After watching Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, one is introduced with the timeless question, what does it mean to be human. We are introduced with Michael Fassbender’s character, who plays two different androids, Walter and David, and are in a moral tug of war with each other. David has manifested a God complex, believing he no longer wants to serve humans but destroy humanity and become the inflection point of a new, superior race. Hence, creating Aliens to wipe us all out. Walter, an updated android model, is able to conceptualize an intuitive sense of what is ethically acceptable and tries to prevent David from wiping out humanity.
However, Ridley Scott already delved into this existential question in his 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner. Just like the first Alien movie, where the cadence was very slow and we didn’t actually see the Alien until 50+ min into the movie, his vision of reckoning with the question of what it means to be human is beginning to evolve deliberately. He is definitely taking his time 35 years later after the release of Blade Runner with the release of Alien Covenant and future release of Blade Runner 2049.
In the opening of Blade Runner, we are introduced with a wide angle shot of a grimly Los Angeles, set in the year 2019, being reflected off a eye ball. The eye ball is symbolizing Big Brother. During this time, society is largely influenced by Tyrell Corporation. They are the only ones that are able to manufacture Replicants, which are human like androids that have been engineered to be superior. But, they are treated like slaves and forced to carry out jobs in off- world colonies like mining or prostitution. Replicants are banned from Earth; the ones that are able to escape are hunted down by “Blade Runners.” Harrison Ford plays the Blade Runner and is given the task of hunting down 4 Replicants who have escaped their off-world colony and managed to get to Earth in order to meet their Maker.
There is a sense of imprisonment for the Replicants within this Orwellian future. The Nexus-6 models of Replicants are the newest iteration. From the moment of inception, they develop a strange obsession to reconcile their experiences. A prisoner among the random constellation of vivid moments in their sentient lives, not knowing if they are truly alive or just living in loops. “More human than human” is the motto of the Tyrell Corporation. The cynical outlook that manifests from this paradoxical dilemma is the particularity of the crisis embodied in the Replicants can be portrayed onto a more universal canvas. Is there a threshold that makes us greater than the sum of our parts? Are we just another number, too? This is the reality that Tyrell Corporation tried to make permanent. By creating a 4 year life-span for the Nexus- 6 models, they prevent Replicants from aligning the constellation of experiences and developing emotional responses, intuition, and ability to reason with ethical problems. Their experience of humanity is short lived.
However, in the clip below, which is my favorite movie clip of all time, we have Rachel, a newer Nexus- 6 model who doesn’t know that she is a Replicant. She arrives to Deckard’s ( Blade Runner) house to convince him that she is human. The Tyrell Corporation gifted a past to Rachel to create a cushion for her emotions and being able to control her better. As stated above, Replicants begin to reconcile the multitude of experiences that they accumulate, and once they accumulate enough information, intuition starts to kick in, taking the form of emotion. Tyrell Corporation wanted to remove the only thing that makes us human, the soul. Sadly for Rachel, she has been lost in a reverie, always living in a loop, like a deep and distant dream. Deckard started manipulating the weaknesses of this dream, by priming Rachel with vague and universal experiences and making her think that those memories belonged to her. We all probably have one memory of looking up to a weaved concentric web in some corner of our room or outside our house formed by a spider. The subtle, fluid melody “Memories of Green” permeates the scene upon Rachel’s realization that her own vivid imagination of spiders is just another trick that the brain is playing. The word spiders is invoking a false image that never belonged to her. There is a juxtaposition of false and real in this scene. The scene doesn’t just contain a presentation of Rachel’s experience but a meta-presentation of her experience as she experiences it. We don’t just see a disappointed Rachel when she reckons with the fact that her memories are false. The viewer can feel the anguish through the micro-expressions on her face that are telegraphing her emotions. A truly real masterpiece of a scene.
Now, with Blade Runner 2049 coming out soon, Ridley Scott’s vision may finally come to fruition with the help of Denis Villenueve. He is passing the torch to the director of Sicario and Arrival, which says something about the confidence he has in him. Is Ridley going to continue the narrative of androids wiping out humanity like in Alien Covenant? From the new Blade Runner trailer, it seems that creator of Replicants may be Jared Leto, who looks like he is a Replicant himself because of his glowing eyes. Within the historical context of the movie, by 2049, humanity may have reached technological singularity, allowing androids, such as Jared Leto or Walter from Alien Covenant, to surpass all human intelligence and establish an “order to things.” Humans may now become the disposable, marginalized work force that once comprised of Replicants. We see a cut of an eye ball at the end of the trailer reminiscent of the opening of Blade Runner, hinting at the idea of an Orwellian future being inevitable. Is this faith possible for humanity in reality? Or are we going to be presented with a romanticized notion of Replicants regaining humanity through through love by helping humans avoid destruction.