By: Tinku Saini / Engl. 342YA / Prof. Steven Saviro / Feb. 11, 1996

Eye disbelieve

``I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die...''

Roy Batty's final words, one of the most touching soliloquies in any film, express a central motif of director Ridley Scott's science fiction movie Blade Runner. The words, along with the images of eyes which litter the film's post-modern landscape, plays on the proverb ``seeing is believing.'' That axiom no longer rings true in the fantasy (or is it?) world of the movie -- a place where photographs and memories can be manipulated and the only people who have seen new things, experienced original, unfiltered visions of the world rather than recycled images, are themselves manufactured. Not even seeing is believing. Thus the weakening of belief systems is hastened, the decrepitude accelerated by technological advances that have blurred the lines between man and machine, the natural and the simulated, and ultimately, between reality and fiction.

In a book entitled Post-modernism and the Social Sciences, Pauline Marie Rosenau says ``skeptical post-modernists"

argue that the post-modern age is one of fragmentation, disintegration, malaise, meaninglessness, a vagueness or even absence of moral parameters, and societal chaos.... Ahead lies overpopulation, genocide, atomic destruction, the apocalypse, environmental devastation, the explosion of the sun and the end of the solar system in 4.5 billion years, the death of the universe through entropy. (15)

These skeptics maintain "that there is no truth" and that "all that is left is play, the play of words and meaning" (15). This is the world of Blade Runner and Roy Batty's character fits right in. He uses words as a poet would -- efficiently, without wasting a single one. His lines are infused with double entendres meant to elicit multiple interpretations. When Roy visits the man responsible for making his eyes, he says ``Chew, if only you could see what I've seen with your eyes!'' The ``your'' in this statement can be taken two ways: your as in the eyes Chew manufactures for the replicants and your as in his own eyes, human eyes. That Chew can not highlights the irony of replicants being able to see with genetically engineered eyes -- the primary means by which we experience the world -- sights which human beings have never set their gazes on. While the populace of 21st century Los Angeles is inundated with the synthetic -- fabricated animals (the real ones are presumably extinct), artificial light (natural sunlight never reaches street level, making for perpetual night), neon billboards and high-tech advertising -- Roy and his crew have seen many natural wonders, from corners of the universe where human beings have yet to tread . . . and trample.

Later in the same scene, Roy says of Tyrell, ``Not an easy man to . . . see .'' As the head of one of the biggest corporation around, Tyrell literally is a difficult man to reach. Roy and J.F. Sebastian have to use the pretense of the on-going chess game to gain access into the pyramid building where he resides. On a deeper level, however, Roy means what he later says outright, that ``It's not an easy thing to meet your maker.'' It is in this confrontation between creator and created that the audience is first made privy to anther irony of the film, that Roy is developing his own moral parameters even as the human beings around him are portrayed as degenerated and lacking values.

The first images we get of Los Angeles are indeed Dante-esque. Reflected in the first eye we see, the city is ablaze. Police sirens are a constant reminder of crime. When Deckard is running through the streets after Zhora, gun drawn, firing through the crowd, no one seems to notice or care to get out of the way. Once she is dead, people stand around as if in a state of morbid fascination, a glimpse into their own futures perhaps. Even the police, presumably the keepers of any semblance of order, hover above street level, refusing to touch down in the chaos below. The populace of this 21st century metropolis live their lives in a haze of alcohol and drugs, passing time with perverse entertainment - e.g. Zhora's taking the ``pleasure from the serpent,'' a site Deckard can't bear to watch. The whole concept of human morality is ridiculed when Deckard goes into Zhora's dressing room claiming to be from the Confidential Committee on Moral Abuses. She replies with a laugh, ``Are you for real?'' The audience knows all along that he is not and that, in the context of the film, it is a preposterous guise to assume.

