Pablo Galindo Aragon
Professor Jason Ellis
20th May 2020
Blade Runner The Grok of Cyberpunk Science Fiction
Science fiction or SF is recognized as one of the most popular genres in entertainment whether it be in the form of audio, film, gaming or literature. Science Fiction has the power to take our imagination beyond reality, it is then when we can explore new worlds and experience them through different mediums. While studying the history of Science Fiction in our class this semester we studied different works from the many different waves this genre has experienced. Such waves included the Golden Age of SF, New Wave SF, Feminist SF, just to new a few. Cyberpunk is the sub-genre of Science Fiction that branches of into its own while maintain the traits of Science Fiction. The film Blade Runner (1982) demonstrates not only what SF is but also is the pure grok of Cyberpunk. In the following text I will use scholarly articles and text to argue and explain how and why Blade Runner is indeed a work of Science Fiction.
Isaac Asimov an American writer and professor who was known for his works of science fiction and popular science once said “True s-f is not to be confused with weird stories or horror stories or tales of supernatural or, in fact, with fantasies of any sort. The best definition of s-f that I know of is indeed, almost sociological in its gravity. It goes as follows: Science-fiction is that branch of literature which is concerned with the impact of science advance upon human beings” (Asimov 148). It is important to note that although there is about a 30-year gap between the Asimov’s quote and the film Blade Runner (1982) they go together in defining what SF can look like. In the film we are introduce to a group of individuals known replicants. Replicants are modified bio-engineered beings with a 4-year life span who are implanted with human memories. In the film we are introduced to 4 of these beings Roy, Pris, Zhora and Leon. They return to earth with the goal of expanding their lives. Replicants are significant in this film because they are an example of science advance upon human beings. These replicants are identical to human beings and the only way to tell them apart is by making them take exams that will trigger specific emotional responses. This is fiction because in the real world no such technological advancement exists. Other technological advances found in the film are flying vehicles and off-world travel. The world built around Blade Runner is due to scientific advancement upon human beings, in fact without it this world we are presented to would not exist. Furthermore, replicants are not to be confused with supernatural or fantasies of any sort. Rather they are simply manufactured and created by scientific advancement. This is what separates true SF from genres and even more specifically Cyberpunk from that of a fantasy.
In Blade Runner 1982 our protagonist Rick Deckard is introduced as an ex-replicant hunter. From the onset of the film the viewer is exposed to the perspective that Rick is not proud of what his work as an ex-replicant hunter. He tries to neglect the officers who try to arrest him. He is also uninterested and unamused by his ex-supervisor’s command to return to his old job. He is threatened and ultimately forced to take on the job leaving the audience wondering “Why is he trying to avoid his ex-profession”, was it something he saw, something he experienced that led to him no longer engage in his work, perhaps trauma or self-doubt? As the movie progress Rick’s duels with the replicants become more and more intense and so do his emotions. He even begins to grow a connection and then love for one of the replicants known as Rachel. Brian Wilson Aldiss an English writer and anthology-editor, best known for science fiction novels and short stories once stated “Science fiction is the search for a definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode” (Aldiss 8). I mention this quote because it supports the character of Rick Deckard the Blade Runner. Throughout the film we begin to realize that Rick does no view replicants as scrap and metal as some others in the film. He feels something when he hunts them down, when he tests Rachel somethings bothers him. He knows there is more to them then just an empty shell. When he encounters Zhora one of the replicants and shots her in the back his voice narration explains “The report would be routine retirement of a replicant. Which did not make me feel any better about shooting a woman in the back. There it was again feeling…in myself for her for Rachel.” Throughout the film Rick is searching for a definition of the man he is and his status in the universe… The film further builds of Aldiss definition in the ending when his life is spared by Roy the last remaining replicant. It is in Roy’s last moments that he finds a meaning to his exists. He no longer feels the need to kill Rick but instead he saves him and takes the opportunity to prove that he is more than just a bio-engineered being. He has a purpose just like anyone with the gift of life. Rick is left in an advanced but confused state of knowledge exactly as Aldiss describes in his quote.
