Blade Runner : Past, Present, Future

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Blade Runner (1982) Directed by Ridley Scott Shown: Sean Young (as Rachael)

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.

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Dante

Humans by nature desire to know. Intellectual knowledge is what we presume is an end in itself. Dante, the voyager-narrator in Inferno, introduces a countervailing notion of the body and soul being weighed down by the limits of the mind, which is that the faculties of the soul isn’t only intellectual knowledge but also desire and one’s own will.

Dante finds himself in :

a shadowed forest, for ‘he’ had lost the path that does not stray.
Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was,
that savage forest, dense and difficult,
which even in recall renews my fear”

For the forest represents the landscape in which he is lost in, terra incognita. We are introduced with an autobiographical focus, we are seeing Dante through the prism of the world. The world’s landscape saturated with many shades of reality. Dante’s purpose is to enlighten us on his journey that he took to discover the importance of will. By shifting the narrative focus in his writing, from an omniscient narrator, to looking at what the pilgrim did not know.

Dante looked “on high and saw its shoulders clothed already by the rays of that same planet
which serves to lead straight along all roads.”

Dawn has come, dawn breaks, Dante looks up at the sun. Believing that natural sunlight would unveil to him the layout of the land, a vignette giving us a metaphysical sense of our place in the world. The realm that we live in, however, is not transparent. There lie more subtle realms, real difficulties that we face in our inner soul.

These difficulties paralyze us. The spiritual experience of the shadowed forest of the soul.

“he who unwires what he wills
and shifts what he intends to seek new ends
so that he’s drawn from what he had begun
so was I in the midst of that dark land”

By bringing clarity to the world, Dante presents us with a vision of the world as a projection of our own will. This is going against the Platonic narrative of of being in a cave (dark land) and only knowledge can lead us to the light. We may not be happy about our current situations but sometimes we cannot solve it due to it not being a problem of knowledge but a problem of will. The definition of justice cannot make you just. The issue is one of willing.

“I entered on the steep and savage path.”

In order for Dante to acquire this feat, he has to endure Hell in order to reach Paradise. The cultivation of the soul begins to take place during the journey. Entering the edges of the unknown, we are always existing in reference to the world. Our path being illuminated by virtue of oscillating between different states of being. We learn by doing and having a readiness to deal with the unexpected. We are aways willing our way onto the empty lattices of our journey, filling the spaces with the present.

 

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Finding My Place: Reconfiguring my sense of self in South Central LA

The place that shaped who I am and who I am going to be is South Central Los Angeles. For most people, their perception of South Central LA is it being a dangerous, flawed part of Los Angeles that remains in the outskirts of the more “ideal” or romanticized areas. As a kid, growing up and being conscious of the violence in my community, I internalized the perceptions above.

Going to public school in South Central LA never really resonated in me as a place of possibility or comfort. A pervasive anxiety dominated my being when stepping on campus or walking home after school. Knowing where I grew up and the high school I went to, I never believed that I would be as smart as the other kids who grew up in other areas of Los Angeles that weren’t as tumultuous.

However, there is beauty in how the universe works. I had decided that I was going to try and complete all of my math homework going into my sophomore year of high school. There was a sense of me trying to find meaning in my work and meaning of going to school. By glorifying something simple as math homework, this deepened my understanding of the true nature of learning and being immersed in the mysteries of the questions. After a couple of weeks of deliberately doing every single problem on each assignment, my math teacher wrote: “I’m proud of you. You have grown as a student.” After reading this simple, but elegant comment, I was disenchanted from viewing myself as hopeless or marginalized.

All the difficulties of growing up in South Central LA, such as going to sleep with the police helicopter roaming around every night, hearing the gunshots that are ubiquitous, or hoping I don’t get attacked while walking home from school, was put into context by virtue of seeing the larger picture of reality. A reality where I matter.

Everyone wants to have a narrative of personal origins. If you know where you come from, you would know who you are. You would know what you should do. Thank you South Central LA for revealing my transcendent narrative. Helping me become the person I dream of being.

via Discover Challenge: Finding Your Place

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Arrival

Denis Villenueve, director of Sicario, is back! This time directing a cerebral, sci-fi film, Arrival. He is joined by the magnificent Johan Johannsson, who never fails to impress, capturing the viewers attention by gravitationally pulling them into the scene through his music. The star of the movie is Amy Adams, whose character is named Louise. She is an academic expert in language who is asked to help the US government try to communicate with the alien life forms after twelve spacecrafts appear across the Earth.  Her job is to systematically break down their complex language and come up with a way to translate the question: What is your purpose on Earth?

Louise develops a relationship with the alien lifeforms, a deep understanding relationship founded on good will. This type of relationship is in contrast to the one many neighbors in current America display to each other. A relationship which has manifested into bitterness and hate campaigns. Neighbors are responding to hate with reciprocal hate, antagonizing each other and intensifying an already broken community. Arrival does a great job making these social tropes come to life in the big screen.

The alien life forms that Louise interacts with are named Heptapods. A Heptapod has seven limbs, whose arrangement makes the creature symmetrical. They sort of look like squids, using ink as the medium to write in their language. They essentially have no human features, and can probably be seen as monsters from a human’s perspective. However, Louise never dehumanized ( or depersonalized since they aren’t humans) their existence. The most important thing revealed about the Heptapods was not the texture of their skin or the number of limbs they had but the quality of their soul.

