheus of ancient Greece who, depending on the version, either brought fire to the world, was seen as a prophet and sage representing human search for knowledge, and even created man. Prometheus was punished by being chained to a rock where an eagle ate his liver every day. We have the myth of Faust, based on a 15th-century German magician by the name of Johann Faust and transformed into literature by among others Marlow and Goethe. The story of Faust is a story about a very learned man, who in his thirst for even more knowledge pledges his soul to Satan.
A third version is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus and Kenneth Branagh’s film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. They are about the obsessed scientist usurping the power of God by creating life and thus committing hubris with the inevitable nemesis in the form of the destruction of all that he holds dear as a result. Though written at the beginning of the 19th century, the story of Victor Frankenstein and his nameless monster (or more aptly Creature) is a story that ever since has held a fascination for us, witness the many times it has been brought to the cinema – and hence the talk of film providing us with many of our icons. Although the number of people who have seen the film may be great, the visage of Boris Karloff as the Creature is a 20th-century icon recognised by a far greater number. Clearly, our persistent fascination with this myth is caused by the reflections of ourselves which we find in it. This may also be the explanation why Branagh has met with a fair amount of acclaim for his attempt to rewrite the film version of the Frankenstein myth and bring the story closer to its origin, i.e. Shelley’s story, and bring it up to date with a realism not found in the Boris Karloff films, which after all hitherto had been the ultimate Frankenstein films.
It is my contention that the same fascination to some extent explains the cult status achieved by Ridley Scott’s film Blade Runner, which together with its origin, Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Shelley’s novel and Branagh’s film is the subject of this essay. These works have been put together here because there are many parallels between them. Though Gothic, Shelley’s novel is also seen by many as the first true science fiction novel, and all the works have traditionally been interpreted as cautionary tales about science run amok – a theme many people today are intensely concerned about. And they all feature man-made artificial beings and a conflict between humans and non-humans.
These concerns may be called mainly social concerns, as they deal with man-machine relationships and their impact on society. But we also find concerns on a far more personal level in the Creature in Frankenstein and in the replicants in Blade Runner; personal concerns that go to the core of human existence, of what it means to be human. These and the reflections of ourselves that they present are the focus of this essay. Although to some extent the “bad guys” for literary reasons, the artificial beings also serve as vehicles for the authors for saying something about the “human” characters in the works and, more importantly, about us all in general. The essay will examine this “something” and comment on the differences in this respect between novels and films.
Mary Shelley’s novel from 1818 tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young man “smitten with the thirst for knowledge” [Note 1], especially of the secret laws of nature, who goes from Geneva to Ingolstadt to study at the university. His studies include natural science and chemistry, but among his very unofficial curriculum are old scientists and alchemists like Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus [Note 2]. Through the studies of these and through his own experiments he wishes to “banish disease from the human frame and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death” [Note 3] and eventually he “succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter.” [Note 4]
Infused with enthusiasm and after two years, Frankenstein brings life to a being made of body parts obtained from dissecting tables and slaughterhouses, and immediately afterwards his world collapses, “the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” [Note 5] What he sees is not the superhuman being intended to overcome death, but a wretch, a monster and a “daemon”, and he rushes from his rooms leaving the “newly born” Creature on his own. When he later returns, the Creature has vanished, and Frankenstein now lies sick for the next several months from the shock caused by the horror he has created.
Frankenstein returns to Geneva when his little brother is murdered and a servant girl of the family, Justine, is accused of the murder. Frankenstein suspects that his Creature is the real murderer, but dares not tell the truth (who would believe him anyway, he reasons), and Justine is convicted and executed.
Shortly after this Frankenstein meets with his creation on the glaciers of the Alps. Here, the Creature most eloquently tells Frankenstein the story of how he wandered lonely into the world and was spurned by all people he met because of his horrible countenance. He has learned to speak and read by secretly watching a family living in the woods, a family he wanted to befriend and who chased him away when he eventually showed himself. Later, he saved a young girl from drowning only to be shot at by her boyfriend. As a result the Creature, who started by being goodwilled and benevolent, has now declared war on mankind, who will know nothing of him, and he has killed Frankenstein’s brother to revenge himself on his creator, whose identity he has learned from papers hidden in the clothes, he took when leaving Frankenstein’s laboratory. The Creature now demands that Frankenstein creates a mate for him so that he may experience love and affection and have the company of a living creature, who will be just as ugly as he is and consequently will not turn away from him in disgust. In return, the Creature promises that they will disappear to the most isolated places of the planet, never to be seen again. Frankenstein reluctantly agrees, but when he later has created a female creature he suddenly thinks of their possible offspring, a race of monsters, and he destroys his new creation. The Creature vows to haunt Frankenstein and revenge himself upon him, and he proceeds to kill Frankenstein’s good friend, Clerval, and Frankenstein’s bride, Elizabeth.
