Philosophy and Film - Return to Main Page



CHARACTERS: Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), Tyrell (owner of Tyrell Corporation), Sabastian (again genetic engineer), Rachael (Sean Young, replicant), Leon (replicant), Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer, replicant), Pris (Daryl Hannah, replicant)

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR RIDLEY SCOTT: Alien (1979), Thelma and Louise (1991), Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), Matchstick Men (2003)

SYNOPSIS: Blade Runner is based on the science fiction novel by Phillip K. Dick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, who also authored the story behind the film Total Recall (1990). Set in the future, around the year 2020, Deckard is a retired law enforcement officer who is coerced back into service for a special mission. A group of enslaved replicants (genetically engineered human-like creatures) revolted on another planet. As the replicants were designed to live for only a few years, they returned to Earth to find a way of extending their lifespan. Deckard must hunt them down and kill them. He visits the Tyrell Corporation, manufacturers of the replicants, and meets Rachael, a worker there who is unaware that she is a replicant herself. Deckard discovers this fact and informs her of it, which forces her to be on the run as well. Deckard tracks down and kills all the rebel replicants but one, and in the mean time shelters Rachael and becomes her lover. The remaining replicant learns from Tyrell (founder of the corporation) that his lifespan cannot be extended. He then expires while in combat with Deckard. Deckard and Rachael make their escape together. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards (art direction and visual effects).


1. A key puzzle raised by Blade Runner is whether we can definitively distinguish between real humans and artificially engineered replicants. Suppose that no test (either objective or subjectively introspective) could show this for sure. Would that mean that a given replicant was indeed fully human?

2. One of the more dramatic philosophical points made in the movie is that we can’t trust our memories: they may have been implanted in us regardless of how true they seem. What is the main reason that we trust our memories as more or less accurate accounts of our past events?

3. Rachael became convinced that she was a replicant when Deckard described some of her private childhood memories to her. What would it take for you to seriously question the truth of your memories and consider instead that they might implanted in you or the result of a drug or mental defect?

4. The director’s cut version of the movie made an alteration to the original theatrically-released story line: at the close of the movie it seems clear that Rachael has a short replicant life-span, rather than a full human life-span. Assuming that she and Deckard safely escape, does this make the ending that much less happy?

5. Another alteration in the director’s cut is that questions are raised about whether Deckard himself is a replicant. What is the main indication of this, and what sort of impact should this have on Deckard, particularly in view of his feelings about Rachael?

6. A moral message of the movie is that it was wrong to enslave the replicants and use them as forced labor since they were so human-like in both appearance and thought process. What would need to be different about replicants in order for us to feel that it was OK to use them for labor?


This film pulls no punches in asking the most troubling questions about artificial intelligence and cloning. What is a human? If it looks just like one, but we made it, can we kill it? This is Deckers job, a “Blade Runner” played by Harrison Ford. When Replicants, the pseudo clone slaves of human society, run amok (or in this case, return to earth, which they are banned from) it’s the job of a Blade Runner to find and “retire” them. They are spoken about in a very particular language, so as to reinforce the nonhuman status they retain. Decker has already found himself morally opposed to killing replicants at the onset of the film, or if he’s not morally opposed, he’s at least very tired of it. When it’s made clear to him the dire consequences of his refusal, he takes up the hunt again. He begins by visiting Tyrell Corp., the company that designs and produces replicants. There he is introduced to Rachel, a female replicant who’s been implanted with memories so as to make her more stable. From personal experience I might add that, if stability was the goal, they might have rethought making her female. Anyway, Decker falls in love with Rachel, and this further complicates things, because he’s supposed to kill her too. This raises questions about love in general. If he can fall in love with her, is she human? Or is he just kind of pervy? Would engaging her in a relationship be the equivalent of bestiality? -- Reviewer from Hell

“Blade Runner” is a very good movie and raises many interesting questions concerning human questions of personhood. The movie follows the rough police officer Deckard, who is a blade runner, his main mission is to hunt down and eliminate the replicates who had hijacked an earth-bound ship. The movie raises five particular philosophical questions. First it asks us “What does it mean to be human?” Does this mean we have actual flesh and blood or is it more to do with our awareness of our environments? This question leads us to the second question the movie raises which is, “what is reality?” Which corallites with Descartes philosophy of our mind/body relationship and how can we really know the replicates are thinking creatures. The third question the movie raises is the “Difference between real memories and artificial memories?” How can we tell these two apart, and according to philosophers how can we know that these are not injected into us by some other entity like with Descartes “evil genius theory. The fourth question the movie asks an important question concerting human relationship with their environment, such as being raised in a society where people accept the mistreatment of a particular minority group. The finial, although there are many others one could raise, is the question of the moral issues concerning the creation of artificial peoples. Should we be able to create a person for the purpose of exploitation and a “means to an ends?” This question appeals to the first question what does it mean to be a person, and not a man-made tool to use? — A.V.

