Theme: The Soul of Story
Throughout the film is a rich tapestry of images that also illustrate and deepen its themes. One of the best examples is the recurring theme of the eye, referring both to its function as organ of vision, and as a symbolic indicator of humanity and life. The films opening shot is of an eye, and as we watch it, it also watches us, and suggests a connection between viewer and viewed. The Voight-Kampff machine is a device used by Blade Runners to discern replicants from humans. In conjunction with a series of questions designed to test empathic response (which replicants lack), the device monitors pupil fluctuations, as if to reiterate the archetypal idea of the eye as the mirror of the soul. Huge TV screens cover the sides of buildings, or hover on the underbellies of slow dirigibles, so that gargantuan advertising saturates the city, beckoning us to watch. Replicants Roy and Leon seek answers at a lab called "Eye World," run by a small Chinese man named Chew, who specializes in the manufacture of eyes for replicants. When Roy confronts his creator, Tyrell, in helpless rage he gouges out Tyrells eyes with his thumbs both an Oedipal image, and the metaphorical destruction of Tyrells soul.
Replicants do not merely lack emotion; more importantly, what the Voight-Kampff test purports to detect is lack of empathy. Thus, the idea here is that a human being is a person who can imagine himself in anothers shoes. Empathy is learned through life experience, which naturally equals memory in replicants a built-in lack. It is precisely this lack of empathy that allows replicants to kill without qualm. Their state of mind is thus a fusion of two distinct world views: 1) That of a child, because of lack of experience. 2) That of a psychopath, because of lack of empathy. It is interesting to note, that lack of empathy is also often seen in schizophrenics and the autistic, two classes of people with which fascinated author Philip K. Dick, who wrote the book upon which "Blade Runner" was based, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep".
In his thought-provoking novel "Martian Time-Slip," Dick wrote:
This sounds remarkably like the replicants need to collect photographs in effort to create memory where none existed. Replicants cannot be members of "a given culture with given values," because they are never given time to learn those values. Because they lack the "authority figures" (specifically parents) to teach or "implant" in them the necessary societal drives that Dick mentions, they have neither culture nor values beyond the ones they create themselves.
Morality is also a learned trait, taught by these same authority figures. Yet "Blade Runner" suggests that a society which plays God by creating beings in mans image is also amoral, especially if it does not allow such beings the same rights and experiences as humans are allowed. In this light, the replicants actions seem no worse than those of the humans, and are even to a degree more justified.
When Roy Batty confronts his maker Tyrell, he has questions about his own morality, and brings up the subject as if to ask Tyrell for fatherly advice.
BATTY I've done some questionable things. TYRELL Also extraordinary things. BATTY Nothing the God of biomechanics wouldn't let you in heaven for.
As you can see by the dialogue at left, Tyrell is unconcerned as to Roys actions, and thus in one sentence proves himself a poor arbiter of morality. Roy immediately realizes this, and his response is sarcastically right to the point. Roy, under the guise of kissing Tyrell (a kiss of death, the inverse of the "kiss of life" given to him by Tyrell), kills his maker. In doing so, this action mirrors mans own symbolic murder of God (the oft-quoted Nietzschian "God is dead."); the death of father-God represents the act of mankind taking responsibility for their own morality and actions in other words, man now internalizes morality instead of placing it outside of themselves, and takes upon himself the mantle of "free will." This also mirrors the idea of a child who needs to symbolically kill their parent in order to take responsibility for their own life. What a loaded set of symbols!
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