Memories and Androids – What Is It To Be Human Essay
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner deals with the effects of memories on a person or even an android. The memories an android collects can give it a past, a personality. What were once mindless automatons have become personable creatures that feel and sense in the same manner that real humans do. Harrison Ford’s character Rick Deckard is a retired Blade Runner, a hunter who tracks and kills renegade androids.
With six deadly Nexus 6 androids loose on Earth, Deckard is called upon to eliminate them. In the dystopian future of Blade Runner, android technology has advanced to the point where there is no physical distinction between androids and real humans. Since observing physical appearance is eliminated, the Blade Runners must use another method, the Voight-Kampff Empathy Test. The test is designed to elicit an emotional response that can only be formed from a genuine past of the person being tested. In a future where animals and livestock are scarce, statements involving morality are used. Some examples are, “It’s your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet.” “You’re watching television. Suddenly you realize there’s a wasp crawling on your arm.” “The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun beating its legs trying to turn itself over but it can’t, not without your help” Other statements deal purely with life experience, something that Replicants do not have. “You’re reading a magazine. You come across a full-page nude photo of a girl. You show it to your husband. He likes it so much he hangs it on your bedroom wall.”
The Replicants have difficulty answering these questions because they simply are not capable of knowing how to react to such statements. Even though killing is wrong, one would still bat away or even squash the wasp on one’s arm. As technologically advanced as they are, without the years of previous experience that a real human has, they cannot pass the Voight-Kampff test. However, one new Replicant has an advantage over the older rogue Replicants. The Replicant Rachael has been given the memories of a niece of Eldon Tyrell. Tyrell is resident evil genius at Tyrell Corporation, the world’s dominant android production company. She has a definitive edge over the others. It takes Deckard nearly one hundred questions before he can determine her true nature. The older models would only take twenty to thirty questions.
The central question the film poses is, “What is it to be human?” Are the only real humans those born naturally from a mother father? Can something artificially produced have the same qualities and abilities as a regular human? Tyrell states that even the older models can exhibit some learned abilities from their four years of existence. Even though they have superhuman strength and abilities, the Replicants have a short, preset lifespan. “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long,” Tyrell says. Giving them memories from the moment they are created gives them a head start.
The once definitive line between human and nonhuman begins to blur in Deckard’s eyes. After Rachael comes to him for help, he at first dismisses her but eventually begins to sympathize with her. Rachael starts to become more and more human and Deckard becomes more and more empathetic towards the Replicants. Rachael both looks and acts more human. She is less curt and cries when she is rejected by Deckard. While in Deckard’s apartment, she lets her hair down and after crying has dark circles around her eyes. She looses the appearance of perfectly applied makeup. Deckard originally retired because he was burnt out, tired of the killing. His return to the job has only made him dislike killing even more and grow more empathetic toward the Replicants. He says he feels bad about shooting a female Replicant in the back while she was running away. He doesn’t want to do it, but it’s his job so he must continue until all of the loose Replicants are killed.
The Replicants further show their inexperience and lack of memories. Rutger Hauer plays Roy, Deckard’s Replicant nemesis. Roy is a battle hardened combat model Nexus 6 android. He has most certainly seen fellow combatants die. As members of his renegade group are killed, he becomes increasing agitated and distraught over their deaths. Roy was once the calm, cool leader of the group, but by the end of the film becomes a ball of emotional rage. Also, Roy and another excaped Replicant, Pris, fall in love. Even though they look older, their romance plays out as a pair of inexperienced teenagers on a first date. They kiss awkwardly and are quite coy with each other in front of J.F. Sebastian, a genetic designer they had taken up refuge with. When Roy tries to tell Pris that two their companions have been killed, he has difficulty expressing the grief that he obviously feels. His body language is contorted and confused. The way he acts makes him seem very artificial although what he feels is genuine.
Roy’s emotions finally come to a head in his final confrontation with Deckard. They play a delicate game of cat and mouse through a series of abandoned buildings and end up on a rain soaked roof. His only thoughts have been to keep the group safe and to kill that which is threatening the group, Deckard. When Roy has a proverbial opportunity of a lifetime, Deckard’s life in Roy’s hands, he has a change of heart. Roy chooses to spare Deckard’s life. He can empathize with the man that was hunting him. He can now see both himself and Deckard not as individuals, but as pawns in a greater game. Roy, a pawn of the Tyrell Corporation, and Deckard, a man doing his job for the police force. He has emotionally matured from demanding, “I want more life, fucker,” from Tyrell, to a selfless contemplative being.
Roy, and the rest of the Nexus 6 androids, didn’t need to rise the level that was considered human. They were already there. After his years of killing, Roy realizes that he is no better than the humans that both control him and he despises. He realizes that he must loose his hate and forgive that which cannot be corrected. In a sense, he becomes more human than human, he becomes enlightened as to what he and humanity really are. His memories and experiences have taught him that he is what he is and shouldn’t be limited by the fact that he is artificial.