After a spell of insanity Frankenstein has only one thought left and that is to hunt down the Creature and kill it. He embarks on a chase during which the Creature constantly taunts and torments Frankenstein by deliberately leaving trails for him to follow. They end in the icy wastes of the Arctic Ocean, where Frankenstein is picked up by Walton, who is on the search for a passage to the North Pole – a search which in its obsessiveness equals Frankenstein’s former search for knowledge and present search for the Creature. After having told his story to Walton (who tells it to his sister in letters, which in turn constitute Shelley’s novel), Frankenstein dies without having caught up with his Creature. But that very same night the Creature turns up at the side of his creator’s dead body, regretting his behaviour and mourning Frankenstein’s death and his own lonely destiny. Then he proceeds towards the North and his own death by self-immolation.
The modern Prometheus of the title is of course Frankenstein, who like the original Prometheus creates life – something reserved God (or the gods) – and who is duly punished. Traditional interpretations of the novel usually see it as a warning against science going too far and meddling with things better left alone by man. That is part of the explanation why this story still holds a fascination for readers (and film directors) today and is likely to do so for many years to come, especially as modern science has advanced so far as to make Frankenstein’s feat entirely possible through, e.g. cloning, genetic engineering, etc.
But Prometheus was not only a creator of life but also a rebel against the gods; a rebel who refused to accept the conditions imposed by the gods upon human existence. In this sense, Shelley’s novel has yet another Prometheus, nemely the Creature. To the Creature, Frankenstein is God, his Creator, his “natural lord and king”, [Note 6] and the Creature repeatedly likens himself to Adam. Frankenstein, however, is not the benevolent God of traditional Christianity, but a selfish and irresponsible God. He has created life to conquer death and bring happiness to mankind, yes, but not so much as the benefactor of mankind as the alchemist in search of knowledge per se, the “philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life” [Note 7]; not because of wealth, but because of “what glory would attend the discovery”. [Note 8] Frankenstein is the God that brings life to the Creature, and when he does not like what he sees he turns his back on it and leaves it to fend for itself in what turns out to be a very hostile world. On top of that, Frankenstein even has the gall to loathe the Creature right from the beginning for no other reason than the Creature’s misfortunate appearance.
Although traditional interpretations, as mentioned, see the novel as a story about what happens when man meddles with God’s domain, this is not an interpretation warranted by the novel itself. Frankenstein meets with his destruction, not because he has played God but because he afterwards refuses to take the responsibility for his actions. He creates a being that in its own words is good – “I was benevolent; my soul glowed with love and humanity” [Note 9], but because of Frankenstein’s basically inexplicable horrified and hostile reaction – it is a wretch, a monster and a fiend – almost before it has recovered from its birth pangs, the Creature turns into precisely that, helped by similar hostility from the rest of mankind. And that is the Creature’s principal grievance against Frankenstein.
“Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust.” [Note 10]
“I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces and triumph: remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me? [. . .] Shall I respect man when he condemns me? Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness, and instead of injury I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be; the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union. Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred.” [Note 11]
The Creature has been cast into a hostile world and that, one is tempted to say, for no other reason than the whim of Frankenstein – who then refuses to acknowledge his creation. The Creature asks, “What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination?” [Note 12] and there is no answer. Thus the only existential reference for the Creature becomes Frankenstein and the hatred he feels for him. The Creature destroys all that Frankenstein, his God, holds dear – but he does not destroy God. He may torment him and make him suffer in revenge, but he also realises that he is inseparably bound to his God and vice versa.
“Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us.” [Note 13]
Apart from being a story of what happens when science goes too far, Frankenstein is also a philosophical story about man’s relationship to God, a story about the meaning of life, as it were, and a remarkable precursor of the 20th century. Shelley belonged to the Romantic tradition with its social indignation at the human misery brought about by early industrialisation and disillusionment with the French Revolution and its promises of a better world turning into a reign of terror. These sentiments came to be reflected in the attitude to God. There might be a God, but it had now become relevant to question if He should still be considered a kind and just God.
