Blade Runner: A Postmodern Perspective

Blade Runner, a film by Ridley Scott, based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is set in the distant future and follows Deckard, a hard-boiled cop on the streets of LA as he is forced out of retirement for one last job. We follow Deckard, as he hunts down fugitive AI machines known as replicants. The Tyrell Corporation makes the replicants, which are almost indistinguishable from humans; used as slave labour on off-world colonies. As the machines become more able to simulate human behavior they have both begin to question why they are here (exists) and why they should work without self fulfilling purpose. The Tyrell Corporation control the replicants through human confines, such as memory and its symbiotic identification of self, rather than overt restrictive programming. The Nexus-6 is given a four year life span as an extra safeguard, these restrictions and those placed on Deckard -coerced by his old captain to take on the job- suggests that people have become machines. This film has been described as postmodern and aesthetically film noir, playing heavily on 21st century Zeitgeist.

Postmodern future imaginings are experienced in two terms schizophrenia and pastiche. Blade Runner recognises this through the fusing of human and machine narratives in Tyrell’s Frankensteinian pursuit of a prelapsarian ideal. Fredric Jameson’s ‘Postmodernism or the cultural logic of late capitalism’ holds pastiche as an effacement of key boundaries and separations, a process of erosion of distinctions. Indeed the four year life span is symptomatic of the failure of humanity to trust its creation to be better than itself. The postmodern predicament in Blade Runner is highlighted by the replicants experience through their loss of self-determination and identification. The androids failure to construct an individual history, and place ‘I’ in a cogent recognisable present stems from the loss of memory coupled with the loss of history.

Giuliana Bruno’s postmodern reading of Blade Runner contends that Rachael’s move from simulation to replicant and successful journey to humanism is through the Oedipal void. The replicants Oedipal search for their parental figures as well as Rachael’s sophistication over the other replicants, is granted through her memories and imagined relationship with a Freudian mother. In no uncertain terms Roy Batty acts within the confines of his context, he rejects his father Tyrell and tellingly he subsequently murders Tyrell by blinding him. In doing so Roy forsakes the father and confirms that he has no tie to his history. Along with his short life span Roy’s agency is curtailed by the schema of his context, he works as a mirror, to be put up to Deckard’s rugged individualistic persona which is subject to the similar castration of agency.

Science fiction uses dystopian images and city politics as a backdrop for present social phenomenas brought to there ultimate fruition. Through an ultimate gaze the science fiction geography opens the possibility to see the whole of a social geography which is otherwise exclusive whether a village or a cityscape. Blade Runner follows a long history of science fictions around the machinations of the city. Set as a future L.A. the film takes on the postmodern redefinition of the city. The city in this film functions as a extended metaphor about the relationship between the human and machine in 21st century modernity. It provides a symbiotic relationship between place and space and asks crucial questions of the way we govern and organise our world.

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