Issues Themes Blade Runner

Themes - Issues, concerns or values #

The overriding concern is the diminished humanity displayed by human characters in contrast to the replicants who appear to have genuine companionship, compassion, empathy, morality and civility. People appear diminished with less autonomy, freedom or choice.

  1. The dispirited masses have been subjected to brutalised torture and sapping deprivation. (Deckard can only order two-not four at the noodle bar. The settings are so grim, grimy and gloomy, even the brighter spirits would become demoralised. There is a growing gap between the rich and poor (“little people”) with most of the former migrating off colony.

  2. When bureaucracy, through bullying and intimidation gets so overpowering, it kills the human spirit dis-empowering its victims.

Bureaucracies have become so commonplace and ingrained that we seldom question their purpose and authority, yet, according to anthropologist and anarchist, David Graeber, they inform every aspect of our existence – “bureaucracy has become the water in which we swim”.

According to Dom Amerena, the best artistic satires occur in Kafka’s The Trial and in Heller’s Catch-22

Graeber maintains bureaucracies derive their power from the veiled threat of state sanctioned violence against non-compliance or even criticism by its citizens.

While plenty of factors are at play in our disillusionment, the major one is that most politicians, judges, staffers and bureaucrats are part of an increasingly, insular elite. The apathy of institutions and how they dehumanize and anonymize their members can only be achieved by a detachment from our basic humanity.

This outsourcing of guardianship enables governments and politicians in particular to operate with complete plausible deniability. Ministers, who used to be considered responsible for what happened in their portfolios, can place their hands on their hearts and swear they know nothing, that they have sought advice but they too are powerless. It is out of their hands.

They need to heed Cicero’s advice from 55 BC:

“…the arrogance of officialdom needs to be tempered and controlled,….”

Our elected representatives must take charge of mindless officials. The French Revolution was partly caused by the inability of Louis XVI to curb the excesses of his aristocrats, while the longest serving dynasty, the Romanovs, was eventually brought down because Nicholas II, failed to control the Russian Bureaucracy.

Obama, for all his good work, failed to implement many of his policies due to his frustration with immovable bureaucratic forces.

The time honoured metaphor of tails wagging dogs.

Public servants are meant to serve the public.

Some critics suggest that corporations and institutions have become the new evil “robber barons” with no public interest in mind. Some have found symptoms of psychopathy, e.g., the callous disregard for the feelings of other people, the incapacity to appreciate human relationships, the reckless disregard for the safety of others, the deceitfulness (continual lying to preserve your image), the incapacity to experience guilt, and the failure to conform to social norms and respect the law.

Yet our governments – our representatives suffer from a paralysis of will and spine. The meek may not inherit the world – bumptious bullying bureaucrats have a firm grasp on all the power levers.

Just when did “government by the people, of the people, for the people perish”?

This is nothing short of systemic or institutional tyranny

The thin and precarious crust of decency is all that separates any civilization, however impressive, from the hell of anarchy or systematic tyranny which lie in wait beneath the surface." Aldous Huxley

The road to tyranny is paved with pebbles of silence, fear of others,division, lies, national myths of imaginary threats, and the coarsening of rhetoric.” Richard Flanagan

When we fear the government, it is tyranny; when the government fears the people, we have liberty. Thomas Jefferson

  1. The Dehumanising effects of technology:

Francis Bacon, a 17^(th) C. scholar commented, “It is well to observe the force and virtue and consequences of discoveries” when he discussed printing, gunpowder and the compass.

• Loss of power – fulfilment - Don McLean: “developments in technology and communications are not liberating but controlling, “I always wanted to be free.”

• Isolation from others resulting in a lack of people skills.

• Loss of empathy - Increasing disconnection or alienation from society

• Loss of heroism – only celebrities

• The rise of Cybernetics (use of implants to make robots or cyborgs – humans with computer chip grafts or biological brains) is a growing field of technical development and increases the threat of Artificial Intelligence taking control over humans as portrayed in Space Odyssey, Terminator or The Matrix.

Computers double their capacity every 18 months and they could acquire a billion times more intelligence than the human brain. It is possible this Artificial Intelligence could develop into a malign force and eliminate all humans from the face of the earth.

