Inability of the humans to control their “bio creations”

Thirty-five years have passed since the first part of the Blade Runner sequel premiered in 1982. Since then, a multitude of questions has been asked based on this story that still troubles the mind. Because, despite the fact that the dystopian reality of this film takes place in the year 2019, and does not exactly concur with a present so close to our own, the life issues of the replicants [1] affect us as human beings. Why? Perhaps it is on account of the Tyrell Corporation’s motto [2]: more human than human (see HERE).

Continuing the story of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 premiered on 6 October last year in Spain. As in the first part, the question regarding the humanity of the replicants is still present. It may, indeed, be even more urgent, because the behaviour of the replicants — and especially the empathy they show — leads us to believe that they are more human than human. Thus, at this point we shall ask a question that will guide this analysis (by no means sufficient) of the two parts of the Blade Runner story: are the replicants the apotheosis of the human?

Perhaps one of the most startling things we can find is that calling into question the humanity of others is not a very human attitude. The humans may not be consistent with their humanity on questioning that of the replicants. However, to be able to ask ourselves something like that, we must analyse the replicants to see if it is true that they are more human than human, i.e. if that creation made by humans surpasses the creators. If so, what right would the humans have to “retire” [3] the replicants if, in fact, they are more human than them?

  1. Why do the replicants represent a threat if they are an improvement of the human being?

The answer may lie in the inability of the humans to control their biocreations: the perfection of the replicants means that they ultimately develop an autonomy that alters the patterns set in their designs and, therefore, they become a threat to the established order.

Before analysing what makes the replicants human, we must first pause on the word apotheosis, which is what will guide our perception to illuminate the reality of the replicants. The word apotheosis comes from the Greek, ἀποθέωσις (apothéōsis) [4], and means, in the strict sense, deification. It has been chosen precisely because the replicants are all the perfection possible of the human at biological level. It can therefore be said that a replicant is more human than the normally human and, for this reason, is human in the fullest sense. Thus, if the “fullest” is the most perfect and, philosophically speaking, the most perfect is the divine, the replicants, being the perfection of the human, are in turn their deification: the apotheosis. However, there is another reason for choosing this word here, as we shall see.

The present analysis will be divided into two parts, each of which will consist of a reflection based on each of the films. Thus, here we will analyse the 1982 film, Blade Runner [5], and in the second article, the 2017 film, Blade Runner 2049.

  1. Synopsis of Blade Runner (1982)

We are not going to dwell on the story told by the film, because there are enough sources to look it up on any internet search engine. In summary, the film centres on the lives of five replicants — Roy, Pris, Zhora, Leon and Rachael — and a Blade Runner, Deckard. All these characters are designs of Dr. Eldon Tyrell, founder of the Tyrell Corporation, where the “Nexus” replicants and the Blade Runners are produced. Roy, Pris, Zhora and Leon are the replicants that Deckard must retire, because they have started a revolt against humans and are going to meet Tyrell.

Roy is the most sophisticated replicant, a Nexus-6, while Rachael is a Nexus-7 prototype, which makes her even more complex. She, unlike the other replicants, has memory implants. Consequently, having a narrative identity, a past that gives meaning to her present, Rachael struggles to know if she is a replicant, and only discovers this to be the case because Deckard tells her. When Deckard meets Rachael, he has a conversation with Tyrell and is astonished that Rachael can live without knowing what she is, i.e. convinced that she is human when, in fact, she is a replicant. In turn, we can see throughout the film that Deckard himself has a question mark over his identity, over whether his memories are real and if his purpose in life is clear, because from the start of the film, it is apparent that he is not satisfied with his life and that he does not want to be a Blade Runner.

What is clear, though, is that the replicants and humans are self-aware. It is also clear that the former, having reached a certain point in their existence, develop autonomous emotional processes that lead them to disobey the directives specified by their designs. In other words, they progressively control themselves and gradually acquire freedom. What remains to be seen, then, is how they direct their free actions and where. Together with this, the awareness of their finitude makes fear overcome them, and they therefore seek a solution to the question of death.

