Oppressed Creations in Frankenstein and Blade Runner
Despite being set more than 200 years apart, Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein and Ridley Scott's film Blade Runner share similar themes about the plight of individuals to become recognized as members of society. Frankenstein was first published in 1816 and republished in 1831 and recounts the tale of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the consequences that he faces after taking the power over life, death, and creation into his own hands. Blade Runner, on the other hand, was released in 1982 and follows Rick Deckard as he sets out to stop a group of humanoids from wreaking further havoc on their quest to defy the laws that have been instituted by humans and are meant to oppress their mechanical counterparts. Both Frankenstein and Blade Runner depict the conflict that the outsider -- the Creature in Frankenstein and the replicants in Blade Runner -- has with civilized society and accepted social conventions.
In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1831) exploits Victorian fears regarding science and technology and the consequences of abusing these advancements. In the novel, Victor Frankenstein uses his knowledge and education to further explore the concepts of life and death. His thirst for knowledge extended beyond a formal institution as he found himself studying the works of "natural philosophers" such as Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and Albertus Magnus. With the help of these philosophers, in addition to his formal education, Frankenstein subsequently "entered with the greatest diligence into the search of the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life; but the latter soon obtained [his] undivided attention" (Shelley 1831, pp. 25-26). In the process of attempting to create life out of death, Frankenstein assumes God-like powers of creation and works tediously in order to accomplish his goal. He states, "After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life; nay, more, I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter" (Shelley 1831, pp. 37).
Upon realizing the grievous mistake that he has committed by bringing his monstrous creature to life, Frankenstein immediately and instinctively abandons the Creature. Plagued by the horrific realization of what he has done, Frankenstein "rushed out of the room…traversing [his] bedchamber…threw [himself] on the bed…endeavouring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness," which would later prove to be few and far between (Shelley 1831, pp. 42-43). By immediately regretting his decision to bring the Creature to life, Frankenstein demonstrates that he did not realize the impact that the Creature's creation would have on society, nor does he attempt to exploit the technology that he has discovered and used to make the Creature. Furthermore, Frankenstein is aware of the repercussions of making another creature, as seen when the Creature demands a mate. Having learned from his past mistakes, Frankenstein refuses to proceed with the Creature's demands. Frankenstein fears that the creation of a mate for the Creature could potentially generate an entire species that would be in direct competition with humanity. Frankenstein dreads that "one of those sympathies for which the daemon thirsted would be children, and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth, who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror" (Shelley 1831, pp. 145). Additionally, Frankenstein postulates that there may be a chance that the two creatures loathe each other and that the female creature "might turn with disgust from [the Creature] to the superior beauty of man; she might quit him and he be again alone, exasperated by the fresh provocation of being deserted by one of his own species" (Shelley 1831, pp. 145).
Similarly, Blade Runner (1982) exploits the consequences that may arise when society becomes reliant on technology and proceeds to abuse of the power that they have assumed over the machines that they have created. In Blade Runner (1982), the technological empire known as the Tyrell Corporation has not only successfully created a humanoid machine that is capable of passing as human, but they have also created a viable means of production that benefits humanity at the expense of their Nexus-6 humanoid machines. Blade Runner's epilogue establishes the present state of human-machine relations and states,
Replicants were used Off-world as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets…[and] after a bloody mutiny by a NEXUS 6 combat team in an Off-world colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth -- under penalty of death. Special squads -- BLADE RUNNER UNITS -- had orders to shoot to kill, upon detection, any trespassing replicant. (Blade Runner 1982).
The opening epilogue not only demonstrates the technological prowess harnessed by humanity, but it also establishes that unlike Frankenstein who immediately ran from the Creature, the engineers at Tyrell Corporation sought to mass produce replicants for personal gain.
Unlike Frankenstein, the Tyrell Corporation does not have any qualms about exploiting the Nexus 6 replicants even though they have been assembled to be "more human than human" (Blade Runner 1982). The humans of Los Angeles 2019, where Blade Runner's action is set, have grown to be dependent on the machines and have oppressed them, so to speak, by forcing them into slavery. Prior to the revolt, humans were satisfied with the notion that one of the only consequences of the mass production of replicants was a sustainable and renewable workforce. However, just like in Frankenstein (1831), the humanoid creations are deemed to be inferior to humans and have no hope of ever being integrated into society successfully despite any attempts that may be made.
The conflict between man and humanoid in Frankenstein and Blade Runner can be seen through the relationship that creation has with creator and the relationship that creation attempts to have with society. Frankenstein's Creature is immediately shunned by its creature and is forced to learn about the world through experience, observation, and self-education. Through his actions, Frankenstein makes it clear that he does not want anything to do with the Creature and it is his creation that forces him to deal with the consequences of his arrogance. Because of this, the Creature forces himself into Frankenstein's life and proceeds to murder a number of people that are close to Frankenstein including his younger brother, his best friend, and his wife, Elizabeth.
One of the ways that Frankenstein's Creature learns about humans is through the observation of the DeLacey family. The Creature comments, "What chiefly struck me was the gentle manners of these people, and I longed to join them but dared not…[remembering] too well the treatment I had suffered the night before from the barbarous villagers" (Shelley 1831, pp. 91). In addition to anthropological observation, the Creature also learns about society, and consequently himself, by reading various books including Plutarch's Lives, Sorrow of Werter, and Paradise Lost (Shelley 1831, pp. 109-110). Because the Creature has had to rely on himself and his experiences to understand the messages implied by these works, his innocence and ignorance do not allow him to fully comprehend the authors' intentions. The Creature eventually relates to Adam after initially relating to Satan in Paradise Lost because even "Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred" (Shelley 1831, pp. 111). Also, like Adam, the Creature was made to be reflective of his creator's, Frankenstein's, image and thus is a "filthy type of [Frankenstein's image], more horrid from the very resemblance" (Shelley 1831, pp. 110-111).
On the other hand, in Blade Runner the Nexus 6 replicants must rely on the information that they have been programmed with in addition to the observations and experiences that the machines undergo. Because replicants were intentionally created to be more human than human, it can be assumed that they were also programmed to be able to learn and take on new information much like a human would. Much like Frankenstein's arrogance, which led him to believe that he could create a being that would prove that he could defy death, the Tyrell Corporation's arrogance led them to believe that they could control the replicants despite giving them the capacity to become even more intelligent than humanity itself. This ability to take on new information eventually led to a select group of replicants to become self-aware, which prompts them to travel to Earth despite the fact that their presence on the planet is forbidden. In Blade Runner, a group of replicants, led by Roy Batty, is on a mission to circumvent their preprogrammed four-year lifespan. It is evident that like Frankenstein's Creature the replicants base their assumptions about themselves and their role in society based upon personal observations and by teaching themselves about philosophy. The replicants believe that they should be given an equal opportunity to determine how they are going to live their lives and not just be relegated into slave labor. Furthermore, it is evident that the replicants have been extraneous materials when Pris, one of the replicants in Batty's…