You gave me life and then you left me to die.
All in all, it must be said that Kenneth Branagh’s film version is the version that has come closest of all to Shelley’s novel, both with regard to story line and spirit. Even though Branagh has changed various things and added others so that the emphasis of the film to a certain extent lies elsewhere compared with the book, the core of Shelley’s story has been maintained. On top of that, the film is far more coherent and credible than the book ever was – so much that with equal justification the film might have been called Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein.
For instance, the motivation of Branagh’s Frankenstein for venturing into what he should have stayed out of is the wish to conquer death so that no one should have to die but live happily ever after – as in the book.
“The best way to cheat death is to create life. We can create a being that will not grow old or sicken. One that will be stronger than us, better than us. One that will be even more intelligent than us, more civilised than us.”
“I think that the chance to defeat death and disease, to let everyone on this earth have the chance of life; sustained, healthy life. To allow people who love each other to be together, for ever. For all of that I think it is a risk worth taking.”
But even more so, the death of his mother, the relationship to whom bordered on the incestuous, is the principal driving force along with the death of Waldman, the idol and surrogate father. So, more than the death of people in general it is the death of his loved ones that makes Frankenstein cry, “It shouldn’t happen. It need not happen.” Fame as such seems to play only a minor part whereas it was more prevalent in the hook.Apart from a few body parts and arcane alchemist knowledge, we have no idea of how Shelley’s Frankenstein actually goes about creating his Creature. In Branagh's film, however, there are no holds barred and the creation scene is most elaborate and, compared with earlier film versions, most credible. With Frankenstein and the naked Creature struggling for foothold in the amniotic fluid that has burst with fearsome energy from the metal womb, this scene is a birth scene with Frankenstein as midwife, mother and father in one. The scene also serves to stress the intimate relationship between the Creature and Frankenstein that later develops into a father-son relationship, a Creator-Creature and a God-man relationship.
relationship to Elizabeth, his “sister”, in the film is far more
sensuous and, again, incestuous. And when the Creature rips out her heart
on her wedding night, Frankenstein promptly and without the slightest
hesitation replaces the head of Justine, who has been lynched [Note
14] for the alleged murder of William, with the disfigured head of
Elizabeth. It is to a degree hard to know whether to take this addition of
Branagh’s seriously or see it as mainly a spoof on Bride of
Frankenstein, but in any case it serves to emphasise the selfishness
of Branagh’s Frankenstein.
Shelley’s Frankenstein refuses to create a companion for the monster because he fears that they will develop into a monster race. Branagh’s Frankenstein does so, because he cannot bear to let the Creature have Justine’s body, which the Creature has provided him with. This selfishness is evident to the Creature, who taunts Frankenstein. “Materials, remember? Nothing more. Your words.” The hypocrisy of Frankenstein becomes blatant when it later turns out that he is perfectly willing to use Justine’s body for himself.
Like the book, the film is also about responsibility; the responsibility of the Creator to the Creature and further, the responsibility of us all to each other. Frankenstein’s immediate reaction to his creation is that the “resulting reanimant is malfunctional and pitiful.” He then refuses to acknowledge his creation and is only too happy to believe it dead. At their meeting at the Sea of Ice, the Creature is justified in asking Frankenstein, “Did you ever consider the consequences of your actions? You gave me life and then you left me to die. Who am I?” To Frankenstein’s “I don’t know” the reply is, “And you think I’m evil.”
Shelley does not really tell us of her own opinion of the idea itself, i.e. creating immortal life. Branagh clearly states that the idea is ludicrous. Throughout the film death and birth are linked. Frankenstein’s mother dies, but she does so giving birth to William. And this in turn becomes the birth of the idea in Frankenstein. The corpse of Waldman’s murderer comes to constitute the major part of the Creature, just as Waldman’s brain after his death becomes the Creature’s brain – which incidentally explains the Creature’s superior intelligence (which is, after all, puzzling in the book). The death of Justine and Elizabeth becomes the birth of Elizabeth #2. The film’s point in this respect is clearly that one cannot have life without death; death is part of the definition of life.
So much for the distinction between authentic living humans and humanoid constructs.
Philip K. Dick’s novel from 1968 takes place in San Francisco in the year 2021. The world is a world laid waste by World War Terminus; a world in which all, or nearly all animals, have become extinct because of the radioactive fallout from the war. Most people, to quell their bad conscience and guilt about this, keep artificial animals, e.g. the title’s electric sheep.
