Blade Runner, Am I Human?

What does it mean to be human? This is the central question of Ridley Scott's 1982 Masterpiece Blade Runner and it's surprisingly great 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049. Very rarely is a sequel as good as the original but 2049 manages to be just as good as the original. What makes both movies so good is not only the atmosphere and world that they build, but the deeper questions about our own lives that both films are not afraid to ask. The most central of these questions asked is what does it mean to be human, and this is the question I will be focusing my writing on, though I will touch upon the others.

What makes the two movies the most distinct from each other, besides the 40 year difference in release is how both films answer this central question. The original takes a more direct approach and seems to come to the conclusion that being able to think freely is what makes us human. It calls back to philosophical idea put forth by French philosopher René Descartes "Cogito, ergo sum" which roughly translates from Latin to "I think therefore I am" Descartes used these saying to say that if he doubted, if he thought,then somebody must by doing the thinking. therefore he himself must exist. Scott takes this thought to a deeper level by asserting that the freedom to think, and not simply act on commands is what makes us human. This is seen most prominently in Harrison Ford's character Rick Deckard and Rutger Hauer's character Roy Batty. Batty is a Replicant, a synthetic life form made in the image of man kind to work in off world mining planets. Deckard is a Blade Runner, a sort of cop tasked with hunting down Replicants that have gone rouge, his humanity is questioned in the film and we are never sure if he is human or replicant. Yet despite this uncertainty Deckard is shown to be very human, he has a drinking problem, is lustful, resentful, and is clearly able to think for himself. Then again so is Batty, he clearly makes his own decisions and is able to think for himself, what makes him not human. This is never truly answered in the film, but the idea of Free Will is front and center throughout the film.

The Sequel has a different take on the idea of what makes us human. The sequel focus on K played by Ryan Gosling, a blade runner, who unlike Deckard we are told explicitly is a Replicant from the start of the movie. K's entire story, and therefore the central plot of the movie has a central theme of memories. This was touched on the originals, but is expanded on to a much higher degree in 2049. K's memories lead him to believe he is actually a Replicant that was born rather than made. That he was the child of Deckard and the Replicant Rachel, the first Replicant to be implanted with memories so as to seem more human. These memories turn out to have been implanted in K, but the memories are still real, somebody really made those memories, but it wasn't K. Does this make the memories any less real to K? Does the validity of the memories even matter? They put K on a path all his own, unique from what he was simply programmed to do, programmed to be. The memories give K empathy, a trait exclusive to sentient beings.

So what is it that makes us human? Our memories? Our free will? Well ultimately the Blade Runner franchise would say that it doesn't matter. In the original, we never find out if Deckard is human or Replicant, and the sequel also never answers the question but makes more hints in both directions.

I watch Blade Runner at least once a year, and since 2049 came out I have started doing the same with the sequel as well. I like to watch them whenever I feel lost, alone, or maybe unsure of who I am. They are great films to open up the mind. Everybody has felt out of place, or like they don't belong. The Blade Runner series is a great series for that feeling.


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