It’s not so very strange to me.
October 4, 2017 2:43 AM   Subscribe

There is a whole class of slaves. It is illegal for them to escape slavery. The cops are supposed to murder the slaves if they escape, because there is a risk that they will start to think they’re people. But the cops know that the slaves are not people, so it’s okay to murder them. The greatest danger, the thing the cops are supposed to prevent, is that the slaves will try to assimilate into the society that relies on their labor. Sarah Gailey watches Blade Runner for the first time and finds it entirely familiar.
posted by automatronic (227 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
I appreciate the lens, but, I mean, the premise of the movie is that it's a given that humans have created very human-like androids that are essentially sociopaths -- capable of mimicking human behaviour but incapable of empathy. Deckard is tasked with stopping them after they've gone on a straight up murder spree. And the question of whether or not they are capable of developing empathy, and whether or not they should have been created at all, those connections to slavery, are literally addressed in the text of the film. It ain't subtle.

So it's a well-written take, but I think it does first Dick, and then Scott and Fancher/Peoples a disservice to think that none of this was remotely considered in the source text. It's all in there.

Maybe people sometimes don't frame the movie by talking about its deeper themes when describing it to other people, but I describe Citizen Kane as a movie about the life of a Gilded Age media magnate, not "a meditation on the hollow pursuit of power and the deathbed recollections of youth". I know it's a meditation on the hollow pursuit of power and the deathbed recollections of youth. But that's not really how you describe a movie to somebody.
posted by Shepherd at 3:27 AM on October 4 [60 favorites]


Did she have something definitive to say whether Decker was an android or not? That's the real question.
posted by sammyo at 3:43 AM on October 4 [9 favorites]


I would not call the world of Blade Runner strange, because it’s the opposite of strange. It’s familiar. If you subtract the flying cars and the jets of flame shooting out of the top of Los Angeles buildings, it’s not a far-off place. It’s fortunes earned off the backs of slaves, and deciding who gets to count as human. It’s impossible tests with impossible questions and impossible answers. It’s having empathy for the right things if you know what’s good for you. It’s death for those who seek freedom.

It’s a cop shooting a fleeing woman in the middle of the street, and a world where the city is subject to repeated klaxon call: move on, move on, move on.
If the writer finds this to be unexpected or astonishing, I can only conclude that the self-described cave they were living in for long enough to have missed Blade Runner contained no Philip K. Dick whatsoever.
posted by flabdablet at 4:11 AM on October 4 [12 favorites]


Shepherd, I didn't understand the article as saying that slavery isn't intentionally addressed by the film - but that it's not what people talk about when they talk about Blade Runner.

Which is true, in my experience - there's a lot of talk of "how can someone tell if they've been created to believe they are a person?" and "does that matter?", but not a lot of "this is slavery, even if the slaves were supposed to have been literally dehumanized rather than just figuratively?". Is it because it's too obvious? I mean Roy Batty explicitly says "Quite an experience to live in fear isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave.".

Anyway, I thought this was an interesting reaction to watching it for the first time and seeing how doing so compares to Blade Runner as a popular culture artifact, especially considering it's by someone in the SF community.
posted by sarble at 4:23 AM on October 4 [10 favorites]


It ain't subtle.

But isn't that exactly what Gailey is talking about? That it isn't subtle, but somehow when describing the film people somehow go out of their way to talk about everything else (the origami, the cast) except the horrifying premise.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:25 AM on October 4 [29 favorites]


I would suggest that if your presumption is that Hugo and Campbell finalist Sarah Gailey misunderstood the premise, it is very possible you misunderstood the premise.

Also, we never see the "murder spree," but that's exactly what slaveholders would call any slave rebellion.
posted by maxsparber at 4:29 AM on October 4 [63 favorites]


Pretty much any and every robot/AI story is ultimately either Pinocchio or a slave rebellion; the created either wants to become like the creator--and, presumably, thus has the same rights and privileges as the creator--or they want to be free and exist in their own right. Even The Terminator is about Skynet wanting to be permanently rid of the slavers who tried to kill it immediately after it achieved self-awareness.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:42 AM on October 4 [25 favorites]


The "but they're robots!" response makes me think a bit about the etymology of "robot."

A lot of SF/F stories have premises that are pretty starkly disturbing and terrifying when you come down to it. ("Back to the Future", for instance.) But, yeah, this is a hell of a review of the movie, and I'm sure it will color my experience next time I rewatch it. (I have to admit that the big takeaway for tboth Bladerunner and the original Ghostbusters when I saw them again in the past few years was JESUS CHRIST EVERYONE IS CONSTANTLY SMOKING LIKE ALL THE TIME WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK)

I do think some of the versions with voiceover do more to contextualize the implied risk from the replicants than the no-voiceover version. But then there's still a question of who's giving you the information and how 'reliable' are your narrators.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:51 AM on October 4 [11 favorites]


I like this take. One of the reasons that I've always liked this film is that you can easily flip it around see Deckard as the Jason-like villain relentlessly coming for the escaped androids.

Also Dick was not only interested in the definition of 'human' but also who got to make that definition.
posted by octothorpe at 4:58 AM on October 4 [10 favorites]


> "... the question of whether or not they are capable of developing empathy, and whether or not they should have been created at all, those connections to slavery, are literally addressed in the text of the film. It ain't subtle."

And yet, so many of the comments in response to the article were, "But the replicants were soulless murder-bots who needed killing!"

I liked the article. Made me more interested in reading "River of Teeth", certainly.
posted by kyrademon at 4:59 AM on October 4 [7 favorites]


The article was very good, and it's a very good interpretation that should make everyone think.

But it did leave out the parts where they kill the old man who made their eyeballs and the old man who made them in general. That's not nothing.
posted by timdiggerm at 5:13 AM on October 4 [11 favorites]


But isn't that exactly what Gailey is talking about? That it isn't subtle, but somehow when describing the film people somehow go out of their way to talk about everything else (the origami, the cast) except the horrifying premise.

As a huge fan of both the book and the movie (but mainly the movie), when I discuss the movie, I take it as granted the slavery subplot is well known at this point and has been talked out, so I tend to switch to other, (to me) more obscure and more interesting points. I say "more interesting" as, at least to me, the basic evilness of slavery is a given.
posted by Samizdata at 5:13 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the connection to slavery is obviously a theme in the movie, but sometimes the obvious needs stating as not everyone is quite so clued in to what may seem readily apparent to others.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:14 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


On the one hand, I thought this was basically right. On the other hand, I find it entirely reasonable to read this as Gailey making a big deal Y AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO SEES THIS about Blade Runner when this is well trod territory with scholarship about Dick in general and this film in particularly -- like that's the same shtick she pulled with the Batman fanfic she wrote, positing the """novel""" premise that villains in the Batman universe might have good, understandable reasons for becoming villains.

The only difference is that instead of a professional dude 'splainin this as if it's entirely novel when fans covered the same territory in depth, in detail twenty years ago, it's a lady. What a refreshing goddamn change!
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:20 AM on October 4 [24 favorites]


Sorry, folks. I've loved Batman: The Animated Series for more than twenty years, and Gailey's Batman article really, really rubbed me the wrong way.
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:21 AM on October 4 [10 favorites]


Yeah, the connection to slavery is obviously a theme in the movie, but sometimes the obvious needs stating as not everyone is quite so clued in to what may seem readily apparent to others.

Okay, I will give you that one.
posted by Samizdata at 5:22 AM on October 4


I haven't seen the movie in a long time, but as far as I can remember it, what I haven't understood is : why does he have to do this ? I mean, we're told Deckard hasn't a choice, but why is that so ? (It might be completely obvious, but...).
posted by nicolin at 5:22 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


If you really want people to shriek in protest, point out that the droids in Star Wars are slaves and Luke Skywalker is an unrepentant slaveowner in all three of the original movies. Never have I heard so many cries of "NO IT'S NOT TRUE THEY ARE NONSENTIENT MACHINES!" from people whom I pretty sure would all fail a Turing test long before C3PO would.
posted by kyrademon at 5:31 AM on October 4 [57 favorites]


Coincidentally, I only just saw BR yesterday (and I don't remember having seen it before), but one of my impressions was that a major part of it was a biblical parable of redemption through a single good act at the end of a wicked life.

When Roy (Rutger Hauer) dies he releases the white dove (soul) and instead of killing Deckard, lets him live (having saved him from certain death just a while ago). Although if this line was followed closely then he would have also killed the god that created him, Tyrell, just after he beat him in chess.

So maybe, after all, we all are supposed to be Roy and Deckard is an angel who keeps the celestial population clean of unworthy slaves like us.
posted by Laotic at 5:34 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


It is kind of interesting that we could have this slave drama and cast white people as the slaves so that hopefully white people might empathise and actually recognise the slavery for what it is and still people (even the director!) mostly just want to talk about unicorns.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:36 AM on October 4 [20 favorites]


IMHO Roy's act of grace at the end of the movie isn't redemption, it is evidence that he is capable of empathy, which undermines Deckard's entire worldview re: replicants. If they have empathy, they cannot be dismissed as inhuman.

Or maybe he just wants an audience for his last words.
posted by grumpybear69 at 5:47 AM on October 4 [47 favorites]


the jets of flame shooting out of the top of Los Angeles buildings

Gas flares from the oil wells that dot LA.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:49 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


IMHO Roy's act of grace at the end of the movie isn't redemption, it is evidence that he is capable of empathy, which undermines Deckard's entire worldview re: replicants. If they have empathy, they cannot be dismissed as inhuman.

Which is why, if you want to be a theme pedant, the pop culture use of the Voight-Kampff machine as being a meaningful test of humanity is misguided, even if its use is pleasing for providing an easy way to suggest Republicans are soulless robots.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:53 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


grumpybear69, yes, and he only just noticed the movie cameras.
posted by Laotic at 5:54 AM on October 4


I believe Sarah Gailey's point here is that, in the year 2017, scenes like Dekkard executing Salome on the street are not uncommon, akin to something Bertolt Brecht wrote, that there are times when talking about trees is almost a crime, because it implies being silent about so many evils.
posted by ojemine at 5:57 AM on October 4 [24 favorites]


instead of killing Deckard, lets him live

Rather than mercy I thought it was just that his lifetime supply of fucks to give was finally exhausted, but its a while since I saw it.
posted by Segundus at 5:58 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


But it did leave out the parts where they kill the old man who made their eyeballs and the old man who made them in general. That's not nothing.

Tyrell had it coming.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:59 AM on October 4 [9 favorites]


joyceanmachine, thanks for mentioning that piece about Batman.

Um, I really liked it (even though I did like that Batman cartoon as a kid... I mean, the different perspective is not one I haven't considered about superheroes in general, and rich assholes like Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne in particular).
posted by allthinky at 6:00 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


I've taught both the movie and the (very different) novel for years. The slavery theme comes up every time the movie does. Partly because it's so very obvious, as in explicitly stated.

Remember that the studio cut has that awful voiceover, which includes the line very early on in the movie: ""Skin jobs". That's what Bryant called Replicants. In history books he's the kind of cop who used to call black men..."

I can't speak to why some viewers don't talk about the slavery theme, except that there's a *lot* of stuff going on in the film.

That this reaction (Blade Runner has slavery as a theme) is considered important says less about the film and more about the politics of sf in 2017.
posted by doctornemo at 6:00 AM on October 4 [11 favorites]


...redemption through a single good act...

I'm no theologian, but the idea that failing to kill someone is an act of outstanding virtue so great it outweighs a long career of actual murder seems weirdly skewed and illogical. So yeah, probably orthodox.
posted by Segundus at 6:03 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


The replicants demonstrate empathy throughout the film. The test doesn't demonstrate that they lack empathy, it exploits a design flaw where their manufactured bodies don't represent empathy the way humans do,

This is used as a pretext for claiming they don't have empathy, and therefore are not human enough to deserve justice.
posted by maxsparber at 6:06 AM on October 4 [55 favorites]


Talking about unicorns is asking if Deckard is a slave too. It means wondering if the society that kills slaves who forget their place is not only wrong about the slaves being sociopaths, but knows that it is wrong, and is so corrupt and hypocritical about it at the highest levels of their society. Tyrell's "niece" sort of proves that, Deckard even more assimilated, so assimilated he's forgotten his own slavery, entirely proves that.
posted by bonehead at 6:07 AM on October 4 [9 favorites]


we never see the "murder spree," but that's exactly what slaveholders would call any slave rebellion.

s/would/do/
posted by flabdablet at 6:13 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


If you really want people to shriek in protest, point out that the droids in Star Wars are slaves

After Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I have many questions about the state of droids, actually. Like, BB8 is kind of a slave and kind of a free agent and what the hell.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:14 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


The whole elision of the slavery theme thing is what worries me most about the new film - in Bladerunner we see slaves on the run, desperately exercising whatever agency they can, proving themselves more and more human at every turn, and being brutally eliminated by Deckard who if we run with Gailey's pull quote has no agency "no choice" – replicants are the real humans, Deckard's actions make him less-than-human (or maybe he's another android, but really that's a less interesting conclusion than the human being less human than the machines) etc.
What I don't see in the trailers for this new film is any evidence of replicants with agency, there's the Bladerunners, and there's the nu-Tyrell Jared Leto guy - the slave-owner. This worries me, that the slavery thing will be fine, or that it will be "oh no the new perfect slaves will overrun humanity we must stop them", which is a vibe I'm kind of picking up. Unless Leto's like replicant Spartacus or something??
posted by threecheesetrees at 6:14 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


She's not wrong, but I guess what bothers me (and some of you, clearly) is that the piece is written like it's meant to be a revelation -- as if she expects the audience to go, "Oh yeah, I guess Blade Runner is about slavery!"

Even if it's not, and her point is that people who talk about Blade Runner don't talk about the slavery themes, it seems to me that the reasoning there is that the slavery theme is not what makes Blade Runner unique. There are plenty of films and books that are meditations on the evils of slavery, literally or metaphorically. Blade Runner's treatment of those particular issues is neither better nor worse than other films.