  1. The idea of death and the rebellion of modern man against the Creator

There is a point in the film in which Roy has a conversation with Tyrell and tells him that his greatest concern is death. After calling him “father”, he asks him to extend his life, to which Tyrell replies that this cannot be done. After this, the creator tells his creation that he had been created as perfectly as possible. In other words, that within his perfection is death, the programmed end of his life, and that there is no turning back. And he adds, “the light that shines twice as bright burns for half as long, and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy”. Despite his creator’s praise, Roy, desperate and allowing himself to be carried away by the pain of the awareness of death, kills Tyrell, gouging out his eyes with his fingers after kissing him.

Anyone can see in Roy’s gesture the rebellion of modern man against the Creator, because, having created the best of all possible worlds, he introduced imperfection in the most perfect possible, and consequently, is responsible for the evils that beset human life. If God is so, he is extremely malignant or inept: he has perforce introduced deprivation, misery and imperfection in the course of the development of the being. The killing of divinity thus becomes a universal act of justice. If the human being gets rid of the necessary being (whether malignant or inept), it opens the possibility of occupying the divine’s space and of changing the rules that configure metaphysical necessity with his freedom. In this way, human freedom is enshrined as the only founding principle of his being: freedom is, therefore, monarchic (mónon-arjé) when it is thus understood.

Roy’s murder of the creator can be considered as apotheotic, in a certain way. If we consider that apotheosis is elevation to the divine, only by being equal to the creator is it possible to eradicate him. Furthermore, the most remarkable thing is that a god who can die reveals his lie: a mortal god is no god. Nevertheless, we cannot consider the murder of the creator by the creature as a strict apotheotic action, because death is still inscribed in Roy’s design and he cannot break free from it. Tyrell’s power over Roy continues unabated despite everything and death rules, preventing Roy’s apotheosis. In this world, the mortality of the creator and the creation reveals the humanity of both. Perhaps the question that it raises here is whether Roy has committed homicide [6], on having killed an equal, although now is not the time to discuss this.

In any case, we cannot conclude so quickly that Roy has not achieved an apotheotic life. As Tyrell says, Roy represents a shining light, the brightest and the one that lasts least for that same reason. Roy’s life is completely Luciferian. A likeness of the most perfect of the angels [7], he fights against the creator and, moreover, kills him. However, Roy’s Luciferian image is not constrained by his atheistic action. Roy’s fight with Deckard at the end of the film stands out. It is at that point where Roy’s apotheosis is decided, because he performs an action that is completely beyond his design.

  1. Sympathy and what makes the human being human

Fighting to survive, Roy leaves his condition to one side and helps Deckard, preventing him from falling into the vacuum. Before helping him, we see a close-up of Roy’s face, looking at Deckard on the brink of dying and filled with panic. That is when he says, “It’s quite an experience to live with pain, isn’t it? That’s what it means to be a slave”. Thereupon, he grabs Deckard’s arm and helps him up. Here, it may be said that Roy redeems himself, and that he performs an apotheotic action. The awareness of himself as a replicant is overcome when he feels empathy for the Blade Runner and helps him. This moment is completely transcendent, for Roy dies shortly thereafter, because he is programmed to do so. On the verge of his death, tormented by the emotion that most limits him, the fear of dying, he can see beyond himself when Deckard feels the same as he does.

The sympathy [8] of both is what frees them from their different designs. In this sense, Roy’s sympathy towards Deckard separates him from his condition as replicant and places him above himself, having awareness not only of himself, but of someone else, alien, who does not participate in his design. This action can be considered apotheotic if the word is read with regard to its root: as a separation or elevation. Roy ceases to be a Nexus-6 for a moment and allows Deckard to be seen as something more than a Blade Runner. Both are identified in the awareness of their finitude, in their fear of dying. Or rather, in their love of life. In fact, Deckard changes after this. He stops hunting Roy, because since he spared his life, he no longer sees him as a criminal, but as an equal who feels the same as him and who recognises him as equal.

Roy performs a saving action in which he redeems himself and Deckard. They are freed from their designs, no longer subject to the need for which they moved in life, and come to see themselves in a new, higher way. That elevation is symbolised by the dove that Roy holds in his hand when he dies and that subsequently takes flight. In it we see the symbol of peace, which contains in itself the overcoming of the moment of struggle, of enmity, and that reveals Roy’s renewed soul, free at last from anguish. The immense light that is Roy, his Luciferian spirit, fulfils his role and illuminates beyond the limits of his being, giving Deckard the chance to live a new life and to cease being, at last, a Blade Runner. Certainly, we find ourselves facing something apotheotic.

