I've been wanting to watch the new Blade Runner 2049 for some time, but I wanted to soak in the original film, Blade Runner, first. Of course, I watched the Final Cut released in 2007 for the definitive experience. This is the only release where the director (Ridley Scott) had complete, unadulterated creative control. If you're going to watch Blade Runner, watch the 2007 Final Cut.
Stylistically, Blade Runner has a heavy focus on eyes. Hence the picture for this post. Throughout the film the underlying message that "the eye is a window into the soul" is present. This is understood most clearly when subjects undergo the test used to determine whether they are man, or a creation of man. The machine used in the test focuses on the eyes, and the film makes this overtly unambiguous. We as an audience are led to use eyes as a way to distinguish between human and replicant. There's a clear separation between the two in the physical sense.
However, the film goes beyond the physical distinctions between human and the Nexus 6 replicants made by the Tyrell Corporation. It's easily argued that the film reaches into the metaphysical. Metaphysics is the umbrella under which questions about existence and reality lie. Without spoiling anything, it's revealed that Tyrell Corp has been developing a prototype Nexus 7 model replicant with implanted memories. We are forced to question whether these memories are the replicant's 'real' memories or not. If they are implanted, does that make them any less real than if they were genuine? Perhaps not.
[ This paragraph has spoilers, including after the block quote. ]
While this prototype model may have implanted memories, the Nexus 6 replicants do not. They also have a limited life span of four years. This fact leads one Nexus 6 model, Roy, to leave the off-world colonies to return to Earth and seek a longer life span. Roy's motivation for this risky endeavor is that his experiences, and all the things he's seen with his eyes (there's the eye theme again) will die with him. All his experiences. In other words, all his memories. He cannot come to terms with the fact that his memories will fade with him. Roy has a philosophy that clings to his existence. He demands that more life be given to him so that his memories do not perish. Of course, he cannot extend life forever. At the very end, Roy has this monologue in the rain:
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
We see that Roy has accepted that his memories do not need to be preserved, but that the existential weight of them is heavy. He's decided that, like tears in rain, memories do not need to be permanent to have meaning. (Again, tears come from eyes.) His philosophy advances into a more existential one. He no longer believes that he needs to extend his life in order for it to have been one that he could attribute value and worth to.
[ Spoilers are over ]
Interestingly, this film has no direct antagonist. Roy serves as an antagonist at a surface level, however when delving deeper into the character it becomes clear that much of the film's central themes have to do with him. Did you notice that? I called it a him. While replicants are analogous to machines, I found myself anthropomorphizing them more and more. Of course, because human actors play the roles, it's very difficult not to. It's mildly ironic, humans playing the role of replicants trying to achieve a more human-like reality.
Overall, I really loved Blade Runner. It was well written and while it didn't really explore the world of this dystopian L.A., I feel that if they did explore the city more it would detract from these wonderful themes. It's a science-fiction film that takes the genre and bends it into a new creation. It's easy for the genre to become stale; science-fiction has become a mire of tropes and easily predictable themes. This isn't interesting as a viewer and drives us away from the novelty of the genre. Blade Runner does an excellent job of showing us that science-fiction can break just about any thematic wall it wants to. I hope that we see more films and works of art that do the same in the future.