Deckard: "Sushi. That's what my ex-wife called me. Cold fish."

Sympathy For the Cyborg

Elizabeth Rodwell (

Defined in the Blade Runner script:

android (an'droid) n, Gk. humanoid automation. more at robot./ 1. early version utilized for work too boring, dangerous or unpleasant for humans. 2. second generation bio-engineered. Electronic relay units and positronic brains. Used in space to explore inhospitable environments. 3. Third generation synthogenetic. REPLICANT, constructed of skin/flesh culture. Selected enogenic transfer conversion. Capable of self perpetuating thought. Paraphysical abilities. Developed for emigration program.

Webster's Dictionary: New International (2012):

Replicants are manufactured organisms designed to carry out work too boring, dangerous, or distasteful for humans. The "NEXUS 6" replicants are nearly indistinguishable from humans.

The characters we create for film and for print tell a lot about the way we think. Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell are of certain anthropological significance; as Haraway wrote in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: "The boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion" (149). Certainly this is true; it is rare science fiction that can truly do away with the modern world. I have yet to read/see sci-fi that doesn't build on and react to social realities. BR and Ghost are easily situated in the late 20th century. One of the most interesting aspects of these films is the way the viewer is set up to identify with and feel sympathy for the cyborg characters.The nature of these characters is similar to ours, so much so that, as the Blade Runner script states, they are virtually indistinguishable from humans. Hence, the Voight-Kampff Machine test, and for the viewer (and purportedly not the characters): glowing eyes.

Blade Runner plays a lot of tricks on us; the difference between man and cyborg becomes unclear as the film hints that Deckard, the Blade Runner might be a replicant. The woman he loves, Rachael, is eventually humanized in a way that the other replicants are not (Roy sticks his hand into boiling liquid, Pris's acrobatics mark her as different.) A paradox is established: Deckard's mission is to eliminate the NEXUS 6 model of replicants, to restore the gap between man and machine by destroying what is made out to be a technological mistake. (A common sci-fi theme: it is a mistake to build a machine that is TOO smart. In the world of Blade Runner, anyone could be a cyborg. In one version of the script, Tyrell himself is a replicant.

If Deckard is not a replicant, complications still arise. The difference between man and machine in this film is the supposed inability of replicants to feel empathy. Interestingly, the quote referenced in the title of this essay requires us to notice that Deckard is a cold, distant man. In one scene, Rachael asks him whether he's ever taken the Voight-Kampff test himself. Regardless of what Deckard is, Rachael's point is that he is like her. In this film, machines are humanized and humans are mechanized. Ghost in the Shell does this too, especially in the scene during which Kusanagi goes swimming. (This a long scene and one that seems at first to be out of context). All of this supports Haraway's theory that we are already thinking of ourselves as cyborgs: "By the late twentieth century· we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs" (150).

The swimming scene in Ghost and the Shell humanizes the cyborg for the purpose of the anime's plot, which revolves around the A.I.: 'Puppet Master's' desire for freedom and something more akin to life (as well as its subsequent attempts to seduce the cybernetic-human agents with promises of escape and further evolution). Likewise, Blade Runner revolves around the mortality of the replicants. These are our issues too; modern wo/man fears the significance of his/her fleeting life. In an era where there are more people running amuck than ever before a new threat to our identity is established- the cyborg that is like us, or is us. Roy's death is perhaps the most difficult in Blade Runner; he sounds like a modern existentialist playing to our fears that our memories, our complicated? lives mean nothing. These machines are mortal, and are set up to represent modern man.

"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."

[To other discussions of this topic by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]

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