Despite all of this, Roy begins to develop moral awareness. He says to Tyrell, ``I've done questionable things,'' later adding with a wry smile, ``Nothing the god of biomechanics wouldn't let you in heaven for.'' If we take the Christ symbolism -- Tyrell referring to Roy as the prodigal son; Roy putting a nail through his palm; and finally, the pigeon or dove flying away upon his death as a metaphor for his spirit ascending toward the heavens -- for what it's worth, then Roy indeed has redeemed himself for his earlier wrong doings. Roy's morality seems to be developing alongside his emotions, which the other characters, especially Deckard seem to be lacking, but which the replicants experience, at times violently. That he has to kill his maker, his god, before his own morality is allowed to take hold, parallels the post-modernists desire to rid the world of false, universal thruths, such as those provided by religion, and replace them with personal ones. In his final confrontation with the blade runner, when Deckard tries to shoot him as he mourns over Pris' death, Roy says, ``Not very sporting to fire on an unarmed opponent . . . I thought you were supposed to be good.'' And, he gives Deckard a head start before chasing him down even though he knows he has but a few fleeting moments to live. That he saves the life of the very man who has killed all of his fellow replicants, including his beloved Pris, poignantly demonstrates that he has developed empathy for others and is acting on it. Tragically, it is right before his death. The irony is that this replicant is one of the only characters in the movie who consciously acts on the basis of a moral code, one he has personally constructed. It is not something he has been ``programmed'' to do. In contrast, most of the humans seem to be just going through the motions of life, living within the guidelines set by a society more preoccupied by containing chaos -- and not doing a very good job at that -- than values or morality. In a post-modern world lacking universal paradigms, and in which there is no independently knowable reality, no Truth with a capital T, we must construct our own individually. However, that a manufactured being does so drives home the point that, in the end, all such constructs are mere fabrications.

Who we are and what we make of the world we see through our eyes largely depends on our personal histories, our memories. Both the input and the processing of that information play a role in our constructions of reality, our unique world views. In Blade Runner, however, this idea is turned on its head because Rachel's memories are implanted. Again, seeing, whether it be conjuring up mental images of childhood or looking at hard copies on photographic film, is not believing in the post-modern world since both can be manipulated, in this case by technology.

And if we can't trust our eyes, then on what foundation do we construct our realities, truths? Rachel's implants also raise another interesting situation. The memories really are someone's, Tyrell's niece's, and thus are a representation of reality as seen through the eyes of the child. Scott plays on this concept when he uses some subtle light play to bring the photo to life for an instant as Deckard is looking at it. Implanted into the replicant Rachel's mind, however, they become fictitious and thus all she makes of the world through the filter of those memories, is inauthentic. That she is seeing an already replicated world through the filter of not only her own, but someone else's memories as well, further emphasizes the post-modern theme of the impossibility of experiencing an objective reality and constructing belief systems based on that vision.

And lest you are naive or short-sighted enough to think that implanted memories are only for replicants, Scott problematizes the distinction between man and machine with the purposefully vague identity of Deckard. In a Feb. 1 on-line forum in the Mr. Showbiz Celebrity Lounge, Scott is quoted as saying, ``As it [Blade Runner] was really a film noir, which tends not to be ``And they lived happily ever after,'' I wanted to infer most definitely that Deckard was a replicant.'' To make his point, Scott goes on to explain the significance of Deckard's unicorn daydream and the origami unicorn Gaff leaves at Deckard's apartment. When he thinks back to what Gaff says -- ``It's too bad she won't live! But then again, who does?'' -- Deckard nods in agreement. It is unclear whether he applies those words to his own situation -- i.e. he realizes that he may also be a replicant with implanted memories -- or to the human condition in general. Either way, it does not allow the audience to set up an artificial us versus them mentality. Indeed, in a milder sense, we all have implanted memories. Media daily filters the input of the ``real world'' and decides for us what is worthy of reaching the masses. Technologies such as the Internet offer hope of unprocessed information, but that replaces systematic filtration with individual biases, leaving those who don't have the time to differentiate between fact and fiction, victim to other, equally sinister propagandizing of truth (e.g. World Wide Web pages devoted to Neo-Nazism).

Hastened by technological advances that have made it nigh impossible to distinguish between what is real and what is fabricated, the world of Blade Runner and most of its central characters find themselves in a state of accelerated decrepitude, to use Pris' description of J.F. Describing his condition, J.F. says, ``my glands, they grow old too fast.'' In other words, he is decaying from the inside out, as are the replicants and the city. The movie takes place in L.A. circa 2019. The world has taken a turn for the worse compared to even today's rotten state. That imminent death of the universe through entropy -- defined in Webster's dictionary as a tendency toward chaos -- is well on its way. The question that begs to be asked is if there is anything we can do to change our course. Scott's vision is a bleak one, but not altogether without hope. Roy, a replicant, has come to grips with his mortality and his humanity, albeit at the moment of his death. He realizes that all he has witnessed, all of his precious life memories, things which no one else has experienced, will perish with him and doesn't want that to happen to anyone else. Perhaps he also grasps that by saving Deckard, those moments he cherishes so much will live on in the memory of others. He has indeed become more human than human, more humane than the human. If only everyone else could do the same.


Rosenau, Pauline Marie. Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1992.

Visual images downloaded from various Internet pages devoted to Blade Runner.