The Eyes Tell All

The Eyes Tell All

The Eyes Tell All
A What, Where, Why Commentary of the Bladerunner Theme
John McCoy
For Syverson's E309M Fall 95

What is so interesting about Bladerunner?

The typical lay-person's reaction to Bladerunner:
"It's a classic? But isn't it just a sci-fi
thriller?" Yes, on the surface. There are
well-choreographed action scenes replete with
violence, blood and gore. There is a
suspense-filled plot to put the audience member on
seat's edge. There are even a few close love
scenes to move the romantic. And behind every
gripping action sequence or scenic vista are the
masterful musical pieces of Evangelos

But it takes more than a good fight, a long kiss
and a moving melody to give a movie cult status.
And Bladerunner does have a cult following composed
of a generation of people. They are mostly
college-educated Generation X-ers, who sit on the
verge of a revolutionary technological future.
(The typical University's student union theatre
will have one or two Bladerunner showings
annually). The allure of Bladerunner goes beyond
the simple mechanics of a thrilling shoot-em-up.
It is about power. Perhaps on a subconscious
level, the viewer is primarily attracted to power:
the trappings, the use and possible mis-use, and
the consequences. The driving underlying theme of
Bladerunner concerns our psychological fascination
with power over others. As long as society could
dismiss a replicant as nothing more than a machine,
no morality need be imposed in their treatment. To
humans, replicants have no souls.

A Quick Synopsis of Bladerunner

The 21st Century is the scene of impressive
technological progress as mankind conquers the
dimensions of outer space and the human mind. The
genius Tyrell of the Tyrell Corporation has
advanced robotics toward Nexus--evolving artificial
beings almost identical to humans. Only these
"replicants" are stronger, faster, and smarter, but
genetically programmed for four-year life spans.
Replicant slave labor is used in off-world
colonization, combat and generally, hazardous or
unsavory duty.

Rick Deckard is a Bladerunner, a Police specialist
assigned to "retire" runaway replicants
impersonating humans. To him falls the
detective-slash-terminator task of uncovering four
ruthless replicants. Nexus units Roy Batty, Leon,
Pris and Zhora are aware of their mortality and
seek their maker. They "want more life" and are
rather ammoral in their dealings with the Earth

Who Owns Your Soul?

A question must be asked: do replicants have souls?
The value of a replicant lay in their superhuman
prowress, their programmability for specific
missions and their expendability as machines. Like
normal sentient beings, the mind of a Nexus is
programmed with real human memories. These past
experiences are necessary as an emotional cushion
and reaction database for day-to-day response to a
replicant's surroundings. The ability to think,
remember and emote fools most Nexi into believing
they are human! That there is a Heaven to accept a
Nexus soul is uncertain, but it is enough that
replicants believe in their Self. I think,
therefore I am.

The need to escape the predestination of one's life
(an escape from the Nexus four-year, genetic
life-span) is a soul expression. The need to know
that one is NOT a Nexus is another (the replicant,
Rachael, pesters Deckard without end for the
answer). A being with a soul will desire control
of its own life.

The pertinence of the soul is reflected in the
movie's obsession with eyes. As the soul is such an
ephemeral subject, the eye is a fitting proxy.
Eyes are the gateway to the soul. Eyes then serve
as references to the condition of a character's

This still is a scene of a damaged eye. It is
unsighted with spots and cataracts. Supposedly, it
belongs to the badly injured and comatosed
Bladerunner, Holden. The state of his sentience is
in question.

The Voight-Kampff machine (seen in above still)
plays an integral part in uncovering a replicant.
"A very advanced form of lie detector that measures
contractions of the iris muscle and the presence of
invisible airborne particles emitted from the body.
The bellows were designed for the latter function
and give the machine the menacing air of a sinister
insect. The VK is used primarily by blade runners
to determine if a suspect is truly human by
measuring the degree of his empathic response
through carefully worded questions and statements
(ftp:// pub/ usenet/ news.answers/
movies/ bladerunner-faq)." The imperfect memories
of replicants lead to abnormal emotional responses
during Voight-Kampf interrogations.

Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the genius credited with the
design of replicants, is seen by his experiments as
a god-figure. He made them and perhaps, he can
un-make their life-limits. Notice the very sizable
glasses. On most scenes they have a magnifying
aspect upon Tyrell's eyes. As god, he is the
over-soul. His seemingly large eyes hint at a
bountiful soul from which his replicant children

Eyes are a great source of attraction for
replicants. Perhaps because they are the first
window into the outside world, they confirm our
existence as observers and as sentient beings. Is
it to lash back at their sense of helplessness in
self-confirmation that the preferred execution mode
is through a victim's eyes? Here, Roy Batty puts
an end to Tyrell by pushing in his eyes. In
another scene, Leon attempts to finish off Deckard
by shoving two fingers through the detective's

I Am Behind My Sight

An understated theme of Bladerunner is the
replicant's quest for their souls. Without a more
natural life span, they realize they will fail to
fully appreciate their growing self-awareness.
They will continue to be relegated to the status of
pawns. Simple, soul-less machines.

In reiteration: the eye is a fitting proxy for
something as ephemeral as the human soul. The
above samples reflect the movie's ocular obsession.
Replicants are identified by their being less
empathic (less soul-ful). Arguing the court case
FOR the Nexus 6 robots are the 100 psychological
questions required for uncovering these more recent
replicants (as opposed to the normal 20). Growth
of replicant mental sophistication has made them
too human-like. There is also the theatric special
effect of giving all replicants slightly glowing
eyes. This differentiation, however, is only
discernible by the viewing audience--not the humans
interacting with replicants.

In their quest for longevity, the replicants toy
with eyes (found lying around the scientist Chew's
laboratory or glass-encased in Sebastian's
apartment) and terminate opponents via the eye
sockets. These scenes further reflect their
obsession with the question of their own souls'

A Philosophical Conclusion

Mortality often makes us consider the nature of our
souls. As humans (or replicants), we are
differentianted from animals by the perception of
our state of existence in the tomorrow. Unless an
enlightened Zen state is achieved, we are normally
agitated by the thought of being nothing someday.

That a replicant strives for recognition of itself
is enough proof of it having a soul. The need for
self-determination calls for some morality to be
applied to their artificial sentience. And the
Bladerunner audience is attracted by the drama of
people controlling others. The moral being knows
it is wrong to hold remorseless power over another,
but the selfish ends are often quite tempting.
Therein lies the tintillation for the Bladerunner

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.

Roy Batty's Death Scene