The Posthuman in a Retrofuturistic World

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2017
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Haverford College. Department of English
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Award
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eng
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Open Access
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Abstract
Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, Blade Runner presents a postmodern world in decay where advanced technology has allowed technocratic corporations to become the ruling elites while the natural environment has been completely obliterated. In this world “replicants” have been created by these corporations as humanoid machines used to help colonize other planets where the wealthier humans have migrated. The replicants look and act exactly as organic humans do, and this tension presents the central conflict of the film: the humans are forced to confront the emotional capacity of the replicants that they have created. I argue that the replicants are in fact the equivalent of their human oppressors because they are able to express genuine emotions and, in particular, empathy. I refer to Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein, and James Whale’s 1931 film of the same name as literary predecessors to Blade Runner. These two works posses the same conflict between the human creators and their posthuman creations. Additionally, I analyze the cinematic traditions of film noir and science fiction, in conjunction with the Frankenstein stories, to situate Blade Runner as a film which looks simultaneously backwards to its literary and cinematic roots and forwards to the complications of these influences in a world where cyber technology has rendered human beings numb to their emotional humanity, and where their posthuman creations have transcended their origins to succeed them. I conclude that the final scene in Blade Runner, where the leader of the replicants shares a deeply personal monologue with his human pursuer, is the culmination of my argument for replicant humanity. In this scene, the replicant is able to relate to another person on an emotional level that transcends his mechanical programming and validates his right for life.
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