What, then, is the outcome of the sympathy? Apotheosis, the separation from design. In other words: the spiritual life. Sympathy shows the spiritual nature of the character of the replicants, whether Nexus or Blade Runners. Sympathy thus wakens the highest level of the personal life of the replicants, because it helps them to see beyond themselves, beyond their mere individual or group consciousness that seeks only to survive. Thus, in the story of Blade Runner, sympathy is the path that leads to a higher level of consciousness, which does not dwell on the immediate, on mere individual or group survival. Sympathy allows the limit of the self to be transcended to be the one who is different at design level.

Sympathy makes it possible to become one with the other, to discover the other within oneself, because he suffers like me: it pierces the soul of the other and we merge with it. In this way, what was reduced to need separates and rises to the level of freedom. Roy is able to transcend Deckard’s face and see beyond his condition of Blade Runner. He looks upon a being who suffers like him, he understands him, he separates his soul from his design when he recognises it, and he identifies with Deckard: both fear death. Roy then forgives Deckard, and is free to die in peace. In this sense, we can see that perfect light of Tyrell’s design: Roy is able to better himself, even if only for a few seconds, and to live fully free. By forgiving Deckard and letting him live, he loves him, for he seeks his good, in the same way as he seeks it for himself.

Roy’s unexpected love for Deckard provides an opening to conclude this first reflection on the apotheosis of the human in Blade Runner. It is fitting to relate that redemptive and sympathetic love with the love that Rachael and Deckard show. In the order of the story, they love each other before Roy saves Deckard. From the moment they meet, the attraction is obvious, but that attraction is more apotheotic than the emotion of fear, which is what links Roy and Deckard.

The love that Rachael feels for the Blade Runner leads her to kill another replicant to save his life. Specifically, she kills Leon by shooting him in the head when he is trying to strangle Deckard. Afterwards, they go to Deckard’s apartment together. Their conversation is very meaningful because there, they are honest. Deckard ceases to hunt her, for he owes her his life. Consequently, Rachael also saves Deckard from being a Blade Runner. Paradoxically, the replicants save Deckard from being himself.

The key moment in this scene is when, with Deckard asleep, Rachael starts to play the piano in the house and he wakes up. This is very important because Deckard does not know how to play the piano and Rachael did not know that she could. In fact, she says, “I don’t know if I’m me or Tyrell’s niece” [9]. Before she says this, Deckard tells her that he was dreaming of music. He reveals that Rachael has gotten inside him, his dreams, his innermost self that he cannot control.

The music that both recognise subconsciously tell us that Rachael and Deckard are twin souls: their restlessness, their quest, was destined to discover the other. Rachael holds the key to Deckard’s life and he to hers. The love of one for the other illuminates the confusing identity that they cannot see when they are alone and that, together, is clear. The look of another makes the self, which is dark and opaque, become clear and the person one is can be seen in the other. The authentic apotheosis, then, is the love that overcomes all designs, all differences, and that raises what was divided to a new shared identity. Love tells us that consciousness is not a monologue [10], but a dialogue [11]: it is through the other that the identity is revealed. Love leads us to conclude that real identity is not something atomic or individual: identity is a co-identity. In addition, though, love is strictly apotheotic, because it leads exclusively to separate lovers from everything else. The other is seen as if they were unique, inimitable in the order of the world, and is taken out by taking them further until they become one with him or her in the heart itself.

The sympathy of love allows the lovers to be in the other and with the other. Is this not enough to answer the question we asked at the beginning? Is there any doubt that the replicants are the apotheosis of the human? With them something radical is evident: Tyrell has created the possibility that they are more human than human because they have developed a soul of their own together. The replicants are people. There is an authentic apotheosis here, a deification, because not only has biology been manipulated and perfected – life has been created, something restricted to the divine. But that life has gone beyond the expected because it has achieved a new and improved freedom. Rachael and Deckard’s love begins a new world, where the human can easily be as it has ever been before: they are, truly, the apotheosis of the human.

