Blade Runner: A Prophetic Film That Depicts 2019 Somewhere On Planet Earth

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Thresholds of Splendor:
Mythic and Symbolic Subtexts in Blade Runner

©1997 James Pontolillo
jpontoli@usgs.gov
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Note: An earlier, significantly different, version of this article appeared as “Myth and Meaning in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner” in Pebbles magazine (vol. 1, no. 4, Winter 1994-95, pp. 8-20).


They are shepherds who take care only of themselves. They are clouds carried along by a wind without giving rain, trees fruitless in autumn, dead twice over and pulled up by the roots. They are wild sea waves, foaming with disgraceful deeds; they are stars that have wandered from their courses, and the place reserved for them is an eternity of blackest darkness. [Jude 12, 13]


Introduction

Blade Runner (1982) is a science-fiction film-noir starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, and Sean Young. It is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, though its title comes from two unrelated novels (Bladerunner by Alan E. Nourse and Blade Runner: A Movie by William S. Burroughs). In November 2019, a former cop – Harrison Ford as Deckard – is given the assignment of tracking down and “retiring” replicants who have rebelled, returned to Earth, and are hiding in Los Angeles. Replicants are extremely complex androids (humanoid robots) bioengineered from skin/flesh cultures by the Tyrell Corporation. As manufactured organisms, they are treated as slaves and employed in work considered too hazardous, boring, or distasteful for humans. The latest generation of replicants (Nexus-6) are virtually indistinguishable from humans. While replicants can outperform humans physically and even mentally, they possess two achilles heels: a programmed four-year lifespan and the inability to show empathy. This latter weakness forms the basis for discriminating them from humans via a Voight-Kampff (VK) test of empathic responses to carefully worded questions and statements. After a bloody mutiny by a group of Nexus-6 replicants in an off-world colony, replicants were declared illegal (under penalty of death) on Earth. Special police squads calledBlade Runner units are employed to detect and eliminate any trespassing replicants. Hence, the movie’s title as well as Deckard’s assignment and modus operandi. This brief plot summary, however, hardly does justice to this incredibly complex and layered film. More than any film before or since, Blade Runner explores three profound and unsettling questions: Who am I?, Why am I here?, and What does it mean to be human?

Following poor in-house and sneak previews in early 1982, the film’s backers prevailed upon director Ridley Scott (Alien, Black Rain, Thelma & Louise, 1492: Conquest of Paradise), to make substantial changes in plot, scripting, and the soundtrack. Blade Runner was then released on June 25, 1982 and proved to be a box office flop. Many viewers felt confused, irritated, or depressed by the film’s unrelenting bleakness, gritty pessimism, and thematic ambiguity. Critical reaction to Blade Runner was highly polarized and, more often than not, downright harsh. But a funny thing happened… Blade Runner wouldn’t go away and by the late 1980s it had become a worldwide cultural icon embraced by a broad spectrum of science fiction fans, cineastes, and literati. At the 1992 World Science Fiction Convention, a poll of attendees named Blade Runner as the third most popular sci-fi film of all time (behind Star Wars and 2001 : A Space Odyssey). This ever-increasing interest and popularity ultimately led Ridley Scott and Warner Brothers to release his original version of the movie. On December 14, 1993, Blade Runner was accorded the highest of honors when it was inducted into the Library of Congress National Film Registry. A total of six different versions of Blade Runner have been screened to date: Workprint (1982, 1990, 1991), San Diego Sneak Preview (1982), U.S. Theatrical Release (1982), International Theatrical Release (1982), U.S. Broadcast TV Version (1986), and Director’s Cut (1992). The differences between the versions are relatively minor, except for the Workprint and The Director’s Cut which dramatically differ from each other. All Blade Runner videotapes and laserdiscs (The Director’s Cut not included) released prior to 1993 are the European Theatrical Release version – except for the Embassy/Nelson Entertainment LD (13806) which, although marked as the Euro-version, is actually the U.S. Theatrical Release. For the purpose of discussion in this article, all visual references were taken from the Blade Runner – The Director’s Cut videotape (Warner Brothers 12682).

The movie’s original U.S. Theatrical Release soundtrack (scored by Vangelis and supplemented with other source music) has a similarly complex history. It has never been officially issued, although a number of variations have appeared. The first was a poor quality, bootleg cassette soundtrack that surfaced several weeks prior to the movie’s release. In coordination with Blade Runner‘s release, Full Moon/Warner Brothers issued an “official” orchestral adaptation of the movie soundtrack by the New American Orchestra (WEA 9-23748-2). In 1989, Vangelis included two previously unreleased recordings from the movie soundtrack on his Themes CD (Polydor 839-518-2). A few days before Christmas 1993, a limited-edition bootleg CD entitled Original Motion Picture Soundtrack : Blade Runnerwas released by Off World Music (OWM 9301) and appeared in a handful of stores. It contained selections of the original soundtrack as well as unused music from various sources. In 1994, Vangelis finally released an official Blade Runner CD (Atlantic/Warner 82623-2), however, it is not a soundtrack in the usual sense of the term. The twelve tracks included material composed for, but never used in, the original soundtrack. In 1995, a limited-edition Romanian bootleg soundtrack, Sunetul Original al Filmului: Blade Runner (Gongo Music GM-003) was offered for sale by collectible music dealers. For the most part it featured the same tracks as those offered on the first bootleg. Finally, 1995 also saw the release of Blade Runner: Synthesizer Soundtracks (Silva Screen Records STD5003) which only featured a reworking of one movie track. For the purpose of discussion in this article, all audio references were taken from the Blade Runner – The Director’s Cut (Warner Brothers 12682) videotape soundtrack.

