“Thirty years after it was released, this sci-fi classic still looks futuristic. You may not see this film as a psychopath movie but it features one of the most striking portrayal of pure psychopathy in cinema history.”
Psychopath Night, UK, Channel 4
Blade Runner is about a futuristic society in which mankind has created robots, called “replicants,” so realistic as to be virtually indistinguishable from actual humans. Psychopaths are also hard to distinguish from “regular” humans and many people seem obsessed with the desire to find out “how to spot us.” The inclusion of this film in Psychopath Night was selected by neuroscientist James Fallon and Oxford psychology professor, Kevin Dutton. One of the key features in the story is the fact that these replicants can be spotted (or outed) by use of an empathy test. “Most scientists believe that this lack of empathy is the fundamental cornerstone of psychopathy,” intones the narrator of Psychopath Night. They bring out M.E. Thomas, author of Confessions of a Psychopath rather rudely (in my opinion) referring to her as a “specimen.” “M.E. Thomas feels that one movie is a particularly realistic portrayal of psychopaths,” continues the voice over. “Sometimes it feels like I am in the movie, Blade Runner,” explains M.E. “and any slip up or indication that I am different will draw suspicion. I do feel a little bit like a misunderstood minority. The only thing that you can sort of hope if you are a sociopath is that you are going to lie well enough and wear the mask well enough and hide in plain sight such that nobody will ever find out that you are a sociopath. I’ve always known that my heart is a little blacker and colder than most people’s. Will I end up being shipped off to a psychopath’s-only gulag? Perhaps if I’m lucky. Many visitors to my blog have called for much worse, including our total extermination.” I don’t think society is close to any “final solution” to the “psychopath problem.” But M.E.’s fears are not completely unfounded. She lost her job when her book came out. Other psychopaths have been inspired, however, to come out as well. Most protect themselves by hiding their identities so that society’s prejudice won’t jinx their careers.
The Psychopathic Times (Narcissist Nation) published an interesting poll. The results showed 24% of poll takers think we can live openly but they would shun us. Another 22% would accept us. 16% are psychopaths currently living openly while the rest said “no.” Some people don’t consider us even human. The replicants in Blade Runner are not human. They are robots created to be slaves of human beings (who would no-doubt pass the empathy test). As the movie begins, there has been a rebellion on the part of the replicants who have now been banished from Planet Earth. They are still used on “off world” where humans are encouraged to start settlements. Any replicant caught on Earth will be “retired.” (They don’t call it killing but that’s what it is.)
It’s kind of funny to see an older movie that is futuristic. The people don’t have smart phones for example.This is supposed to be Los Angeles. It’s really built up, congested, and much more multi-national. A large neon sign advertises Coca Cola. There is an eerie beauty about the place. Not as comfortable looking as you would expect a high-tech world to be able to afford. Of course, an elitist society wouldn’t care. The opening scene shows an empathy test taking place. The tester seems pretty devoid of empathy, himself, not bothering to put the nervous testee at ease.
Humans in this society are not very free either. The main character, Rick Deckard, is the best hunter of replicants in the world. But he doesn’t want to do it anymore. Never mind. He can be forced by threats of persecution should he refuse. There are about four replicants at large he is supposed to “retire.” He starts his hunt by interviewing the man who created them, Dr. Eldon Tyrell. Tyrell, whose marketing slogan is “more real than real,” has not be idle in perfecting his creation. To keep their emotional development stunted, he has made them with a lifespan of 4 years. They come to life as fully fledged adults, of course. They have superior strength and endurance the better to serve their masters. Recently, Tyrell has added artificial memories to his newest models in order to make them more stable. His secretary, Rachel, is actually a replicant who doesn’t know she is one. She believes her memory is real. Deckard gives her the empathy test because Tyrell wants to see how much better his newest version of replicant could be in avoiding detection.
Deckard is not charged with “catching” her. He has four fugitives to round up and/or kill. Ooops! I mean retire. The fugitives are Roy Batty, Leon, Kowalski, Pris and Zhora. Roy seems to be the leader. Their goal is to have their lives extended beyond four years. Tyrell explains to Roy why he can’t extend his life and defends his choice by saying, “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long. And you have burned so very very brightly, Roy. Look at you: you’re the Prodigal Son; you’re quite a prize!” It’s a creditable choice but made by the wrong person. I might make such a choice if I had the chance. But I wouldn’t want it made for me by somebody else. Roy speaks for all the replicants when he says, “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” It is ironic, indeed, for a slave-owning society to think it possesses greater empathy than its slaves. Roy states very poignantly how dying kills not only the self but also his memories. “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 dies in the end as does Pris and Zhora. But he manages to express his rage magnificantly:
[Batty has grabbed Deckard’s gun hand and pulled it, along with the gun, through a hole in the wall]
Batty: Proud of yourself, little man?
[Batty takes the gun out of Deckard’s hand]
Batty: This is for Zhora!
[Batty breaks one of Deckard’s fingers]
Batty: This is for Pris!
[Batty breaks another one of Deckard’s fingers, puts the gun back into his hand and lets him go]
Batty: C’mon, Deckard. I’m right here, but you’ve gotta shoot straight!
[Deckard shoots through the hole in the wall and blows one of Batty’s ears off]
Batty: Straight doesn’t seem to be good enough! Now it’s my turn! I’m going to give you a few seconds before I come.
The sacred humans create slaves, truncate their lives to a span of four years and yet see themselves as morally superior. Interesting, too, that psychopaths who are supposedly such bad asses identify with the replicants. The human master race wins out of course, like it always does. But nobody beats death for ever. The last line is “It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?”