I once came off my bike in such a way that I sliced open my forehead, nose, chin and elbow. At the time I thought I was a stuntman and I’d never fallen off my jet-black bike before, so on this particular occasion it seemed wise to peddle as fast as I could, let go of the handlebars at maximum momentum and hit the curb. It was stupid and I never did it again.
That’s a memory unconnected to Blade Runner, but I find it a fascinating look into how we develop; constantly striving for perfection, always pushing ourselves towards daft limits. Despite that attempt at stupidity many years ago, I ended up learning that I wasn't Neo and I wasn't living in The Matrix. Instead I moved onto the next stunt of stupidity, and so the cycle continues unbroken.
By re-watching Blade Runner and witnessing Rachael’s devastation as she discovers her memories aren’t real, I realise how unnerving of an idea it is. Our memories make us who we are, our failures develop us and our experiences allow us to smile at the warm feeling of nostalgia, and to have them either deleted, modified or implanted is alarming. However, with Blade Runner I’ve deduced that Ridley Scott challenged a number of questions: do memories make us human? Does it matter about the legitimacy of them?
Ridley Scott’s brooding neo-noir follows blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) as he tries to pursue and terminate four replicants who have come from space to hunt down their creator. Throughout the film the theme of memory is prominent, with it attempting to have its audience question what it means to be human. It’s a complex question for sure and the film presents you with a smattering of clues that have spawned numerous theories and answers, but one of the most prominent elements is Rachael (Sean Young).
Rachael the Replicant is introduced to us as the femme fatale of the tale - the niece of replicant creator, Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel). Her elegant fingers clasp a cigarette stiffly and she gives Deckard a gentle, but calculated smile before participating in the empathy test - a way for blade runners to identify replicants. Everything about Rachel in this debuting scene is robotic; her mannerisms are mechanical and her clothes are designed to be the definition of perfection. What’s important about this is that Rachael believes she is human. This is the first strike of irony - the more self-aware she becomes, the more her appearance starts to blemish.
Of course her transformation is slow, but going from that initial introductory scene where she seems sophisticated - the meticulous lipstick and two-piece black suit - she quickly starts to dissolve the more we see her. Slowly she starts to shy away from her initial double-dyed look as her conflicting understanding of herself runs parallel to her physical shift.
By the time we’re reaching the end of the film, Rachael’s look has changed drastically. This confirms that she’s accepted the reality of her situation as the trademark lipstick has gone, the immaculate hair is now a second thought and her black wardrobe has been switched for white. This proves there’s a consistent thread of irony spread throughout the film - if you take Ash (Ian Holm) from Alien or the more recent David (Michael Fassbender) from Prometheus, then you often find androids and robots are portrayed as the perfect replicas of us mere mortals. Here however, Rachael represents Scott’s desire to flip that on its head and present the now self-aware android as less perfect than she was when she thought she was human.
Through being a multi-layered film, Blade Runner provides us with a large canvas to juggle all of these themes and theories and by re-analysing Rachael we’re able to trace just one of many visual concepts to attempt to answer those questions: what makes us human and what does it means to be human? As touched upon earlier, Ridley Scott establishes a level of irony whereby replicants who, once they figure out their android identity, end up becoming more human. It’s undeniably fascinating that while memories, to me, are the crucial component to being human (as how else do you develop?), Blade Runner presents a world that has become so desensitised to corporations that the result has forced human society to lose its ability to empathise with other people and animals.
Get your tickets to the screening on 25 October here.