Machines – Benefit Or Hazard – Blade Runner #edcmooc

For someone who is not even remotely a film buff, describing the utopian or dystopian aspects of a popular film is akin to asking a vegetarian to describe the taste and qualities of a tenderloin steak. For the life of me, I could not recall any sci-fi or other such movie that adequately highlights the utopian or dystopian aspects of technology. I mean, I have watched films like Star Wars and Total Recall etc, but that was centuries ago and I cannot even recall them with any clarity.

Therefore, I decided to get down to watching one today. I looked up google for the lists of sci-fi / dystopian / utopian films, and one name that consistently appeared in most such lists was the Harrison Ford starrer, Blade Runner. So, I asked my daughter to arrange a copy for me, which she did in a couple of hours – and don’t ask me how. Such technology does exist, I’m sure.

And so, I sat down and watched the movie, and I must say I was fascinated with it. Considering that it was released way back in 1982, they sure did a brilliant job, and I’m sure that technology had a major role to play way back then too.

One dialogue that particularly struck me, especially since this was the theme that we were supposed to  be studying, was when Deckard (Harrison Ford) says “Replicants are like any other machines. They are a benefit or a hazard.” The film itself was dystopian in its approach, highlighting the negative impacts of technology created by man. Typically, it depicts a future world where man has created the technology to create human clones, perfect in every aspect, and far more superior to the human being, but with a limited life span. Perhaps the element of building in a limited life span was their way of countering any future threat from the Replicants.

Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, is a “Blade Runner”, a special police force created to “retire” trespassing Replicants, whose mission is to hunt down some Replicants who have illegally trespassed on earth, in search of their creator, so that they can prevail upon him to extend their life spans.

The film opens with the following narrative appearing on screen – “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 labour, 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.”

Now you might be wondering why I had to pause the movie on my screen to copy all the text narrative, but please bear with me – there is a purpose to it.

The narrative itself gives us a fairly good idea of what to expect in the film, and also highlights its very visibly dystopian approach to the subject. It goes on to put forward the view that man, in his continuous quest for superior technology, sometimes creates a monster so lethal that this very creation of man becomes a major threat to mankind. It also propounds the view that when man becomes obsessed with technology, it does more harm than good. The creator then comes under threat from this very technology which at the time of inception appears to be path-breaking, something designed to serve the best interests of man, and perhaps better than man himself, but if this technology is not properly harnessed, it threatens to overrun our lives.

It is frightening when man becomes the slave to technology, rather than being the master. Technology, or machines, are meant to improve the quality of life of humans. But our over-dependence on it is also a major threat, which is the subtler message that this film tries to convey. The overuse of technology and machines, is in some way, pushing man more and more into “off-world colonies”, so to speak, isolating us from realities.

What is perhaps, a befitting dialogue that puts things into perspective, towards the ending of the film is the statement made by Roy, Nexus 6, when he asks Deckard – “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it ? That’s what it is, to be a slave.”