Alternatively by merging with the technology we create, we become more like it and we could become less human and more mechanical in our outlook and robotic in character.


1. a mechanical figure or contrivance constructed to act as if by its own motive power; robot.
2. a person or animal that acts in a monotonous, routine manner, without active intelligence.
3. something capable of acting automatically or without an external motive force.

Automaton comes from the Greek autos + matos, literally meaning “self thinking.” It entered English in the 1600s.

Many tech giants are investing time and resources in ambitious neurotechnology projects, such as Mark Zuckerman’s typing with your brain.

Elon Musk’s neural lace, an ultra-thin mesh, implanted in the skull, forms a collection of electrodes capable of monitoring brain function.

It creates an interface between the brain and the machine. It is hoped to not only diagnose but enhance neurological function.

Trans- humanism blurs the line between technology and biology.

Through body optimisation we may be attempting to speed up the evolutionary process but are we playing god?

  1. Of greater concern is the craven attitude of the masses. The resigned compliance, acquiescence and fatalism was evident in their supine passivity and expressions of futility for achieving justice in dealing with the bureaucracy. It is just bad luck and there is nothing anyone can do about it! No hope, no escape from an overpowering totalitarian state.

As Hannah Arendt is alarmingly relevant, with her book, On the Origins of Totalitarianism. What she called ‘the banality of evil’ was the inability to hear another voice. Tyrants set out to destroy all hope; an Ozymandian arrogance at play, together with its “sneer of cold command”, and boastful, “look on my works, ye mighty and despair,” while nothing beside remains.

They bully the masses into grudging silence; a collective culture of gracious compliance and dignified acceptance rather than inspiring confidence and belief in our systems

  1. The lack of Civility is another major concern.

We live in a Culture of Blame and Disrespect. Incivility is everywhere.

Bryant has a confrontationalist manner of speaking. First he tries to be slimily ingratiating to Deckard but when this does not work he resorts to abusive threats and bullying to get Deckard to come out of retirement. (“You’ll become a little person”)

In contrast the replicants appear to be courteous and respectful of each other indicating that they care for each other. They also have a craving “for more life, Father”

There isn’t much dignity left today, a point beautifully made in an essay by David Brooks in The New York Times. The “dignity code”, as Brooks calls it, has been “completely obliterated” by the pressures of modern life.

6. The isolation of the individual in society

  • Loss of empathy - Increasing disconnection or alienation from society is contrasted in the portrayal of both Sebastian and Tyrell with that of the replicants who look after each other eg: Leon & Zhora or Roy & Pris.

Ayn Rand: “Civilisation is the progress toward a society of privacy; The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of the tribe. Civilisation is the process of freeing man from men”

  1. The earth has been so scorched and depleted so people’s greatest aspiration is for off world colonisation.

Antithetical Views of Nature:

Genesis 1. 28

And God blessed them and said unto them (Adam and Eve), “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air.. and over every creeping thing…..

In earlier times, nature was considered resilient and indomitable.

“You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, but she will ever hurry back, to triumph in stealth over your foolish contempt”. - Horace, Epistles, Book I, X 24.**

It was only after the publication of Rachel Carson’s (An American writer and scientist) Silent Spring, that people began to recognise the potential of human disaster through the vandalism perpetrated by improved technology. Rather than resilient, nature was fragile and vulnerable when fundamental natural rhythms were ceaselessly destroyed by ruthless exploitation by ever increasing mammoth technology. If Ecosystems are repeatedly defeated, human life will be diminished and likely extinguished.

Ridley Scott is showing great prescience or foresight when he warns us about the long term effects of pollution and environmental degradation.

Man has not only subdued the earth but conquered and utterly defeated it. There is no real attempt to replenish it, thus the need for off world colonies. The opening scenes are nightmarish – a nuclear winter.

As a Canadian Indian Chief queried;

“When we kill the last fish, what will we eat – money?

  1. The disparity between rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless is symbolised by how many storeys above ground level they live. Tyrell lives 700 storeys above ground level.

Sebastian lives on the 15 (th) floor of an empty derelict flat. Many of the masses appear to live on the street.