The Blade Runner Franchise: What Does It Mean To End A Life?

The Blade Runner franchise is one of the most beloved cult classics in modern cinema. The people who love the first Blade Runner movie, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, praised it for its cinematic accomplishments and meaningful story. The fans then found themselves 35 years older when a sequel was finally released. This time directed by Denis Villeneuve and staring Ryan Gosling. Although neither really did that well in the box office, that hasn’t stopped people from talking about how phenomenal these movies are.

Mainly what makes the Blade Runner franchise stand out is the unique and inspiring take on a semi post-apocalyptic future. The world achieved all it wanted with space programs flourishing, life on other planets existing, and artificial intelligence achieved. But when you introduce a new form of life that can think for itself and yet you demand obedience, morals get a little messy. Where does the line of ‘life’ really begin and end? What does it mean to be human? If society is fine with killing any form of life, than what value does life have at all? And most importantly, what does it mean to be the Blade Runner told to carry out the command?


What Defines Life (Blade runner)


Blade Runner is a movie that perfected the popular film style of using androids to represent the meaning of life. What it does differently than most others in the genre is removing the difference between the natural-born people and android’s DNA. There are no metal skeletons or oil in the veins to point to and say “this is obviously a machine.” Instead the people of this universe can only tell the difference by the presence of a soul. Replicants are found out by taking a test to determine the emotional response of the subject. The audience is introduced to the cop meant to hunt down these emotionless killing robots and his first response is… one void of emotion.

Deckard isn’t fueled about the mission, sense of duty, or even hatred towards the other kind. He is retired and honestly doesn’t care. The movie starts off immediately by distinguishing that the thing society used to tell the difference between two kinds of life is nonexistent. And furthermore the punishment for not having a soul and being an emotionless killer, is to have an emotionless killer sent after you. Later in the movie we find that the soulless robots may be evil and lack empathy, but they aren’t without knowledge or desire, some would argue is a more accurate display of life. And while on death’s door, after all of his ‘family’ having been killed, the replicant Roy Batty gives a speech about how his life is precious and no one will know that. Try as you might to matter and be remembered, eventually everyone and everything is forgotten.

So if we die, does life have any meaning at all? Of course it does! Deckard may start the movie as a cold and emotionless law man but it takes an android to show him that life is worth living. Rachael is a replicant that isn’t aware of her true nature. That thought alone poses the idea that anyone in the movie, or even the people in real life, could be a artificial. Humans really are just products of the memories they have, the facts they are told, and the idea of oneself. Deckard falls in love with Rachael, a woman who didn’t even know if she was real but somehow hold more value to life than most of the other people in his world. The movie even ends with the idea that Deckard himself might not even be real but I say the point is that it doesn’t even matter.

Is the universal truth more important than the individual one. Roy Batty’s speech always leaves people feeling a sense of nihilism but I see it differently. He says he saw amazing and beautifully destructive things in space. Sure he dies knowing that no one will know what he did, but that doesn’t make life meaningless. Everyone throughout the movie represents a different path into finding meaning in their individual lives. Blade Runner is an iconic film because it makes the audience think about how one day they will die and anything they do might ultimately never matter, but in a way there is optimism in the movie’s lesson. Roy Batty died the same way Rachael and Deckard will one day, but they choose to spend that life happy with each other and cherish the time they will have instead of angry at when it will be over; even if they are forgotten. The point of life (by any definition) is to live it.


What Defines Emotions (Blade Runner 2049)


The events of the first movie are kind of meaningless when you think about it as its own entity, which was the point remember. The moments in that story really don’t mean that much in the grand scheme of things. However thirty years later a sequel to the movie comes out and proves otherwise. Deckard and Racheal have a child. This news would “break the world” and prove that any irrelevant moment has the ability to become significant. And that is all thanks to the power of love. Or at least some form of chemical reaction evoking emotion.