  1. Critical reflection of the notion of person

The conclusion that has been reached from the film is that the replicants are people. This seems too radical, though, because it is thus assumed that a copy or reproduction of the human person can be made through technology. It is worth asking, however, if human beings have that power. We also need to examine whether the human person can be reduced to the notion of consciousness considered by modernity and that Descartes coined with the cognito, the I think, therefore I am. Is it possible to determine the being of the person merely with a consciousness that detects eidetic contents within himself? Are those contents real? If we accept this, we must conclude with Descartes that the individual is really a res cogitans, a thing that thinks. If he is only a thing that thinks, we could say that the replicants are people, regardless of whether the contents of their consciousness are real or not. Like the French philosopher, the replicants also doubt themselves and only have the certainty that they think, dream and feel. However, if we look more closely at the notion of person, which is that which resonates for itself in the world and within itself, in its intimacy, this notion (res cogitans) is not enough.

Is the person his consciousness?

Is consciousness a substance that exists by itself and with which we can identify ourselves? That is the path that modern rationalism tried to take and that culminated in Hegel’s idealist project. His determination to identify the subject and consciousness in a single object of thought ended in failure: really, consciousness does not exist outside of itself, it is confined if it seeks to achieve that identity. Hence the Nietzschean determination to negate thought, the intended idea, to live an authentic life turned over in time. A notion of individual founded on the subject-object identity ends in an exasperating dead end. The solution to this dead end is to deny reason and to live a blind will that seeks to be absolute.

In order not to fall into that radical and irrational reductionism, the thinking must be distinguished from the thought. From that thinking that is not reduced merely to thinking content, and that seeks its replica, we find a path that surpasses modern reason and that recovers the classical wisdom: we open ourselves to the reality that is beyond ourselves. Thus it is possible to meet the other, who I cannot control my thoughts: God, other people and the world. It is necessary, therefore, to recognise the ignorance that one has of oneself to find in the opening up to others the path to discover one’s own identity and not to reduce it to an ideal construct that does not answer the question of who we are. This is asked, in a certain way, in the film analysed here, but the leap that it takes dispenses with the notion of the person that we have just discussed.

Therefore, despite the personalist insights of the film, we cannot conclude that the replicants really are persons. Why? Precisely because that experience of opening up to another is from the filial reality of the person: it is a person when it is a son or daughter. The replicants lack that fundamental reality. Hence, it is necessary to implant a fictitious memory so that the doubts they have about their identity are more or less dissolved in the confused memories they have of their childhood.

Rafael Monterde Ferrando

Bioethics Observatory

 

References

[1] For those who have not seen the film, the replicants are the bioproducts of the Tyrell Corporation, designed to perform functions that human beings would not perform under normal conditions, i.e. slaves tailored to the needs of the creators. Their appearance and behaviour is, to a large extent, human, which leads one to question if it is really legitimate to doubt their humanity.

[2] The company responsible for producing the replicants.

[3] “Retire” is the concept used by the replicant hunters or Blade runners when they capture or execute a replicant.

[4] “Apotheosis” is to separate from the ordinary, the mundane, to elevate to the divine.

[5] It is important to note that, in this analysis, the director’s final cut is taken as reference, in which it is presumed that the Blade Runners are replicants, because in the second part of the sequel, this is evident.

[6] There is some debate on the etymology of the word homicide. It is a combination of two words: homo- and -cidium. The second is the verb caedere, which means to kill. The former is the one that is debatable. Homo- can be understood from the Latin or Greek. In Latin, it means strictly man, but in Greek it means equal. Therefore, the word homicide can be understood as to kill an equal. If we look up the Oxford English Dictionary, this second definition coincides with that in the dictionary: the killing of one person by another.

[7] Lucifer, also called Satan, who rebelled against God, saying “non-serviam!”, I will not serve.

[8] Sympathy, which comes from the Greek συμπάθεια, means to participate jointly in an emotion. It is the joining together by the same feeling. The prefix syn- is “together” and pathos is “passion” or “emotion”.

[9] Rachael’s memory implants are supposedly those from Eldon Tyrell’s niece.

[10] Alone we are unidentical.

[11] The prefix dia- in Greek means across. Logos is word or reason. It is linked to the Indo-European root leg- , which is to gather or choose.