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Blade Runner: sci-fi’s vision of an impending future?

ByJohn Kosman

Mar 1, 2017

With a highly anticipated sequel set for release later this year, Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi thriller, Blade Runner, may be more relevant than you think. As the 2019 setting of the film approaches, the haunting future depicted in Blade Runner is becoming chillingly close to reality.

In the opening shot of the 1982 film, the audience is presented with a sprawling cityscape; a bleak vision of Los Angeles in 2019. The scene shows heavy industry and intimidating spires reaching into a sky choked with pollution. This reminds us of the current affairs and serious problems faced by the modern world, including the growing smog epidemic in China.

The film introduces protagonist, Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford. Deckar is a detective who is tasked with executing genetically-engineered beings, called ‘replicants,’ which are used for slave labour. These replicants are designed for specialised tasks in hostile off-world environments and are deemed forbidden on Earth. The notion of hunting down ‘illegal’ replicants, who have infiltrated their way into society, draws worrying parallels to present-day immigration issues.

Although we don’t have flying cars yet, huge vertical cities such as Tokyo and Hong Kong nowadays closely resemble the neon-lit megalopolis shown in Blade Runner. The film also envisages vibrant streets crowded with a diverse mixture of cultures and the city itself possesses the essence of a living, breathing, organism. Another scene in the classic film, where extreme detail is magnified in a photograph, forecasts the coming of high resolution digital cameras and editing software. Advances in modern medicine and biotechnology demonstrate that genetic engineering is a much more realistic course for the future than the ‘nuts and bolts’ clanking mechanical robots that science fiction has portrayed since Issac Asimov’s Robot series.

The film also predicts the disposable nature of the present-day consumer culture, where commodities can be acquired easier than ever. This defines a modern paradigm where items of technology become practically worthless and are idly discarded after a brief lifespan.

However, a future concept completely missed in Blade Runner is the internet, and its huge influence in modern society. This technology has enabled the world to be connected more than ever. Nevertheless, with so many people engrossed in smartphones and virtual reality, the current sense of public disconnection almost reflects the anti-social inclinations explored in the film.

Through its subject matter, the film poses questions about the moral implications of certain scientific topics. Are these synthetic replicants indeed equal to human beings? Should they be granted equal rights since they can develop emotions through their experiences? If this is the case, then how can they be capable of ruthless murder so easily, like a little boy would kill ants? Wouldn’t such inhumane actions be treated as psychopathic behaviour to an ordinary person?

Perhaps we can learn lessons from works of fiction, like Blade Runner, which project the direction we are heading in. Perhaps, for example, humanity’s impact on the environment can be changed before it’s too late?

Image: Moyan Brenn

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