Blade Runner depicts a dystopian future where the system is fundamentally flawed. This movie has a more pessimistic view of society, where technology creates more problems than it solves. These problems concern identity, morality, and reality. Los Angeles, in the year 2019, is a post-human world where robots are the backbone of the hard labor and empire expanding sectors and society depends upon the slavery of a robotic race, called “Replicants.” These robots are forced to work off-world, where their lifespan is spent completing the dangerous mission of interstellar colonization. In the spirit of a true pessimistic, dystopian film, an upgrade for the Replicant line, the Nexus 6, does not yield a conventional improvement to the invention. The Nexus 6 organized a violent rebellion in one of the off-world colonies, thus Replicants became illegal on Earth.
This idea mimics the Triangular Trade African slave system where Europeans and Americans profited from both free labor, which fueled the colonizers’ economy, and the sale of people, which the profiteers labeled subhuman. Here, instead, the technology makes artificial super-humans, which are identical to their model. Replicants are created using the same genes as their makers, which makes them a kind of cyborg. At what point in the advancement of biological technology does society deem this life as inferior, doomed to the lowest class. How does society evolve the definition of “human?” African slave trade and slavery were eventually abolished once traders and masters, and even leaders and citizens, could not further justify the immorality of their lifestyle.
Then, it follows, how long will Replicant slavery be legal? How is the law, the selective murder of Replicants, moral? Is it even murder? If it isn’t murder, why is the rhetoric for this process affectionately termed “retirement?” The viewer follows Deckard’s story, learning and identifying with his archetype as a hard boiled detective in a decaying, overcrowded metropolis. After discovering Deckard’s unicorn is an implanted memory, the viewer learns Deckard is not actually a human being. The viewer is forced to contemplate their definition of a human being, which is no longer concrete. This makes the viewer feel conflicted about whether Replicant death is justifiable when the difference between humans and Replicants is almost imperceptible. Even Roy, the villain, shows humanlike compassion toward Deckard when he spares his life and gives a thoughtful and profound soliloquy before his death Roy and Deckard prove that Replicants are able to develop complex emotions through layered experiences, a process humans covet as part of their exclusive nature.
After discovering Deckard is a Replicant, the viewer is forced to review his whole character. His role as the anti-hero of society is now discarded. Deckard was, as a robot, following his maker’s orders, like any other Replicant servant. The viewer finds themselves evaluating their admiration for a character, apparently saving society, who is not even human. Now, Deckard is on the same level as Roy. What makes Roy’s action any less justifiable than Deckard’s? In fact, Roy was acting on behalf of Replicant salvation, while Deckard was working against his own people. Deckard’s reality, for most of the movie, appeared trustworthy and sound, but by the end of the movie, the viewer’s, and Deckard’s, reality is inverted.
If humans and Replicants look the same and act the same, with the ability to have memories and develop emotions, is the difference in expectations for either race justifiable? In Deckard’s society, where Replicants have such a large role, will this become the new racial discrimination? These are questions about identity, morality, and reality that are raised by Ridley Scott in Blade Runner: Director’s Cut.