Those desiring a more in-depth discussion of the various movie versions, their differences and implications, the making of Blade Runner, and a host of other general topics should consult the authoritative works by Sammon (1996) and Chapman (1995). Be forewarned that this article relies on a working knowledge of the Blade Runner “cycle” of movies and contains spoilers, so those who have not seen the movie should probably do so before reading any further (or else, don’t blame me for your confusion and a ruined ending!). However, even for those familiar with Blade Runner – The Director’s Cut (hereafter BR-TDC) a character and plot summary is in order before plunging into the often murky world of interpretation.


Character Summary

Please note: these summaries describe characters as we first meet them and do not include any subsequent development. The actor/actress portraying each character is noted in brackets.

  • Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer): the leader of a group of six renegade replicants; combat model
  • Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh): Los Angeles Police Department [LAPD] Inspector; Deckard’s former boss
  • Chew (James Hong): genetic eye designer for the Tyrell Corporation; proprietor of Chew’s Eye World
  • Deckard (Harrison Ford): a retired Blade Runner for the LAPD
  • Gaff (Edward James Olmos): a member of the LAPD
  • Holden (Morgan Paull): a Blade Runner for the LAPD
  • Leon Kowalski (Brion James): one of the six renegade replicants; combat/loader model
  • Taffey Lewis (Hy Pyke): proprietor of an adult nightclub called The Snake Pit
  • Pris (Daryl Hannah): one of the six renegade replicants; recreational model [i.e., a prostitute]
  • Rachael (Sean Young): an employee of the Tyrell Corporation
  • J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson): genetic designer for the Tyrell Corporation; suffers from progeria [Methuselah’s Syndrome] – a form of premature aging
  • Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel): owner and driving force behind the Tyrell Corporation
  • Zhora (Joanna Cassidy): one of the six renegade replicants; political homicide model

Plot Summary

Holden is at the Tyrell Corporation VK testing all new employees to weed out any possible replicants (several renegade replicants had previously attempted a break-in). Leon Kowalski, who is in the group of recent hires, shoots Holden during his test and then escapes.

Deckard is picked up at a sushi bar by Gaff and taken to LAPD headquarters. There he has a less than happy reunion with his former boss, Bryant. Gaff creates an origami figure of a chicken and places it on a table. Deckard is forcibly reinstated as a Blade Runner and given the background of the case: six Nexus-6 replicants (three male and three female) mutinied, escaped from an off-world colony by jumping a shuttle and killing its crew, and have returned to Earth for reasons unknown. Bryant claims that one of the six was destroyed three nights ago by an electrical security fence at the Tyrell Corporation. Deckard is then shown photos and data on four replicants (Roy, Pris, Zhora, and Leon).

Deckard and Gaff go over to the Tyrell Corporation to VK a sample Nexus-6 for test purposes. Deckard meets Rachael and Dr. Eldon Tyrell. Dr. Tyrell wants a negative test on a human first and suggests that Deckard should VK Rachael. Deckard sets up the apparatus and only after much questioning concludes that Rachael is a replicant and doesn’t know it. Out of her earshot, Dr. Tyrell clarifies: memory implants (although she is beginning to have suspicions). Deckard is stunned to find out that the dividing line between “real” humans and replicants has become so very narrow.

Deckard and Gaff leave the Tyrell Corporation and go to search Leon’s apartment. Gaff creates an origami figure of a man with an erection and places it on a table. Deckard finds a stack of photographs hidden in a dresser drawer and a mysterious scale in the bottom of Leon’s tub. Leon has been observing the police search from a safe distance.

Roy and Leon go to Chew’s Eye World. They interrogate Chew and learn that J.F. Sebastian is one of the few people with access to Dr. Tyrell. They then kill Chew (though this is not shown).

Deckard returns home and is confronted by Rachael who desperately wants to be told that she is really a human. Deckard callously proves that she is a replicant by relating two of the most private memories that she had never divulged to anyone (in fact, they were programmed memories from Tyrell’s niece). A very distraught Rachael leaves. Deckard hits the bottle.

Pris, acting on Roy’s directions, shows up at J.F. Sebastian’s apartment building. Playing an innocent homeless waif, she cons her way into J.F.’s heart and apartment (he has the entire building to himself). She says she will find her friends tomorrow.

A drunken Deckard (still in his apartment) pecks away at a piano, reminisces over family photos, lapses into sleep momentarily, and dreams about a unicorn running through a green forest. He gets up and feeds one of Leon’s photos into his Esper machine to examine it. In the photo, Deckard is able to make out the face of Zhora associated with a shiny boa. The boa resembles the scale that he retrieved from Leon’s tub.

