Tag: Memory

Personal History, Emotion, and Interiority in The Blade Runner

Blade Runner sets up a world where humans live alongside replicants—AIs almost identical to humans and lacking only in emotional response and personal history. These beings are therefore considered distinctly not-human, though in every-day life they function in much the same way humans do. When replicant-hunter Deckard meets Rachael, an advanced replicant who believes she is human, his concept of what is and isn’t human is thrown into question. Though Rachael fails the Voigt-Kampff test, she is by no means devoid of emotions, and though her memories are transplanted, she truly believes that she has a personal history. When she confronts Deckard about whether or not she is truly a replicant, and he callously recites a few of her transplanted memories for her, we see genuine pain in her eyes, and she even begins to cry. This begs the question of what make a person human — and whether the delusion of memory is really all that different from real personal history. I find it especially interesting that we are given almost no backstory for Deckard himself, and he is never portrayed as having deeper emotions than any of the replicants he is hired to kill. For me, this called to attention the position that we, the viewers/readers of media, are placed in when it comes to judging the interiority of fictional characters. There is really no tangible difference, in the eyes of the viewer, between characters like Rachael and characters who are presented to us as human in Blade Runner. Both have constructed memories/personal histories, and we can interpret the true interiority of neither, because we only see portrayals of interiority through exterior expression of emotion.

The Importance of Memory

I was most intrigued by Tyrell’s belief that if you gift a replicant with memories, you “create a cushion or pillow for their emotions” which allows for these androids to be more easily controlled. This statement, of course, becomes more complicated as Rachael slowly realizes that the majority of her memories are artificially planted into her consciousness, and actually belong to Tyrell’s niece. As she plays the piano, she can’t remember if the piano lessons are her own, or if her ability to play is merely a byproduct of another’s experience. What I find so fascinating is the assertion that memory and control are linked through their development of a character, as the existence of one allows for the exertion of another. While these memories create an interiority and independence for the characters, they also reveal an artificiality behind this construction. This got me thinking about how the development of any fictional character is similar to that of the replicant, as memories and experiences are projected onto a character via a second-party. It also seems that the presence of these “memories” within a character allows for a more genuine, controlled relationship between reader and character, much like the way in which memories within a replicant provide a “cushion or pillow” through which emotion can be understood.