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Finding Hope the Replicant Way} ?> In Blade Runner’s world, the only thing darker than the City of Angels is the hearts of the people who live there.
As imagined by Ridley Scott, the Los Angeles of 2019 is a dismal, rainy place. Unnamed environmental catastrophes have poisoned the Earth to the point that the best option—as announced by the ever-present advertising blimps—is to get off the planet. The streets are a neon-lit warren of storefronts and stalls where vendors compete for the money and attention of a perpetually weary populace. Life seems to be a grim march toward a lonely death. It is a world devoid of joy and hope.
This cold, wet hellscape is ground zero in a battle which asks what it really means to be human. As the opening text scroll explains, the Tyrell Corporation has created genetically-engineered robots (called replicants) which are virtually indistinguishable from humans. Replicants are slave labour; tasked with the most difficult and dangerous jobs and forbidden from living on Earth. Furthermore, to keep them in check, they are engineered with a four-year lifespan. They are considered mere machines to be used and discarded at the whim of their human creators.
Rick Deckard is the Blade Runner—a policeman who has the task of identifying and killing replicants who make it to Earth. Like the other humans in the film, he views the replicants as mere mechanisms. In an early conversation with Rachel, he says, “Replicants are like any other machine—they’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.” He hunts and kills them with uncaring efficiency; the way a programmer might hunt down and eliminate errors in a block of code.
More disturbingly, he later orders one of the replicants to ask him for a kiss, treating her like a sex toy.
Other characters view the replicants similarly. Harry Bryant, an LA police captain, sees them at best as second-class citizens, at worst as problems to be destroyed. Eldon Tyrell, who heads the corporation that created them, considers them his property to command.
People have already decided what the replicants are and where they fit in society. Any attempts on the robots’ part to step out of their preconceived roles are met with immediate and violent resistance.
The comparisons to the real world are striking. I need look no further than the news to find men who are willing to kill in the name of maintaining the “right” racial identity. Likewise, corporations engage in massive research projects without evaluating the moral dimensions of their work. Right and wrong get sidestepped in the name of profit.
There are those who misuse authority and power, like Deckard, working to maintain order without ever questioning whether or not the status quo deserves to be maintained. Worse yet, they sometimes use their power coercively.
It would be nice to believe that I’m somehow above all of this, but when I’m being honest, I have to admit that I can find these same dark impulses in my own heart. My faith informs my willingness to resist them and to try be a vessel of God’s love and justice. I want to help build a better world here on Earth, but I am discouraged.
I’d like to think we just need time to deal with these problems. That the world’s inequality can be straightened out with a few more years of effort.But none of these issues are new problems. Society has been grappling with them for centuries. We like to think that we are more enlightened than previous generations, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. In Blade Runner 2049, we see that the world hasn’t moved very far in three decades. Racism, profiteering and abuse of power are still running rampant. The world is still dark.
Interestingly, in both films, the replicants appear to be the characters who are fighting most vigorously for a better world. Perhaps the key lies in the fact that they are developing the ability to feel. As designed, the replicants have a limited emotional response. The longer they live, the more likely they are to develop their own emotions. Those emotions allow them to see the injustice of their lives and fuel the desire to address it.
The human characters in the films are stuck in their bigotry and selfishness. It is only as some of them begin to develop a more caring attitude that they start to emerge as lights of hope.
So how do I hope for change in a dark world? Perhaps the first step is opening my heart and letting myself feel the awfulness I have become numb to. I ignore the news because it hurts to think about it. I refuse to contemplate terrorism because there’s nothing I can do about it. My eyes skim past posts about racial inequality because I’m not part of the problem.
Or am I?
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the darkness; to think that any effort of mine is doomed. The replicants probably feel the same way. Yet they persist in going outside of themselves by seeing the world clearly and meeting the evil head-on. They are motivated by love for life and for each other. They recognize that each of them is precious and unique and worth fighting for.
Perhaps if I could cultivate more of a replicant’s view of the world, I might become a tiny pinprick of hope too. And if enough of us accomplished that, that light would grow into a beacon the world desperately needs, something worth shining for.
He has been married to an extraordinarily patient woman for more than three decades and they have two adult sons. Kevin also has entirely too many DVD boxes with the words "Complete Series" on the cover. He enjoys exploring themes of faith through his fandoms.