Deckard goes to a market and gets an animoid fish maker to analyze the scale for him. It is a snake scale. He visits Abdul Ben Hassan (a maker of fine artificial snakes) and learns that the snake was sold to Taffey Lewis.

Deckard goes to Taffey Lewis’ adult nightclub (The Snake Pit) and inquires about Zhora. Taffey buys him one on the house and them brushes him off. Deckard calls Rachael and asks her to join him for a drink to make amends, but she refuses. Deckard stays to drink for awhile and witnesses the act of Miss Salome and her Snake. He realizes that Miss Salome is Zhora and visits her backstage. Zhora, sensing that something is wrong, gets the jump on Deckard and escapes into the streets.

Deckard chases Zhora through the streets and finally shoots her to death. Leon witnesses it all. Deckard buys himself a bottle for the road. Bryant and Gaff show up to congratulate Deckard on his kill. Bryant informs Deckard that he also has to retire Rachael, who is now missing.

Deckard starts home, but spots Rachael in the crowd. He goes after her. Leon appears, pulls Deckard into an alley, disarms him, and works him over. Just as he is about to kill Deckard, Rachael shoots Leon in the back of the head with Deckard’s gun.

Deckard and Rachel return to his apartment to drink off the shakes from killing. Deckard tells Rachael that he won’t hunt her because he owes her one (“but somebody would”). Rachael plays the piano while Deckard rests. Rachael and Deckard make love.

Pris and J.F. Sebastian are relaxing in his apartment when Roy Batty joins them “unexpectedly.” Roy gives Pris an update of the bad news (“there’s only two of us now”). Sebastian concludes that they are Nexus-6 replicants. Roy and Pris pressure Sebastian into helping them gain access to Dr. Tyrell via the ongoing chess match between the two scientists.

Roy and J.F. Sebastian go to the Tyrell Corporation late at night, but their elevator car is stopped at an automated checkpoint. Dr. Tyrell thinks that only Sebastian is in the car. Sebastian (using Roy’s advice) defeats Dr. Tyrell in their ongoing chess match. Sensing that something is on Sebastian’s mind, Tyrell unwittingly clears him to come on up. Roy confronts his maker: he wants more life for himself and Pris (whom he loves). Tyrell claims that there is nothing he can do to help. In a fit of rage, Roy kills Tyrell and Sebastian and then leaves.

Deckard receives a police band call announcing the deaths of Dr. Tyrell and J.F. Sebastian. He calls Sebastian’s apartment and recognizes Pris on the vid-phone, even though she hurriedly hangs up. Deckard heads over to Sebastian’s apartment.

Deckard searches Sebastian’s apartment, but Pris gets the jump on him. After a brief one-sided fight in her favor, Deckard is finally able to shoot and kill Pris.

Roy returns to Sebastian’s apartment and finds Deckard and Pris’ body. Roy is able to disarm Deckard and breaks two of his fingers. However, he gives Deckard his gun back. It is clear that Roy wants to “play” with the Blade Runner. Roy briefly mourns for Pris, kisses her goodbye, and then begins to hunt Deckard through the building. In the heat of the chase, Deckard loses his gun. Roy is beginning to show imminent signs of death (loss of muscle control in his right hand which he counteracts by plunging a nail through his palm). They spar physically, but Roy is merely toying with him. Deckard is able to climb outside of the building to the rooftop, yet even that offers no escape. In desperation, Deckard tries to jump to a neighboring building in the pouring rain. He doesn’t quite make it and ends up hanging on for dear life from a wet I-beam. Roy (with a white dove in hand) easily leaps onto the neighboring building. He looks down at Deckard and tells him: “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” Deckard can hold on no longer and falls. At the last possible moment, Roy grabs Deckard and pulls him up to safety. With his dying breaths, Roy delivers a moving soliloquoy. As he dies, Roy releases the dove that he has been holding and it flys away.

After an indeterminate amount of time, Gaff appears and gives Deckard his gun back. Deckard tells Gaff that he is retiring. As Gaff leaves Deckard on the rooftop he turns one last time and says: “It’s too bad she won’t live ….. but then again, who does?”

Deckard returns to his apartment and finds (to his immense relief) Rachael asleep. He has her grab a coat and they cautiously leave his apartment. Outside his door, Deckard spots a little origami unicorn sitting on the floor. Gaff’s last statement echoes through his mind. He smiles wryly and joins Rachael in the elevator. The doors close.

Veiled Symbolism or Viewer Imaginings?

Many moviegoers are unaware of the often extensive level of hidden meaning that writers and directors intentionally introduce into their work. Sometimes the result is meant to be serious; often it just represents a playful wink to those in the know. A fine example of the latter are the images of R2-D2 and C3-PO, the robots from Star Wars, that appear on Egyptian stelae in a background shot in Raiders of the Lost Ark (George Lucas directed both movies). It is probably best to explore a few of the “obvious” hidden messages in BR-TDC before delving into more arcane matters.

