A Few Observations by Philip Powers, 17 November 2017
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Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) - Ex-blade runner - is a killer (by his own admission) and Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) is a killer (from documentary evidence). Both are dying. Deckard has been dying inside himself for years, so much so that he’s left the police force. In a lovely filmic eloquence he has retired from executing – known as, retiring – Replicants. He’s done with killing and having it justified as retirement instead or murder.
Roy’s trying to find answers and as a slave the only way he can attempt to find answers is to cause a revolt. What is seen as a murderous escape (killing 23 people) from one point of view -- is someone else finding liberation by escaping from – and killing – his oppressors, from another point of view.
The film pitches Deckard as good: a sanctioned killer. It pitches Roy as bad, because he murdered people to escape slavery. But both characters are enslaved by their circumstances; one thinking he is working for good – and trying to escape it because he knows it is wrong; and the other – Roy – trying to find a way to live through a spark of light in his heart which says he has value even though everything and everyone around him says he doesn’t.
The first time we see Roy, we see his hand before we see his face. It is the symbol for him nearing the end of his life – that he is dying. He moves his hand, his fingers, and opens and closes his fist. It’s clear to the viewer that Roy realises that something is wrong with his hand.
He doesn’t know what we know: that he was designed as a Level A Replicant, physically and mentally, and has become aware of the fact his life is fading and diminishing. That’s why he has gone to Earth, to visit the Tyrell Corporation searching for answers. Because he is phys: LEV. A and ment: LEV. A, he has survived the longest, has such an understanding of what it means to be alive, is so erudite, has such breadth of emotion, and has so many questions about why things are the way they are. In fact, Roy is anyone in the world who wants answers to questions about their purpose and provides the legitimacy of anyone’s desire or expectation – human or android – of continuing to live and breathe, simply because he does live and breathe.
Roy is almost moved to tears several times as the futility of his purpose is eroded and less achievable and as he loses those who are like him - his friends, his disciples. He’s moved to tears despite being an android. If androids do in fact dream of electric sheep then Roy’s tears would be electric tears. But they’re not, they’re real. He has truly been created in the image of his creator.
In the final scenes he holds the power of life or death over Deckard. He toys with him in a way that only a creator, a superior being, or a God, can do. He is not the first or the last of those three things – neither a creator or a God – but he is the second, superior – beautifully so – in every way, over Deckard.
He has come to Earth from the outer colonies to find answers to his questions. His questions are never clearly stated until he meets Tyrell and how he even arrived at a state of being where he was able to think of then to ask those questions is a mystery that can only be explained by an awareness that his perfect body is slowing down, decaying, dying.
We know three things about Roy which are explicit even if the film gives the viewer no time to absorb all the information (without freeze-framing).
As “phys and ment A” it is understandable why Roy is the leader. He’s the smartest.
Roy also knows essentially who he is from the first time we see him. When he asks Leon if he retrieved his beloved photographs, the answer is no. He asks Leon if it was because the police were at his apartment. But he says, “Police”, then he says “men”. Roy’s intelligence has developed in almost four years beyond any expected development. He disdains the word men because although they created him, they are inferior. He disdains them because, intuitively, he knows they have created him with a limited life. He is superior to them and knows it and he is angry about his role in life, as a slave. He knows something’s wrong within his body and wants an answer to his question about how long he has to live and what can be done to override the programming.
Roy’s first spoken words, after seeing his fingers and then a clenched fist, a hand which is seizing up, are quietly spoken.
These two words says everything about the plight of the NEXUS 6. Time is valuable, it’s running out, it defines the length of life. Enough is a word which describes the limit of something. If something is enough, then logically it has expired, has limitations and will come to an end.
If something is enough, there’s normally a feeling of exasperation. Sentences like, “I’ve waited long enough”, or “Enough! Stop talking”, or “Enough. It’s over” come to mind.
For Roy Batty the two words - beautifully, for the viewer - have their meaning as individual and separate words to convey his psychological state. But, in reality he means them to be a statement. He looks at his hand which is becoming slightly more difficult to open and close and to flex. It’s the most important thing to Roy because it defines who he is. His athleticism and strength and understanding are what makes him special.
It’s the first thing we see of him and almost the last thing we see of him.
His life is declining so quickly at the end, that as his hand is in the final stage of becoming useless to him, he pulls a nail out of a piece of wood and pierces it through his palm and out the other side, so that he can feel something – as if the awareness of pain will keep him conscious and moving.
As Deckard hangs from a beam – above the streets below - in the final scene between Deckard and Roy, Deckard’s fingers slip. A hand reaches down. Not the good hand, but the one with the nail in it. That’s the symbol which describes how Roy is feeling.
