Study Guide

Blade Runner Themes

  • Identity

    What would happen if your identity became hazy and unclear? What if you were a clone of someone else, for instance? Would you still really be "you"? Would you have an identity distinct from the person you're based on?

    Those are the kind of questions the replicants face in Blade Runner. Replicants are beings who have been totally constructed and designed by someone else—there's nothing, really, that's quite their own. Nevertheless, the replicants somehow develop emotions and goals of their own, and they go against the very nature they've been created to possess. The fact that Roy—a replicant who's been created to kill—can refuse to kill one of his own enemies seems to call into question the assumptions of his designers. There's something in him that transcends their plans.

    Questions About Identity

    1. Do you think that if you were a replicant with fake memories and didn't know it, you'd be able to figure it out? How?
    2. Could an android actually be equal to a human being? How about a flesh-and-blood creation like the replicants?
    3. Is Deckard a replicant or not?
    4. Does Roy manage to prove that he's actually a human being or the equivalent?

    Chew on This

    "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation." – Oscar Wilde

    "There is that in me—I do not know what it is—but I know it is in me.
    […] Something it swings on more than the earth I swing on,
    To it the creation is the friend whose embracing awakes me." – Walt Whitman

  • Memory

    Without your memories, you would probably just be swimming in a puddle of your own drool. They're kind of the key to everything: if you literally didn't have a past, you would have no idea how to behave in the present.

    This is the problem the replicants face in Blade Runner. Initially, they don't have memories of the past, which makes them emotionally inexperienced—they react weirdly to things—they might sympathize more with an oyster than with a dog, for instance. But the Tyrell Corporation creates Rachael as an experiment, to see if they can make a more balanced replicant. She has fake memories implanted, which cushion her responses to things and make her act relatively normally. So do her "fake" memories make her more "human"?

    Questions About Memory

    1. If you woke up without any memories, how do you think you would act? Could you end up turning into an entirely different person?
    2. How have your own memories formed your sense of identity? When you think of who you are, what memories do you think of first?
    3. Why does Deckard have so many family photos sitting on his piano? Are they all part of his constructed identity as a replicant? Or are they real?
    4. Has Roy managed to create his own unique identity, using memories collected during a mere four-year lifespan? How does his dying speech seem to imply this?

    Chew on This

    "Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory there would be no civilization, no society, no future." – Elie Wiesel

    "Happiness is good health and a bad memory." – Albert Schweitzer

  • Mortality

    When discussing the killing of replicants, the blade runners tend to use a euphemism: they're not murdering replicants; they're just "retiring" them. But the replicants fear death just like any natural-born human, and their quest on earth is a quest to extend their lifespans beyond the four-year limit they've been assigned.

    It turns out to be an impossible quest. Mortality is inescapable in Blade Runner—and if you're not watching the original, happy-ending version, it still hangs over the film's conclusion. Rachael is slated to die four years after her inception, and thus she has a pretty short amount of time to spend with her possibly human lover, Deckard. Then again, Deckard might have a short amount of time left, as well—so they could be evenly matched. But is that much better?

    Questions About Mortality

    1. To what extent is the mortality of human beings similar to or different from that of the replicants? Is the replicants' situation just a briefer version of our own?
    2. How does Roy react to his own mortality? How have his feelings towards death changed by the time the movie ends?
    3. Tyrell tells Roy, "The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long." Do you think that this is necessarily true?

    Chew on This

    "Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new." – Steve Jobs

    "[…] Not to be here,
    Not to be anywhere
    And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true." – Philip Larkin

  • Society and Class

    In Blade Runner, American society seems to be in a state of chaos.

    For one thing, it's run by a gigantic and nasty company, the Tyrell Corporation, which creates replicants for the purpose of slave labor. On top of that, even though this society is technologically advanced, it seems to consist mainly of a vast and grimy underworld, where different groups are all participating in a dog-eat-dog fight for survival. It's multicultural, but not in an equitable way—people don't really have the freedom to participate in their society's governance (since its dominated by a corporation), and they seem to have been left adrift at the bottom of the food chain.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. To what extent do you think Blade Runner's vision of the future of American society is accurate? Has it become more accurate since it was released in 1982?
    2. How does Blade Runner's vision of society compare and contrast with other dystopias, like Brave New World, 1984, and Fahrenheit 451? Is it more or less accurate than each of those?
    3. How does Blade Runner depict cultural diversity? Does the film make it seem positive or negative, or something else?
    4. Can you get a sense of social class from Blade Runner? What are the relations between the rich, the poor, and the middle class in its universe?

    Chew on This

    "There is no such thing as society. There are only individual men and women." – Margaret Thatcher

    "Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand." – Karl Marx

  • Technology and Modernization

    In Blade Runner, the world is totally dominated by technology. Some of it is kind of cool—flying cars, people—but most of it is pretty bleak. For one thing, almost all animals have gone extinct, so anything you see, like Tyrell's owl or Zhora's snake, is just a replicant.

    And then, of course, there are the human replicants, surely the most dubious technological project in this movie's world. Hey, creating a race of artificial humans to function as slave labor doesn't exactly sound like an idea Gandhi might have endorsed, does it? It goes to show how far technology has advanced in this world. People haven't just used it to dominate and ruin the environment they live in; they've also used it to play God and create Franken-humans.

    Questions About Technology and Modernization

    1. Do you think technology has primarily had a good or bad effect on human beings in the present time period? Could you see it evolving into a Blade Runner-like situation?
    2. What didn't Blade Runner predict about the world we live in? Do we have any technologies the movie's world lacks? On the other hand, what did the movie predict?

    Chew on This

    "Men have become the tools of their tools." – Henry David Thoreau

    "All the elements whose aid man calls in, will sometimes become his masters, especially those of most subtle force. Shall he, then, renounce steam, fire, and electricity, or, shall he learn to deal with them? The rule for this whole class of agencies is, — all plus is good; only put it in the right place." – Ralph Waldo Emerson