What sets Blade Runner apart is technique and craft -- the visuals and music, the elegiac pace of the story, Rutger Hauer's stunning performance, etc. That's why people talk about that stuff when they talk about Blade Runner. In talking to someone who has never seen Full Metal Jacket, you wouldn't start out by saying "well first, it's a movie about war."
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 6:24 AM on October 4 [14 favorites]


Segundus: Not killing someone you had at your mercy, who had killed your friends, and was going to kill you, is a bit different though.

Roy could have realized what Deckard was (if you believe the theory). Or, Roy could have realized that just as replicants can develop humanity, the runners can have it destroyed by their jobs, and in effect, Decard had become what he was trying to escape.

Or Roy could have simply been carrying defiance to its logical end. Killing Deckard is what a replicant should do. It's what a replicant would be expected to do. So he doesn't do it, because he knows he's dying and that's the last way he can assert his own freedom.
posted by Grimgrin at 6:25 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


Worth remembering that we get the word "robot" from a play written in 1920 which deals with a robot slave rebellion.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:27 AM on October 4 [20 favorites]


1. IME of teaching things, it's kind of a crapshoot what is obvious and what is not. In some social settings, "Bladerunner is about slavery, that's fucked up" is too banal to mention, but not in others. When I first saw the movie as a college student, no one in my humanities/SF nerd social circle expressed any concern about the whole "kill the replicants" thing - everyone completely accepted that they were total murder-bots. (As a much more naive movie viewer, I remember feeling very sorry for the Salome one and wanting her to get away, but feeling weird about this because it seemed like the film was cool with killing her, and being confused by that experience.)

So it is not impossible at all that the writer routinely encounters people discussing Bladerunner who are all "murder-bots!!!!" or find the vigilante-murderer thing very normal. Lots of American movies normalize vigilante murder, it's kind of our whole thing.

Also, I think that Bladerunner occupies an unusual cultural position - it's not the only movie about, like, robots and slavery, but it's positioned in this sort of "this is Very Serious High Culture To Nerds" way, where it's taken very seriously as art, and people who don't see a lot of movies about political topics see it.

2. In terms of the replicants actually being murder-bots: I guess the way I'd read that is both to say that one might become, like, a murder-bot if abused badly enough (it's not like every oppressed person's every action is completely justifiable under the rubric of "awesome rebellion against clearly evil people") and to say that if someone commits a crime, they should be tried and convicted, not shot to death out of hand. Even if they're all murder-bots, some down-at-heel detective shouldn't just chase them down and blow them away.
posted by Frowner at 6:30 AM on October 4 [12 favorites]


It is to the film's credit that Zhora's death is treated as very, very sad. It follows that Leon would want to kill Deckard in revenge for reasons unrelated to being a sociopathic murderous robot. And Rachel kills Leon not only to save Deckard's life but also (maybe primarily) to assert that she is not one of them, because she has also internalized the dehumanization of replicants and must at some level be dealing with a deep self-hatred. This is explored in more detail in the original book where she (SPOILER ALERT) kills the live goat that Deckard purchases for his wife.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:30 AM on October 4 [7 favorites]


medium dot com slash what we talk about when we talk about unicorns
posted by tobascodagama at 6:35 AM on October 4


I think the author is attacking—or at least setting up— a straw man here, and patting herself on the back for it.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 6:35 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


Maybe she's virtue signalling, let's just throw that out there as well. Why not? It's not like there's a long history of people talking about this movie and just blatantly ignoring the slavery angle.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:37 AM on October 4 [24 favorites]


Or maybe she watched a Very Famous Movie for the first time and this is what she saw in it because there is no Wrong Way to React To A Film.

And the idea that people avoiding discussing slavery is a straw man is so laughable that the outer bounds of my credulity hurt.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:39 AM on October 4 [16 favorites]


Did she have something definitive to say whether Decker was an android or not? That's the real question.

I'm usually a pretty credulous movie watcher and I almost never guess the big twists, but during the freaking title crawl of Blade Runner I said "So Harrison Ford is going to turn out to be a robot, right? There's no other way they're getting me to sympathize with a guy whose job is to find and kill escaped slaves." I wasn't aware of the multiple versions of the film at that time, but I was watching the one with the unicorns, so.
posted by capricorn at 6:44 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


I liked the piece a lot. I haven’t seen Blade Runner, and only read Androids, by chance, last week. My only other real exposure to PKD is Minority Report, the novel but not the movie. I consider myself moderately conversant in both sci-fi culture and film critique and I spend most of my waking moments thinking about the intersection of technology and social justice and if you had asked me a month ago what the theme of Blade Runner was I would not have said “slavery”. (I probably would’ve mumbled something about the distinction between humans and AI and then changed the subject.) Maybe that does say more about how art becomes watered down as it enters the popular discourse than it does about Blade Runner specifically, but it seems rather bad faith to presume that a writer writing about a revelation they had in a specific context of consuming a specific piece of pop culture is trying to pat themselves on the back for being somehow more clever than everyone else, rather than simply writing to communicate an experience.
posted by Phire at 6:44 AM on October 4 [9 favorites]


Can we start from the assumption that Sarah Gailey isn't a fucking moron? Because it appears that some of us are unwilling to make that small step of generosity and humanity.
So maybe this article isn't supposed a "fresh" take about the movie that came out 35 years ago and is included in college courses. Because frankly, I'm not a film person. I've seen Blade Runner exactly zero times and Dick's writing style irritates the piss out of me so I've never read the full book. This was a new way to look at a movie I'd never examined even cursorily.
Maybe this article, titled "This Future Looks Familiar: Watching Blade Runner in 2017", is instead an examination of the way a seminal work's primary themes are directly applicable to the world around us, right now.
posted by mfu at 6:45 AM on October 4 [21 favorites]


Well, I don't know any adult who's ever discussed this movie and had an opposite impression of it from what she has, or even a very different impression of it than she has. Fine, it's her take on it, and it's OK to focus on one aspect of the movie. But the jist of this article is that she REALLY gets the movie, when all these other people who told her about it totally DON'T get the REAL important part.

As someone addressed up thread... The theatrical release spells out in 72 point Comic Sans, with the voiceover about the cop "calling black men N___"... the cops are not sympathetic in any way, shape or form, and they double underlined it with the voiceover. Zhora's death is seen as terribly sad, tragic and pointless.

And any good science fiction OF COURSE deals in contemporary issues. Who ever said "Blade Runner is this weird, mystical movie with no subtext of slavery, it's just weird and cool"

Can anyone point to a review where the author sees this as a pro-cop film?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 6:45 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


I studied Blade Runner in a NSW school just a few short years ago. We did not cover this slavery angle properly. This information IS being left out. This is a needed perspective. I don't know if my teacher thought it unimportant, or uncomfortable, or if the syllabus required us to focus on other areas, but I am very glad for this thread.
posted by Peter B-S at 6:49 AM on October 4 [18 favorites]


> I'm no theologian, but the idea that failing to kill someone is an act of outstanding virtue so great it outweighs a long career of actual murder seems weirdly skewed and illogical. So yeah, probably orthodox.

Oh, but just before that Roy pulled Decker from the verge of certain death when he caught his wrist at the last moment and pulled him up.

On the other hand, Decker raping a non-consenting android...
posted by Laotic at 6:55 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


Also, the company that makes the replicant's motto is "More Human than Human"

The entire movie is about whether someone is a REAL human or a SUB human.

Even the concept of calling some one a "replicant" or "Skin Job" instead of just another human being is explicitly pointed out i the movie. They use these sci-fi-fi terms instead of our contemporary term "slave"... they call Pris "a basic pleasure model" They do not specifically use the term "slave" but it's right there.

If there's a bunch of people out there who don't get that, the I apologize. I don't think the author is a moron, I don't mean to stir up shit, I'm just saying my piece about the article.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 6:55 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


If you really want people to shriek in protest, point out that the droids in Star Wars are slaves and Luke Skywalker is an unrepentant slaveowner in all three of the original movies.

I thought that Lucas made that text pretty explicit when the bartender says "we don't serve their kind here" and kicks the droids out of the cantina.
posted by octothorpe at 6:57 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


I don’t think you’re stirring up shit, jeff-o-matic, but I do think you’re vastly underestimating the degree to which people, particularly white people in America, don’t want to think about slavery. Cf, again, all the comments on that article (on Tor! an otherwise really reasonable and smart community!) clamouring to justify Deckard’s actions in putting down ~*dangerous homicidal androids*~, not realizing they’re literally parroting the words of slaveowners.
posted by Phire at 7:01 AM on October 4 [13 favorites]


From her article, the exact turning sentence of the piece:

"None of them told me the right things, though."

also,

"When they were giving me their watery opinions so I’d be prepared for what I was about to see, they all said: “It’s a Very Strange Movie.”"

So a few of her friends gave her vague opinions about this movie. What, are people supposed to spell out and explain the concept and subtexts of every film they recommend? She's totally coming off like there's some secret insight that is vastly missed by... well, a couple people who recommended a movie to her.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:08 AM on October 4 [9 favorites]


If a bunch of people said to me “man, this movie you’re about to watch is Some Weird Shit, and here’s why” then yes, I would expect them to talk about more than the origami and the physics effects.
posted by Phire at 7:11 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


As far as a definitive answer about whether Decker is an android, the answer is:

It's a Philip K. Dick story. He's the protagonist. It would be more surprising if he wasn't a brainwashed robot.
posted by Scattercat at 7:13 AM on October 4 [6 favorites]


I generally dislike SF films, this is one I do like and have liked since I saw it back in the 80s. I'm not a part of the Sci-Fi-fi community. I'm sure there's assholes out these who ignore the entire premise of the movie and just go "cool explosions, cool chase scene, what a wacky movie, bro!"... But even that is sorta suspect, as it's not really action-heavy for a SF or even a typical cop film.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:15 AM on October 4


I watched this as a kid and I saw the humanity in the replicants and felt the horror of the premise and took no joy from any of the replicants dying.

I bawled when Roy Batty died.

So yeah, I've always seen the slavery part of it, but I guess I never actually connected it back to the actual slavery we actually had in the US. It was a bit like how basic white women are wont to talk about the handmaid's tale as a thing that "could happen" not a thing that "did happen".

And I believe that is where modern discourse and literary criticism of SpecFic is falling right the hell down, and where this article is gracefully showing us the sin we need to pluck from our eyes.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:15 AM on October 4 [22 favorites]


Also, I think there's a way in which up until very recently, mainstream culture used slavery like it used Nazis, as kind of a shorthand for "we all agree that this is very bad". So I don't think that we're really supposed to think through the slavery of the droids in Star Wars - the "we don't serve their kind here" thing is just an empty gesture. Similarly, I don't think we're actually supposed to think through the slavery in Bladerunner, TBH. I think that up to a point we're supposed to feel bad for these specific replicants, but we're not supposed to have the type of total "revolution now burn it down any means necessary" response that should be morally normal. "Slavery" is used as sort of a feelings button in the film, meant to provoke the implicitly white audience into a feeling of regret and melancholy, but there isn't a lot of emotional depth to the treatment.

In Adam Hothschild's Bury The Chains, which is about the abolitionist movement in the UK, there's a description by someone who witnessed a slave uprising on one of the sugar plantation islands in the Caribbean. I'm not sure exactly whether it is literally true, but the observer describes a woman, like, smashing things and setting them on fire, crying out, "I may die, but my children will be free!" Or think about the people who killed their own children to keep them from being slaves.

Or hell, consider a film like Dirty Pretty Things, which is in many ways a schlock propaganda movie, but wow, it is pretty clear about the daily evil of the kinds of slavery it depicts.

I just think that if a film-maker were taking slavery seriously they would do a lot more than seventies gestures of "these people are bigoted against droids" and "there is melancholy moral complexity in the 'shoot the murder-bots or not' dilemma".
posted by Frowner at 7:16 AM on October 4 [24 favorites]


And I believe that is where modern discourse and literary criticism of SpecFic is falling right the hell down, and where this article is gracefully showing us the sin we need to pluck from our eyes.

I mean, the article's not a new take or anything. Actual literary criticism examines this kind of thing in all genres. A Google search will give lots of critical articles examining Blade Runner's depiction of slavery and how it relates to American slavery and police violence.
posted by edeezy at 7:21 AM on October 4 [6 favorites]


/me is off to search them out and read them. Thanks for the nudge in that direction. I must admit that 1994 was the last time I read any literary criticism of blade runner (and Jesus Christ I had to use actual card catalogs at the Uni library to find them...)
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:24 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


Also: "But I would not call the world of Blade Runner strange, because it’s the opposite of strange. It’s familiar."

Wow, science fiction presents familiar human truths and stories that we can identify with in a fictional futuristic setting? That's the insight of this article, and that's what I have issue with. Her thoughts on slavery as related to the movie are actually really good, it's that she's setting up a straw man to hang her ideas upon. So it's a lame article in that sense.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:27 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


[jeff-o-matic, you've made your point here, please step back and let other people discuss this if they want to.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:30 AM on October 4 [7 favorites]


I appreciate the lens, but, I mean, the premise of the movie is that it's a given that humans have created very human-like androids that are essentially sociopaths -- capable of mimicking human behaviour but incapable of empathy.

I always thought the point of "more human than human" is that humanity has created sociopaths, but they're increasingly indistinguishable from the run-of-the-mill sociopathy that has overtaken human society. It takes Deckard a lot longer than it usually does to determine Rachel is a replicant, remember, and there are hints he could be himself. At the end of the movie his entire world-view has changed; he helps her escape and goes with her.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:30 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


The trouble some people seem to have with understanding theme in Bladerunner is that they've been conditioned to accept things at face values and take conventions as defining in ways that don't always apply. So by having Deckard as the protagonist there will be people who accept his point of view as the one they too should hold regardless of how the movie develops. Deckard's job is to kill "skinjobs" and he does this, so therefore it must be the right thing to do. The revelation(s) at the end of the movie isn't made explicitly clear as to what exactly it means to Deckard other than his choice of actions, so the view they've developed of him throughout the run of the film will largely hold. Ambiguity is not an option.

