For human beings, the years pass like the petals of a flower fall: it seems as though they fall more quickly when the end is near. Death will reach us all, without a doubt. For some people, knowing “the moment” is a privilege, and for others to have it surprise us in our sleep is the best option. In the end, who really knows how much time we have left in this world?
The year 2019 is over. That was the same year the 1982 film Blade Runner was set in. An extreme existential ode, it is a visual poem that illustrates an apocalyptic world.
The locale, enveloped by Vangelis’ musical magic, describes a city in Los Angeles, California which, according to the film, is perpetually contaminated with gray air that is often illuminated by industrial chimneys that burn hydrocarbons.
The monstrous skyscrapers - pyramids even - seem to dominate the toxic cloud that blankets the ground. The tenants of these buildings not only physically rise and move away from the streets, but also relocate from the misery of the semi-abandoned city’s inhabitants. It is an environment that is visually contaminated by the immense publicity of the few super-dominant corporations. In the film, an empire of extreme socioeconomic inequity is described.
Most animal species have become extinct and there exists genetically made replicas made by corporations that own, manufacture and merchandise everything. Off-world colonization and the conquest of new planets sees the rise of humanoids, known as replicants, for labor and military strategies. They are prohibited on earth and if they dare return, they will be hunted and eliminated by the Blade Runners.
In the story, a few replicants have rebelled in the interplanetary colonies and return to Earth in search of a longer lifespan. They know they will die soon, due to the expiration life of their design. This is done by manufacturers who are afraid that the artificial intelligence they carry will develop learning skills, and other emotions beyond those originally intended for their purpose.
The replicants are created as adults and given basic emotional stability using recollections that are made for them or copied from real persons. The film tells us clearly, that in the end, all human beings are a combination of what we live, remember, and tell. We are what impresses our memory.
In the search for the truth, or at least, their truth, rogue replicants meet their creators. Upon meeting them, the creators marvel at the perfection of their work reflected in the replicants. All of them are bearers of some quality or some defect. All are very human.
When a leader of the replicants, alongside his gang, appears before the creator of his eyes, he does so by citing William Blake. He alludes to America: A Prophecy:
Fiery the Angels rose, and as they rose deep thunder roll'd. Around their shores: indignant burning with the fires of Orc. And Bostons Angel cried aloud as they flew thro' the dark night.
The eyes of the replicant reflect fire and light up at his arrival on Earth. Eyes that have seen incredible things, he tells the creator of his own. Eyes designed to see beyond what one person has ever seen.
In fact, in the movie the only way to know if someone is a human being or a replicant is by administering the Voight-Kampff test. When applied, the evaluator monitors the emotions and empathy in the eyes of that person before everyday situations. To be or not to be? Classic Shakespearean question. Eyes, like windows of the soul. Eyes, like a reflection of being.
In the 80’s, it was believed that the 1968 novel that inspired this film, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick could be set in November 2019. Were they wrong? Not necessarily. Only, they have exaggerated and have fast-forwarded the facts a few decades. However, our destiny and the circumstances that brought us here, were established and defined, a long time ago.
The fastest advances began in the 19th century. Currently, 150 animal species disappear every day. Some, newly discovered, are still in the classification process. 18,000 new species are discovered yearly. Additionally, the deforestation of tropical forests continues, at the rate of 30 football fields per minute. And in 2019, only 6 countries were 100% renewable energy producers. With this pace of progress, we go back. Every day, an environmental tragedy without precedent occurs.
For that reason, in 2017 the sequel to the film, called Blade Runner 2049, was released. It is as if the creators, with this second movie, wanted to remind us that we still have a second chance. They make us consider if there is still time to reverse this self-destructive behavior, which will inevitably make us choose between: survival on Earth or survival on colonized planets. If we want to change our relationship with our planet, the life that still exists on it, and with ourselves as a species, we must act now.
It is no coincidence that, so far, the agreements reached at The United Nations Conferences on Climate Change have caused a poor impact on this matter. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned us that we must reach zero emissions globally by 2050. Otherwise, the environmental impact will be so terrible that most species will be at risk of disappearance- if they have not already been extinct and “the flood without downpour” will engulf us. It is no accident that the plot of Blade Runner unfolds in the year 2049.
The second chapter of the film series delves into the changes of the environment, accompanied by the somber melodies of Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch. In the future, areas are contaminated by micro particles and radioactive dust. According to the film, unruly oceans dominate one part of the planet, while the other is a complete desert where wood is a rarity, much less the existence of a flower. The only one we see onscreen is a vibrant yellow flower that, when wilted will lose its petals like human’s approach death; they pass more quickly when the end is near.
In both versions, there is a main Blade Runner. Deckard in the first and K in the second. Both supposedly replicants. Additionally, there is Roy, who is the leader of the rebel replicants and Joi, the personal hologram of K. Joi, much more than a simple artificial intelligence, is the companion and lover of K. Roy, is a replicant who on the verge of his death becomes more human than humans and saves the life of Rick Deckard, but not before telling him:
Quite an experience to live in fear isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave. 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 Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
This famous existential monologue, Tears in the rain, attributed to screenwriter David Webb Peoples and elegantly adapted and interpreted by actor Roy Batty, is simply sublime and at the right time of the film. The monologue shows that replicants are a combination of what they live, remember, and tell. They are the impression left in the collective memory.
Additionally, Blade Runner Deckard falls hopelessly in love with a replicant named Rachael. Together they flee and have a “miracle” daughter. Yet, this ultimately becomes Deckard’s sentence because he has to separate from them in order for them to survive. Joi, on the contrary, represents the joy that we all need-one that is determined and unconditional, supporting, demanding, independent, willing to make sacrifices, and to sacrifice oneself. She is artificial intelligence that has learned to love. Relentlessly, Joi fights and in the end dies cruelly.
Currently, there are promises that some new technology will save our planet in time. They promise us what already partially exists, since the planet's cleaning initiatives remain pilot programs and small isolated projects at the local level. They sell it to us as an earthly cure-all and they want us to finance everything. Is it that we have turned dirt into a business? Or is it that our business is now precisely dirt?
It seems that some people will simply wait for our environment to reach high levels of destruction and unignorable social tension. That the price we will all have to pay simply grows so much that the profitability of doing so outweighs the profitability of continuing to taint our planet.
The owners of “Earth-saving” technology will force us to buy it, before time proves it is a failure. Time is scarce. Trees are already the best technology. We need to stop with the excuses. Urgency is crucial. We keep trying to come up with a convenient answer. Is our survival for sale? The Blade Runner franchise warns us not once but twice, that the pace of change, the political discourse that sustains it, and our limited progress are insufficient.