Roy was born without emotion or feeling, he developed it unintentionally, he eventually had to push a nail through his hand to enable him to keep it for a few more minutes...
Roy, level A, has developed as a human being does, from having the instinct to survive at whatever cost to those who enslaved him and his people, to a point where he now understands the need to save them. He needs to die so that they can live.
If Roy was fundamentally cruel or was Christ (or God), he could send Deckard (who represents all of mankind) to his death. But when faced with the decision of accepting his own fate, imminent death, Roy realises that the love of life which he now has inside him is the most important thing he can learn or possess.
After a bitter fight against mankind (and Deckard), caring nothing for those who represent the people who created him, in an (almost) inexplicable denouement, Roy has in these last moments of his life, become Jesus Christ. With the nail through his hand, just as Christ was nailed to the cross, he rescues Deckard – humanity – a split-second after he loses his grip on the beam, with that hand with the nail in it. That hand grabs Deckard and hauls him from hanging over the abyss, up onto the roof, to safety, like he was a rag-doll.
There is to be no more killing. Through Roy’s superior intelligence he understands that he holds the power of life and death in his hands and decides to be merciful. He has defeated evil – Tyrell – and he spares mankind.
The result is that people who are different and incompatible, black or white, enslaved or free – like Deckard and Rachael – can put aside their outward and superficial differences, of class or race, being Gentiles or Jews, or Montagues and Capulets, via a redemption that washes away the distinctions between what has previously been an insurmountable barrier. That barrier he demolishes is ultimately the one which comes between people who are classed by other people as acceptable or not acceptable. Roy’s death underlines the fact that a life is a life, and that Rachael, a robot with feelings, can have a life with an ex-killer who has started to develop feelings.
As the film progresses Deckard loses more and more of that world-weary cynicism until it presents him in the final moments as a man in love, driving toward an unknown future.
The film goes beyond the religions of the worlds, beyond the real and the artificial, and articulates one important concept – a universal statement – that all life has value, no matter your religion or belief, or anything that makes you distinct from anyone else.
Roy, who has collected his own disciples, Level B or C, and killed the oppressors (slaughtering 23 on a shuttle to escape), in his last few minutes chooses life for mankind. In these last moments, from complete selfishness and hatred across all classes and religions, Roy transitions to Christ, who loves life and forgives Deckard of his transgressions.
With a nail in his hand, a superior being than human beings, Roy is merciful. He came to Earth to destroy evil (Satan/Tyrell) and he saves Deckard even though he doesn’t deserve it. Deckard was a killer (like the New Testament Saul prior to becoming the Apostle Paul), which he has admitted from his own mouth. He’s been a Roman killing Jews, or a white killing a black, or a Muslim killing Christians, or Christians burning Joan of Arc.
Everything Deckard has been while acting for one force against another force has been wrong because no matter which side you fight for – if you’re fighting – you’re on the wrong side. All of life – everyone – needs to show mercy, even to the oppressors and the assassins who fight on the side of what they believe is righteous.
Roy in his last breath forgave Deckard and all of mankind, just like Christ said in his final words when his body was nailed to a cross, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
Luke 23, verse 34, says, ‘When they came to the place they called the Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on His right and the other on His left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his garments by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers sneered at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen one.’
Roy is all powerful. There is no scene in the film where he isn’t the smartest and strongest person in the room. He chooses mercy in the scenes on the rooftop, a bewildered Deckard gasping for breath, rescued from certain death. Roy has been hunted down like an animal and his followers have been killed, as they tried to survive in the face of overwhelming odds, defending themselves against the government – or any law that outlawed their behaviour – and required their extermination, or, in the benign words of the Blade Runners: retirement.
For almost everything that is too inflammatory in a word, like execution, people now find a new way of saying it.
Firing people, for instance, isn’t firing people – it’s downsizing.
The Replicants aren’t the subjects of genocide – they’re just being violently retired.
Any life that has breath has a right to live. That is “Blade Runner”’s main concern. It differentiates the lives of beings between humans and robots, humans and androids, humans and replicants and emphatically argues they all have equal value. Specifically, Roy, Leon, Pris and Zhora, have a life no less valuable than any of the lives of the beings that created them.
The story on which the film is based has a question in the title, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” It has no answer in the text because our humanity is what gives us the answer:
It doesn’t matter. They’re real.
Whether they are electric sheep in the dreams of robots or androids, or real sheep in the dreams of the beings on this planet, the question is what’s at fault - it's the wrong question to ask.
If a being – a life – dreams, then the fact they’re dreaming, proves their legitimacy as a lifeform. Artificial or not, real or not, of course they are real and deserve respect, understanding, grace and ultimately, mercy.