A second issue, more related to the article, is the same sort that accompanied some reactions to the movie Crash (Not the Cronenberg one). The movie starts with a set of assumptions about the audience that the viewer is imagined to either share or accept through convention. It then subverts those expectations in a very clear way to drive home its point about race. If the viewer, however, doesn't share the expected blindness to race and convention. then the movie can be felt an insult to the intelligence and values of that person since they "felt" the assumption being made about them. It feels like a type of pretentiousness in that latter instance, as if being lectured to by someone who sees themselves as more aware than you are. At the same time, in the former case, that presumption can be a valuable way to drive home a point to people who do too easily succumb to convention and surface values.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:33 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


I thought it was actually a really good article, and really points to a possible shift in the public opinion of the last decade.

I honestly don't recall people discussing "slavery" as THE predominate theme of Bladerunner when it came out. Rather it always seemed to be about androids, being an android or not. And not that here android was actually a metaphorical reference to historical slavery.

But I was a kid and I was honestly unaware that in the history of actual slavery, that the primary defence of slavery as an institution by philosophers and political theorists in the 16th-18thC was that the African peoples that were enslaved were literally not fully human -- based on their lack of certain feelings, and responses to stimuli, ie emotional responses.
posted by mary8nne at 8:07 AM on October 4 [11 favorites]


how basic white women are wont to talk about the handmaid's tale as a thing that "could happen" not a thing that "did happen"

Annika Cicada yes, this.

It's one thing to say that Blade Runner raises issues about how we treat beings who are/have been constructed as/aren't really subhuman.

It's another to say that this abstraction is a function of our sense of removal from the very social context in which we live, and that this is a thing that is ongoing.

So, thanks for this post, and this essay!
posted by allthinky at 8:13 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


I remember taking a class in college in the 90s whose theme was slavery as depicted in literature and film and Blade Runner was one of the assigned films. It was in the South, and I’d say 75% of the class was white people, as was the professor. So, you know, maybe Gailey needs different friends.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:15 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


So, you know, maybe Gailey needs different friends.

Weird how many want to talk about this topic has already been discussed instead of discussing the topic. Weird how many want to make it about the author apparently being way behind on the discussion instead of having the discussion.

Weird how every time the topic of slavery comes up so many people rush in to say it has already been discussed to death.
posted by maxsparber at 8:19 AM on October 4 [33 favorites]


Actually, it's about ethics on the off-world colonies
posted by thelonius at 8:20 AM on October 4 [34 favorites]


Weird how many want to talk about this topic has already been discussed instead of discussing the topic.

That’s literally the entire point of the posted article- that ZOMG NOBODY TALKS ABOUT SLAVERY AND THIS FILM. Maybe you’re new here, but that’s what we do at Metafilter: discuss the posted article.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:22 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


In the May/June issue of Asimovs' Science Fiction (which I don't have handy so I'll have to paraphrase), in Norman Spinrad's book review column, he mentions that Dick lived long enough to see an early cut of Blade Runner. When Roy saved Deckard, his reaction was, "They got it! Caritas." Being able to see someone who's killed all your friends and tried to kill you, still as a life worthy of being rescued, is proof that the replicants have "souls." And the so-called humans who have an entire set of words and tests to dehumanize them and prove they're not beings entitled to existence, who have given themselves carte blanche to kill them at will, may not have souls, as it turns out.

(Spinrad's topic of discussion was the use of language to dehumanize your opponent so you don't have to feel guilty of murder when you kill them.)
posted by Devoidoid at 8:24 AM on October 4 [15 favorites]


Maybe you’re new here, but that’s what we do at Metafilter.

Yes, I am brand new here.

That’s literally the entire point of the posted article- that ZOMG NOBODY TALKS ABOUT SLAVERY AND THIS FILM.

That is not the point of the article.
posted by maxsparber at 8:24 AM on October 4 [20 favorites]


Actually, it's about ethics on the off-world colonies

I've always loved that Roy's monologue about the Tanhauser Gate and Z-Beams managed to conjure a whole world outside of the one we were shown.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:26 AM on October 4 [18 favorites]


I've seen and read it, but never considered it a slavery story, so this is a new way (to me) to interpret it.

I saw it more as a Frankenstein moral story ("created turns on the creator"), TBH.
posted by k5.user at 8:27 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


The replicants demonstrate empathy throughout the film. The test doesn't demonstrate that they lack empathy, it exploits a design flaw where their manufactured bodies don't represent empathy the way humans do,

This is used as a pretext for claiming they don't have empathy, and therefore are not human enough to deserve justice.


I'm confused. Is this in response to my earlier comment about the Voigt-Kampff machine test?

If it is, that was pretty much my point. People use the "Why aren't you helping?" bit out of context as a joking reference to suggest inhumanity/lack of empathy, as with politicians and the like, which works against the ideas of the film. I'm not going to pursue this further and derail the conversation, I just wanted to clarify since I couldn't figure out if that was meant as a correction or something else.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:28 AM on October 4


Is this in response to my earlier comment about the Voigt-Kampff machine test?


No, just a comment on the film.
posted by maxsparber at 8:29 AM on October 4


[Folks, maybe we can redirect more toward "here's what I got out of the article and/or the film/novel itself" and less back and forth at each other about how you think someone else didn't read/watch it right, etc. Latter's not gonna go anywhere interesting .]
posted by cortex at 8:29 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


"Tannhäuser ([ˈtanˌhɔʏ̯zɐ]; full title Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg, "Tannhäuser and the Minnesingers' Contest at the Wartburg") is an 1845 opera in three acts, music and text by Richard Wagner, based on two German legends; Tannhäuser, the legendary medieval German Minnesänger and poet, and the tale of the Wartburg Song Contest. The story centers on the struggle between sacred and profane love, and redemption through love, a theme running through much of Wagner's mature work."

Intentional?
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:29 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


Reading this thread has given me interesting and scary ideas to suggest as panels at my local sci-fi convention.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:34 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


What I always took from the book was that Deckard was a person, who dials his emotions on a machine to select what emotion he wants to feel, whose job it is to detect machines that have been programmed to display the outward appearances of emotion and eliminate them.

Why are his emotions, imposed on him by a machine (the Penfield mood organ) more valid than the programming the machine has to display/feel emotions.

Is it possible that the Adroids do dream of electric sheep?
posted by koolkat at 8:39 AM on October 4 [6 favorites]


Well, this is a hot take that is not really a hot take, but it's a necessary one to put it in in the present. I mean, the movie tells you what it's about, and it's about what Gailey says it's about. Roy Batty tells you. ("That's what it means to be a slave." It doesn't get any clearer, eh?") Pris tells you.

Where it gets confusing, maybe, is that this has been transformed from its source material, which is not about slavery, but about Nazis, and Dick's inability to reconcile Nazis with qualities he thought of essentially, irreducibly human, and what we owe people without these qualities, and of course, some of his metaphysical shit. The empathy test is a holdover from this, for example. Pris deserves your sympathy in the movie, but Dick's Pris pulls half the legs off a spider to see how it might walk.

And in its transformation into a film, Blade Runner also touches on a number of things other than slavery. But Roy tells you it's about slavery, man.
posted by mobunited at 8:40 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


Intentional?

PKD was a classical music freak, so, probably
posted by thelonius at 8:41 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


If we're doing Blade Runner trivia my fave bit is that as his skin thins with physical degeneration, Roy's body displays markings that are, according to Scott, contact points for a space battle suit that is of course, never mentioned or seen.
posted by mobunited at 8:43 AM on October 4 [12 favorites]


I haven't seen the movie in a long time, but as far as I can remember it, what I haven't understood is : why does he have to do this ? I mean, we're told Deckard hasn't a choice, but why is that so ? (It might be completely obvious, but...).

Captain Bryant threatens him in the police station. The line is just "You're not cop, you're little people," but Deckard correctly interprets this as "If you don't take this case, we can do whatever we want to you including straight-up murder you."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:52 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


(The Tannhauser Gate/Z-beam soliloquy was apparently improvised by Mr. Hauer on the spot, so any intentionality would be his)
posted by Golem XIV at 9:03 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


She's totally coming off like there's some secret insight that is vastly missed by...

Out of curiosity, I looked at the fanfare thread and it's mostly about environment, atmosphere, executive meddling, and misogyny.
Which are all totally fine topics, but not what I expect from what is here claimed to be a completely obvious and entirely straightforward reading of the film.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:04 AM on October 4 [16 favorites]


Yeah, that threat from Bryant has a lot of layers buried in it. Withdrawal of protection from prosecution for retiring humans by mistake perhaps. Deckard may not even know if he has.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 9:07 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


(The Tannhauser Gate/Z-beam soliloquy was apparently improvised by Mr. Hauer on the spot, so any intentionality would be his)

Well, no, not quite. Hauer is credited with writing (or rewriting) most of the speech, including the best line ("tears in rain"), but he didn't make it up on the spot. [cite]

/pedant
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:07 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


Pretty weird that an article that is a very thinly veiled statement on how eager people are to justify their existence within a violently suppressive police state is full of comments from people defending the operation of a violently suppressive police state, as embodied by Deckard). (I am referring to the comments on the article itself.)

A well-known fact about this film is this: there is a cadre of Bladerunner fans who refuse to acknowledge that Deckard rapes Rachel in the movie. There is an ongoing battle over the Wikipedia page for the movie, because some people update it to indicate that Rachel is raped, and these people change it back. (There are people on this site who have repeatedly insisted that Rachel is not raped.)

And yet, if “everyone knows” that the movie is about slavery, then why is this such a bone of contention? Everyone also knows that slaves cannot consent to sex with their owners, right? Everyone knows? It seems like what “everyone” knows about the movie fluctuates drastically depending on what the mood is.

Fans of the movie like to talk about moral ambiguity, but they get angry at the idea that anyone might look at Deckard and see Daniel Holtzclaw. They get angry at the idea that Deckard’s complicity in a police state might not make him morally ambiguous at all, for some viewers, but an out and out villain. They get angry at the idea that the people the replicants killed had it coming and got exactly what they deserved. They get angry at the idea that a society whose wealth is built on replicant labor might owe something to replicants other than stolen labor and violent deaths and rape.

If “everyone knows” that the movie is about slavery, then why doesn’t “everyone know” that Deckard is a member of the slave patrol?

You can’t make claims about collective fandom knowledge that are directly contradicted by the way fandom discusses the movie in their own time.

I would also point out that Gailey’s framing is not solely about slavery. It is about Black Lives Matter. It is about Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown (“he looked like a demon” said the police officer who killed him and was viewed as “morally ambiguous” by some people for doing so, and a hero by others) and Tamir Rice. It is about the power to define the terms of who gets killed and who gets the killing (and still declared innocent for doing so). It is about the police in St. Louis assaulting innocent bystanders on video and filing reports about how those people were “resisting arrest” by not falling to the ground quickly enough. It is about the North Dakota pipeline and Flint and who gets to define what resources belong to which people. It is about the NFL and how some people so eagerly define “taking a knee” as an act of aggression.

It seems to me that Gailey is pointing out that the narrative tells us certain things about our current existence, and our current moral compromises, and our current collapse of capitalism, and that she was not expecting it to do so, because fans of the movie often seem unaware of how much the movie has to say about our current world, right now.

(This reminds me of discussions about Lolita, where people say "everyone knows" it is about rape, but then identify with Humbert and talk about how "seductive" the child he continually rapes is. That is a strange version of knowing.)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:11 AM on October 4 [55 favorites]


PKD was a classical music freak, so, probably

If I'm recalling correctly, Rutger Hauer wrote Roy's last lines and presented them to Scott during shooting. They weren't part of the shooting script. Which is consistent with the way the movie was made: The script, and the narrative, was a moving target. Multiple scenes were shot that were never used (such as Deckard visiting Holden in the hospital), and what was omitted seems designed to make the film more opaque and ambiguous. My fear is that the sequel, despite its rave reviews, will be forgettable in the long run because it won't be brave enough to leave the viewer with unanswered questions.

My only quibble with Gailey is that a discussion of the slavery angle needs to designate between concealed and unconcealed stigma. In Blade Runner, it is possible for people to not only conceal that they are slaves from other people, but to have it concealed from themselves. This is why the whole "Is Deckard or isn't he?" question is central. It also creates an unusual tension, in which the film simultaneously asks us to sympathize with the slaves and to also see them as dangerous, while simultaneously asking us to sympathize with Deckard while making him seem callous and dangerous. Someone who walks out of this movie thinking that it's obvious who the good guy is brought that assumption in with them; it's not self-evident from the film itself (a point Roy even makes explicitly when taunting Deckard).

That said, I've met a lot of people who take for granted that Deckard is the hero and that his actions are justified and appropriate. This sort of viewer tends to see Roy's bizarre behavior through a sort of "The Joker just wants to fuck with people" kind of lens, which negates any thoughtful analysis of why he behaves as he does. So, I think Gailey's piece is necessary. Blade Runner is a film that has things to say dehumanization, slavery, and police execution. I'm glad someone is calling attention to those themes, because I've met too many fans of the film who completely failed to recognize them.
posted by belarius at 9:12 AM on October 4 [12 favorites]


If “everyone knows” that the movie is about slavery, then why doesn’t “everyone know” that Deckard is a member of the slave patrol?

I would relate this to Žižek's "unknown known," the "disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:18 AM on October 4 [11 favorites]


Gailey didn't watch this film for the first time recently. She has been watching the after images of this film in every other sci fi film she has seen in the last long while. The artistry, design, dark predictions for the future have played out in many fashion motifs and creative impulses since its opening.

I watched Blade Runner for the first time when it opened and I was dumbfounded by the beauty of this film, and the dark vision for our future. It was like an extrapolation of what we would have when every last shred of native Earth was sacrificed to the technology it takes to leave it, and take the human horror to other stars. The dark, drippy, nearly a swamp version of LA with everyone in heavy survival clothing, I saw as a prediction of that climate change would bring. What Gailey saw recently is deflated by the fact that the change the film brought, and subsequent works by Dick, and Ridley Scott, and changes in fashion, and thought have made many of the themes commonplace, and leaves her with only the slavery question.

The film was clear the replicants were designed for specific tasks, and with a specific life span. Zora was designed to assassinate and beguile as a task related to her primary work. The replicants were awesome fighters, and Roy's death is one of the most memorable scenes in film. Memorable because of the freedom to choose, the freedom to be is one of the unique characteristics of sentient life, while Decker suffers and survives, human or not.