Blade Runner was a great film that I really enjoyed. I enjoyed it so much that I went out and bought the Blue Ray edition, which contained all five versions of the film. The film features a cop named Deckard, his mission is to hunt down and “retire” (kill) these robots that escaped a harsh planet. The main philosophical points revolve around artificial intelligence and morals. Where do we separate humans from robots that are so technologically advanced they can be recognized as humans? Is it right to kill a robot who is a replica of an actual human? These questions and more are presented throughout the film and give it much substance. This is a great movie from beginning to end; however, I highly recommend going to Wikipedia or some movie database site to obtain a cheat sheet when watching this film. It is way too easy to get lost and misunderstand Ridley Scott’s vision of this film. I watched this movie without the film noir commentary that Harrison Ford was so adamantly against, and found myself lost in 80’s synthesizer music that is so richly heard in the movie. Overall, I really enjoyed this movie, and I can see why there is a cult following for this masterpiece of filmmaking. — J.M.

Blade Runner: A cult classic since it got bad reviews when it opened in theaters, Blade Runner was one of the movies I was most looking forward to see. I enjoyed the special effects and other sci-fi add-ons, but what got me the most is how despite appearing to be an action film, Blade Runner has many dramatic, narrative levels, and film noir conventions, such as the femme fatale, protagonist-narration, dark and shadowy cinematography, and the questionable moral outlook of the hero, extended to include his humanity. It's 2019 and the world has changed. Technology has give mankind access to the stars, but there are bigger issues here on Earth. Replicants - synthetic creations that so closely resemble human beings as to be almost undetectable - are not allowed on the home world. They are for space exploration only. Yet a group of the most advanced replicants have returned to Earth in a stolen spacecraft. They are at loose and considered dangerous. Their leader, Roy, has one goal: to prolong his life. As a safety device, replicants are created with a limited four year life span. After that, they expire. Roy wants to live as long as any human. Blade runners are the bounty hunters employed to track down and "retire" replicants who violate the law and come to Earth. Rick Deckard was one of the best, but he's out of the business. The central ethical question posed by Blade Runner has been a popular one in science fiction: what is life? It's the same issue pondered by Mary Shelly in Frankenstein, translated into the far future. Man is no longer building misshapen creatures out of disused body parts. Now the creatures are nearly perfect replicas of human beings. They live, eat, drink, make love, think, feel, and perish. But do they have souls? Is Deckard merely consigning scrap to the slag heap or is he killing? That question has worn on him. He's the best there ever was, but that was in the past. Now, he's burned out. The film is as much of a morality play as it is an action/adventure story. The question of whether or not the replicants are "alive" echoes themes from countless novels, movies, and television series. Blade Runner didn't invent the issue but it arguably did more to popularize it than any other science fiction has. — B.C.

The futuristic backdrop of 2019 Los Angeles immediately sets the tone for Blade Runner. This story has its requisite outlaw hero Rick Deckard, his scandalous love interest Rachael, and plenty of action-packed chase scenes. The main issue Blade Runner deals with is what it means to be human. Rachael, although she is in fact a replicant, firmly believes that she is human and that all the memories she has are hers until she finds out otherwise. This raises an interesting question: How do we know that any of the memories we have are real? How do we even know that we are in fact human? In this world, it is quite difficult to tell who the replicants are just based on appearance. They seem to be human and have thoughts and feelings similar to humans. If you use the popular argument from analogy to determine whether the person you’re talking to has a human mind, often the replicant will seem to be human. Using this logic, replicants are human. However, we know that they’re not human, so the problem of identifying the humans and replicants still exists. Translated into the real world, this movie suggests that even if we reason that another being displays the same emotions and reactions to stimuli as we do, we can never be totally certain that what we are talking to is actually human. — D.O.

Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, serves as a glimpse in to a society that has mastered the art of replicating human beings through genetic engineering. Set in a futuristic setting the audience becomes infatuated with the prospects of technology and the dangers of artificial intelligence. Philosophical themes of personal identity are offered in this film, as Rachel is the first among the replicants that can live for more than four years. She is certain that she is human and as they had done in previous models they incorporate memories for her to look back on. These memories serve as a basis to falsely authenticating real human experiences that make a replicant think they are human. Blade runners have to track these replicants down and kill them. These replicants are extremely dangerous and not as fragile as humans. They have superhuman-like qualities and have a sense of personhood and value for their own life. — D.M.

