What does it mean to be human?

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

The 1982 film Blade Runner is a science fiction classic for a reason. It is a stylishly made noir film that is not afraid to get philosophical. Harrison Ford portrays the titular blade runner Richard Deckard with a steely determination that befits his job (hunting down genetically engineered “replicants”), but the audience soon finds that they may sympathize more with the hunted than the hunter.

Concerning the above quote from Shakespeare: replicants, in this bleak vision of 2019, have been designed to mimic humanity to a tee. They bleed, with no discernible robotic insides a la Terminator. Roy obviously feels pain when he drives a nail through his hand in the climactic end sequence. They clearly take amusement from their dealings with inferior humans like JF Sebastian and the eye-maker. And they certainly feel a yearning for revenge against the creator who made them run on borrowed time, Dr. Tyrell. So what is it that makes Deckard and his ilk feel justified in hunting replicants down like rabid animals or malfunctioning computers? Aside from JF Sebastian, many of the humans in Blade Runner show less emotion than replicants, Deckard especially (who may or may not be a replicant himself).

In fact, it is precisely this dynamic which one could call the central conflict of the film. Deckard, ostensibly the protaganist, through his years of almost robotic precision in hunting down replicants seems to have lost his ability to empathize, a quintessentially human function. When he performs the question test on potential replicants, he does not analyze their answers as a means of discerning character, only as a stepping stone to their possible annihilation. He doesn’t care when he guns down a replicant who had been making her living as a stripper, yet players of Grand Theft Auto are criticized for fake-murdering fake prostitutes.

Roy Batty, though, ostensibly the antagonist, is redeemed in the climax by his ability to empathize with Deckard and save his life, choosing rather to spend his last moments talking to another than alone on a rooftop after gaining his revenge. Would Deckard have done the same had the tables been turned? I’m not so sure.

The ultimate relevance of Blade Runner lies in its challenge of what it must mean to be human. It raises the eternal gnawing doubt as to our own humanity or lack of it. These are the same issues raised by the great religions and philosophies of the past.

– Reeser F.

~ by fergusrd on February 9, 2014.

One Response to “What does it mean to be human?”

  1. As my name is Adam, often translated as, “human” from the Hebrew, and that this post is lengthy enough to leave a substantial comment on, I’m immediately drawn to this post and actually decided to comment as I read it after I (just) read the opening quote, which I had always heard partially used but never in it’s entirety. Quite a clever symbiosis of title and opening statement.
 Any affinity to philosophy goes along with me. The West shies away from philosophy out of it’s relative irrelevance to the West, so deep contemplations of the universe are rare in our culture. So much so that I did not pick up on any of these ideas about the movie, my favorite being your exaltation and humanizing of the antagonist. Erudition illuminates that this is actually not a faux pas, for the West compensates for philosophy’s absence through a certain dogmatic myth of the nature and polarity of good and evil, or the hero and villain as seen in art, which keeps most people afraid of supporting, for example, Lex Luther in Superman, and most often do anything but de-humanize the bad guy. Am I onto something? Maybe that this contemplative act of even the antagonist, ultimately leading to philosophy, be what it means to be human? If so, then Blade Runner plays on its own motif of humanity’s meaning and purpose by philosophizing, the answer to that very question, over that question. Although this be a very notable and impressive answer to the question, it would not surprise me that you had that idea in mind when writing the post. lol
 As stated above, humanity and it’s concept is not my favorite idea of yours in this post, at least at the moment, because it is so disturbingly powerful that I am left uncomfortable upon realizing that my final hours would preferably be in solitude. You clairvoyantly design the post’s structure to force the reader, if they care to, to examine their selves at the end of the second to last paragraph in an impressive writing style that has obviously rippled over to and influenced my own writing of this awesome comment.
 In the spirit of academic competitiveness, I will see your challenge of what it must mean to be human with the short and renowned Johny Cash song, “Hurt”, that just serendipitously came around on my playlist, and ironically, seeing as how your post left me hurt upon realizing how I would prefer my final moments to be:

 I hurt myself today
    To see if I still feel
    I focus on the pain
    The only thing that’s real
    The needle tears a hole
    The old familiar sting
    Try to kill it all away
    But I remember everything

    What have I become
    My sweetest friend
    Everyone I know goes away
    In the end
    And you could have it all
    My empire of dirt
    I will let you down
    I will make you hurt

    I wear this crown of thorns
    Upon my liar’s chair
    Full of broken thoughts
    I cannot repair
    Beneath the stains of time
    The feelings disappear
    You are someone else
    I am still right here

    What have I become
    My sweetest friend
    Everyone I know goes away
    In the end
    And you could have it all
    My empire of dirt
    I will let you down
    I will make you hurt

    If I could start again
    A million miles away
    I would keep myself
    I would find a way


    And may I point out that, “dirt”, is the second most commonly conceived translation or meaning of “human” and “Adam”, and the narrator is wearing a crown of thorns, implying that the speaker is to be Jesus Christ, the “The Second Adam” or human? I’ll leave the interpretation and analysis of that to someone else.


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