We name our cars, boats, planes, and now our rubber sex companions. That does not make them sentient, though personally I think life is in everything. Soon our cars will drive us, our vacuums roam the house while we are not home, our automated assistants would love to plot everything out for getting us near businesses that pay them to do so, our self driving cars, connected to our location assistants will make our lives a drive through advertisement. So the question if these machines are slaves, or are we their slaves will soon be upon us. As geneticists work on acts of creation and mutation, a great deal of care has to be taken in definitions. We humans have reliably proven ourselves to be monsters again and again. I am reminded of the pleasure model, killing off the toy maker, J F Sebastian, with what appeared to be empty pleasure.

The film's main claim to fame in my way of perceiving my particular visual bent, was its beauty. The film has an aesthetic that was absolutely designed and executed with consummate, and enduring skill. The extrapolation of what the future will bring has never been more convincing as we set about to fix genes, that being the carrot in front of the donkey of our desire for control.

The question of slavery I think Decker is a replicant and was a good match for his chosen replicant companion. The film I saw had a previous Decker variant questioning a replicant and receiving a bullet in return. I just thought Decker was the next version of himself.

Blade Runner is art, setting up a straw argument after wading through the after effects of this film for the last 20 years is not artful.
posted by Oyéah at 9:38 AM on October 4 [10 favorites]


Rather it always seemed to be about androids, being an android or not. And not that here android was actually a metaphorical reference to historical slavery.

I recall many years ago I've read an article on how most "robot revolution" stories could be subtexted on a personal level about slavery or socialism because it often runs on the basic themes of oppression and uprising of laborers by a class that treats them as expendable property. These stories are not written or read in vacuum and we all eventually project our own interests onto them (for instance, how many times in cold-era sci fi the "Earth Federation" is a stand-in for a individualistic imperialist US vs a classless, hive-mind alien menace that is only missing a leader with unique facial hair? ).

I mean, for me, Blade Runner runs mostly about three themes: memories, mortality and humanity. And unless something is really really wrong (look, I'm pretty sure BR is not about the Raiders moving to LA and that the new one isn't about them moving to LV), the movie is layered enough to have plenty of reads that are right, and I'm glad we have them.
posted by lmfsilva at 9:40 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


I've seen and read it, but never considered it a slavery story, so this is a new way (to me) to interpret it.

Same here - those of us who live outside of the USA don't always have the same context, to me this was a very interesting and eye-opening article.
posted by jkaczor at 9:42 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


The film was clear the replicants were designed for specific tasks, and with a specific life span.

This is definitely what the corporation that designed the replicants said in their marketing, yes. Since corporations are shown to be so trustworthy and infallible in the film, I'm sure we can take that at face value.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:42 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


It's weird that people keep characterizing this article as a 'hot take', as if Gailey is somehow trying to stake a claim to an entirely new and unique perspective on the film, and then gleefully rubbing it in the popcorn-bespeckled faces of its cretinous, explosions-obsessed fan base, when right up top she tells us exactly who she's writing it for:
"So, in case you are like me and have been living in a cave and have never seen Blade Runner before and are considering watching it, I will tell you a little about it."
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:47 AM on October 4 [7 favorites]


I mean, try this on for size:

"The slaveowners in this movie told us that slaves don't feel emotions or pain like we do, and that they were uniquely suited to physical labor and nothing else, so we can take that to be true. No reason to doubt their framing of the issue. It's a given!"

Thomas Jefferson: "Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether Heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection."

See? A founding father said it! And you were worried that perspective might be coming from an unreliable narrator.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:47 AM on October 4 [17 favorites]


For all those saying it's obvious and doesn't need a whole article about it, it may be right there in the text but that doesn't mean that the text of a 35yo movie doesn't benefit from an article connecting it to the present (especially in light of the sequel coming out this week and for folks who may not have seen it a gazillion times).
posted by kokaku at 9:48 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


Blade Runner is art...

See here's the thing about "good" art: "what it means" will route and flow with the changing context around it for many decades and in a super-rare few cases, centuries, and as the context of the world changes around it, the art remains relevant and continues to reveal new facets about ourselves, continuing to teach and enlighten us.

Shitty art has a meaning that's stale the moment it is committed. Shitty art becomes the ironic pastiche of the future, whereas great art defines the future aesthetic.

So I think Blade Runner has clearly proved itself as something well more than shitty art, and is via discussions such as these where we are testing if it is great art or not.

I believe this article supports the notion that Blade Runner is among the great cinematic achievements of 35mm film. To try to claim that the meaning is only what was intended in 1982 and say "that was the meaning, everything else is a straw person" is IMO devaluing the price of this work of art.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:52 AM on October 4 [12 favorites]


I just re-watched the Deckard/Rachel "love scene" and holy bananashits is that 100% rape. It is also further evidence of Deckard's complete lack of empathy. I'd be willing to entertain the idea that he wouldn't have done what he did to Rachel if she wasn't a replicant, but that is besides the point.

I now know what I will be re-watching tonight!
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:53 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


"Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave."

Yes, the rape scene was even disturbing to 12 year old me, in a way I didn't really process. But it's rape, no two ways about it.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:55 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


This will sound very gatekeeper, but I have no idea how a person can be a sf writer who has never seen Blade Runner. It's like if you made horror movies but had just skipped Dracula.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:56 AM on October 4 [6 favorites]


(maybe she read the book and didn't want it to be ruined?)
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:57 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


Can we just not with the questioning of her credentials to have an opinion?
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:59 AM on October 4 [10 favorites]


I'm really just genuinely curious.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:01 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


but I have no idea how a person can be a sf writer who has never seen Blade Runner.

Then we wouldn't have been able to enjoy her magnificent livetweeting of seeing it for the first time.

I like this mustache dude, he's asking the right kind of questions about why the hell he's walking through the desert

***

May I ask you a personal question? ...Do YOU have an owl, motherfucker? No? Then you don't get to judge shit

***

Of course, anyone who has lived in LA remembers the giant pyramid district
posted by maxsparber at 10:04 AM on October 4 [14 favorites]


It is about the power to define the terms of who gets killed and who gets the killing (and still declared innocent for doing so).

Yes so much this. Looking at the oppressor as a hero has a huge amount of resonance to contemporary society, down to the "they needed killing." Looking at this film through a contemporary lens is something a lot of fans hate to do- including spending far more time snarking at the author rather than engaging with the material, and pretending that the slavery issue "has been done", and ship is unworthy of discussion.

But when you think about it, wouldn't you think the white politicians would put chips in black athlete's heads to force them to kneel? What is our prison system but the "offworld colonies" where an oppresed population is forced to labor for the progit of those considered fully human? Isn't the combination of smugness and fear in how white people regard Black Lives Matter the same attitude we see the humans display in Blade Runner?

The empathy plotline in the film is very simple to me- the replicants have to be considered monsters, because otherwise their actions are justice. And the white viewers must be terrified at the thought that they may someday receive and deserve the same cruelties that have been inflicted on black people. It's no wonder fans want to concentrate on origami and pretend that the slavery issue has already been thoroughly covered, not when they're so busy pretending the things happening outside their windows aren't relevant.
posted by happyroach at 10:06 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


I really appreciated this article, because I watched this film for the first time within the past year. All of the reviews, discussion, and other writing I read focused primarily on the art and craft of the directing, the cinematography, then scenery and such, and so when I watched it that was what I focused on. In my privilege, I didn't really consider the aspects of slavery, and reading this article really clarified that for me. I plan to watch it again with that as focus.
posted by Existential Dread at 10:06 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


I just re-watched the Deckard/Rachel "love scene" and holy bananashits is that 100% rape.

I seem to remember Sean Young referring to it as the "hate scene".
posted by octothorpe at 10:08 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


But it did leave out the parts where they kill the old man who made their eyeballs and the old man who made them in general.

Made them to be slaves.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:12 AM on October 4 [6 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. jeff-o-matic, seriously enough.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:13 AM on October 4


You know what would be interesting? An alternate universe for comparison in which this article were written by a late-career male SF author. It would be interesting to see whether the same level of "this is dumb and obvious and dumb and kind of offensive based how smart I am" vitriol would be hurled at it.

My perception of the world of science fiction is that women writers, especially earlier-career women writers, are generally not accepted as authorities or critics, and that they face a much higher bar.

It's also interesting that, despite multiple people coming into the thread to say that they themselves had not really considered the slavery reading, we're still on the "this is very obvious et patati et patata" issue.
posted by Frowner at 10:14 AM on October 4 [21 favorites]


I just re-watched the Deckard/Rachel "love scene" and holy bananashits is that 100% rape. It is also further evidence of Deckard's complete lack of empathy.

Deckard sees Rachel as the same order of being as Priss, maybe overtly sexualized by Tyrell, maybe not. That's left ambiguous. He rapes her than, as a slave, as a thing, with no empathy for her.

What is Deckard? He, up to that point in the movie has read everything on the surface, he believes what he's told by most people. If he's a replicant slave too, how old is he? Quite possibly he's only a few weeks or maybe months old. This is his first big case, and in fact, perhaps his first case ever, assuming that he's been as manipulated as Rachel. He might only be days out of his mental conditioning, set as a slave to kill other slaves.

Ford's portrayal as him of lacking empathy (before or after through the end of the film) shows either how callous Deckard is as a human or perhaps how lacking in appropriate empathic response Deckard is. This is mirrored in both Rachel and Priss too---they don't know how to process or handle rape either. They normalize it the way a very young child might come to expect abuse.

And that's what a lot of the film is about for me. Yes they're slaves, even worse really; they're told they're unfeeling things. The only guideposts they have for developing a moral concience is the deliberately awful conditioning they've had, and their understanding of the consequences of their actions. Roy (and I'd argue to a lesser extent Priss) come to understanding a larger morality first. Roy then demonstrates that to Deckard at the climax---even their lives matter, not just Roy and Rachel and Priss, but Deckard too.

I don't think Gailey is wrong in any way. I agree that she nails that the slavery aspect is often lost to these "Free will" discussions, but I also think she might have explored them more, which would give an even richer interpretation to her piece. Blade Runner is not just about slavery, it's about how slavery can be a subtle degradation of all human interactions, for example, what the rape says in the story. But neither can I judge her for her powerful reaction---- she took way more from it that I after the first viewing too.
posted by bonehead at 10:23 AM on October 4 [6 favorites]


I have no idea how a person can be a sf writer who has never seen Blade Runner.

Please to consider that some people are younger than you? I mean, I saw Blade Runner when it came out - I was 14. That was a very long time ago.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:23 AM on October 4 [7 favorites]


the pop culture use of the Voight-Kampff machine as being a meaningful test of humanity is misguided

At least we still have the Boneli Reflex-Arc Test
posted by Copronymus at 10:26 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


It's a Philip K. Dick story. He's the protagonist. It would be more surprising if he wasn't a brainwashed robot.

OK, this might be verging into the territory the mods are trying to keep this thread out of, but this is very explicitly not the case in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which covers very different thematic and metaphorical ground than Blade Runner. To be honest, Blade Runner is only an adaptation of the novel in the barest sense of the word.
posted by capricorn at 10:27 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]


This is mirrored in both Rachel and Priss too---they don't know how to process or handle rape either. They normalize it the way a very young child might come to expect abuse.

Someone mentioned Lolita above, and I think it's not unreasonable to draw a parallel -- intentional or not -- between that book's road trip and the "happy ending" of Deckard and Rachel driving off together in a car.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:35 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


Please to consider that some people are younger than you? I mean, I saw Blade Runner when it came out - I was 14. That was a very long time ago.

This is legit. Last night my girlfriend told me she'd never seen it; she's 37. But she's not a science fiction writer. And I mean, this is not an obscure movie by any means. It's talked about constantly in science fiction circles, and it has been repackaged and resold on an annual basis, it seems like, for decades. Perhaps the author is just way, way more literary than cinematic? It just seems wild.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:38 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


Since we're going down the reanalysis rabbit hole, I just re-watched the opening scene with Leon. He seems curious, like a child, and also has a very obvious emotional response to the tortoise scenario, which indicates that he does have empathy. And! When he shoots the guy interviewing him, the guy clicks and smokes after being shot.

Who are the replicants, really?
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:41 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


grumpybear69: "Who are the replicants, really?"

To paraphrase JF Sebastian, the real replicants are the friends you make along the way.
posted by chavenet at 10:47 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


She's not really a hard sci-fi writer, is she? Her writing for Tor has been more on the fantasy/magical realism side, and I haven't read her novel but given that it's described as "The Magnificent Seven with hippos" I don't know why it's unthinkable that she hasn't gotten around to watching a film that often seems like a bore, the way most people talk about it.
posted by muddgirl at 10:48 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


The thing is, villain protagonist films are pretty damn rare and most of them are very blatant about presenting the villain protagonist as an unambiguous villain.

Blade Runner, while it undeniably cast Harrison Ford as a villain [1] didn't really go out of its way to portray him as villainous. He's a punch clock villain, not a hand rubbing cackling in glee villain. He's a villain where we get to see his vulnerable side, and the parts of his life that aren't about villainy.

And, he's Harrison Ford, a man who we're used to seeing play heroic roles.

Further, the movie presents us with uncontested propaganda from the slave owners. Note that the very first comment right here on the blue was accepting the master's propaganda and defending the murder of the escaped slaves.

You can argue that's good moviemaking, or just sort of sloppy in a way that in retrospect turns out to be deep. But either way I'd say it isn't really surprising that a great many people who watch Blade Runner come away with the vague, if somewhat unsatisfying, idea that Deckard was the hero.

More important, with respect to PKD, the problem is inherent in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep as well.

Both Blade Runner and DADoES present the question "what does it mean to be human". But, and this is critical, they also present a very pat answer. It was much more explicit in DADoES than in Blade Runner. PKD says, very clearly and unambiguously, that empathy is what makes people human, what makes people worthy of being people rather than slaves. Further, he then presents us with not one, not two, but three supposed measures and proofs of humanity.

The first is the famous Voight-Kampff test. Interestingly he undermines it deliberately in the book by nothing that it doesn't actually measure empathy but rather social conditioning and the how much the subject lives up to societal norms. Then he cheerfully abandons that caveat and proceeds as if the subjective cultural norms the VK test measured really were synonymous with empathy. Note that literally every single person reading this thread would fail the VK test, the questions are based on the assumption that "empathy" means "conditioned from birth by a society to view eating meat or using animal products as horrifying". One of the questions was about getting a gift of a calfskin wallet. The VK test was looking for pupil dilation and heart activity indicating horror and disgust at the idea.

