What Blade Runner Is Really About

Every now and again the very obvious truth of some matter will wriggle its way through my thick skull and kick me in the brain and I will wonder how on Earth I did not see this before. That happened to me a couple of days ago with Blade Runner, a movie I first watched more than three decades ago and have watched many times since. And, yeah, holy cow, wow, how did I not get it before, that you can sum up the movie as: guy who violently hunts down runaway slaves becomes aware of his own heritage that means he is also legally a slave.

I will now not be able to look at this movie in any other way. Because the fit is too perfect. Aside from copyright issues, someone who has more right to tell such a tale than I do should transpose the story to pre-Civil War America. Deckard becomes a guy who hunts down runaway slaves but is unaware that, say, his mother was a slave and therefore he is also legally qualifies as a slave. The replicants that need to be “retired” become runaway slaves. Mr Tyrell becomes a rich plantation owner and Rachael becomes his daughter who doesn’t know that, like Deckard, is only passing for “white”. Meanwhile, the Edward James Olmos character remains as the character who is the only one who knows all these secrets.

It wouldn’t be a stretch at all. And that makes me suspect that the people who wrote Blade Runner knew exactly what tale they were telling. And they played us, the audience, brilliantly (me, at least), in ways that ought to make us think.

Consider this: They got us to wholeheartedly side with the slave hunter, even though he is a cold-blooded killer who is hunting down four people who just want to be free. Even there at the end, when Roy has gotten the better of Deckard – who has killed all of Roy’s friends by this point – and Roy is on the brink of expiring in a blazing soliloquy, we still want Deckard to survive.

And this: We buy, without question, that the replicants are violent subhumans with superhuman strengths and a danger to society that must be exterminated. Which sounds a lot like the insidious racist tropes that were used to justify slavery and continue to be deployed against African Americans.

Oh, man, the little hamster wheels in my head are just spinning. I need to go away and think about this some more. But one thing I do know for sure is that now I really, really, really would like to read the Blade Runner story transposed, as I said, back to the pre-Civil War South, written by a descendant of slaves, and, pretty, pretty please, including female characters that seem more like real people and less like a male scriptwriter’s fantasy of women.

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