  1. One of the movie’s critical scenes revolves around Roy Batty’s attempt to gain access to his maker, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, via J.F. Sebastian. A chess match between Batty and Tyrell takes center stage. Chess has traditionally been the royal game of life – a conflict between the powers of darkness and light for domination of the world. At one level, the game represents the intellectual struggles of Batty and Tyrell (first on the chess board, and then as Tyrell tries to reason with Batty). On another level, the match echoes the struggles of the replicants (pawns) to obtain more life or become human (get queened). The final moves in the game are particularly instructive. Roy attacks (Queen to Bishop 6) with the spirit or the Mover under Will. Tyrell parries (Knight takes Queen) with a piece representative of the intellect devoid of spirit. Roy ends the match (Bishop to King 7) with a move reasserting the primacy of the spiritual over the physical realm.
  2. While following up on clues, Deckard has an animoid fish maker examine the scale that he found in Leon’s tub. The images used as special effects are those of a female marijuana bud.
  3. Eye symbolism is rampant throughout BR-TDC. Some of the more prominent examples are: close-up of an eye during the opening sequence, the importance of eyes to the VK test, the visit to Chew’s Eye World where both Chew and Leon handle eyes, attempts by replicants to kill humans by gouging their eyes out, owl’s eyes are shown several times, Roy Batty plays with glass-encased eyes while in J.F. Sebastian’s apartment, Deckard’s and the replicant’s eyes glow, Dr. Tyrell wears a pair of tri-focal glasses that magnify his eyes, and Pris’ emotional state is frequently expressed through her eyes. In this connection it is useful to recall E.T.A. Hoffman’s story “The Automata.” In it, a man falls in love with a female piano-playing automaton. Upon realizing her true nature, he commits suicide by jumping off a building. Since it was her eyes that betrayed her, the man shouts “beautiful eyes” just before he jumps. The correspondences here with Rachael (a piano-playing replicant) and Deckard (falls in love with Rachael; takes near-suicidal leap from J.F. Sebastian’s apartment building) are unmistakable.
  4. When Gaff “arrests” Deckard in a sushi bar at the beginning of the movie there is more at stake than a disturbed meal. The event marks the transition for Deckard from sedate retirement (remember, a dead replicant is one that has been “retired”) to a frantic life and death struggle or alternately, his awakening from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge. It is more than coincidental that he should be eating fish at this turning point: fish is the sacramental meal of most mystery religions (e.g., the Last Supper, the Hebrew Sabbath meal, and numerous feasts for the dead). Almost universally, to partake of fish is to symbolically renew or sustain life.
  5. Pris, the prostitute replicant, has an incept (“birth”) date of February 14 – St. Valentine’s Day.
  6. The repeated occurrence of the number 23 as an integral part of important numbers throughout the movie was one of the first irregularities to catch my eye. Robert Anton Wilson (1988) has commented extensively on the “23 synchronicity” and its purported meanings. In BR-TDC the number 23 is cited an inordinate number of times. Some examples: the renegade replicants killed 23 people on the hijacked shuttle, the LAPD spinner vehicle is number 995 (9 + 9 + 5 = 23), Rachael’s phone number is 555-7583 (7 + 5 + 8 + 3 = 23), Deckard’s badge number is B26354 ([2] + 2 + 6 + 3 + 5 + 4 = 22), and J.F. Sebastian’s apartment number is 46751 (4 + 6 + 7 + 5 + 1 = 23). The number 23 is representative of a man undertaking the Great Work – the Mystical Marriage of the Qabalists, or union with the Godhead. He first leaves his life of comfort and then the world at large. There is no return for one that has started on this path which is clearly representative of Deckard and the other replicants’ journey.

Hopefully, these examples suffice to show that a fair amount of hidden material lies just beneath the surface of BR-TDC.


Character Profiles by Ancient Arts

After recognizing the preceding instances of hidden meaning in BR-TDC, I decided to undertake a careful study of each character in the movie. My hope was that this would help clarify numerous plot issues and interpretations. Aside from relying on the traditional symbolism of natural creatures and objects attributed to characters throughout the film, I also performed Gematria on each character’s name. Gematria is one of three parts of the Hebrew literal Qabalah. It is an exegetical process based on relative numerical values: words and phrases of a similar numerical value are considered to be explanatory of each other. As a potentially highly-subjective process, it can be a hazardous tool to employ in interpretation. Israel Regardie, an eminent occult scholar, has noted that “…. Gematria will be perceived either as nonsense of the most grotesque description, or it will awaken some simulacrum of the mystical state originally experienced by its writer.” In order to minimize the subjectivity involved, rules for calculation were adopted prior to the actual analysis of any character names. The process was quite straightforward: names were transposed into Hebrew equivalents, standard numerical values were substituted for letters and summed, and then a book of correspondences was consulted (in this case the Sepher Sephiroth in Regardie [ed.], 1986). For brevity’s sake, interpretations below only show an abbreviated form of the exegetical process. Those who wish to verify my interpretations can do so with the information at hand.