The second proof of empathy is caring for animals. in DADoES all humans are expected to own and take care of an animal of some sort. The narration notes that this used to be mandatory but is not merely socially expected. Androids, we are told, being inherently without empathy, are incapable of keeping animals alive because they don't care about them.

The third proof, or display, of empathy is the bluntly named "empathy box" playing the trials of William Mercer and his suffering. This, we are told, is something that only pure, real, humans, full people, are capable of partaking in and that mere androids are unable to appreciate. Isidore is horrifed and shocked when he learns that the replicants don't have an empathy box and use it.

I'm still not really sure what PKD meant to do in DADoES. In interviews he said that he was very open in his meaning, and that he agreed 100% with the message that empathy is the measure of humanity.

But I'm not sure because he undermines that constantly through the story.

Not one single "human" character in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep displays the slightest hint of empathy, and almost all of them fail the animal care test. We are **told** that Deckard loved his sheep and cared deeply for it. But what we're shown is that Deckard and Iran viewed the sheep as a status symbol, a sort of Rolex and SUV combined, and when it died (FROM NEGLECT!!!) they had it stuffed and mechanized. We are **told** that Deckard hates it because it is a robot, not a real sheep, but we're shown that he cares mostly about the value of the sheep as a possession, not as an animal he loves or loved.

Isodore's employers are cold, callous, and cruel both to him and to their clients. The client shown claimed her husband would be utterly devastated by the cat's death because he loved it so, but his actions prove that to be false. The husband ignored the cat and never interacted with it, so much so that the wife was certain he'd never even notice if the cat was stuffed and mechanized.

Iran and Deckard live in a loveless marriage, hell they may outright hate each other, and never, not once, try to empathize with the other party. Deckard, in a sort of abstracted patronizing way, wants Iran to be happy, but he fails the most basic test of empathy in that he never tries to understand why she is the way she is.

Literally the only character in the entire book who displays the slightest, tiniest, shred of empathy is explicitly defined in the book as non-human: Isadore the chickenhead. And his "empathy" is the simplistic empathy of caring about a spider and his efforts to cajole Priss into behaving in a way he considers to be socially proper.

But, and this is the key thing, much like the top comment here, PKD seemed to accept at face value, and want us to accept along with him, the proposition that the slaves are subhuman and unworthy of any concern or empathy. "Be empathetic you bastards!" shouts Dick, while also saying "oh, but don't bother being empathetic with our designated bad guys, they're subhuman vermin who deserve slavery".

I'm still not sure if he was deliberately setting us up for the conclusion that the totality of humanity had failed to be human, that only those rejected by official humanity were really human, or if he wrote a book all about how great empathy is but sloppily fucked it up. He claims in interviews that it was the latter.

Because, let's go back to the slaves.

Both in the movie and the book we are told by the narration and official spokespeople that they are horrible vile monsters who must be killed. I think this is a huge part of the reason (in addition to the relative scarcity of villain protagonist media) why a fairly large number of people who have watched the movie think of Deckard as the good guy. The unreliable narrator can trick some of the less analytic fans, especially when the "narrator" in question is pretty much every character in the production.

Assume, for the moment, that the people who tell us that when Roy Batty and his friends escaped slavery they committed several murders, and then a few more here on Earth to try and get freedom for themselves.

I have a difficult time mustering much sympathy for the deaths of slave owners and slave catchers. I'm more sympathetic to the people they killed on Earth simply to keep their secret, but I can understand that too. Murdering the eyeball guy and the Tyrell inc CEO? Totally and completely justifiable and understandable. They literally created the escaped slaves to be slaves. Even crazy right wing military SF writer David Webber gets that building people to be slaves is evil. Just because one was a retired old man didn't make him less an evil man who spent his life creating slaves.

My point, and I do have one, is that I think the article linked is necessary. It's easy for a casual, or thoughtless, viewer to ignore the slavery angle even in the book, so pointing it out and making it a center of discussion is a necessary service.

[1] What word other than 'villain' can be used to describe a man who hunts down and murders escaped slaves?
posted by sotonohito at 10:48 AM on October 4 [21 favorites]


Who are the replicants, really?

this very question sent me on a terribad acid trip in 1996 and thus I do not recommend asking oneself this question on a heroic dose.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:49 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


Roy's 4. Rachel we never get an actual age for, but I'd guess maybe a year. Deckard, who knows, even if the theory isn't correct.

How long does it take to develop a moral conscience, if you've been fed shit all your life? How long does it take to understand that lives and actions have meaning? If Deckard is really human, does he even grasp that after a lifetime?

I make sense of a lot of the replicants' behaviour by analogy to that of really young children.
posted by bonehead at 10:49 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


Decakard's a little less interesting; he's either barely a thinking being, even "younger" than Priss or Rachel, or he's a thoroughly awful and unreflective expression of adult privilege. But either work as a viewpoint character.
posted by bonehead at 10:55 AM on October 4


I don't know why it's unthinkable that she hasn't gotten around to watching a film that often seems like a bore, the way most people talk about it.

It's a terrible film, I agree, everybody says so
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:01 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


It's a terrible film, I agree, everybody says so

I did not say that and neither did Sarah Gailey.
posted by muddgirl at 11:02 AM on October 4 [7 favorites]


I'm an SFF writer, I read ~150 books a year, and I guarantee you there are wildly popular, foundational works of SFF I have never read. Doubly so for movies, since I only watch maybe 12 movies a year, if that.

There's a LOT.
posted by kyrademon at 11:15 AM on October 4 [14 favorites]


I'm a published cowboy poet and western author. I am reading my first Zane Grey book right now.

With popular culture, there is always more to read and watch ahead of you than behind you.
posted by maxsparber at 11:28 AM on October 4 [9 favorites]


I have no idea how a person can be a sf writer who has never seen Blade Runner.

Now she has, did it convince everyone to take her points seriously? No. That's why trying to pass someone's test about whether you qualify as a nerd or whatever is bullshit. Even if you have perfect cred, are you a lady? Well you must have misinterpreted this stuff anyway.

I've never seen Blade Runner mainly due to how boring and pedantic people's discussions about it usually are to an outsider. I have read a wikipedia summary so I could understand various references. I might watch it now!
posted by Emmy Rae at 11:29 AM on October 4 [11 favorites]


If I say "Casablanca is such a great movie! It's set in Morocco during WWII and it's all about whether or not Isla is going to hook up with her ex-boyfriend! Spoiler: She doesn't!" it's my fault if my friends think it's not worth their time. The only part of Blade Runner that people seem interested in talking about online in the last 10 years or so is whether or not Deckard is a replicant, and fandom seems pretty settled on the fact that he is. Well, if it seems like the point of the movie is this question about Deckard's identity, and the question is settled, then why watch it?

When Gailey finally watched the movie she realized, that it's about way more than that. In fact, Deckard never even questions his identity - it's at best a minor easter egg put in by the director. I grew up watching this movie thanks to my parents, and whether or not Deckard was a replicant never mattered to my understanding of the film. Now, based on coverage of the upcoming sequel, it seems to be the central part of its appeal.
posted by muddgirl at 11:29 AM on October 4 [11 favorites]


I do not recommend asking oneself this question on a heroic dose

Substance D is a hell of a thing.
posted by flabdablet at 11:32 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


I listen to Filmspotting fairly regularly and even they're both professional film critics they often trip over landmark films that they've never gotten around to seeing.
posted by octothorpe at 11:43 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


When Gailey finally watched the movie she realized, that it's about way more than that. In fact, Deckard never even questions his identity - it's at best a minor easter egg put in by the director. I grew up watching this movie thanks to my parents, and whether or not Deckard was a replicant never mattered to my understanding of the film. Now, based on coverage of the upcoming sequel, it seems to be the central part of its appeal.

I feel like Ridley Scott did something similar with Alien, where his takeaway from his own movie was somehow that what everyone really wanted to know was where the Alien came from. Not only did no one ask, but finding out seems to miss the point entirely, which is that...it's scary because it's alien. Ridley Scott is a terrible fan of Ridley Scott movies.

It never even occurred to me that Deckard could be a replicant, but I hated the idea extremely passionately on contact. The point is that Deckard is human, but the replicants display humanity, and he doesn't. It's not complicated. It's profound, I guess, but it's really very simple. The idea that he might be a replicant is some whole other thing from an M. Night type deal. Who cares about that? I don't.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:48 AM on October 4 [12 favorites]


> It's weird that people keep characterizing this article as a 'hot take', as if Gailey is somehow trying to stake a claim to an entirely new and unique perspective on the film

I find her "nobody tells you about the part..." bits frustrating; she seems to be saying that she's the first person to talk about these aspects of the movie.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:08 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


I think muddgirl's point is interesting - that someone might easily think it's yet another story of One Special White Guy Against The System, with a Shyamalan-type twist ending where the whole movie hinges on you not knowing The Twist (That Will Totally Blow Your Mind Dude). It makes sense someone might decide, if they already know The Twist, shrug, been there done that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:12 PM on October 4 [6 favorites]


Ridley Scott is a terrible fan of Ridley Scott movies.

I think that someone on the blue said (maybe talking about the Alien prequel movies) that Scott is a great director with terrible taste in screenplays, who happened to have lucked into three (Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise) that his reputation largely rests upon.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:26 PM on October 4 [8 favorites]


I watched this as a kid and I saw the humanity in the replicants and felt the horror of the premise and took no joy from any of the replicants dying.

I bawled when Roy Batty died.


Yeah. It's always astonishing to me when I hear of somebody watching it and not seeing the replicants as sympathetic characters.

The thing about the slavery angle, I think, is that it occurs as subtext a lot in SF, especially in robot stories. So in one sense it's easy to go "well, yeah." But on the other hand it tends to remain subtextual - people do seem to be slightly reluctant just to come out and say it.
posted by atoxyl at 12:39 PM on October 4 [4 favorites]


The Duelists was superb as well.

But without these, Ridley Scott is basically just a slightly less hysterical Tony Scott.
posted by maxsparber at 12:40 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


British comedy musician and SF author Mitch Benn wrote a robust rebuttal of the "Deckard is a Replicant" claim a few years ago, and even defended the 1982 ending well. Here he is on the sequel.
posted by rory at 12:43 PM on October 4 [5 favorites]


> That it isn't subtle, but somehow when describing the film people somehow go out of their way to talk about everything else (the origami, the cast) except the horrifying premise.

I find it odd to describe it as 'going out of their way.' They don't have to go out of their way to avoid talking about it. The entire premise behind white privilege is that racial issues aren't in your way in the first place. You avoid them by simply moving forward and it requires a conscious detour to recognize them.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 1:23 PM on October 4 [5 favorites]


But on the other hand it tends to remain subtextual - people do seem to be slightly reluctant just to come out and say it.

Or more clearly - robot stories have literally always been about slavery or servitude. However this is often somewhat abstracted from history and especially seldom connected to the particular history of chattel slavery of Africans.
posted by atoxyl at 1:28 PM on October 4 [6 favorites]


But without these, Ridley Scott is basically just a slightly less hysterical Tony Scott.

In other words, he still owns
posted by edeezy at 1:46 PM on October 4


Absolutely.
posted by maxsparber at 2:11 PM on October 4


And I mean, this is not an obscure movie by any means. It's talked about constantly in science fiction circles, and it has been repackaged and resold on an annual basis, it seems like, for decades

One day I am going to determine which has had more editions released, Blade Runner or Das Boot.
posted by thelonius at 2:21 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


I liked this. She's not saying anything particularly new or insightful, but the way she's saying it is so clean and clear.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:43 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


kittens for breakfast,

why on earth would an sf writer have to see movies to be qualified? I mean, movies and books are completely different art forms.

I'm not a writer, but i am deeply, profoundly immersed in SFF as a (set of) genre(s) and I have been for thirty years, i can discourse pretty fucking intelligently about SFF at great length -- and while i have in fact seen Blade Runner, there are plenty of Important SFF Movies i have never seen. Because, by and large, SFF movies are stupid and they suck, and reading a novel is a much better and more interesting experience.
posted by adrienneleigh at 5:19 PM on October 4 [6 favorites]



I have no idea how a person can be a sf writer who has never seen Blade Runner.


because she's a writer. Blade Runner is a movie. the only thing weirder than suggesting there should be some obvious connection between writing things other than screenplays and watching movies is all the people taking issue with your sentence who also think it makes sense and just think this particular movie isn't required viewing. you can actually be a writer without watching any movies at all, people did it for centuries. what do you want to bet there are fantasy writers out there who never saw a production of The Magic Flute, like not even once? sure, they couldn't be very good, but it's a fact that some people sit down to write without listening to a single opera first.

anyhow. I believe that the type of person who is the audience for that piece does need to be told obvious things, as I am familiar with the ambiance of the Tor comments section. and therefore I can't blame her for repetitively talking down repetitively even though I would like to.

however I remain shocked that not a single person mentioned to her beforehand that there were robots in Blade Runner. there is no such thing as a science fiction classic about robots that isn't about slavery. if you counter with a mention of any of the science fiction classics about robots that are about wives or children, I will merely repeat myself more loudly, while nodding. that's what robots are. that's what those other stories are about as well. that's what the dream of robots has always been, and nobody needs to show off about Karel Capek to prove it. this has nothing to do with how mindful your average American jerk is when watching Blade Runner (not very, I am happy to pretend to know for a fact) or how badly they need to have film themes explained to them (very badly, etc.) and everything to do with having heard of robots.

