The Issue Of Corporation’s Control Over Society In The Blade Runner

Ridley Scott’s depiction of 2019 in the film Blade Runner contrasts the world of 2019 today. Unlike the film, there are no humans migrating “off-world” and there are no androids infiltrating the human race. While the current technology does not parallel Ridley’s 2019, the concepts within the movie do. Ultimately questioning what makes humans human, the film introduces themes of identity and morality. These themes remain crucial as corporations such as the Tyrell Corporation exhibit utmost control over society. As a business, they influence social, political, and economical institutions, producing a narrow mindset in every citizen. This mindset of abiding by the social hierarchy traps characters such as Rick Deckard into constructs established by the corporation. To break free, individuals like Deckard must form their separate identity based upon experiences to stray from the mass mindset.

Loosely based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner adapts themes of identity, humanity, and reality. In fact, Philip K. Dick’s work has often been adapted for films such as Minority Report (Britannica 2). Trapping characters in dystopian environments, Dick portrays the psychological struggles that characters undergo based upon society. His work of portraying the “discomfiting effects” (1) that surroundings place on characters influenced the themes of Blade Runner. The film and novel touch into the science fiction genre on an existential level, questioning reality. Their ability to make science fiction personable leads to commentary on the 1980s rise of consumerism. Societal demands for newer and better products developed concerns about “spending [leading] to decadence” (PBS 2) such as the one raised in Blade Runner. With the introduction of Replicants in Blade Runner, society demands machines that get the job done better and faster influencing the manufacturers like Tyrell Corporation to create humanized machines.

The demand for labor in Blade Runner led to Tyrell Corporation's supply of bioengineered robots known as Replicants. The corporation’s motto “more human than human” spawned a machines designed for humanity’s comfort. Facing a mechanized version of themselves, humans sought to maintain their superior status and placed Replicants at the bottom of the hierarchy. As targets of Blade Runners on Earth, Replicants are “retired” (Scott) rather than executed. The idea to “retire” rather than execute enforces society’s views on their humanity: while they resemble humans, they must be retired like machines. To Rick Deckard, a Blade Runner, 'Replicants are like any other machine' (Scott) benefiting or harming society. This view, instilled by the Tyrell Corporation, expresses the intention of Replicants. Ideas of bigger and better demanded by society dismiss opposition to the production of Replicants, granting power to Tyrell Corporation. Throughout the film, the corporation has been given God-like treatment. Every scene with Tyrell has warm lighting, associating the character and corporation with the color yellow. Yellow signifies wisdom and marks Tyrell with a Divine aura. Seen as a savior, he helps humans with their God-given right to expand outwards. His ability to innovate mechanized humans into labor for off-world exploration allows him to control all of society. To society, Tyrell’s contributions help save humanity therefore what he says goes. By cooperating with the police, they control the social institutions and ensure that Replicants are eliminated. Their supply of free labor allows them to boost the economy, creating bigger and better products and goods. The corporation is the government, manipulating all aspects so that their mission to save and improve humanity succeeds. Tyrell Corporation’s power on society and its institutions allows them to instill a specific perspective on Replicants, generating the view that they are tools and machines.

Tyrell Corporation’s hold on society affects characters like Deckard. A member of the police force, Deckard absorbs society’s view on Replicants and bases his career off of it. While he ended his career early because he was tired of killing, the police force brings him back threatening that if he’s not cop then he’s “little people”(Scott). This threat proves that failure to comply will result in the ability to ruin his life. Tyrell Corporation’s hold on police institutions forces people like Deckard to surrender their freedom for the “greater good.” The orders enacted upon him lock him in place to think and act a certain way. Even as a cop, Deckard has benefits in regards to the social hierarchy. Not only does he have the power to kill but he has access to information that the normal civilian does not have. His status in the police force completely depends on the corporation's stance on Replicants. The Corporation’s declaration of Replicants being a threat provides a high-standing job for Deckard. With Tyrell Corporation dominating society, it remains important for him to stay as far up the food chain as possible. Deckard's identity at the beginning of the film originates mainly from the Corporation’s influence on social and political constructs. Strongly influenced, he could care less about Replicants just like everyone else.

Deckard’s opinions towards Replicants shift once he meets Rachel. His interaction with her questions the difference between humans and Replicants. Not only does it take him more than a hundred questions to recognize her Replicant status, but the rest of society does not recognize it until she runs away. She too, has memories as real as Deckard’s. She too, acts human. Her existence alone challenges Deckard’s stance on Replicants. The attitudes that Rachel demonstrate practically make her human despite the Voight-Kampff test placed upon by the Corporation. In fact, Deckard’s relationship with Rachel results in him gaining his humanity. His stunned reaction to killing Zhora resonates with the fact that she too may have been like Rachel, human. His next step to drink signifies that Deckard intention to clear his conscience. After acknowledging the insignificant difference between humans and replicants, Deckard’s guilt towards killing a replicant equates the one of killing a human. His attitude of humanity in replicants develops further with Roy’s sparing of his life. Confronting the man who killed all of his friends, Roy forgives Deckard. After being tortured by society’s oppression, Roy sets aside his differences to prove the social constructs wrong. His decision to save Deckard’s life expresses his empathy and implies that Replicants may be more human than humans. The tears in the rain scene further confirms his humanity. Designed to hold no emotion, Roy feels emotions after seeing and doing things humans would never imagine. In fact, his consciousness signifies his existence. Just like humans, a Replicant’s memories are significant to them but not to the greater universe. Because of this, Roy believes his life of fighting for Replicant rights will die in vain, however it will not due to Deckard’s existence. Deckard's recognition of humanity in Replicants challenges the distinction between a replicant and a human. His discovery of each Replicant and their backgrounds leads to the conclusion that they are as human as he is. With Tyrell Corporation in control, society may never see the humane side of Replicants. The differences instilled upon the two races were founded upon beliefs and prejudice implanted by the Corporation. If society was able to see and experience Replicants like Deckard did, then maybe they too would recognize the humanity in Replicants.

The film Blade Runner constructs a social blueprint on the modern world. Artificial memories implanted in Replicants mimic what humans undergo today. Studies show that social media platforms like Facebook, a corporation that sells data, blur the line between real memories and illusion. The integration of fake news and internet information “distort[s] individuals and collective memories in disturbing ways,” (Spinney 2) creating artificial perspectives and backgrounds. These false memories end up provoking hysteria, leading to a mob mentality. In fact Facebook revealed that the have created a process of “emotional contagion” (Booth 1) by manipulating human feelings through their feed. Just like Replicants, humans today have a sense of artificial memories through their courting of technology. Human reliance on technology influences lives to the point where someday humans are technology. Reality no longer matters to the society in Blade Runner and will soon not matter in modern times. Therefore, if Blade Runner were truly set in 2019, there would be no difference between humans and Replicants. This difference, shaped by the media of Tyrell Corporation mirrors how society functions today. Perspectives of the media specifically shape how citizens think. The occurrence of major issues can easily be masked with the lack of media coverage. Just like Tyrell Corporation shapes society, large corporations have a say in what society sees. The manipulation of perspective forces society to conform to one view rather than be educated and see the spectrum.

Humans could be replicants and replicants could be humans, however the difference between the two lies in whatever corporations deem is the difference. These societal constructs are a result of corporations and societies working hand in hand. While the current day does not place humans against machines, the themes of Blade Runner could not have been more predictive. Society’s lack of humanity leads to no distinction between humans and machines. Ultimately, we become machines as machines become us. 

16 August 2021
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