Of course, before continuing I should provide some rationale as to why it is reasonable to analyze a movie released in 1982 with an ancient Hebrew mystical practice. The answer is quite simple: most of the movie’s character names and thematic essentials are taken directly from Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), it is known that Dick incorporated mystical systems into some of his other works, and even a cursory viewing of BR-TDC reveals a host of biblical themes (see The Mythic Strand, below). Dick’s Hugo Award-winning novel The Man in the High Castle (1962) was entirely plotted by consulting the I Ching and his novel Ubik (1969) revolves around the Bardo Thodol of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In private letters he noted that as of 1966 he had picked up “a wealth of theological material” from his friendship with San Francisco Episcopal Bishop Pike (who was eventually stripped of his office due to very public journeys into the realms of mysticism). Dick’s last works : Valis (1981), The Divine Invasion (1981), The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982), and Radio Free Albemuth (1985) were outright religio-mystical explorations published under the guise of science fiction. It would not be surprising if other P.K. Dick novels also yielded mystical affinities upon closer inspection.

Roy Batty: The character of Roy Batty is both the most tragic and inspiring figure in BR-TDC. He is Lucifer (as destroying angel) and Christ (as the crucified saviour of his enemy, Deckard). His incept date of January 8 – well within the calendrical variation for the Feast of Epiphany (from the Greek epiphanos, the emergence of Deity) – is another tie to Christ. However, like Lucifer he rebels against order and leads his fallen angels (the other replicants) in a war against Heaven. In fact, Roy successfully ascends to Heaven and then confronts, condemns, and destroys his Creator (Tyrell). But even this cannot save Batty and his fellow replicants who have been under an unalterable death sentence since their birth. An exegesis of Roy Batty (RY BTTY = 200/20, 220) signifies the biblical giants known as Nephilim who were superhuman (When we set our eyes on the Nephilim we felt no bigger than grasshoppers; and that is how we must have been in their eyes. [Num. xiii 33]). Roy is associated with several animals throughout the movie. While questioning Chew, an illuminated hawk-like figure can be seen briefly behind Roy. The hawk is a traditional attribution of strength and power. Later, when Roy chases Deckard through the ruins of Sebastian’s apartment building, he howls like a wolf several times. The wolf represents the Earth, evil, and devouring, persecuting spirits. In Celtic mythology a wolf swallows the Sun at night (as Batty has destroyed Tyrell). Prior to saving Deckard’s life, Roy adopts a white dove as his final animal attribution. Doves represent love, peace, light, and the life spirit especially when passing from one state of existence to another. Incidentally, looming over the scene of Roy’s death is a large, illuminated TDK Corporation sign (TDK = 33 = sorrow, tears, mourning).

Bryant: Police inspector Bryant appears to carry no special significance in BR-TDC beyond what we actually see on the screen. An exegesis of his name (BRYNT = 271) signifies that which is low and mean, certainly an apt description of the inspector.

Chew: Genetic eye designer Chew is one of the Tyrell Corporation scientists that form a trinity of natural powers. Chew is a hermit dwelling in the realm of ice – his cryogenic lab. An exegesis of his name (ChV = 14) signifies the interplay of Divine Will with matter, or his role as eye-creator.

Deckard: An exegesis of his name (DKRD = 228) signifies the First-born (Adam) and a Ruler of the Earth. He is linked to Dr. Tyrell (see below) by his possession of an evergreen bonsai tree which symbolizes everlasting life. It is clear from clues in BR-TDC that Deckard is a replicant. The crucial piece of evidence to confirm this is the origami unicorn figure that Gaff leaves outside of Deckard’s door at the end of the movie. Deckard is also linked to J.F. Sebastian through their shared possession of a unicorn (see below). In this instance, the unicorn represents virtue, incorruptability, power, and strength. The unicorn is also a guardian of the Tree of Life. Gaff could only have known about Deckard’s unicorn dream through access to his mind, thus Deckard must be a replicant with memory implants. The unicorn manifests itself from out of the dream-realm into the material world. Similarly, Deckard has been transformed from a destroyer of life into its guardian, and from a human into a replicant (although, is there really any difference?). This is supported by an exegesis of Deckard’s apartment number (9732): it symbolizes the place where the archetypal and formative worlds unite – i.e., Deckard’s realization concerning his true nature.

Gaff: Gaff is a shadowy figure who spends all of his time trailing Deckard during his hunt of the replicants. An exegesis of his name (GPHPH = 173) signifies “lighten mine eyes” – an accurate description considering his pivotal role in enlightening Deckard via the origami unicorn.

Holden: Holden is shot by Leon in the opening sequence of BR-TDC. He is put on life-support and never seen again. An exegesis of his name (HLDN = 89) signifies “body” and “silence.”

Leon Kowalski: Leon’s animal attribution is the tortoise which represents the support of the World, the Earth, and the base of any matter. Tortoises are also associated with northern regions. An exegesis of his name (LN KWLSKY = 80/146, 226) signifies the World and the North. Leon is the common man/replicant.

