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We're going to be honest here: We don't know why this character is named after a German word meaning "air," and we really don't know why a supposedly German android is named after the Luba, an indigenous group of the African land now called the Republic of Congo. But those aren't the only mysteries surrounding this character.
Luba Luft is an android who came to Earth to be an opera singer, and Rick first encounters her while she is on break rehearsing as Pamina in Mozart's The Magic Flute. Rick eventually develops empathy toward Luba Luft, which ends up changing his entire attitude toward androids and his own existence.
So what is it about Luba Luft that makes such an impact?
If you aren't an opera fan, then you should know that Pamina is the soprano of Mozart's opera and the love interest of the tenor, Tamino. In the opera Pamina is captured by an evil sorcerer and undergoes several trials before uniting with her true love, Tamino.
It's not a coincidence that Luba Luft plays Pamina. She's the character the audience feels most empathy for (well, her and Tamino), and her role as Pamina first sparks Rick's feelings for her. Listening to her sing in the rehearsal makings Rick think, "I'm part of the form-destroying process of entropy" (9.4), which… is a very poetic way of saying that he's starting to see himself as a killer. It's the first hint we receive that he is beginning to view his job in a negative light.
Luba initially escapes Rick by calling a fake police officer to book him at an android-run police station, but with Phil Resch's help, Rick escapes the station and goes after Luba Luft again. Rick finds her at the art museum and his empathic feelings toward her grow. He even purchases a book for her to put off what he has to do.
Unfortunately for Luba Luft, she pushes Resch too far, taunting him for being an android (which he isn't). In a fit of rage, he retires her before they can administer the test. Rick is majorly bummed, telling Resch that he's not going to kill any more: "They can use androids. Much better if andys do it. I can't anymore; I've had enough. She was a wonderful singer. The planet could have used her. This is insane" (12.50).
Thanks to Luba, Rick realizes that androids can have a purpose beyond just being tools or a paycheck. Unlike his job, Luba's singing created something, preventing the process of kipple.
Luba Luft just wants to be a real girl. She tells Rick, "Ever since I got here from Mars my life has consisted of imitating the human, doing what she would do, acting as if I had the thoughts and impulses a human would have. Imitating, as far as I'm concerned, a superior life-form" (12.30).
But we have to wonder—is it really an imitation if it's so good that it can't be distinguished from the original? The Voigt-Kampff was never properly administered to Luba Luft. She managed to outsmart Rick's test by answering his questions with questions, and Resch retired her before a second test could be administered.
So, our question is: Would the Voigt-Kampff have found Luba Luft to have the empathy capacity of a human? There are some clues suggesting that she might have.
For starters, she seems to love art, and art is only engaging if the audience can feel an empathic connection with the work. Think about it. Books and movies only work because we feel empathy with the characters and their struggles. Empathy lets us relate with Luke Skywalker's desire to find his place in the galaxy or Bella Swan's coming of age. If Luba really is really engaging with these opera and art, then maybe she's developed enough empathic emotions to be considered human.
… or, of course, maybe she's merely imitating humans, trying but failing to engage with the arts. Maybe her operatic voice is only excellent programming and her observing art nothing more than a blank stare.
So which is it? (Be careful: your answer might say a lot more about you than it does about her.)
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