K is introduced as another cold-blooded killer cop that simply follow his programming and terminates other replicants that have made the mistake of trying to live their own lives. We see the examples of a new style of baseline test and how emotionless K is. However when he arrives home, there is Joi there to create the illusion of emotions. Once he stumbles upon a mystery of a pregnant replicant, we see the perfect programming start to crack. K has memories he knows are fake and discovers they are real. He knows he was made but begins to suspect he was born. What do you do when the walls of your reality start to crash, you lean on your loved ones. 

There are hints that Joi never actually loved K, and that she simply says and does everything that K wants. But is that not love? Are we all not products of our relationships? The longer you spend with someone the more we form into the person they want us to be, even if it is subconsciously. Joi loved K as much as any of us love anyone, all the way up to her dying moment. the first movie got us thinking about how life exists because of death. If her version of the Joi she learned to become while with K is unique and no longer exists, than she did die. Which in turn means she did love in some way. Which meant her life was devoted to her love for a replicant that was questionably alive himself. Joi dies at the hands of Luv. Which I think is an amazing metaphor in it of itself. Luv, the perfectly named kill-bot hits the negative side of emotions. In some ways she represents real hate. She is envious of the replicants that her master cares for. I would argue however that she really does represent ‘love’ and what any living person is capable of becoming in pursuit of it. She loves her master and enjoys the power around him. And just like Joi, she also dies for it.

Death makes life meaningful. Deckard is the only person “alive” in the entire movie and he spends his time in a nuclear waste land alone waiting to die. His love for Rachael, and then her lose warped him into becoming a husk of a man. Who is to really say he is more alive than K when they meet. The last time we see him, Deckard is happy and riding off into the sunset but we all know that life doesn’t stay happy. His purpose in the film is to show that the life of oneself can become more important when it is passed on. It is almost as if he finally understood the point Roy Batty made 30 years later. The movie ends with him meeting his daughter, and I loved that we don’t actually see the conversation but instead focus on something far less important in the grand scheme but more important for us the audience in that moment.

K goes from being an obedient robot killing machine with a happy life, to losing everything in the pursuit of a story that isn’t his. He dies on the steps completing his mission of making a stranger’s life infinitely more important. He might have started down the path for selfish reasons, thinking his was the main story but that is the point. None of our stories are the main ones in the universe but they are to us individually. His is the most meaningful because it was full of emotion and purpose. He was not born and he wasn’t given a purpose until he made one for himself.


The Final Cut


At the end of the day, regardless of the thought-provoking stories, what does it mean. The metaphor for prejudice has been done a million times. Whenever we see a movie where the human race is paired with a different form of life, whether it be robots, aliens, orcs, or even puppets, the message is always pretty simple. “Stop treating other people like shit.” But what I’ve always gotten from these movies isn’t a metaphor for the real world we are living in now but a much more philosophical version.

The Blade Runner franchise is based on a Philip K. Dick novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.’ The plot is roughly the same as the first movie. But what is brought up more in the book is how animals are treated. The book shows how Deckard needs to find the replicants by testing their empathy. All the while highlighting that humans don’t really have empathy for other creatures themselves. The way we treated animals, and ourselves, before the war that ended society show how we, in real life, lack empathy. When humans hold ourselves to a higher standard than other life forms, and yet we cannot conduct ourselves in a manner that reaches those standards, how can we really be sure we are human at all.

After you watch these movies you might spend a long time thinking about what it truly means to be alive. If you think that life is something valuable, then you want to live it. Be more empathetic to the life around you. That isn’t a statement meant for you to change your ways or be kinder to others, I just simply means think about what other people are going through and doing. Life is short. All the moments you experience will be lost. But that doesn’t mean it is meaningless. Find some optimism in your life and stop caring about the rest of it. As long as you love something, have a mission, and aren’t dead, than the rest will figure itself out. You only have control of your individual life, so live it.


Movies watched and existencial crisis gone through by: Troy Smith

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