Humanity in Ridley Scott’s Blade RunnerThe issue of humanity is one of the central themes in “Blade Runner.” Countless arguments have taken place over whether or not Deckard is a replicant. The replicants are supposed to be “better humans than humans.” Director Ridley Scott has many ways to communicate this theme, but one of the most prevalent is eyes. Human eyes are featured both in the beginning of the film and near the end.
After a brief introductory text crawl which explains the world in which the movie takes place, “Blade Runner” cuts to a dark, futuristic Los Angeles. There are some flying cars, but mostly we see dark, smog-filled skies and smokestacks belching fire. As the camera moves across this landscape, blue eyes are superimposed on the screen. These eyes first establish traditional humanity as a force in the film.
The eyes belong to Holden, a blade runner. Blade runners are police officers who hunt down and kill, or “retire”, replicants. Holden is administering the Voight-Kampff test, which determines whether its subject is a traditional human or a replicant, to “Leon.” Leon is a replicant, and when Holden asks him a question that he can’t answer, Leon shoots him.
Eyes are often thought of as the windows to the soul. It is this nebulous concept of the soul which is often used as the line in the sand dividing humanity from everything else. The Voight-Kampff test is designed to measure emotional responses. If the subject doesn’t have any, it’s a replicant. Leon was going to fail the test and be killed, so he killed Holden. Isn’t that a display of the particular emotion known as rage? Well, maybe it’s a rational decision or an instinctual survival reaction.
However, a later scene lends weight to the…
…l are in love and want to run off together. As they are leaving his apartment, Deckard sees an origami unicorn on the floor. One can interpret this as Gaff showing Deckard that his memories are implants.
Regardless of whether one accepts the unicorn interpretation given here, the question of what it means to be human is a core theme in “Blade Runner.” After-the-fact directorial revelations aside, by leaving an element of ambiguity in Deckard’s identity, Scott mirrors ambiguity in the question. He doesn’t have a definite answer, he’s not pushing some agenda. Even now, with little help from technology, we face a species-wide identity crisis. The whole issue of the legality of abortions stems from a disagreement over what constitutes a human. This is an important question that we’re going to have to do a better job of answering, and Scott makes an excellent start.