Patrick Parrinder an academic, formerly Professor of English at the University of Reading explains in his book Science Fiction (1979) “Science Fiction, in many obvious and not-so-obvious ways, reflects the nature of modern society. A serious and wide-ranging critical treatment of this literary form would be virtually impossible without some consideration of its sociology. The sociologist may approach an SF story in one of three ways: as a product, bearing the imprint of social forces at every level from fundamental narrative structures to the precise forms in which it is manufactured, distributed and sold; as a communication or message, with a particular function for a particular audience; and, finally, as document articulating and passing judgement upon the social situation from which it emerges.” (Parrinder 29). Blade Runner (1982) was theatrically released in the 80s. The film echoes society at the time and its technological advances. During this time computers went from giant machines to machines that could fit on a personal desk, answering machines were introduced, and perhaps most relevant to the Cyberpunk genre Graphical user interface. Throughout the film we find Rick communicating with technology. For example, when he is examining photos Rick communicates with his computer to analyze photos a sort of grid like system. He mentions movements such as “left, center and enlarge”. As he states the commandments his computer follows and executes the movements. Aside from technological advances the society in which this story takes places is clearly inspired by the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s. At this time violating taboos, the punk/rock movement, feminism, job manufactures went overseas and cold war tensions had a huge impact in 80s culture. The world of Blade Runner clearly reflects the culture of the 80s and its society while presenting it in a science fiction Cyberpunk setting.
From the very start of the Blade Runner (1982) film we are introduced to a massively over industrialized futuristic city of Los Angeles. The air is polluted, flames shoot towards the sky, buildings and skyscrapers dominate the visuals. Flying vehicles and digital tabloids present us to a near future. It immediately becomes clear to the audience that this is indeed a work of Science Fiction. However, as the story progress we are exposed to the character of Rick Deckard and we being to explore other themes that may not feel as traditional to SF. It is in my research of defining SF that it became clear that ironically these various themes are what make this film SF. “Science fiction is hard to define to any reader’s or critic’s satisfaction. This is largely due to the often-puzzling variety of themes, approaches and techniques exhibited by the genre, as well as to the difficulty of situating historically the origins of science fiction. In some of its most popular interpretations, science fiction is considered a fundamentally twentieth-century phenomenon, rooted in a predominantly western experience of technological growth.” (Cavallaro 1). This quote comes from Dani Cavallaro a freelance writer specializing in literary studies, critical and cultural theory, and the visual arts. One of her publications include Cyberpunk and Cyberculture which is where we find this quote. We are introduced to Rick as an ex-replicant hunter, but he is also a cop or maybe a detective? He is not seeking redemption, but he finds love and overall, this feels like a romance filled with mystery and adventure. You see it is here where the quote supports the film as a work of SF. “Often-puzzling variety of themes, approaches and techniques exhibited… rooted in predominantly western experience of technological growth” The many themes found within the film are able to be carried because of what science fiction is, a genre that hold many approaches and techniques in its story telling.
John Clute, author of the Hugo Award-winning Encyclopedia of Fantasy, said: “Science Fiction has never really aimed to tell us when we might reach other planets, or develop new technologies, or meet aliens. Science Fiction speculates about why we might want to do these things, and how their consequences might affect our lives and our planet.” (Clute 8) Blade Runner introduces us to a dystopian Los Angeles in the year 2019. The goal of this film, however, is not urge us to rush and work hard to achieve technology that will help us emulate this city. On the contrary, this is a dark NEAR future that one would not want to be a part of. The film does not use the 2019 title to excite us but rather to convey the idea that this is indeed a near future and not one that is hundreds of years away from us. In the world of Blade Runner mankind has achieved the goal of life outside of earth. We are constantly reminded about this through the blimp that hovers over the dystopian sky and advertises “OFF WORLD”. We never get to see this Off-World experience, but it is appearing that a Utopian life awaits those who seek it. Clute’s quote may be directly linked to this 2019 Los Angeles setting which interprets the consequence of humanity abandoning earth.