Taffey Lewis: An exegesis of his name (TPHPHY LVS = 580/336, 916) appropriately decribes his nightclub, The Snake Pit, as the place of lewdness where an attack occurs. The worm Deckard finds in his drink embodies the death and dissolution that lie just below the surface of The Snake Pit’s glittering exterior. The candles arrayed all about the nightclub represent the uncertainty of life as they are easily extinguished and form a symbolic link with Dr. Tyrell’s bedroom (see below).

Pris: When Pris first meets J.F. Sebastian she is framed by streetlights resembling cat’s eyes. As the scene ends, she stares evilly at Sebastian’s back while synthesized feline howls echo through the night. Traditionally, the cat has represented stealth, evil, darkness, the lunar powers, and a variable nature. All of these aspects characterize Pris’ role in setting up J.F. Sebastian and Dr. Tyrell for the kill. Pris has often been accorded a racoon attribution on the basis of her makeup, however, her darkened eyes, pale complexion, and garishly red lips are also the historical trademarks of the prostitute. An exegesis of her name (PRS = 580) signifies lewdness, particularly the scapegoat that was burdened down with the Hebrew’s sins and then driven out (The goat will carry all their iniquities upon itself into some barren waste, where the man will release it, there in the wilderness. [Levit. xvi 22]).

Rachael: An exegesis of her name (RChL = 238 ~ 76) signifies the secret slave, a recognition of Rachael’s status at the beginning of BR-TDC. Her primary natural attribution is the spider, Deckard’s knowledge of which proves to Rachael that she is a replicant. The spider is the Great Mother in her aspects as the weaver of destiny and the genetrix who spins the web of life from out of her own substance. Rachael can certainly be considered the weaver of Deckard’s fate. As the Great Mother, Rachael is also Eve. Her secondary natural attributions emerge during the VK test performed by Deckard: calf, butterfly, wasp, naked woman, oyster, and dog. These combine to signify an unblemished and chaste, but fertile, feminine psychopomp (i.e., Rachael’s role as the experimental, transitional form of replicant that is barely distinguishable from a “real” human).

J.F. Sebastian: Sebastian is another of the Tyrell Corporation scientists that form a trinity of natural powers; he is the hermit dwelling in the realm of water (“leaky” is a wild understatement for his apartment building). An exegesis of his name (YPH SBSTYN = 95/841, 936) signifies the broken one who creates a multitude. This refers both to his affliction with progeria and to his role as a genetic designer. Sebastian’s animal attributions are the rodent (rats are seen on the table around him as he dozes in his apartment), the bear cub (a teddy bear in a military uniform greets him when he brings Pris into his apartment), the ostrich (among his toys), and the unicorn (also among his toys). The rodent represents hypocrisy and duplicity, pointing to Sebastian’s role in betraying Dr. Tyrell. In Christianity, bear cubs are emblematic of amorphous beings, a fair description of Sebastian who is human but suffers from the same fate (a genetically-based shortened lifespan) as the replicants. The unicorn represents Sebastian’s meekness. The ostrich signifies his role as a destroyer, which combined with an exegesis of his passcode number at the Tyrell Corporation (1 + 6 + 4 + 1 + 7 = 19, “an enemy”) reaffirms Sebastian’s role in Tyrell’s death.

Dr. Eldon Tyrell: Dr. Tyrell is the hermit-like apex of the Tyrell Corporation trinity of natural powers – a living solar god. He dwells in a golden ziggurat that dwarfs all neighboring buildings in Los Angeles. In Sumerian tradition, the ziggurat represents the Sacred Mountain, the dwelling place of divinity, and the cosmic axis. The only time we ever see the sun and stars in BR-TDC is from the vantage point of the Tyrell Corporation building. At night, Tyrell lies in bed surrounded by 46 candles (the light of perfection and through exegesis, one of the holy names of God). His headboard is covered with a motif of white cranes – symbolic of a high position, immortality, and an intermediary between heaven and earth. Tyrell’s animal attributions are the owl (wisdom, solitude; darkness, death) and the eagle (power, authority). Interestingly, he also has several plant attributions: two evergreen bonsai trees (everlasting life) seen on the office table when Deckard first arrives at the Tyrell Corporation and an unidentifiable deciduous tree (the life principle, the whole of manifestation) in the right corner of the office. Everything surrounding Dr. Tyrell – the trees, the owl, Rachael, the very building he inhabits – are direct artificial manifestations of his will. An exegesis of his name (LDN TYRLL = 84/279, 363) signifies the almighty and everlasting, but flawed, Creator that dwells in the City. As the Creator is flawed, so are his creations (replicants). He is the granter of life and death. Those who wish to see him must ascend a golden stairway (zigggurat) and request an audience in his chambers. As Taffey Lewis’ nightclub is a place of physical decay, so is Tyrell’s bedroom a place of spiritual desolation (see earlier comments concerning the chess match).

Zhora: An exegesis of her name (ZHR = 212) signifies a harlot. While it is true that Zhora is programmed for political assassinations, her occupation in BR-TDC is that of an “exotic” entertainer at an adult nightclub (voice announcing her act at The Snake Pit: “watch her take the pleasures from the serpent that once corrupted man”). In fact, her act is billed as Miss Salome and Her Snake – an overt reference to the deadly erotic snake dancer of Hebrew legend. As Zhora’s animal attribution, the snake represents death, evil, sin, and sexual passion. Serpents accompany many female deities and are often twined around them in a symbolic sexual union.

