Blade Runner: The City as Replicant

The city in Blade Runner is, like most cities representing the future, synthetic.  However, it is unlike most other cities in futuristic works, in that the city grew organically: it developed through time and the evolution of human desire, as opposed to being designed for a specific purpose, as in, for example, Zamyatin’s We.  In We, the city is perfectly contained, and everything inside is transparent; the city in Blade Runner seems to never end, and everything inside is veiled.

The aesthetic of the city is a decaying synthesis of various human cultures and empires. Nothing is authentic, and nothing is truly new or unique to the time and place.  The Los Angeles of Blade Runner is a disorganised conglomeration of other cities.  Even the  government building is a replication of Aztec pyramids.   The inauthenticity is unlike that of Las Vegas however, in that Las Vegas is a contained spectacle, like giant mini golf: cultures are separated and assigned their own space, thus retaining some of their cultural significance.  In Las Vegas, a Roman structure is surrounded by other Roman items;  however, in the Los Angeles of Blade Runner, landmarks and symbols are clumped together,  losing cultural significance and place in collective cultural memory.

In Blade Runner, the city is a replicant. The basic idea of the replicant is that they are not originals; each model is infinitely duplicable.

In the end, humanity does not survive in human development, but in the replicants: the rebel replicants however, strive to break out of their bondage to attain freedom and individuality, a fundamentally human urge. It is thus clear that, through memory, desire for freedom, and interaction with the world, the rebel replicants are able to achieve individuality and human understanding.  Like children, they are pure and new and are able to take note of events that humans would ignore.  Further, as they were designed for dangerous and undesired work in which humans would not take part, they are able to witness the horrendous details of humanity that is hidden to everyday humans.  As Roy’s dying words suggest: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…all those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain.”

The rebel replicants are able to achieve the basic ideal of humanity, whilst human development, as represented in the city, becomes a synthesis of kitsch aesthetic and surface satisfaction.  The recreations of historically significant landmarks also suggests a lack of creativity in humans, having thus forgotten how to derive meaning from their own experiences, a skill that is clearly developed by replicants, such as Roy and Rachael.