Aesthetics & Identity in Blade Runner

PrefaceThe Gothic : IntroductionGothic Aesthetic TechniquesTransgression and AbjectionTerror, Horror and the SublimeThe Gothic and the Postmodern • Blade Runner : IntroductionPower in Blade Runner • Reality in Blade Runner • Death in Blade RunnerIdentity in Blade RunnerRestorationConclusionWorks Cited

Reality in Blade Runner

Among the more radical propositions of postmodern theory is that reality is an illusion, an idea of the world, constructed by us. A stable, verifiable reality supports fundamental structures upon which we rely to make sense of the world and ourselves, such as identity and objective knowledge, distinctions and categories. Take away a stable reality, allow for multiple realities and perspectives, and that foundation is subverted and with that also the possibility of objective knowledge. Anything is possible. Nothing is knowable for certain. Everything is potentially the unknown, an “Other”, sources of terror.

According to Baudrillard‘s diagnosis of Western society, the fear of the lack of reality of reality has led us into a frantic reproduction of the illusion of the real in the form of the hyperreal. However, in Blade Runner, we are not only exposed to multiple instances of the hyperreal, but the hyperreal itself is exposed. Simulation seeps through the cracks everywhere. Everyone is involved in its production or suffering from its effects. Artificiality and reality are equally and readily assumed about everything.

The extreme hyperreal is represented by the replicants. Replicants, androids with human likeness, perform slave labour, as workers, soldiers and pleasure models, in the colonies. They have no rights. They are the new “Other”.

The replicants are simulacra of humankind and, like Baudrillard‘s simulacra, they are evolving, threatening to surpass their model. They are transgressing the boundaries between human and inhuman, natural and unnatural, man and machine. The replicants truly seem “more human than human”, as the Tyrell motto goes, more real than real. They are becoming indistinguishable from human kind or, rather, the idea of the human. They are passionate, resolute, driven by an appetite for life that none of those who are ostensibly human exhibit. Rachael feels deeply and poignantly. Roy possesses wonder and reveals an appreciation for the sublime and a fierce individualism which will tolerate no master. Pris has a distinct artistic streak. These are not unfeeling beings which can be “retired”, as the euphemism goes, with impunity. They are reminiscent of Donna Haraway‘s vision of the cyborg ideal; fluid, bright and mobile, more lively and lifelike than the humans (607). While we may accept that the replicants are a threat, and warrant removal, we cannot sustain the view for long that they are inhuman, mere “skin-jobs”. Yet it is precisely in this that they pose their greatest threat; like Frankenstein‘s monster, they threaten the very distinction of the human and the privileges implied therein. They are beautiful, and they are terrible.

The only way to differentiate a replicant from a human is by means of the Voight-Kampff test which registers physical signs of emotional responses. The irony of this test is that it further blurs the distinction between man and machine. By reducing emotional responses to mechanics, it defines man as a machine. The machine itself appears to breathe and is almost ridiculously low-tech. How can this crude contraption be expected to define the human? It is disturbing and offensive.

Repeatedly we hear and see fragments of Leon‘s VK test, as Deckard studies the video and audio record, yet each time a subtle change has occurred. A word here, a question there, a gesture; in each instance something has been altered. Simultaneously, the repetition derealises the event and we feel increasingly separated from it. Are we witness to the fragmentation and deterioration of reality and facts in general or the deterioration of reality filtered through Deckard‘s experience? Can we rely on “facts”? Can we rely on technology to preserve those “facts”?

Baudrillard recognises that technical simulation is active in our separation from the real in that it seeks to reproduce it as “true” as possible. It is instrumental to the hyperreal. Photographs are one such source. Lyotard observes that photography preserves ‘various consciousnesses from doubt’ and stabilises the referent more successfully and effectively than any other art (‘Answering’ 40). Rachael keeps photographs. The photographs are her proof of a past and an identity that is exposed as false, constructed. The photographs are unreliable; they are proof, not of reality, but of a constructed reality. In Blade Runner, technology as a medium by which to confirm the real is undermined and, thus, is not instrumental to the hyperreal, but its exposure.

With boundaries and definitions leaking into one another and no certain means by which to confirm the real, objective knowledge and reality are challenged. The lack of reality of reality is exposed. We are in free fall.

© 2010, 2011, 2012, 2019 Kirstin Sørensen

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