It has been noted by many observers of BR-TDC that there are three couples in the movie: Deckard and Rachael, Pris and Roy, and Leon and Zhora. An exegesis of each couple’s names yielded interesting results. Deckard and Rachael (228/76, 304) signify gold or illumination, incorruptibility, and sacredness – a form of the Gods. Pris and Roy (580/220, 800) signify the rainbow – a transfiguration or the bridge between one world and another. Leon and Zhora (226/212, 438) signify the baetylic stone of Jacob – a meeting place of heaven and earth (Build the altar of the Lord your God with blocks of undressed stone, and offer whole-offerings on it to the Lord your God. [Deut. xxvii 6]). Thus, each of the couples embodies a perfect object that connects the human world with transcendant realms. An exegesis of the summed names of all of the replicants in BR-TDC (1542, including Deckard) signifies the Oil of Anointing (… they drove out many demons, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them. [Mk 6, 13]). As this oil infuses new divine life into its recipients, so do the replicants by their existence and slavery serve as a potential curative for a society that has lost touch with its capacity for empathy.


Entangled Themes Meet a Pair of Scissors

Blade Runner – The Director’s Cut consists of two closely entwined thematic strands: a primary or mundane strand that is the futuristic detective story played out on the screen, and a secondary or mythic strand that re-enacts pre-Christian cosmic dramas. For any coherence of thought to be maintained, these two strands must be examined as distinct items.


The Mundane Strand

The theme of the mundane strand of BR-TDC is that all humanoid life matters: the physical barrier between humans and replicants is both artificial and porous (as Deckard realizes when he VKs Rachael and later when he crosses that barrier himself). The existential separation between humans and replicants is likewise a contrivance to enable the masters to retain power over their slaves without the inconvenience of moral qualms. Much time, energy, and ink have been expended in debates concerning the “real” plot at the core of BR-TDC’s mundane thematic strand. Much of it involves taking into account details of the film-making and post-production processes which are clearly inadmissible if BR-TDC is to be examined as an actual narrative. My interpretation of the evidence presented is as follows:

Six replicants (Roy Batty, Pris, Zhora, Leon Kowalski, unnamed male, unnamed female) mutiny and escape from an off-world colony by hijacking a shuttle and murdering its crew. The replicants return to Earth and hide out in Los Angeles. Their goal is to gain access to their creator, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, because they are dissatisfied with their limited lifespans. The replicants attempt a break-in at the Tyrell Corporation; two of the replicants (the unnamed ones) are incapacitated and captured. [Bryant lied about this to Deckard during his briefing. He told Deckard that there were originally six replicants and that one was killed during the break-in attempt. This would leave five replicants for Deckard to retire, but Bryant acts all along as if only four need to be retired. Until, of course, he adds Rachael to the list] Dr. Tyrell begins an experimental re-programming of the captured female replicant – this becomes Rachael. The LAPD puts the current “top gun” Blade Runner, Holden, on the job of tracking down and retiring the four remaining replicants. However, when Leon disposes of him so easily the authorities realize that they have a major problem on their hands. The LAPD decides to try a risky gambit by having Tyrell revive the captured male replicant and giving him memory implants from the most renowned Blade Runner ever (the retired or deceased Rick Deckard). The new Deckard has all of the original’s psychological strengths and weaknesses housed in the superior frame of a replicant. This is corroborated by the new Deckard’s ability to take extreme physical punishment (witness his beatings at the hands of Leon, Zhora, and Pris) and to shove Rachael around his apartment. This “reincarnation” of Deckard also explains why Roy Batty knows his name, even though they have never met before. If Roy is intelligent enough to outwit his creator, surely he can see through the LAPD plan when his followers suddenly start dropping like flies. Undoubtedly, the human Deckard would have been infamous in replicant circles. The movie now begins and events initially unfold to the satisfaction of the LAPD. The new Deckard is slowly but surely tracking down and destroying his fellow replicants. Unfortunately, two monkey wrenches get thrown into the works. The first is an outgrowth of the human Deckard’s memories: the new Deckard is wracked by doubt and guilt over the killings (presumably what caused the human Deckard to retire in the first place) and then to make matters worse, he falls in love with Rachael. The second is the existence of an unsuspected saboteur with hidden motives (Gaff) who tips off the new Deckard about its own true nature. These two incidents completely unravel the LAPD plan to bring in the unsuspecting new Deckard for retirement after it has disposed of the other five replicants (original four + Rachael who turns up missing). Thus forewarned, the new Deckard and Rachael gain a headstart on any pursuers. Given that the new Deckard is still the best Blade Runnerever, perhaps there is some hope for the fugitive couple. Then again, we have no idea how far along they are in their life-cycles. To paraphrase the shadowy Gaff: it’s too bad they won’t live…. but then again, who does?


The Mythic Strand

As the previous character studies have illustrated, several ancient legends are re-enacted or alluded to during the course of BR-TDC. The most prominent re-enactments are the Fall of Lucifer and his followers and the Fall of Man.