Most of the Earth’s population have emigrated to off-world colonies, e.g. on Mars. The remaining population on Earth mainly consist of those who for some reason, often physical or mental deficiencies, have not qualified for emigration. The off-world colonisation of places often dangerous to humans has been made possible by the use of slave labour in the form of humanoid robots, androids so sophisticated that they for most purposes are like humans – “able to function on an alien world the humanoid robot – strictly speaking, the organic android – had become the mobile donkey engine of the colonization program.” [Note 15] The most advanced androids are the Nexus-6 androids.
. .] the Nexus-6 did have two trillion constituents plus a choice within a
range of ten million possible combinations of cerebral activity. [. . .]
The androids are not allowed on Earth. People here fear and abhor androids, and if an android comes to Earth it is hunted down by special bounty hunters, put through a test to establish if it really is an android or a human, and killed if proven the first. The bounty hunters use a test called the Voight-Kampff Empathy Test to establish if the subject is an android. The idea behind the VK test is that
[e]mpathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every phylum and order including the arachnida. [Note 17]
The protagonist, Deckard, is a bounty hunter sent out to hunt down six androids, who have escaped from Mars and are now on Earth. To that end he goes to the manufacturer Eldon Rosen to try out the VK test on the Nexus-6 to establish if the test works on androids that sophisticated. Deckard is asked to perform the test on Rosen’s niece, Rachael. It turns out that Rachael is an android that does not know she is an android. [Note 18] Satisfied that the VK is still valid, Deckard goes after the escaped androids.
During his hunt for the androids, Deckard is arrested and taken to a police station he did not know existed and which turns out to be a hideout for androids who pass themselves off as policemen, an android “conspiracy”. The head of the androids, Garland, exposes himself when Deckard, accused of being an android, agrees to take a test if the others will. Garland also tells Deckard that Phil Resch, another bounty hunter attached to the police station, in reality is an android and that he does not know because of a “synthetic memory system.” [Note 19] Resch eventually saves Deckard from being killed by Garland, which brings about a conflict in Deckard. How is he supposed to tell Resch that he is an android, and how is he supposed to cope with the fact that he feels empathy towards an android? The conflict grows when Luba Luft, an android passing off as an opera singer whom Deckard admires, is “retired”.
She was really a superb singer, he said to himself [. . .] I don’t get it, how can a talent like that be a liability to our society? [Note 20]
He had never thought of it before, had never felt any empathy on his own part towards the androids he killed. Always he had assumed that throughout his psyche he experienced the android as a clever machine – as in his conscious view. [. . .] Empathy toward an artificial construct? he asked himself. Something that only pretends to be alive? But Luba Luft had seemed genuinely alive; it had not worn the aspect of a simulation. [Note 21]
In the meantime, the now remaining three androids have gathered in Isidore’s building. Throughout, the androids are mostly portrayed as cruel, insensitive, disloyal and cunning beings, as will be described below.
Ever since his visit to the Rosen Association Building, Deckard has been attracted to Rachael. He calls her to take her up on her offer to help him catch the androids. However, he ends up sleeping with her. The reasons for Rachel’s being with Deckard are twofold. First, she is there to observe exactly what it is that makes the Nexus-6 fail the VK test. Second, she is there to prevent Deckard, by making love to him, from killing the androids – “ ‘No bounty hunter has ever gone on,’ Rachael said. ‘After being with me.’ [Note 22] To a certain extent, this works, because Deckard refrains from killing Rachael, but not from killing the other androids. [Note 23]
The primary concern of Dick’s novel is what it means to be human. The book explores the distinction between the human and non-human, between the natural and the artificial. Like Frankenstein, the novel can be seen as a cautionary tale about the consequences in this respect of the rampant scientific development and the scientific possibilities present in the late 1960s. The novel describes the increased blurring of this distinction by making the humans and the androids mirror images of each other. Although the androids are the “villains” of the story with only few characteristics one might sympathise with, they nevertheless exhibit very human – albeit mostly negative – traits and feelings such as cruelty and disloyalty, but also the capacity for excitement and interests, e.g. the android Pris’ interest in pre-colonial fiction.
