The Se­cret Jewish His­tory Of Blade Run­ner

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Seth Ro­govoy

The long-awaited se­quel to the 1982 sci-fi clas­sic “Blade Run­ner” opens in theaters Oc­to­ber 6. “Blade Run­ner 2049” picks up the orig­i­nal story 30 years after the events re­counted in the orig­i­nal, which was set in 2019.

For those who don’t re­mem­ber, and for the very few who never saw it, “Blade Run­ner” was a dystopian sci-fi movie about a bounty hunter named Rick Deckard, played by Har­ri­son Ford. His prey was rene­gade an­droids, or “repli­cants.” These re­mark­able hu­man­like ro­bots were man­u­fac­tured to work as slaves in space colonies. Ap­par­ently things didn’t al­ways go as planned up there, and some made their way back to earth, where a well-trained crew of “blade runners” work­ing for the Los An­ge­les Po­lice De­part­ment lay in wait to find and “retire” them.

As with most such sto­ries of hu­manoids cre­ated by man, echoes of the leg­end of the Golem abound. “Blade Run­ner” is yet another vari­a­tion on the orig­i­nal story of a man-beast fash­ioned out of clay and given pow­ers that lead to un­in­tended con­se­quences, along the way rais­ing ques­tions about what it means to be truly hu­man. Deckard, fac­ing off against man­made crea­tures so hu­man­like that he grows a ro­man­tic at­tach­ment to one, finds him­self locked in an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis, not made any eas­ier after a repli­cant he has been hunt­ing saves Deckard's life be­fore sac­ri­fic­ing him­self.

The orig­i­nal “Blade Run­ner” is a loose adap­ta­tion of Philip K. Dick’s 1968 noir-ish sci-fi novel, “Do An­droids Dream of Elec­tric Sheep?” In Dick’s novel, the cor­po­ra­tion that man­u­fac­tures the an­droids is called the Rosen As­so­ci­a­tion. When Deckard vis­its Rosen head­quar­ters, he is greeted by Rachael Rosen, who thinks she is the daugh­ter of CEO El­don Rosen. In a metaphor­i­cal lift­ing of her veil, Deckard tests Rachael’s em­pa­thy lev­els, re­veal­ing that in fact she is a Nexus-6, the lat­est model of an­droid — the same model as those he has been or­dered to elim­i­nate.

In Ri­d­ley Scott’s orig­i­nal “Blade Run­ner,” the Rosen As­so­ci­a­tion is re­named the Tyrell Cor­po­ra­tion, in what could be con­sid­ered a case of white­wash­ing or a con­certed at­tempt to de-Ju­daize the evil cap­i­tal­ists — although Rachael main- tains her name. In the novel, a char­ac­ter called Isi­dore be­friends the be­ings from up above and, like the bib­li­cal Lot, pro­tects them from the blade runners. In the film, the role of Isi­dore is given to a gene-splicer named Se­bas­tian.

In both the novel and the film, Deckard’s fi­nal bat­tle is with an an­droid named Roy Batty. In the film, the role was mem­o­rably played by Dutch ac­tor Rut­ger Hauer, whom no less an author­ity than Dick him­self praised as “the perfect Batty — cold, Aryan, flaw­less.”

Both the book and the film avoid any clear and un­am­bigu­ous no­tion of white and black, good and evil. Deckard is on the one hand a killer for hire, but on the other hand he is deeply dis­turbed by the ruth­less­ness with which an­droids are used and abused. And, in a sub­plot, Deckard is an an­i­mal lover in a world in which animals are al­most en­tirely ex­tinct (hence the “elec­tric sheep” of Dick’s ti­tle). In the book, Deckard is a Noah-like care­taker who blows his bounty on

Echoes of the leg­end of the Golem abound.

the pur­chase of a rare, ex­pen­sive Nu­bian goat.

The an­droids them­selves are both vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors. Hav­ing been man­u­fac­tured and pro­grammed by hu­mans, they os­ten­si­bly have no will of their own, no con­science and no soul. Yet their de­ter­mi­na­tion to leave the space colonies and re­turn to earth sug­gests that they have de­vel­oped hu­man in­stincts, if not fullfledged emo­tional lives. Even when they are de­fy­ing their cre­ators, they seem to be do­ing so out of some in­nate sense of hav­ing been harmed and in pur­suit of jus­tice.

In a short film re­leased in July, meant to fill in some of the gaps be­tween the orig­i­nal and the se­quel, we were in­tro­duced to a new char­ac­ter, Nian­der Wal­lace (played by Jared Leto), who is an even mad­der sci­en­tist than Tyrell. When he in­tro­duces a new line of repli­cants to a skep­ti­cal group of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, he says, “This is an an­gel… and I made him,” lend­ing sup­port to those who see Deckard as a Ja­cob-like fig­ure who wres­tles with repli­cants-as-an­gels, while lov­ing a wo­man named Rachael.

The se­quel will ex­plain the ul­ti­mate fate of Deckard and Rachael, who, at the end of “Blade Run­ner,” drive away from apoc­a­lyp­tic Los An­ge­les — where the sun never shines, where it al­ways rains and where there is no nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring wildlife — on their way to­ward a hap­pier, greener, Edenic-like world.

In “Blade Run­ner 2049,” Har­ri­son Ford — who is the grand­son of Harry Nidel­man and Anna Lif­schutz, Jewish im­mi­grants from Minsk, and once said, “As a man I’ve al­ways felt Ir­ish; as an ac­tor I’ve al­ways felt Jewish” — re­turns in his role as Deckard.

The Amer­i­can Dream proved to be real for one pop­u­la­tion in par­tic­u­lar.


BACK TO THE FU­TURE: A still from ‘Blade Run­ner 2049.’


SHE, ROBOT: Rachael, repli­cant love in­ter­est in the 1982 'Blade Run­ner.'

ARYAN, REPLI­CANT OR BOTH? Deckard bat­tles an­droid Batty in the 1982 clas­sic 'Blade Run­ner.'


DO REPLI­CANTS DREAM OF ELEC­TRIC SE­QUELS? Har­ri­son Ford reprises his role as Deckard in 'Blade Run­ner 2049.'

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