Fiona Kelleghan is an American academic and critic specializing in science fiction and fantasy. In her work “Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature” she notes “Science-fiction authors return again and again to the classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature theme of evolution because of their great joy in playing with ideas, the sheer pleasure of turning the questioning spirit loose to ask What if? And What might we become? in allowing an uncontrolled imagination to forge into uncharted territory, both outer space and inner space. The spray of phenomena we encounter in science fiction sets the brain aflame with revelation, offers nearly inexpressible insights into immense possibilities, evokes the beauty and anguish and exquisite pangs of one state of being glimpsing another. Mind and emotion reel in wonder at the center, yet there is no place or time that science fiction dares not rove.” (Kelleghan xxi) There are serious topics that this film tries to warn us about. Perhaps one of the biggest questions we may begin to ask ourselves after watching Blade Runner is how advancing artificial intelligence can impact us. In the film we see bio-engineered beings lose it when they begin to question who they are, what is their purpose and why were they created. It is here when we begin to realize that this is not just a random Science Fiction adventure. Rather it explores a near future where A.I is advance not only to the point of human complexion but human emotions as well. We find ourselves in a setting where machine question life and purpose more than humans. This irony warns us about the consequence of creating artificial beings. It reminds of the roots of early science fiction work such as Frankenstein where a scientist creates a being through biological structure with the use of alchemy. The roots of Science Fiction are the foundation of this work and its narrative. Blade Runner does not try to push us to achieve these technologies instead it puts us in a scenario of “what if”. What if we one day find ourselves achieving this level of AI? How will we handle advanced AI and with the constant technological advancements is our humanity at the risk of being lost as we get closer to these possibilities? These questions can only be found in that of Science Fiction, proving once again that Blade Runner is indeed a work of the genre.
Blade Runner (1982) is not only one of the most popular films in the sub-genre of Cyberpunk but in the genre of Science Fiction itself. This is because Blade Runner is arguably the grok of what makes a work SF. Throughout the text I present various definitions and works of scholars and experts in the field of Science fiction. Within each text a natural connection to the world of Blade Runner can be made. Isaac Asimov definition of Science Fiction is concerned with the idea of technological advancement which is also the foundation of the film. Brian Wilson Aldiss quote revolves around Rick Deckard the Blade Runner. “Science fiction is the search for a definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science)” (Aldiss 8). Patrick Parrinder reminds us that the world of Blade Runner is not build from scratch. In fact, it uses SF elements of reflecting modern society in which case it echo’s American society in the 1980s. This world is built around the rebellious youth, politics, and cold war tensions. Dani Cavallaro reminds us that science fiction has a strong capacity when it comes to the many themes and how these themes are approached and exhibited
within the genre. It is important to remember that like Blade Runner its roots are predominantly based on the western experience of technological growth. John Clute argues that Science Fiction speculates why we might want to do things, and how their consequences might affect our lives and our planet. Blade Runner explores why we might want to develop AI but also demonstrates the consequences of a planet abandoned by its race. Fiona Kelleghan through her text demonstrates that SF stories will always rely on the early works that came before them. This is because classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature theme of evolution great joy in playing with ideas “What if” and “What might become”. A quotes that reflects the narrative of Blade Runner’s near future and predictions on technology based on that which already exists. It is with the support of these scholarly text that I am able to conclude that the film Blade Runner (1982) is indeed a work of Science Fiction.
Cavallaro, Dani. Cyberpunk & Cyberculture : Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson. The Athlone Press, 2000. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=226692&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Rieder, John. Science Fiction and the Mass Cultural Genre System. Wesleyan University Press, 2017. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1402665&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Buker, Derek M. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Readers’ Advisory : The Librarian’s Guide to Cyborgs, Aliens, and Sorcerers. ALA Editions of the American Library Association, 2002. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=173277&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Kelleghan, Fiona. Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. Salem Press, 2002. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=72891&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Asimov, Issac. “Other Worlds to Conquer.” The Writer 64.5 (May 1951):148-151. Print.
Aldiss, Brian. Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973. Print.