Nothing is as exciting. To read about cities and huge industrial enterprises, and really successful colonization. You can imagine what it might have been like. What Mars ought to be like. Canals. [Note 24]
But generally, Dick does not depict the androids in such a way that we sympathise with them. They are described as, e.g. “solitary predators” [Note 25], and to Isidore it is as if a “peculiar and malign abstractness pervaded their mental processes.” [Note 26]
The humans, on their part, appear just as callous as the androids, with the “chickenhead” J. R. Isidore a notable exception. And their feelings – the true test of being human – are to a large extent artificially determined and controlled by an electric mood organ and an empathy box.
That is the main concern of Dick: to examine how androids might have an influence on people, how our technology might eventually turn us into artificial beings.
Dick, writing the novel during the Vietnam war, felt that “these android personalities were so lethal, so dangerous to human beings, that it might ultimately become necessary to fight them. The problem in killing them would then be: ‘Would we not become like the androids in our very effort to wipe them out? [Note 27]
The philosophical and metaphysical aspect of man’s relation to God found in Frankenstein is absent from Do Androids Dream. . . As mentioned, the book is concerned with the distinction between human and non-human, and to Dick the capacity for empathy is the main definition of being human. And Dick’s bleak vision of the future is emphasised by the fact that no one in the book, neither androids nor humans, would be likely to pass the VK test.
All those moments will be lost in time – like tears in rain.
Like Branagh’s film and even more so, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner from 1981 uses the novel on which it is based as a point of departure for creating a very personal version of it. In Blade Runner, the basic story of Deckard’s hunt for the androids, called replicants in the film, remains, but the characters, for instance, have been radically changed compared with those in the book. And the entire ambience, the future society is very different. I believe that this is part of what makes Blade Runner a superb film and why it has achieved a cult status, also among people who are not normally into science fiction – a status never achieved by the in most ways very inferior book. But then, Blade Runner primarily uses the book to establish a frame, and the film is far more reminiscent of Frankenstein.The world in which Blade Runner is set is a world in which there is virtually no difference between night and day in the city of Los Angeles with its bursts of flames from huge factories and covered by a perpetual smog with acid rain constantly falling. Not World War Terminus, but the rampant industrialisation of capitalist society has turned everything into a waste land. That is of course a social comment from Scott, but also a dystopian update. In the 1960s, the risk of an all-out nuclear war seemed more imminent, but with the subsequent decrease of cold-war tension and a growing environmental concern Scott’s dystopia is a very credible 1980s scenario – so much that it is hard to believe Scott when he says “it was only presented that way as a dramatic device.” [Note 28]
The character of Eldon Tyrell is far more prominent than Eldon Rosen. His role of God and Creator has been strongly emphasised, and the relationship between him and his creations is the main pivot of the film. In the book we are not really told why the androids are on Earth except that they have escaped from Mars several years before to live in freedom. In the film, however, the replicants have come to Earth specifically to meet Tyrell, or at least someone in the Tyrell Corp. that can help them find out about “morphology, longevity, incept dates” and prevent them from dying shortly at the expiration of their 4-year lifespan.
Even though Dick calls the androids organic, he also describes them in terms that make them partly mechanical, robot-like. The replicants in Blade Runner, however, appear to be truly organic. Furthermore, in the book the androids are characterised negatively throughout, but in the film they end up being the characters we sympathise with. Dick’s blurring of the distinction between humans and non-humans, however, also exists in the film. We know who the humans are, because we are more or less told, but if we did not know we would be seriously in doubt. The humans behave as one would expect of a replicant. Holden the human, when testing Leon the replicant, is cool and composed, emotionless, whereas Leon is the exact opposite. Deckard is also mostly emotionless. “Sushi – that’s what my wife used to call me. Cold fish.” “Replicants weren’t supposed to have feelings. Neither were blade runners.” When Zhora and Pris are “retired” by Deckard, their deaths are drawn-out and they both bleed profusely, whereas Holden dies instantly and bloodlessly from Leon’s shot, and not a drop of blood is shed when Tyrell has his skull crushed by Roy. And what could be more human than Rachael’s pain when being told that her memories are not hers but those of Tyrell’s niece – that they are merely implants in the mind of a replicant.
In a way, Blade Runner has just as many parallels to Frankenstein as to Dick’s novel. In Do Androids Dream . . . the androids are “evil” for no other reason than that is what androids are; that is one of the distinctions between androids and humans, despite Dick’s blurring of the differences. In Blade Runner, the replicants have become what they are because of circumstance and experience. Though we increasingly sympathise with the replicants, it is also clear that they were not always “nice people” – again like the Creature, whose murderous actions are perhaps understandable, if not condonable. “I have done questionable things, Father. [. . .] Nothing that the God of Biomechanics wouldn’t let you into heaven for?” Roy Batty says, and since his designation is a combat replicant in the “Colonization Defence Prog” we readily believe that it is so.