Roy Batty is Lucifer, the Light-bringer, incarnated in all of his raging, destructive, solar glory. The other three replicants (Pris, Zhora, and Leon Kowalski) are the lesser fallen angels. It must be remembered that even though Lucifer and the rebel angels were cast down into darkness, they were part of the original creation and are still beings of light. In BR-TDC, the replicant’s sole motive is to ascend to heaven and make the Creator fix his imperfect creation (get access to Tyrell and longer lives). They begin by corrupting the Creator’s minions (Chew and J.F. Sebastian) and then destroying them. Only Roy succeeds in meeting Dr. Tyrell, but the effort is hopeless. Dr. Tyrell either cannot, or will not, undo any past “mistakes.” Roy destroys Tyrell in a fit of uncontrollable rage at the latter’s patent hypocrisy. Even this extreme measure cannot alter fate and Roy realizes that he has wasted his final days destroying that which he holds so dear – life. In one final effort, Roy is able to cast off the Luciferean darkness and reveals his original Christ-like body of light when he saves Deckard from certain death. Roy has transcended all limitations and attained the Great Work with his realization that while death is the ultimate horizon of everything, he can still deny selfish interests in order to make a profoundly life-affirming difference (Whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. [Lk 9, 24]). It is instructive to note the following apparent continuity error in BR-TDC: when Roy Batty and Deckard meet in the final showdown, Roy knows Deckard’s name despite the fact that they have never met before. In the context of the Lucifer myth and the previous character analyses, this makes perfect sense. After all, it was the “sin of pride” (refusing to bow down and acknowledge Adam [man] as master of the Earth) that got Lucifer and the rebel angels thrown out of Heaven in the first place. Of course Roy (Lucifer) should recognize Deckard (Adam, Ruler of the Earth)!

The parallels between the Fall of Man and the events surrounding Deckard and Rachael could not be more clear. Deckard (Adam) and Rachael (Eve) both unwisely eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge (find out that they are replicants) and then must leave the Garden of Eden (a life of previously blissful ignorance in the City). The natural symbolism and exegesis supporting this interpretation are undeniable. Interestingly enough, it appears that Gaff plays the role of the serpent (the Devil, Lucifer) in this re-enactment. He both indirectly supplies knowledge to Rachael (by shuttling Deckard over to the Tyrell Corporation for the VK test) and directly supplies knowledge to Deckard (via the origami unicorn) concerning their status as replicants. If you recall, the exegesis of Gaff’s name meant “an enlightener” (i.e., Lucifer the Light-bringer).


But What Does It All Mean?

Having taken you on a wild coachride through the strange, dimly-lit lands of myth and mysticism, I fear that you, gentle reader, now expect me to unveil a sweeping, elegant conclusion of cosmic dimensions. Look closely! I hold no top hat from which to pull the proverbial rabbit. I have set before you a table full of gilded china and baroque glassware – and now you wish me to remove the cloth with one daring tug? I beg your pardon, but I must decline. At times I am convinced that all of the above symbolism was intentionally buried in Blade Runner – The Director’s Cut by a cabal starting with Philip K. Dick and ending with mysterious assistants who got their hands on the film’s shooting script while no one was looking. Then, in more skeptical moments, I view the whole affair merely as the synergistic meeting point of my mind with Ridley Scott’s dark vision of a possible future. What is clear, however, is the answer to the three questions posed in the introduction: Who am I?, Why am I here?, and What does it mean to be human? Roy Batty, in his dying moments, shows us how to be “more human than human” in the best possible manner.


References

  • Chapman, Murray (1995). The Blade Runner FAQ
  • Cooper, J.C. (1978). An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols. London: Thames & Hudson. Crowley, Aleister (1913/1984). The Book of Lies. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc.
  • Cummings, Charles (1986). Monastic Practices. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.
  • Dick, Philip K. (1962). The Man in the High Castle. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
  • Dick, Philip K. (1968). Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Doubleday Books.
  • Dick, Philip K. (1969). Ubik. New York: Doubleday Books.
  • Dick, Philip K. (1981). Valis. New York: Bantam Books.
  • Dick, Philip K. (1981). The Divine Invasion. New York: Timescape Books.
  • Dick, Philip K. (1982). The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. New York: Timescape Books.
  • Dick, Philip K. (1985). Radio Free Albemuth. New York: Arbor House Publishing Co.
  • Dykstra, Bram (1986). Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Levi, Eliphas (1896/1972). Transcendental Magic. New York: Samuel Weiser, Inc.
  • Mathers, S.L. MacGregor (1888/1968). The Kabbalah Unveiled. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc.
  • Regardie, Israel [ed.] (1909/1986). 777 and other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, Inc.
  • Revised English Bible with Apocrypha (1989). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sammon, Paul M. (1996). Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. New York: Harper Prism.
  • Sutin, Lawrence (1989). Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick. New York: Harmony Books.
  • Wilson, Robert Anton (1988). Coincidance: A Head Test. Phoenix, AZ: Falcon Press.

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