Throughout the long history of fiction, androids and gynoids - artificial men and women - have been a common element. When included as tertiary characters they are often symbols for "the other."
When treated as protagonists, they fill the tale with themes of the roles and definitions of humanity. Thusly, this series is taking a close look at these artificial people. Today we’re looking at replicants.
Replicants are the androids and gynoids of the Blade Runner story-world, which is based on the world of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In that original novel, they were simply called Androids, and their make-up was a bit different. We’ll be taking a look at the movie version, as they’ve been more influential in modern fantasy narratives than their text counter-parts.
The replicants are produced by the monopolistic Tyrell Corporation, founded, owned, and controlled by Eldon Tyrell, a genius roboticist.
By the time of the events of the film (2019), very few of the parts in the replicants are still mechanical (the eyes seem to be one example), instead relying on mostly genetic engineering to ‘grow’ the devices, making them visually and tactilely indistinguishable from human adults.
The replicants featured in the film are the Nexus-6 model, and an unnamed model which succeeds it (we'll assume "Nexus-7," but the canon doesn’t specify).
The Nexus-6 is a response to flaws in the previous models, in which they would gather information and experiences too quickly, and would soon become emotionally too complex to function. The Nexus-6s therefore were made to use their biological energy faster, and thusly shorten their lifespans (they burn out in about 4 years) while increasing their strength, intelligence, and agility. This solved the problem of over experience while simultaneously increasing their general effectiveness.
The Nexus-7s are an attempt to solve the problem a different way. Rather than cutting their lives short, Tyrell gives them histories in the form of fake memories - The love-interest in the film is a Nexus-7 prototype called Rachael, who has been given the memories of Tyrell’s adult niece. The thought is that these memories give the replicant something to fall back on; something to cushion the weight of the massive intake of new experiences.
The conflict for the protagonist is that these replicants are illegal on Earth. Normally, they must be shipped directly off world once created. Six Nexus-6s have found their way back to Earth, and Deckard is the detective assigned to track them down and destroy them. Two of them have already been killed by defense measures when he gets on the case, and he hunts the remaining four down one at a time, discovering more about the Nexus-6s - which he’d never encountered before - and about Tyrell as the case deepens.
Along the way he encounters Rachael working for Tyrell, and has an extremely difficult time figuring out if she if a replicant or not, even using the fictional Voight-Kampff test, which is supposed to be specifically for discovering replicants.
The discussion, of course, is one of humanity, and what makes a person human, and at what point do they receive the rights of a person. As much as the action centers on the chasing down of the Nexus-6s, the real conflict is with Rachael. She believes herself to be a person. She has the memories and personality of a real person, and when she discovers the truth, she breaks down.
She may be a construct, but she’s human in the sense that she’s made from human parts. They may be redesigned to specifications and grown in a lab, but still, they are the body and brain of a human.
She doesn’t have the ugliness that Frankenstein’s monster had to deal with, but she would be similarly rejected in society if the truth were discovered about her origins.
In the end, it is left intentionally vague (in the most canonical version of the film, anyway) as to how long she may live, and how happy she can be. Deckard’s own identity is even up in the air, as many fans think he might be a Nexus-7 himself, though even the creators of the film are at odds on that one.
Check back tomorrow, when our featured artificial person will be The Gunslinger. If you have an idea for an android or gynoid we could feature, let us know in the comments.