After Roy’s death, Deckard says about him: “All he’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us want: Where do I come from, where am I going, how long have I got?” In this we hear echoes of the Creature’s “What did this mean?” quoted at length in Section 2. Like Frankenstein, Blade Runner sees the artificial humans’ existential “crisis” as central to the story.The most forceful parallel between the two is of course the Creator-Creature conflict. The replicants have come to Earth to find a way to extend their 4-year life span. Eventually Roy, the only still surviving replicant, meets Tyrell. They appropriately meet in Tyrell’s bed chamber, candlelit and cathedral-like with Tyrell dressed like a pope. Roy refers to Tyrell as his “Father” and his “Maker”, the “God of Biomechanics”, i.e. God from his point of view [Note 29] and sees him in the same way the Creature sees Frankenstein, his “Creator”.
A difference exists, though. The Creature acts out of an all-consuming rage against Frankenstein, but Roy seems to have moved beyond rage; his showdown with Tyrell is characterised by a superiority and an awareness of his own predicament that make his actions and words tauntingly deliberate. In Frankenstein, the Creature did not kill his God because without him what would the Creature be? In the time between Frankenstein and Blade Runner, God has for all practical purposes been killed in Western thought. Very appropriately depicted as a blond Aryan and Nietzschean Übermensch, Roy takes the full consequences of his situation and of the anger and frustration he has felt towards God and kills him. If the Creature were to have killed Frankenstein, it would have been far more emotional and a “crime of passion”, but the murder of Tyrell is like a liquidation or an execution. Like the Creature, he realises that he by killing his God thus becomes nothing, that he henceforward will be alone, but he also realises that he will be free. Like the Creature, Roy the replicant is inseparably bound to his Creator, and this relationship defines Roy as a replicant. Through the death of Tyrell Roy becomes an individual. The individuality and freedom allow Roy to further assert his humanity by saving Deckard in the end.
Roy, the individual, realises man’s innate aloneness and tells Deckard about the terrible, but also wondrous things he has seen – “attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion” and “C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.” With his death, “[a]ll those moments will be lost in time – like tears in rain.” Again there are echoes of Frankenstein with Deckard becoming the Walton of Blade Runner, the one who will bear witness of Roy and remember his “moments”, as Walton does of the Creature and Frankenstein.To Dick, empathy is what defines humanness, and in Blade Runner it is precisely the replicants who exhibit loyalty, love, hate, sorrow, compassion and an acute self-awareness in the face of their imminent death. The humans, on the other hand, are mostly either indifferent, have succumbed to their baser instincts at Taffy Lewis’ night-club or are just people in the streets, street vendors and a muddle of many nationalities serving only as a backdrop to the film’s main story. The fact that we in the end sympathise more with the replicants than with the humans, primarily represented by Deckard, and the fact that the focus of the film gradually shifts from Deckard, the supposedly “good man”, to Roy Batty is because Roy comes to stand for values and sentiments we so readily identify with. This shift is further emphasised by the change that takes place in Deckard. In the beginning he is “sushi”, behaving like a “metaphorical” replicant, but through his love for Rachael he gradually exhibits traits that the film associates with the replicants, e.g. concern for others. Deckard has come to think of the replicants as humans, a process that apparently started before the film – Deckard calls himself “ex-killer”. Replicants are “retired”, humans are “killed”; and after the killing of Zhora Deckard says, “The report would be ‘routine retirement of a replicant,’ which didn’t make me feel any better about shooting a woman in the back.” Even on the level of physical appearance the identification is indicated. Deckard is the only human who bleeds, like the replicants do, and on occasion Deckard’s eyes glow like the replicants’. The transition of Deckard is completed in the showdown with Roy with its reversal of roles, where the hunter becomes the hunted, and the replicant combat soldier becomes the saviour [Note 30]. Just before Deckard is about to fall, Roy says, “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave”.