Louise becomes more proficient in their language and determines that their purpose on Earth is to offer humanity a “tool,” which is understanding one of the deepest unsolved mysteries of the universe, the arrow of time. Our current concept of time consists of it being a linear, asymmetrical phenomenon. If the future and past exhibited the same symmetry as left and right, we wouldn’t be able to recognize our reality. We would be able to remember the future just as much as the past. Understanding the concept of time was their gift to humanity; however, this required the cooperation of all the nations in the world. An exchange that benefits both parties involved is known as a non-zero sum game. The Heptapods saw in the future that in 3000 years they will need humanity’s help, a non-zero sum game. Whereas, in our current state of affairs, when Donald Trump vowed to “Make America Great Again!” he is echoing to a country united on ethnic nationalism, which is a zero sum game. The gains of the majority being balanced by the loss of virtue and loyalties of the minority.

The Heptapods in Arrival may be emblematic of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s idea of a cosmic companion. The “existence of some creative force that works for universal wholeness.” If our cosmic companion can help us with our arrow of time mystery in Arrival, the oppressed people of the world should also be optimistic on the creation of Dr. King’s beloved community. He had the foresight to remember “only one face- the face of the future.”

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OH… T CELL!

The following letter is in response to an Economist Article published on 2/20/2016.

Dear The Economist,

The elusive nature of cancer is notorious for its ability to evade the immune system. In your recent article, “Mr. T cell,” you mentioned the novel technology regarding CAR T cells in treating B cell cancers, because of their ability to recognize the CD19 marker on the transformed cells. The collateral damage would be a patient losing their normal B cells. Fortunately, this marker is only unique to B cells and they are expendable. The technology is moving fast; however, there is still much to be learned about T cell biology before it can be effectively translated in the clinic. I believe it is important to discern the properties of how our immune system mounts an attack on foreign entities. When our normal cells are infected with a virus, it starts to express foreign protein fragments on the surface, allowing our T cells to identify and kill through major histocompatibility class (MHC) restricted T-cell recognition. However, tumor cells are able to masquerade as normal cells and avoid this calamitous faith.  The engineered T cell, known as CAR T cells, are able to circumvent this ordeal by targeting surface molecules independently of MHC molecules, such as CD19, and induce an immune response once the CAR structure is engaged.

There is no perfect marker for cancer, resulting in toxicity through immune-mediated destruction. But, if the patient manages to survive this brute force method of immunotherapy, one important issue still arises with regards to the persistence of the CAR T cells in the patient. Since cancer is analogous to a chronic infection, CAR T-cells must be able to survive and persist to protect from recurrence. One of the extrinsic factors limiting CAR potency is T-cell exhaustion. We can attribute this ‘exhausted’ state due perpetual signaling in the CAR T cell from engagement on malignant cancer cells, which would lead to a negative effect on the development of memory T cell properties known to provide protective immunity for decades. Mr. T cell’s ability to be effective is also its Achilles’ heel.

 

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The Revenant

After watching The Revenant, I would rank it as my favorite movie that I have seen recently. However, Ex Machina does not trail behind by much because of the originality of the script and the surreal reality of contemporary Darwinism affecting humanity. Domhall Gleeson is no longer in the forefront, playing in the dynamic relationship with Alicia Vikander (Ava). He is now in a supporting role in The Revenant, which features Leonardo Di Caprio (Glass) and Tom Hardy (Fitzgerald). The Revenant displays Hugh Glass’ fight for survival in a naturalistic and visceral experience for the viewer. The movie has earned broad acclaim because of it’s bear “rape” scene. Which is well deserved, because of it being a pivotal act in the movie that engendered debilitating calamities that Glass’ would have to fight through in the rest of the movie. Aside from all the lamentable ordeals that Glass suffered through, the movie definitely shines in its cinematography.

The genius behind The Revenant’s cinematography is Emmanuel Lubezki. Lubezki was able to focus the viewers visual manifesto through his manipulation of natural light. Such as the opening scene of the movie, where we are presented with a wide lens shot of a forest and water flowing all around, elucidating the beauty of life. In a seamless flow, we are also presented with the excruciating horrors of life in the scene where the trappers are attacked. The sinister backdrop of low light, shadows and campfire smoke underscored the realism of the trappers fight for survival. Arrows coming from all directions and hitting a trapper in the neck, the scene was shot in one long shot through one point of view. The viewer delves into a congested and delirious battle, with trappers dying all around. Allowing us to start questioning our own conviction on the beauty and goodness of life. The Revenant is not just an action movie depicting Glass’ fight for survival, but it also allows the viewer to confer an artistic sensibility that Alejandro González Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki tries to present. We should embrace the syntactic power of the dreamy visuals and the vaguely sinister undertones from the calamities Glass’ faced, which symbolizes our mortality but also our ability to return from death. The Revenant

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Perfect

Perfection is always fixed at the horizon. Never retreating or approaching, as we halfheartedly strive to attain it. The key word is “strive:” an unchecked, instinctive action perpetuating in a ceaseless continuum. One can never be perfect, but we can be perfect at being great. As long as we continue to strive, a crevice of time shall emanate in the distant future, presenting us with our opportunity to be great.

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