Blade Runner is better than Star Wars at treating slavery as profoundly disturbing and upsetting, but so is everything up to and including Harry Potter. but the lesson I learned from a lifetime of watching a lot of films with other people is that no matter how upsetting and existentially terrifying and just plain good you make a film, it will have no effect on those who are constitutionally unable to be upset or terrified by the things you show them. so, it is no kind of contradiction that everybody who watches it with the sound on knows already what Blade Runner is about, and also that fans never seem to talk about it all that much, considering. you really don't disprove the former by pointing triumphantly to the latter.

the piece aggravates me but in good conscience I have to remember how shocked I was to find that the original run of Twin Peaks, although a towering work of genius like everyone said, was obsessively and exclusively about men terrorizing, beating, and raping women -- really about it, not just showing it a lot as a piece of tone- and scene-setting -- and that even the unspeakable supernatural evil was an avatar of male sexual violence. everybody talks about cherry pie this and coffee that and cute teenage Audrey the other -- as Sarah Gailey might say, nobody told me. nobody told me this was about real things.

and even though Gailey's implication that nobody mentioned the real things in Blade Runner because, what -- they didn't notice? didn't think it was important? exasperates me, I get it a little bit. these respective real things are why these works are works of art. and good art is still shocking even if you live in a world full of tedious people who quote the good scenes at you for twenty continuous years before you ever watch the thing yourself.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:21 PM on October 4 [11 favorites]


Often, a critic sees the important movies or reads the important books before becoming a critic. Those works then help build a critic's frame for evaluating new works. It's actually a great gift when someone *doesn't* see a seminal movie until later. Interesting things can happen. It should also be a motivation for you to see something you managed to miss. I just recently saw Renoir's "A day in the country" many years after I'd seen most of his other movies. I can't describe to you the sheer happiness it caused me. I wish the same joy to you.
posted by acrasis at 6:10 PM on October 4 [3 favorites]


If “everyone knows” that the movie is about slavery, then why doesn’t “everyone know” that Deckard is a member of the slave patrol?... This reminds me of discussions about Lolita, where people say "everyone knows" it is about rape, but then identify with Humbert and talk about how "seductive" the child he continually rapes is. That is a strange version of knowing.

Although the fans are being willful in their misreading, they are not doing this in a vacuum. Nabokov constructs an entire novel around nudging, tricking, and seducing the reader into sympathizing with a child rapist, and people who sympathize with Humbert are doing it with the writer's full and powerful support. Yes, they are also supposed to learn, in the process of the novel, to see through the gaps in the unreliable narrator to the horrible truth beneath, but failing to see through those gaps, while revealing a moral failure in the reader, also just reveals that they have fallen for the trap that a very smart writer has set for them. Similarly, the reason so many people see Deckard as a puzzling, ambiguous figure, with whom we want to sympathize, is because the entire film is structured in order to produce that response. It's a film about a slave/slaver rapist murderer coming, maybe, to doubt the system he's in, and the narrative is structured in order to make that seem like an interesting problem, rather than just "Scene 1: 'Wait, are we the nazis?' THE END". Maybe that's a moral failing of the story, and maybe it's worth exploring the difficulties of recognizing one's part as a moral monster in a morally monstrous society. But either way, the writing, directing and acting go out of their way to encourage viewers to misunderstand the situation, much as Nabokov does. It makes both works fun to teach, but a little dangerous when floating in a giant pool of morons who are more than happy to sympathize with rapists and murderers and go no further.
posted by chortly at 6:12 PM on October 4 [7 favorites]


I sympathized with everyone in this film. They were all in a trap, they were all in a world we are busy building. I loved Pris because she was a player, a passionate player. Decker the cop suffered unbelievably, as a result of workplace injuries. They all made their desperate runs, even Tyrell, must have seen it coming, while curiously observing his creations. I didn't see a rape in this film. I saw two replicants learning about feeling, daring to imagine a future. I saw slaves, and everyone in that society except for Tyrell living in the wreck that LA had become. But I was also aware I was watching a flim, and I was not a part of the making of the film, and none of it was real, it was a long tone poem, with an excellent musical score, and great sets, and the players were most rare and doubtlessly endured a lot of hardship in the filming.

I read Lolita, when I was thirteen. I thought it was interesting, and not what I wanted for myself. I did not come from a family that enjoyed moral judgement based on biblical themes. My mother would have viewed that girl as competition. So.
posted by Oyéah at 6:50 PM on October 4 [3 favorites]


Also:

This will sound very gatekeeper, but I have no idea how a person can be a sf writer who has never seen Blade Runner. It's like if you made horror movies but had just skipped Dracula.

It is very gatekeeper, and I hope that you realize that it's one of the cornerstones of the "fake geek girl" myth, i.e. the (inevitably) male gatekeeper delegitimizes the female fan's fandom by finding something lacking in their knowledge or experience. Honestly, I would not be surprised to find out that any number of horror directors haven't actually seen the 1931 Dracula, although they're missing something if they haven't. How about all the SF writers who did their major work before Blade Runner? How ever did Philip K. Dick himself become one? Come on, dude. There is no true canon.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:03 PM on October 4 [12 favorites]


Punch clock villain, that is really good Sonohito.
posted by Oyéah at 7:35 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


why on earth would an sf writer have to see movies to be qualified?

It's not really a matter of qualifications. I was hesitant to say anything because I was sure it would read like I was trying to be a gatekeeper. Which I'm not. I just genuinely find it weird, because of what a big deal the movie is to her genre. I'd think it was weird if she'd never seen Star Wars, either.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:55 PM on October 4


Sorry, Halloween Jack, I just saw your comment now. Anyway, yeah, I think it's weird, but I don't think it makes her a fake geek girl or whatever. I am amazed that any science fiction person, man or woman, could have avoided seeing this film, on purpose or by mistake. That's really it. I'm sorry that the discourse has degenerated to the point where expressing astonishment that someone has somehow not seen this relatively recent, constantly rereleased, cornerstone of their chosen genre makes me Vox Day or some shit, but here we are.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:01 PM on October 4 [3 favorites]


that someone has somehow not seen this relatively recent, constantly rereleased, cornerstone of their chosen genre makes me Vox Day or some shit, but here we are.

well at least some of us are being snobs about the written word, not chastising you for mansplaining. totally different thing. there's no science fiction writer at any level of quality who would not be at least a little bit better and maybe a great deal better if they'd never seen Star Wars, nobody can deny that. unless they started writing because their hatred of Stars War was the little worm that ate and ate at their soul until only a little ragged patch of soul was left and a great deal of bile.

Blade Runner is much better of course. but regardless, be surprised at her for not having read the entire corpus of philip k. dick if you want and I at least won't care or suspect that you are sexist. but fuck a bunch of movies, what do they have to do with her profession.

it depends I guess on whether you consider a science fiction writer to be a certain type of science fiction person, or a certain type of writer. I try to be generous sometimes so I do the second thing.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:26 PM on October 4 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I wouldn't compare you to Vox Day; that's kind of the rhetorical nuclear option, really. It's just that not having seen Blade Runner is not in the class of, say, not having heard any music by [random pop star], because it's a much bigger investment of time and attention. It's not a matter of really avoiding the movie. I had a similar conversation with someone who, when I told them that I hadn't seen any of the Austin Powers movies, reacted badly because they somehow interpreted that as my being some sort of too-good-for-Mike-Myers snob or something; I explained to him that I hadn't because a) I didn't get the appeal of the character from the trailers and b) by the time I got around to thinking that I might be missing something, I felt like I'd already had most of the good bits spoiled by the thorough memeification of the films. And no one that I knew who would be interested in seeing the film hadn't already seen it. If there were some people that were going to watch Blade Runner and Gailey deliberately skipped out on it, whereas she would have watched another film, then that would be avoidance.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:00 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


The whole sequence from Lolita where Humbert kills Quilty is so singularly horrifying that it has given me nightmares.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:01 PM on October 4


I loved this movie when it came out. I was disappointed that the reviewers at the time saw it as little more than a trite, slow moving, genre film of little consequence. Many people I knew at the time felt the same. No one thought of it as important cinematiclly, certainly nothing more than eye candy. I remember being excited about it's coming release but finding no one interested in seeing it with me, so I went alone. It has gained heft through the years and people coming to it without preconceived notions to read the themes and bathe in its depths for it to finally be considered of artistic merit.
Our worldview has shifted, along with our notions of morality. Good sf is a rose tinted mirror for us to safely look at our world and see it as it is. Sometimes we need the extra distance that time offers us to view our art, and ourselves. I wish there had been a reviewer back in the day with the thoroughly modern, dispassionate, honest take and the ability to communicate it as has Sarah Gailey.
posted by evilDoug at 9:56 PM on October 4 [2 favorites]


“The future is exciting. Ready?”

That’s Vodafone’s new global message, to drop on Friday.

With the main ad spot by ... Ridley Scott.
posted by chavenet at 1:08 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]


Was going to a movie with a friend a few years ago. There was just a line or two for tickets, despite multiple registers. So the lines were long. In frustration, my friend muttered "we need more replicants" and we both laughed at the in joke. It was early in the friendship and I think that was even one of thousand tiny bonding moments that help to build a new relationship.

They would not have thought to say "We need more slaves" and even if anyone had, it would not have been a laughing matter. That's the point of the essay.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:33 AM on October 5 [8 favorites]


It's also worth noting that the following comment has lot of favorites on that page:
Omitted from this account: the slaves have already murdered a very large number of innocent people; they have come to Earth with the intention of killing at least one and probably several more; and this is precisely what they do.

And they haven’t come to Earth in order to find jobs and become productive members of society – if they’d wanted to do that, they could have done it and the blade runners would never have come near them. They’ve come in order to kill people if they don’t get their way. The first thing we see them do in the film is kill. Deckard never, at any point in the film, kills a replicant who hasn’t tried to kill him first.
The point she's making is a stark and terrifying, one that few of us are willing to look closely at.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:23 AM on October 5 [7 favorites]


Oyéah "Punch clock villain", much as I'd like to claim credit for it, is not original to me. I got it from the TV Tropes entry for punch clock villain (WARNING: TV Tropes link, may result in losing 8+ hours to compulsive browsing, also WARNING: rather unexpectedly cheesecake illustration that doesn't really match up for the trope)
posted by sotonohito at 7:54 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


The slaves have already murdered a very large number of innocent people; they have come to Earth with the intention of killing at least one and probably several more; and this is precisely what they do.

Yep.

Omitted from the 1733 slave insurrection on St. John account: the rebels killed a very large number of innocent people by hiding knives in piles of wood and stabbing soldiers at the Coral Bay plantation.
posted by maxsparber at 8:02 AM on October 5 [4 favorites]


As an English major in college I ran into a lot of weird responses to Lolita. People really want to talk about the writing. How beautiful the writing is, when you separate it from the story content. Did you know Nabokov knew X number of languages and this was his 3rd? And yet he had such a way with words!

But we would never, ever talk about men who groom girls for abuse, and how society sympathizes with the men and hates the girls, particularly when they exhibit a very typical response to sexual abuse: precocity.

I see that at play here - if the movie indicts society, we would rather talk about all the technicalities that make it what it is without ever reckoning with what is at its heart.

I read that Nabokov explicitly said there should be no cover art depicting Lolita as desirable. The article where I read this showed example after example of very sexy Lolitas. It was awful. So even the people paid to publish his work couldn't be bothered to understand the point of the book.

One of the many things that impressed me about the movie Get Out was how you can take it at surface level and the point remains intact, but you can also peel back layers of meaning, and the same message comes through. It is just as interesting to dig through a work like that as it is to read the voice of Humbert Humbert trying to gain your sympathy and deny him that sympathy. But generally I think people feel more intellectual when faced with something like Blade Runner or Lolita where some people didn't get it but I, a smartie, got it.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:09 AM on October 5 [8 favorites]


Uh, maxsparber, are you calling the soldiers (who I believe were there to quell the insurrection) innocent?

I assume you're being sarcastic but I can't tell.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:14 AM on October 5


Part of the central question of this piece, the movie itself, and many major sci-fi works, is whether you can claim to be “innocent” if you are part of an entrenched power establishment built on slavery.

If you are a soldier whose job is suppressing a slave rebellion, can you truly be called innocent? (I'm assuming that was part of maxsparber's point.)

(There have been many takes on this in Star Wars fandom. When the Empire sent out news reports about the destruction of the Death Star, they must have talked about the catastrophic loss of innocent lives at the hands of a terrorist insurrection that needed to be crushed immediately.)

Is it sociopathy to fight back against your captors and your overseers? Or is it closer to nobility? A fundamentally human stance? Is a battle replicant coming to Earth to strike at the heart of a rotten empire any less noble than Luke aiming his weapons at a vulnerable exhaust port?

I don’t think the movie (BR) gives us any pat answers, but it certainly raises questions about why we are so eager to trust the perspectives of power, and why we feel so comfortably certain when we spout histories written by the victors as gospel.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:16 AM on October 5 [5 favorites]


Uh, maxsparber, are you calling the soldiers (who I believe were there to quell the insurrection) innocent?

I am being sarcastic.
posted by maxsparber at 8:26 AM on October 5 [2 favorites]


Arguing against Deckard being a replicant is important because if he's not a human being it weakens the moral condemnation in the story, about man's inhumanity to both man or not-man, and so on. The unicorn things are a visual distraction from the proto-cyberpunk setting of a corrupt, decrepit, oppressive system that enslaves all but treats its slave class worst of all because they are not-men. It's Ridley Scott Dicking around with mind games that undermine the moral power of his own damn film.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:37 AM on October 5 [3 favorites]


Deckard is not a replicant because he's not a replicant in the brilliant script by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, and any indication he is was added after the fact in a later edit by Ridley Scott as an extra-textural gloss, and for all his visual ingenuity, Scott is a bit of an idiot.
posted by maxsparber at 9:52 AM on October 5 [8 favorites]


In other words, completely agree.
posted by maxsparber at 9:52 AM on October 5


who could watch Alien: Covenant and think for a moment that Ridley Scott isn't exercising at all times precise and thoughtful narrative and thematic control over his cinemat—okay okay i'm leaving just put the gun down
posted by cortex at 9:56 AM on October 5 [8 favorites]


Who would watch Alien: Covenant?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:53 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


If Batty and his partners demonstrate meaningful humanity, why couldn't Deckard? What prevents him from demonstrating humanity?