Blade Runner: This 1980’s science fiction thriller takes a look at the philosophical arguments regarding genetic engineering and its social implications. The film portrays a dystopian Los Angeles in 2019: a time in which the development of human genetic engineering had reached its peak, and clones called ?replicants? are created and virtually indistinguishable from other humans. However, a replicant revolt occurs on a distant planet, and the use of all replicants is banned. Main character Rick Deckerd, played by Harrison Ford, is a Blade Runner: a police officer whose main job is to hunt and kill replicants. However, the film later explores the ethical implications of genetic engineering as the replicants develop the ability to respond and interact with others emotionally. At this point, supplemented to their indistinguishable physical appearance, the replicants now have similar emotional responses and relationships. This ethical issue is fully explored once Deckerd and one of the replicants he is hunting, named Rachel, fall in love. Later, another instance in which a human and non-human were made to be indistinguishable occurred when Sebastian (seemingly one of the replicants), is actually found out to be human with a genetic disorder that causes him to age quickly. Thus, in a world where genetically designed humans are indistinguishable save a few qualities (such as here with their short life spans), it creates a social issue for those suffering similar fates, whether replicant or not. — J.D.

Blade Runner: The main question of Blade Runner, to me, is whether Deckard is a replicant. The rest of the movie prior to the end just leads the audience to that question. The struggle between Deckard and Roy Batte and even Rachel and her father is just building to the end. The question also is asked if it is better to be happy with your given situation (i.e. Deckard is a replicant and he and Rachel off into the sunset) or to question and reveal all of the hidden truths (i.e. Deckard gets tested himself). The film is a grand beautiful science fiction classic asking a simple philosophical question: What is human, and what is happiness as a human? A simple question with a complex answer. Blade Runner’s based on a book, and that book has Deckard have long emotive thought sequences that allow the reader to see the deeper turmoil within Deckard; and that is something that the film lacks. The struggle within the person deciding what is real to him is hard to translate in a movie; and the attempt to add Harrison Ford’s voiceover is another failed attempt. The voice over adds some additional dimensions to the emotional debate within Deckard, but ultimately, the conflict does not translate. I also enjoyed the attempt to decipher what the future would look like. The Asian influenced culture, along with a heavy commercialized society seems to make the movie relevant to any time period since especially in America. — L.T.

Blade runner: I am not a big sci-fi geek but I really love this movie. It has been a classic in my mind for a very long time. This is another sort of dystopian future themed movie. We have created artificial intelligence to help make our lives easier by doing jobs that another human being couldn’t possibly do, like mining on another planet, but there seems to be a glitch in the system. One of the replicants (the A.I.) starts killing people. One of the big themes here is, once again, technology running away with itself. It brought up a couple of points for me. One is that if we created another intelligent life form, would it have the capacity to feel emotions like anger, fear, or even hatred? If so, what would they think of being used as mere instruments for our purposes. They would not be expected to have desires or aspirations of their own. They would not be human and so their feelings would not matter to us. They would simply be tools at our disposal. I know that I would be upset and angered knowing that all I was to someone was a means to an end and I that I was expected to serve without a single consideration to my feelings. I think the film does a great job capturing that thought. The replicants do bear the burden the burden of emotion in fact it is exactly what drives the main villain to kill. He does not want to do. Fear of death is definitely a human trait. — J.R.

Blade runner’s most philosophically striking questions are those centered around what it means to be human. The movie takes place in a futuristic Los Angeles, where artificially created humans are a reality. These replicants are beings whose biological makeup is almost identical to humans, except for a few engineered modifications which prevent the replicants from living very long relative to natural human beings. Of course, there is always the overriding question as to whether Deckard (the main character) himself is a replicant. Indeed there is no way of really knowing which humans are, in fact, human. Many of the replicants have false memories implanted in them so that they believe they have lived a full human life. But the real question is how do we define ourselves as humans? Do we define ourselves solely on the biological characteristics, or is there something more that makes a person ?human. If it is solely on the biological aspects of a being, then replicants are clearly not human, for they have genetic differences. Yet, as the movie progresses, we come to see that some of the replicants, particularly Roy and Pris, are capable of being more “human” than Deckard. Deckard is cold and uncaring, whereas Roy and Pris are two replicants who seem to convey genuine love for each other. And beyond that Roy conveys strong feelings of empathy and respect for Deckard. So, I think, the suggestion becomes that we cannot so easily delineate what it is and what it isn’t to be human. — T.E.

Philosophy and Film - Return to Main Page