Empathizing with Replicants

Blade Runner is a movie that had been on my “to-watch” list for a while, so I’m glad I finally had an excuse to make time to watch it. Given that I have now read the source material beforehand, I wonder if my experience would have been different if I hadn’t read Electric Sheep prior to watching the movie.

Though there are many, many differences between DADOES and Blade Runner, I find that the most significant deviation from the source material is the complete omission of Mercerism. Empathy is no longer the sole distinguishing characteristic between humans and androids. In fact, the difference between humans and replicants is very hard to pinpoint on a personal level, as the replicants we encounter seem to have developed some sort of emotion to a certain degree, Roy Batty being the one that displays the widest range throughout the movie, especially approaching the climax. Regardless, the Voight-Kampff test is still featured, but I got the feeling that it was not as relevant as it was in the book.

Although animals (and the relationship with and possession of them) have a secondary role, they still make a prominent appearance in the movie. I think this is one of those things that I would have found odd if I had not read the book first. Almost all the animals we encounter are ersatz versions, such as Eldon Tyrell’s owl and Zhora’s snake, with her claiming that she wouldn’t be working as an exotic dancer if she could afford a real one (54:24). This is the first and only mention of real vs. artificial animals in Blade Runner. We can also see a man walking with a huge bird on his shoulder at 45:46, and T.F. Sebastian is shown to possess a mouse or rat, although there is no way to tell if they are real or artificial. Neither is relevant to the overall plot anyway. I found it interesting that although animals were such a “human thing” in the book, it is the replicants that seem to have some sort of affinity with them in the movie. Zhora possesses an artificial snake, and during his deranged persecution of Deckard, Roy howls and pretty much behaves like a wolf stalking its prey.

Speaking of Deckard, I found myself not really caring about him as I kinda did in the book. His character seemed somewhat dry and impersonal, which is by no means Harrison Ford’s fault, it’s just the way the character was supposed to be. One of the few times I felt he experienced some sort of emotion was after retiring Zhora. Zhora’s retirement scene was very emotionally charged, with the way she was running away and basically gunned down from behind, crashing into a glass display, even Deckard himself was shaken up. The scene really humanized her and you could sense her distress and feel her pain. I guess this is how book Deckard must have felt when Resch shot Luba Luft in cold blood. Luba was a singer, Zhora an exotic dancer and they just wanted to live their life but had to die just because of what they were.

Another scene where Deckard shows emotion is when he was coming on to Rachel in his apartment. As a person watching this scene in 2015, and with all the controversy surrounding date rape culture and the emphasis of giving explicit consent, this scene seemed to portray Deckard as a lonely horny detective taking advantage of the young, virginal Rachel. However, as I thought about it, these issues were not as public back when the movie was made as they are now. Still, it was a little awkward to see in the movie, since in the book it was basically Rachel that was coming on to him and we also had Rick’s internal dialog the whole time where he had conflicting emotions regarding “loving” an android.

Two of the characters that stood out to me regarding their motives and behavior were Leon Kowalski and Roy Batty. As I was rewatching clips of some of the scenes, I realized that they both made similar comments while beating Rick up. During their fight at 62:30 Leon says:

Painful living in fear, isn’t it?

Similarly, during the final confrontation Roy says at 105:16

Quite an experience, to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it feels like to be a slave.

Based on these two quotes we learn that replicants experience fear, a very human emotion. According to Roy, this fear stems from them being slaves, not having freedom to choose their own path, something most of us humans take for granted. In what is one of the best quotes of the movie, during his physical breakdown as his body starts to perish, Roy tells Deckard that he has seen things that humans could never imagine, and that all his memories will be lost like tears in rain. In the end, Roy’s goal, and presumably the rest of the replicants’, was to preserve his memories by extending his life, seeing as replicants cannot reproduce and pass on their memories or their genes to future generations.

Finally, one of the things that I missed from the book was that there was no Buster Friendly. I was a bit curious as how he would be fleshed out on screen. I was imagining that he would be a kind of loudmouth public figure seen on screens everywhere, somewhat like Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman in the recent Hunger Games movies. However, without the Mercerism subplot there was no need for Buster Friendly and his Friendly Friends, nor for Iran Deckard now that I come to think of it.

Overall I enjoyed Blade Runner, and I can see why it has become a Science Fiction classic film. I wouldn’t say it was better or worse than DADOES because, even though they share the same general premise and similar cast of characters, they are different enough that I can easily think of them as separate works, each with their own positive and negative sides.

3 thoughts on “Empathizing with Replicants

  1. I am glad i’m not the only one who disliked Deckard. I never noticed but every time he dealt with the Andy’s the next scene would have him drinking alcohol. Honestly, he came off as a real prick.

    • I wouldn’t say that I flat out disliked him, more like I wasn’t really given a reason to care for his character other than that he is the ‘hero’ of the story. I mean, he’s the protagonist, he had a job which was retiring replicants which he carried out, and that’s it… We don’t really get into his psyche as we do in the book. Speaking of which, I believe the original version had him narrating as a voice-over, maybe that would have made me feel more identified with him. Although I’ve read that Ford’s delivery of the narration was somewhat tedious and that’s why they took it out.

      I the end I found myself more interested in the replicants as characters, they each had their own little quirks and mannerisms, which led me to care about their actions and motivations, hence the title of my post.

  2. I agree with the assessment on Deckard in the film. In my post I said he’s just much more mysterious in Blade Runner than he is in the book. We have no context or background info on him, he doesn’t have a wife, a neighbor, or animal that he interacts with, he pretty much is just interacting with replicants in this film. Also, I like your point about replicants being more interesting, showing more “human” qualities esp. when Rachel starts playing the piano.

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