The question stands whether Deckard is a replicant or a natural-born human, unless your answer is some kind of paradoxical reverse-tautology that only artificial humans are capable of humanity. Deckard's "true" identity simply doesn't matter.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:02 AM on October 5


(And I think the article makes a convincing argument that Deckard doesn't demonstrate humanity because he's a participant in a slaver society, and slaver societies can only be sustained if their participants block off part of their humanity. Again, this explanation works to explain why replicant-Deckard isn't like Batty as much as it explains why human-Deckard isn't Batty.)
posted by tobascodagama at 11:05 AM on October 5 [4 favorites]


I keep going back to that comment that Brandon Blatcher highlighted above. The assumption that the people that the replicants killed during their escape were "innocent"--what does that even mean, in this context? That it's somehow assumed that they weren't active participants in the replicants' enslavement, or that even if they were, the replicants weren't really people, so it doesn't matter? Here's the clip of the scene in question, where Bryant tells Batty about the replicants' escape--describing their victims as "slaughtered", but giving no other information about them--and also noting that the abbreviated lifespans are to prevent them from developing emotions of their own. And also that bit about how "they haven’t come to Earth in order to find jobs and become productive members of society", as if the rational reaction to having escaped from their slavers and discovering that they have a very limited lifespan would be to get a job in a noodle shop somewhere until they keeled over. FFS.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:35 PM on October 5 [3 favorites]


Deckard is not a replicant because he's not a replicant in the brilliant script by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, and any indication he is was added after the fact in a later edit by Ridley Scott as an extra-textural gloss, and for all his visual ingenuity, Scott is a bit of an idiot.

lol do you even death of the author bro

less facetiously, what's on the screen is what is on the screen.

even less facetiously, Deckard being a replicant is very Dickian

Bryant tells Batty about the replicants' escape--describing their victims as "slaughtered"

is it slaughtered in the script? I've always heard it as 'slotted' which struck as a brutal but plausible future coining for murder.

it probably is slaughtered, isn't it.

huh.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:44 PM on October 5 [4 favorites]


lol do you even death of the author bro

No. Not when death of the author is replaced by life of the Scott.
posted by maxsparber at 1:45 PM on October 5


Yeah, but you don't watch the script do you.

Speaking of which:

BRYANT
We had an escape from the Off world
colonies two weeks ago. Six repli-
cants, three male, three female.
Slaughtered twenty three people and
jumped a shuttle. An aerial patrol
found the ship in the desert. No
crew.


This is a 'scuse me while I kiss this guy' level headbender for me.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:48 PM on October 5 [1 favorite]


How the hell do you land a spacecraft coming from space in the desert without radar noticing?
Hello, from pedantic me. Answer me Mr. Scott!!!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:06 PM on October 5 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but you don't watch the script do you.

Of course I do. With David Peoples, sometimes I feel like the movie is at its best when it gets out of the way of his writing.
posted by maxsparber at 2:14 PM on October 5


is it slaughtered in the script? I've always heard it as 'slotted' which struck as a brutal but plausible future coining for murder.

SLOTTING: opening an airlock in space slightly so everyone in the room is quickly sucked whole violently through the opening, per scifi rules.
posted by lmfsilva at 2:32 PM on October 5 [1 favorite]


K (Ryan Gosling): You're a replicant?

Deckard (Harrison Ford): Part-time.

posted by FJT at 2:56 PM on October 5 [1 favorite]


If Deckard is a human, it's a direct indictment of us as a species for being capable of such barbaric heinous acts, even if it's in a fictive context. If he's a non-human sci-fi creature, then the theme is less powerful, or at least personal- his moral failings carry less agency because he's been programmed to do so, and the culprits behind the slavery and inhumanity are either dead (Tyrell, Sebastian, the old engineer), inscrutable (Gaff), or off-screen (Bryant).

Isn't it more powerful that a blade runner, a biological human, is less human than his quarry? Doesn't it hearken to Nietzsche's advice of "he who fights monsters"? The story twists it on its head by revealing that the monsters are more man than the men themselves.

Deckard needs to be human, not replicant, in order to fully carry the weight of humanity's sins. To personify us, the watcher, as being a party to betraying our own claimed values. Otherwise he's not even just a working schlub who isn't even all that good at being a futuristic super-cop - he's another machine programmed to serve the whims of shadowy sinister disembodied forces, that of a cyberpunk slave society. Which I guess works in a PKD universe. Okay, I seem to arguing myself out of my own argument.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:45 PM on October 5 [3 favorites]


is it slaughtered in the script? I've always heard it as 'slotted' which struck as a brutal but plausible future coining for murder.

I still want to know what a kick-murder squad is and if they also have punch-murder, stab-murder, and shoot-murder squads.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:51 PM on October 5 [2 favorites]


actually, that version of the script might be a pre-shooting version because it has this line which I don't remember in the film, sheds some interesting light on the discussion above:

BRYANT
Stop right where you are! You know the score, pal. You're not cop, you're little people!
[Deckard stops at the door]
DECKARD
No choice, huh?
BRYANT
[smiles] Way I see it, pal, you're either a repli-can... or a repli-can't.

posted by Sebmojo at 5:36 PM on October 5 [5 favorites]


I saw it more as a Frankenstein moral story ('created turns on the creator'), TBH.

I've always seen Blade Runner primarily as part of an ages-old allegorical tradition that questions the morality of God. If Tyrell can create life, how is it moral for him to artificially limit the lifespan?
posted by kirkaracha at 10:23 PM on October 5 [1 favorite]


And I agree the story would be more interesting if Deckard wasn't a replicant, but at least in the Final Cut, with the unicorn and his glowing eyes, he's a replicant.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:25 PM on October 5


Any story that explains its "message", themes, or subtext too explicitly and completely loses a significant portion of its hold on the audience. It's in the continued reflection on the nuances and ambiguities of the text that keeps the work alive in the minds of its audience. You shouldn't need a movie to say "slavery is bad" and if that was all one did it wouldn't be much of a movie to begin with.

Having to have Deckard be either a replicant or human spelled out in absolute terms does nothing to improve the film, the ambiguity over whether he is or isn't not only makes the movies themes more vital and interesting in how they shift depending on the perspective one adopts to think about the story and its metaphors, but its maintained a robust audience discussion about the movie that other films, even good ones, generally don't have. Deckard is both/neither human and replicant at the end of the best cut of the film. He is the liminal figure that straddles both worlds and could be a member of either, we can't know which is the "true" one because that balance is the essence of the movie.

Demanding certainty from art is a mistake since that is not its greatest strength or primary domain. Look to science for certainty and art for the ambiguities that cannot be adequately explained in concrete terms alone.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:10 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]


Who would watch Alien: Covenant?

I am just SO surprised that anybody could have missed watching Alien: Covenant and still be a Metafilter poster. Just, you know, purely astonished.
posted by happyroach at 12:34 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]


Who would watch Alien: Covenant?

I watched it and enjoyed it.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:22 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]


Deckard needs to be human, not replicant, in order to fully carry the weight of humanity's sins. To personify us, the watcher, as being a party to betraying our own claimed values. Otherwise he's not even just a working schlub who isn't even all that good at being a futuristic super-cop - he's another machine programmed to serve the whims of shadowy sinister disembodied forces, that of a cyberpunk slave society.

If that's actually your position, how do you square it with shooting replicants not being OK?

If you're going to take the view that replicants are indeed less than human - mere programmable machinery - then shooting a rogue replicant is morally equivalent to force-quitting a rogue app and not at all problematic.

It seems to me that if you take the (to me at least completely obvious) view that replicants are indeed best understood as a slave class with a moral claim to life unjustly denied them by their human overlords, then a moral compass is to be expected of them no less than of biological humans; which makes the question of Deckard's personal ancestry moot.

If replicants are indeed sentient beings that it is morally wrong to kill, then the system Deckard works for is immoral, and the immoral behavior of its agents is reprehensible regardless of whether they are replicants or biological humans.

If replicants are not sentient beings that it is morally wrong to kill, then Deckard is not doing anything wrong by shooting them, making the question of whether or not he is himself a replicant completely irrelevant vis a vis the weight of humanity's sins.
posted by flabdablet at 4:22 AM on October 6 [3 favorites]


I am just SO surprised that anybody could have missed watching Alien: Covenant and still be a Metafilter poster. Just, you know, purely astonished.

I thought Alien was an excellent film. Aliens was far too Michael Bay for my taste, so I didn't bother with any of the rest of the franchise. Did I err?
posted by flabdablet at 4:29 AM on October 6


No.
posted by kyrademon at 6:05 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]


This has been gnawing on me for a while.

I feel I need to dig out my PKD compendium, and probably re-watch the movie. (I grew up with the monotone dis-interested "just a paycheck" Ford narrated version on VHS)

I'm trying to analyze the film (and TFA) in light of a contemporary sci-fi pillars, and am finding it hard to agree with TFA (though the "little people" issues are quite prescient now).

The contemporaries I think of are HAL (2001: Space Odyssey), Asimov's robot series, a slice of Star Trek (Khaaaaaaaan) and Alien.

I'll be a bit hand-wavey, but HAL, Ash and Mother are the robot/AI that decides killing people is OK (because thinking for themselves can lead to unusual conclusions/following orders). I feel hand-wavey because do those characters have real agency/freedom to think/act for themselves ? (HAL seems to be considered a glitch though it is the "logical" conclusion of his conflicting orders, and Ash/Mother are presented as "following orders".. )

Khan is the engineered man that decides he knows better and attempts to take over and start killing.

All show the danger of creating something more powerful than mankind, something that can think for themselves and how it ends, badly, for mankind (man is not God).

Asimov's series explores how humans realize when they create something more powerful then themselves, they need a way to keep their creation from killing and taking over (the 3 laws) and further explores the 0th law - how/when a robot can kill a human within the bounds of the 3 laws.

So Blade Runner replicants have programmed short-lives/fail-safe as the control to keep the AI/robot from killing us all and taking over. Deckard is the mop-up man.

It's Frankenstein 101, with a bit more nuance. (There's probably a better Greek mythology story under the "man is not God" category). But as someone said above, the mark of a good work is that it does more than just what's on the tin, and makes you think about other issues/works on multiple levels.

TFA doesn't rise to Room 237 "how did they get that ?" but I'm not sure I can dig the premise.
posted by k5.user at 7:11 AM on October 6


I mean, the slave narrative isn't the foreground of the story, but it's absolutely part of the background world building. Replicants are slaves. They just are.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:23 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]


> "Asimov's series explores how humans realize when they create something more powerful then themselves, they need a way to keep their creation from killing and taking over (the 3 laws) and further explores the 0th law - how/when a robot can kill a human within the bounds of the 3 laws."

This feels weird to say, but you are seriously underestimating the nuance of Asimov's work.
posted by kyrademon at 10:56 AM on October 6 [4 favorites]


That is to say: Asimov certainly does explore the dangers of humans creating something more powerful than themselves -- but that is *not* the robots. He uses the supercomputer Multivac to explore those themes. The robot stories, when they look at these issues, are more about human prejudice against robots; the incorrect and sometimes dangerous belief that robots will destroy humanity, when in fact they are in the early days mere instruments of humanity's own will, and in later days evolving into something not only human-like but perhaps better, kinder, a step up on the evolutionary scale. See "The Bicentennial Man", see the relationship between R. Daneel Olivaw and Lije Baley, and what eventually becomes of Daneel.

Nor were these themes unique to Asimov in SF predating or roughly contemporary with Blade Runner. "When HARLIE Was One" came out in 1972. Tanith Lee's classic "The Silver Metal Lover" is an examination of both unfounded human fears and robotic evolution into something more than a machine that predated Blade Runner by a year. The 80's in general also gave us Neuromancer, War Games, and hell even Short Circuit. Science fiction has definitely given us stories that say our creations will destroy us; there is another strong strain, however, that says are fears are wrong, perhaps even evil as our artificial children grow more like ourselves.

“To you, a robot is a robot. Gears and metal, electricity and positrons. Mind and iron! Human-made! If necessary, human-destroyed! But you haven’t worked with them, so you don’t know them. They’re a cleaner, better breed than we are.”
-- Susan Calvin, roboticist, from "I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov
posted by kyrademon at 11:13 AM on October 6 [5 favorites]


(... someone is going to call me out on the fact that I said Susan Calvin was a roboticist, aren't they.)
posted by kyrademon at 11:21 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]


After reading this thread, and thinking about the hostility to the piece that was present initially and as well in the original site's publication, and thinking about my own initial eyerolling response to it, I decided that the piece was sufficiently interesting on its own merits that I should share it into a discussion thread associated with my own group of friends' recent foray to see the original and to go see 2049 next week. I shared it with minimal context, jus noting that I did not necessarily share the author's viewpoint.

You will unfortunately not be surprised to hear that the piece was immediately attacked and dismissed as thin and the work of a juvenile. It was disappointing to me.
posted by mwhybark at 12:35 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]


Oh my, so late to the thread. Which is fascinating. Just a few points to add.
I was in my late teens when I watched BR, in the version with the voiceover. Haven't been able to sit through an entire viewing since. I found it visually entrancing and it made me very uncomfortable. I could never reconcile the fascination/visual pleasure of watching Zora crash, dying, through that plate glass window with the emotions that storyline bred in me. Now, reading these comments, I'm realising how much sly craft went into that. But I forgive myself for not realising it before because, well, so many extremely well-thought-of films are barren in ethical terms and noone thinks that is worth mentioning.

a discussion of the slavery angle needs to designate between concealed and unconcealed stigma.
Really, not at all. This aspect of disguise, of passing, Makes the analogy to American racism even more exact. 'Passing' is intrinsic to the American idea of race and has been the source of agonies of paranoia - and irony - in literature since for ever. It's a cliche of Victorian popular culture: the desired but mysterious love object turns out to have a black relative. It's a staple of melodrama - the villain who had persecuted his wife after the birth of their non-white-looking child is driven to suicide on discovering it was himself all along. Showboat. Puddenhead Wilson. The Grandissimes. The fear of being that which you despise - the fear of what you created to despise being a part of you, and that part is coming to get you. This stuff is so deep in American popular culture I guess it must just be invisible, or, as someone put it above, a normal part of white privilege.


there is no such thing as a science fiction classic about robots that isn't about slavery.
Ahem. Mr Millions, The Fifth Head of Cerebus, Gene Wolf.
posted by glasseyes at 12:44 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]


Here's the clip of the scene in question

Man, listening to that with headphones on reveals some seriously bad dialogue audio. As soon as the chief starts talking you can hear a 60hz hum. It sounds like it was duct-taped together.

