Replicants R Us: The Crisis of Authenticity in 'Blade Runner'


  • John Byron


A discernable trend has emerged in recent mainstream cinema towards challenging core assumptions about knowledge of the self and the world: the narrative linearity, continuity and reliability of memory; the stability and comprehensible nature of reality; and the existence of a secure and unified identity. These themes have been pursued in movies for over a century – and in literature and philosophy for millennia – and have become firmly entrenched in the popular cinema of the last couple of decades. Perhaps under the influence of seminal texts such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), perhaps as an expression of the zeitgeist of late capitalism described by postmodern theorists, these themes have crept from the cult fringes of SF and horror into the Hollywood mainstream. This article examines the problem of subjective authenticity in Blade Runner, looking specifically at the Director’s Cut (1992). It identifies ways that the film mobilises an edgy energy through the introduction of the big ‘what if’ questions about memory and identity. The paper considers ways that the film first tactically ignores and then actively suppresses this narrative energy, and demonstrates the ultimate resistance of the story to the filmmakers’ unsuccessful strategies of containment and closure.