All four works discussed have as their central theme the conflict between the Creator and the creation and the conflict between human and non-human, the natural and the artificial. With the exception of Do Androids Dream . . . the sympathy of the works lies with the Creature and the replicants. They all exhibit traits that we associate not only with being human but with being a good human – traits like loyalty, love, compassion, sorrow. The humans in the works, in contrast, are mostly portrayed as emotionless, indifferent, disloyal and – and in their role as “creators” – irresponsible. The irresponsibility is evident in the characters of Frankenstein and Tyrell, who have created life but who have also either ignored it afterwards or refused to acknowledge the creatures as true human beings and have made them slaves to be manipulated by false memories and sentenced to a 4-year lifespan. The “crime” of Frankenstein and Tyrell is not that they have played God, but that they are not prepared to take the responsibility for their creation. And the murderous actions of both the Creature and the replicants are ultimately also the responsibility of their makers. All works are concerned with what it means to be human, and in the main they all agree on the definition: empathy, responsibility, concern for others. And again with the exception of Do Androids Dream . . ., they seem to say that it is not so much a question of how one is born, but of what kind of person one is. The relevance (and continued popularity) of the works today is further enhanced by the advances in science with regard to genetic engineering, in vitro fertilisation, etc. – advances that rapidly push back the boundaries of what is possible but which also result in an increased popular as well as official debate on precisely what it means to be human and on how far we should go.
Dick, Philip K.: Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of
Electric Sheep?), (Ballentine Books 1992)
Runner (Director Ridley Scott, 1981)
David: Blade Runner: Science Fiction and Transcendence (IN Literature/Film
Quarterly, Vol. 13., No. 3, 1985)
Notes:Note 1: Shelley, Mary: Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus (IN Three Gothic Novels, edited by Peter Fairelough, Penguin 1975), p. 295
Note 2: Both Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus were interested in creating life by artificial means, and Paracelsus claimed that he could create a homunculus, a “small man”, from human semen alone.
Note 3: Shelley: op. cit., p. 299
Note 4: Shelley: op. cit., p. 312
Note 5: Shelley: op. cit., p. 318
Note 6: Shelley: op. cit., p. 364
Note 7: Shelley: op. cit., p. 299
Note 8: Shelley: op. cit., p. 299
Note 9: Shelley: op. cit., p. 364
Note 10: Shelley: op. cit., p. 397
Note 11: Shelley: op. cit., pp. 412-413
Note 12: Shelley: op. cit., p. 395
Note 13: Shelley: op. cit., p. 363
Note 14: In the film there is no trial, but instead we see a lynching mob of cruel and vile people, the “realist” echo of the fairy-tale peasant mob in lederhosen and peaked felt hats in the Karloff film.
Note 15: Dick, Philip K.: Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), (Ballentine Books 1992), p. 13
Note 16: Dick: op. cit., pp. 25-26
Note 17: Dick: op. cit., p. 26
Note 18: Dick’s novel is not very consistent, to say the least. Later in the book it turns out that Rachael has known the runaway androids for almost two years (her age) and is in collusion with them.
Note 19: Dick: op. cit., p. 107
Note 20: Dick: op. cit., p. 120
Note 21: Dick: op. cit., p. 123
Note 22: Dick: op. cit., p. 172
Note 23: The novel is far more complex (and incoherent) than indicated, involving elaborate “side stories” about the culture of keeping artificial animals and the predominant “religion” of the time, Mercerism. A more detailed description of these has been left out for reasons of little relevance.
Note 24: Dick: op. cit., p. 132
Note 25: Dick: op. cit., p. 27
Note 26: Dick: op. cit., p. 137
Note 27: Heldreth, Leonard: The Cutting Edges of Blade Runner (IN Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, edited by Judith B. Kerman (Bowling Green State University Popular Press 1991), p. 48
Note 28: Peary, Danny: Directing Alien and Blade Runner. An Interview with Ridley Scott (IN OMNI’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies, Dolphin Books 1984), p. 299
Note 29: A scene, which was cut from the final version, shows Holden and Deckard at Holden’s sick bed. Holden tells Deckard that he thinks that the replicants have come back to find “God”. (William M. Kolb: Blade Runner, Film Notes. (IN Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dicks Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, edited by Judith B. Kerman (Bowling Green State University Popular Press 199 1), p. 166)
Note 30: The saviour aspect is furthered by Roy piercing the palm of his hand with a spike. Scott claims that the idea was to show that Roy’s hand has started to go and that he uses the nail to force life back into it. Scott also, however, says that the Christ analogy is obvious and that one has to allow that mixing of analogies to happen, so that the audience can get different readings out of it. (William M. Kolb: op. cit., p. 168)