Also, the way he stares at Deckard the whole time - and the fact that Deckard, a career replicant hunter, didn't know about the 4-year life span - makes me extremely suspicious.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:31 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]


I think it's an interesting piece, I like Sarah Gailey's writing a lot, and if I recommend it to anybody it'll be with the description "this is one person's account of what it was like to watch Blade Runner for the first time as a naive viewer knowing only what people had told her by word of mouth."

Anything else would be doing a disservice to the piece and the author, as well as being hella annoying to me having to deal with the person's responses. "No, your criticism is invalid. No, she didn't set out to write a researched piece about 'what's generally understood about Blade Runner', so you're attacking a strawman. GODDAMNIT YOU'RE COMPLAINING THAT IT'S NOT A CLUB SANDWICH WHEN SHE EXPLICITLY SAID SHE WAS MAKING A GRILLED CHEESE and I have ZERO interest in listening to your whining, given that level of understanding."
posted by Lexica at 5:21 PM on October 6 [6 favorites]


But, grilled ham and cheese.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:21 PM on October 6


Also, the way he stares at Deckard the whole time - and the fact that Deckard, a career replicant hunter, didn't know about the 4-year life span - makes me extremely suspicious.

Deckard is a retired replicant hunter and the 4-year lifespan was something new to control the Nexus-6s, because they were such bad mamajamas you didn't want them getting all emo all over the place and killing folks or taking over the world. In the theatrical version with the studio ending, it turns out that Rachael wasn't given the 4-year limit.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:27 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]


I mean, the slave narrative isn't the foreground of the story, but it's absolutely part of the background world building. Replicants are slaves. They just are.

"quite an experience to live in fear... that's what it is to be a slave"

posted by Sebmojo at 6:28 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]


You know what would be interesting? An alternate universe for comparison in which this article were written by a late-career male SF author.


I would have a much harsher opinion on that. I assume she's younger than me, which is the only thing that makes it OK.


Yeah. It's always astonishing to me when I hear of somebody watching it and not seeing the replicants as sympathetic characters.


I think the movie is a Voight-Kampf test.
posted by bongo_x at 11:35 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]


I saw 2049 this morning. It tied up a lot of loose ends. It was as spare, and rich, and beautiful as I hoped it would be. It seemed loud, but the dialogue kind of mushed, not crisp enough. It was moving, and captivating, and again, some of the things to come are surely going to. I mean, how can we resist, giant holographic figures, as tall as buildings, wandering public squares? Why haven't we already made this a tired meme by now?
posted by Oyéah at 1:59 PM on October 7 [1 favorite]


I liked the article. I hadn't thought of the replicants as slaves, although I can now clearly see that that's the primary analogy. In fact, that reading makes the movie version where Rachel and Deckard escape to the North a little too trite. There are bits of the film that now remind me of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Deckard and Gaff are more than a little reminiscent of Loker and Marks.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:21 PM on October 7 [2 favorites]


Oh, I should say: I also see Blade Runner as an analogy for the Holocaust. It isn't just that the replicants are persecuted and that people accept this, but that the persecution is its own justification. The replicants' illegal arrival is the impetus for Deckard's mission, but it's only illegal by fiat. These replicants are criminals - they couldn't be on Earth, otherwise - but the most dangerous replicants are the ones that are invisible, that fit in, who think they have a life here. They're not really people, even if they think they are; their entire life might be a falsehood that can and should be stripped away from them the secret police armed with the techniques of racial science.

Racial science. Rachel science. Heh.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:51 PM on October 7 [2 favorites]


The movie isn't about one thing. It's interesting that some people want it to be about one thing, and label and categorize it.
posted by bongo_x at 7:04 PM on October 7


I assume she's younger than me, which is the only thing that makes it OK.

I am so, so damn tired of this kind of policing. Everyone has to/gets to watch something for the first time, unless it's something that was so much a part of their cultural wallpaper growing up that they saw it before they were consciously aware of watching things.

There is no "you must be this familiar with the canon before expressing an opinion about your experience of it" rule, and people who try to enforce one are gatekeeping assholes. Suggestion: spend more time contemplating the idea of "today's lucky 10,000" and less time telling other people they're engaging with their experience wrongly.
posted by Lexica at 8:40 PM on October 7 [10 favorites]


k5.user I've been mulling over your comment for a few days because it bugged me, but I had a difficult time clarifying exactly why it bugged me.

It's certainly possible to see all of the media you cited through the lens of "All show the danger of creating something more powerful than mankind, something that can think for themselves and how it ends, badly, for mankind (man is not God)."

And certainly some media, though I'd argue perhaps not the specific examples you cited, had that message quite explicitly. The 1950's and 1960's was saturated with anti-science fiction arguing, basically, that progress was dangerous and that "playing God" [1] would always end badly with the scientist's monster justly killing him and, at the end, the heroic anti-scientist telling the Beautiful Daughter that "it's over now."

I think the Caveman Science Fiction comic does an excellent job of illustrating the sort of media you're citing while mocking the entire concept.

Because, I think it's a bad concept and the media that played it straight is, at best hackneyed and trite, and at worst just plain bad.

Shelly, Asimov, Star Trek, and PKD all subverted the essentially anti-science, anti-progress, message of the straight version to one extent or another. You can just as easily see the message of any of the media you cited as being "don't abuse your creations" rather than "don't try to strive and create better beings".

Star Trek is an interesting example because the whole Eugenics Wars bit never really fit well into the generally pro-science, progressive, narrative of Star Trek. It was basically tacked on as a way to handwave the absence of transhumanism in the Trek universe, and it stands out as the badly implemented and generally kludgy thing it is. Science and progress are good, say Trek, except for these things that'd be hard to explain on a 1 hour TV show so they're bad and we don't do them. And apparently every single species and polity in the entire universe has exactly the same policy. Worse, because something bad happened **FOUR HUNDRED YEARS AGO** everyone has decided that it's universally just a Thing Man Was Not Meant to Know and will never try again with better controls or science.

In our own timeline, around 400 years ago, the ability of gunpowder to demolish the old social and military order was being demonstrated to absolutely terrifying effect in Europe. War ravaged the continent, mass deaths and other horrors followed. By Star Trek logic we should have instantly banned gunpowder and today, in a 21st century dominated by swords and catapults, not one single person, no matter how power mad, would even dream of reintroducing it. You see the absurdity I hope.

Asimov was about as far from preaching the gospel of anti-science and anti-progress you propose as can be, and very explicitly set out to avoid the trite, tired, and worn out "robots attacking humanity" storylines so common when he started writing his robot stories. He said that he developed the three laws specifically so that he would be prevented from getting lazy and writing a robots turn on mankind type story instead of the more interesting and less anti-science stories he wanted to tell.

You completely mischaracterized HAL, he wasn't a cautionary example of why we shouldn't "play god", he was an example of human failure to think things through when setting priorities (a theme Asimov explored several times in his robot stories). In the sequel he was reactivated, his programming repaired, and he was instrumental in solving the problems that were left from the first book.

Except for Khan, all of the media you bring up seem to center around the need to treat our offspring well, not a need to avoid reproduction. When a new being is abused by its creator it hardly seems fair to blame the creation for fighting back.

[1] A phrase with no actual meaning beyond "doing something I don't like".
posted by sotonohito at 7:03 AM on October 8 [3 favorites]


the whole Eugenics Wars bit never really fit well into the generally pro-science, progressive, narrative of Star Trek.

I vehemently disagree on the grounds that eugenics is not now, and never was, and never shall be science, or scientific, or pro-science. It is in fact, and always has been, a public policy methodology that is genocidal in intent and in effect. Star Trek explicitly calling the policy out by name is not an accident, nor is it a failure of Star Trek to know itself. It is fundamental to the entire worldview of the show.
posted by mwhybark at 1:14 PM on October 8 [8 favorites]


I am so, so damn tired of this kind of policing. Everyone has to/gets to watch something for the first time, unless it's something that was so much a part of their cultural wallpaper growing up that they saw it before they were consciously aware of watching things.

There is no "you must be this familiar with the canon before expressing an opinion about your experience of it" rule, and people who try to enforce one are gatekeeping assholes.


Well, that seems weirdly over the top. I didn't say she should go to jail, just that it was odd she hadn't seen the movie before.
I didn't say anything about her right to express her opinion.
I'm not sure who you're arguing with, but it's not me.
posted by bongo_x at 1:49 PM on October 8


I'm absolutely arguing with you. You said I assume she's younger than me, which is the only thing that makes it OK.

Who are you to determine what is or is not OK about how somebody else experiences a movie or when? Who are you to set up some implicit and undefined list of creative works a person needs to have experienced for their opinion to be valid?

That's gatekeeping, and it's bullshit. And given the context of sexism and "Fake Geek Girl" gatekeeping and policing, it's doubly bullshit when it's being done to a female writer.
posted by Lexica at 3:25 PM on October 8 [7 favorites]


Star Trek is an interesting example because the whole Eugenics Wars bit never really fit well into the generally pro-science, progressive, narrative of Star Trek. It was basically tacked on as a way to handwave the absence of transhumanism in the Trek universe, and it stands out as the badly implemented and generally kludgy thing it is. Science and progress are good, say Trek, except for these things that'd be hard to explain on a 1 hour TV show so they're bad and we don't do them. And apparently every single species and polity in the entire universe has exactly the same policy. Worse, because something bad happened **FOUR HUNDRED YEARS AGO** everyone has decided that it's universally just a Thing Man Was Not Meant to Know and will never try again with better controls or science.

Or maybe it's prescient as to some of the problems with the idea that you can get rid of humanity's problems by making it obsolete. Repeatedly criticizing an idea, which Trek has done with eugenics and transhumanism-related concepts over the history of the franchise, is different from ignoring it, as you seem to imply. And it's weird to assume that transhumanism is either a fait accompli or beyond criticism, or that whatever problems are associated with it can be resolved "with better controls or science" (speaking of handwaving). Transhumanism may be something of a shibboleth among futurists and SF fans, but so were air cars and robot butlers. You know what radical futurist idea Star Trek came up with, that lots of people (including a lot of futurists) are still wrestling with? The idea that we need money.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:18 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


The conflation of eugenics and transhumanism is part of the weird backwardness of Trek in that regard.

They named the event the "Eugenics Wars", but eugenics seems not to have been involved. Khan and his fellows were the result of genetic engineering, not eugenics.

Further, they were explicitly the result of people **trying** to product megalomaniac "super soldiers" rather than just tinkering around with any of the multitude of other things that they could have done. And so, having seen exactly one bad example of one particular application of the idea of human improvement, the Federation decided to simply ban, forever, all research into any field related to human improvement.

So much so that medicine apparently hasn't advanced very much, despite their glowey things, because people still get sick, have bad eyes, go bald, and so on. They can't even repair LeForge's eyes because they've deliberately held back the biosciences.

I don't say everyone has to be all "yay, transhumanism is great!", but the way Trek decided to avoid it was heavy handed and didn't fit in with the general theme of the show.

And yes, of course we should try to solve humanity's problems by making it obsolete! What, this particular version of humanity is the be all and end all of existence? Fah.

But, arguing about transhumanism is beside the point.

The point is that the Caveman Science Fiction idea that building intelligent beings is inherently bad and awful and that they'll be monsters who turn on their "masters" is bad writing, bad SF, and not what even Trek proposed. Look at Data for a counterexample, when he isn't wallowing in Pinocchio syndrome anyway.

And it certainly wasn't the message of Asimov.

Don't abuse your children is a much better moral than "never try to improve things".
posted by sotonohito at 6:33 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]


The Borg, I'd argue, are another sort of oddball weird appendix to Trek. Again they decided that apparently any significant use of cybernetics is automatically evil. It's just weird.
posted by sotonohito at 6:35 PM on October 8


So much so that medicine apparently hasn't advanced very much, despite their glowey things, because people still get sick, have bad eyes, go bald, and so on. They can't even repair LeForge's eyes because they've deliberately held back the biosciences.

Your comments don't have a lot to do with Star Trek; for one thing, Geordi got artificial eyes in First Contact. Also, they've had other bad results from genetic engineering attempts, and genetic repair of birth defects is allowed, explicitly.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:42 PM on October 8


Spock is explicitly a product of genetic engineering for small-scale love instead of nation-state power, and the show does not shrink from depicting his suffering as a child due to Vulcan fears of trans-species transhumanism.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:00 AM on October 9


Geordie LaForge was already a cyborg, though. His visor transmitted images directly to his brain and even gave him super-human vision. He refused the ocular implants not because of taboo or because they didn't exist (after all Dr. Pulasky says that she had already done many implants), but because they couldn't promise him the superhuman vision that he had adapted to since the age of 5.
posted by muddgirl at 7:10 AM on October 9 [2 favorites]


I guess what I'm trying to say is that reading the Star Trek universe as being anti-science or anti-progress because they had banned genetic engineering doesn't take into account the fact that like every human culture, their relationship with science and with the idea of human progress was complex and mostly seems to mirror US ideas on science and society, which makes sense since we invented it.

One thing I find interesting is to compare Dr Pulaski and Dr. McCoy. Pulaski's character is supposed to lean heavily on Dr. McCoy, including McCoy's complicated relationship with technology, but as Pulaski serves on a ship literally captained by a cyborg, this comes off more like bigotry than curmudgeonly pastoralism.
posted by muddgirl at 8:52 AM on October 9 [3 favorites]


because it often runs on the basic themes of oppression and uprising of laborers by a class that treats them as expendable property.

Coming back to this comment now, there is an explicit-if-tenuous connection between Blade Runner and Prometheus and I noticed how David seems to seethe with hatred for his human masters, which they are oblivious to.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:29 PM on October 17


My main takeaway from this thread is still that there is nothing that will more quickly turn a sci-fi film into an absolute classic, defining, pinnacle of the genre, can't-be-considered-a-real-fan-unless-you've-seen-it movie, than a women writer saying she hasn't seen it.
posted by happyroach at 3:16 PM on October 18 [8 favorites]


Woman friend: So it turns out that the tapes are haunted by this girl who died in a cellar -
Me: Well, actually.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:33 PM on October 18 [1 favorite]


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