“I want more life, Fucker”
While Blade Runner presents many, many issues, the title sequence and its accompanying text frames what I believe to be the central problem. I’ve provided the text for readers who aren’t overly fanatical about the film (unlike me):
Early in the 21st Century, THE TYRELL CORPORATION advanced robot evolution into the NEXUS phase – a being virtually identical to a human – known as a Replicant.
The NEXUS 6 Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them.
Replicants were used Off-World as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets.
After a bloody mutiny by a NEXUS 6 combat team in an Off-World colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth – under penalty of death.
Special police squads – BLADE RUNNER UNITS – had orders to shoot to kill, upon detection, any trespassing Replicant This was not called execution.
It was called retirement.
When I first saw the film I took these lines lightly; now I see how loaded they are. First, the immediacy of it all: “early in the 21st century…” Okay, so what? We’re living in the early 21st century right now–big.deal. But look what follows: “TYRELL CORPORATION.” All-caps for a reason because this early 21st century CORPORATION creates a being (NEXUS: core, center, link, connected to a series) “virtually identical to a human”–A Replicant (capitalized).
On a simple level, sure, this line grabs the audience; it’s a hook. However, so much in the way the text is displayed seems intentional. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Scott wishes to convey the message that viewers should consider that humans in the very near future will be artificially creating life, except it won’t be the work of scientists, but COMPANIES. What’s more these artificial creations won’t be ‘living’ per se, they’ll be PRODUCTS.
Products, of course, are how humans can offer wide-spread perceptual experiences to the masses (i.e. people buy things for more than just the sensory experience). There’s a level of cognition involved when humans create and consume products. Why prefer a McDonald’s hamburger vs. a Wendy’s hamburger? They taste the same, give the same (bland) sensory feedback (taste, satiation, smell), don’t they? Well, humans are far from rational; they have naturally selected behaviors and numerous psychological processes that impede simple judgement. It also doesn’t help that modern cultures have selected behaviors that reinforce the consumption of branded products. Digression–getting back to Blade Runner...
Clearly there’s more at work than just runaway robots in Blade Runner. The “Replicants” are on one hand property of a CORPORATION and viewed societally as PRODUCTS (e.g. Priss is a “pleasure model”). The first aspect (Replicants as property) is a unique notion considering when the film was made. It’s given that these Replicants are part of a line (NEXUS) designed (presumably) from the ground up by genetic engineers to be “more human than human,” and for “robota,” forced labor, servitude. Of course, we don’t have anything like that now…do we?
See: Synthetic Biology:
-“Synthetic biology is about systems-engineering, i.e. computer-aided design using . . . interoperable, standardized parts.”
-“The idea is to synthesize DNA in an organized way, so we don’t have to rely on nature to make useful things,”
-“The future of life depends not only in our ability to understand and use DNA, but also in creating new synthetic life forms…that is, life which is forged not by Darwinian evolution, but created by human intelligence,” -Craig Venter
This emerging science has some awesome possibilities, but what happens when DNA “programs” become PROPERTY? What if these novel, synthetic, “standardized parts” comprise many PRODUCTS? It’s amazing that Blade Runner anticipates these problems. TYRELL has a division of resources for synthesizing the NEXUS line (one designs the eyes, another, the brain). TYRELL even has the police working for them to “retire” TYRELL property: the NEXUS products. While these situations are probably the extreme results of CORPORATE-led research in synthetic biology, there is sound advice viewers should consider as both (potential) producers and consumers of many inevitable GMO PRODUCTS in the future. I think Scott, speaking through Deckard, expresses the grim viewpoint future consumers could have towards (arguably) new life-forms (Replicants):
“Replicants are like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.”