Science is the most important tool in the progression and maturation of society and its values. Both Mary Shelly and Ridley Scott create characters pushing the boundaries of scientific exploration and understanding and in doing so they reveal flaws and shortcomings in the upheld values of the time. The narratives of Frankenstein and Blade Runner are linked strongly to their context with important messages or warnings within them.
At the time of Shelly’s writing the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ was coming to an end, after years of threatening nature with its unrelenting attitude toward scientific endeavour at any cost. Scott addresses the dangers of globalised consumerism which brings as much bad as it does good, in Blade Runner its spread and influence has a strangle hold on Earth. The Industrial Revolution, borne from Enlightenment ideology saw a fast progression in production technology; this meant that more things could be made faster.
These improvements saw for the first time in history, sustained growth in incomes and population, however the cost of the period fell entirely on the environment. The Enlightenment values left no room for consideration of the negative effects it was having on nature; destruction of habitat through logging and mining, waterway and air pollution, the conquest and victory of man over his environment was all that was important. In Frankenstein, Shelly created the creature to reveal the true effects.
Victor Frankenstein’s creature was horrific; its own father could not bear to look upon it, “its unearthly ugliness rendered it almost too ugly for human eyes”. Frankenstein, in his scientific endeavours had created the Industrial Revolution’s ugly child – put on show by Shelly to demonstrate the undesirable and harmful effects of the Industrial Revolution. The creature can be seen as a metaphor for the reality of the Industrial Revolution, and its repulsive form shows its true cost, in doing so challenges its benefits.
In Blade Runner Tyrell has created the Replicants as moneymaking products purely for commerce. He tells Deckard, “Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell”, and through this model he has accrued unquestionable global power through technological advances. The ‘life’ Tyrell has created in the Replicants is turned into a commodity, this is accepted by society in Ridley Scott’s dystopian world of globalisation and greedy pursuit of profit. This world Scott has created is the epitome of fears in the 1970s and 80s of consumerism and what it could change the world into.
Tyrell embodies the worst extreme of consumerism, where everything is seen as a potential source of money and power; the viewer is introduced to this consumerism-worst-case-scenario in the opening scene. Hellish flames rise out of heavy industry factories and low diegetic music that jars and screeches creating in an uneasy and uncomfortable atmosphere for the viewer, intended highlight the bad place that this future world is. The central values of this new world act to highlight to the emerging problems in the 1980s world Scott was living in.
The Enlightenment Era saw the relentless pursuit of science and knowledge, exploration and conquest, which is reflected perfectly in two characters – Victor Frankenstein and Robert Walton. Both are in the forefront of their disciplines, both are pushing the boundaries and both are forced to end their pursuits to save their own lives. The change in attitude they experience is due to the realisation that their values and reasoning are incorrect and if continued will damage themselves and the people around them.
It can be argued that Frankenstein does not actually change his views, however he is forced to concede his mission as the ship he is on returns home, i. e. the times are changing him. This is a direct parallel with the shift in societal values that was occurring around the time of Shelly’s writing, and it can be argued that this text played a role in influencing that change. Enlightenment gave way to Romanticism due to the realisation of its destructive power, and the damage it had been causing as it progressed.
Walton, an explorer with sights set firmly on finding a North-West passage for the purpose of personal fame, glory and immortalising his name. Exploration for the sake of exploration – a mission destined to fail, because there was no real need, no purpose and lack of emotion attached to it. Victor was successful in his mission; ‘to create life’, which he did with reason, rationality and a scientific mind, the perfect Enlightenment scientist. However his process was void of any emotion. He worked alone, long hours and lack of human companionship induced
a craze in which he blindly worked until he was finished, upon completion he saw the horror that he had created and it did nothing but bring misery to his life from then on. The Enlightenment Era values lacking in emotion failed and gave way to Romanticism, which was fundamentally based on strong feelings and irrational emotion as society recognised their importance. Both characters had goals; their processes of reaching them were flawed by the lack of emotion and as a result, ultimately failed.
In this way these characters challenge the values of their context. Scott, through the character Eldon Tyrell and Roy Batty shows the importance of maintaining the best qualities of humanity and to loose them would be at the peril of the human race. Pursuit of science without remorse is common to both texts and in Blade Runner it is shown in Tyrell, who is portrayed as removed from reality because of his work. He has very limited human interaction as he has surrounded himself with Replicants who serve him although he shows no attachment to them.
Scott shows through Tyrell that with the overtaking of technology and without relationships, humanity is lost. Roy Batty, a Replicant, rises from being a robot to becoming human in a display of supreme compassion and forgiveness when he saves Deckard from falling off a building. In this, the climactic scene of the film, Roy turns from a savage animal, howling and wiping blood across his face into the hero of the story. The chase ends as Deckard is left clinging on to the side of a building, and Roy chooses to catch him as he falls and pull him to safety.
For this act, in the eyes of the viewer he ‘achieves’ human status. This notion is backed up by the soft lighting illuminating his face accompanied by a soundtrack of peaceful diegetic music. Also, the on screen subversion of Roy and Deckard’s apparent humanity, camera shots cut between a high angle close up shot looking down on Deckard and a low angle close up looking up at the angelic Roy, firmly placing Roy as better than Deckard. In these two individuals Scott shows importance of the key human qualities of compassion and forgiveness.
In Scott’s context these values were becoming increasingly important as nuclear weapons were being added to he arsenal of many countries and the alarming amount of the destruction and devastation they could bring in the hands of a remorseless and uncompassionate leader. Tyrell embodies the values of society at the time, driven by consumerism and greed, and reveals their flaws contrary to Roy, who as a Replicant is seen as lower than human, however, he challenges this and proves it to be incorrect. The rational processes that are integral to the Enlightenment values, are demonstrated most clearly when Victor is putting together his creature.
But, it is these processes that clearly show flaws in their own philosophy. As an Enlightenment Era scientist, Victor has all of nature at his disposal, to experiment and conduct tests on however he likes. His deeds show this; the torture of animals in order to discover the “inner workings of the natural world”, without remorse he digs up countless corpses in the night in search of ‘perfect’ body parts to put together and form his creature. The problems in this approach to science are evident in the cruelty and horrific acts that its moral code condones.
These acts have been committed without emotional or human attachment, values that are fundamental in Romantic ideals. In describing these events and directly attributing them to Enlightenment ways, Shelly describes the realisation society is coming to that its values must change. In staying true to the scientific values of the time, Frankenstein exposes their flaws and as a result unwittingly challenges them. A collective character in Blade Runner are the Replicants, as synthetic humans they display similar character traits and can be seen as one ‘race’.
The science and technology behind the Replicants has advanced to the point where they have been created as sentient beings, the newest models even have their own manufactured memories. However, giving them their own rational thought has brought danger. They became aware of their exploitation and on the new world we hear of a ‘bloody revolution’ where Replicants had tried to gain independence, resulting in loss of human and Replicant life on a large scale. The technology inside the Replicants and its development had been allowed to progress unchecked to the stage where it caused harm to the human race.
In this way Scott is highlighting the possible dangers of allowing boundaries of science to be pushed without fully understanding the effect it will have on the environment, animals or the human population. This reflects the contextual fears brought about by the recent 3 Mile Island nuclear accident. Here nuclear power draws a parallel with the Replicants – progressing from assisting humans to harming them. In this way Blade Runner can be seen as a cautionary tale warning of the dangers of allowing science to progress faster than human understanding of its true capabilities.
As a character, the Replicants are the epitome of scientific progress pushed passed its breaking point, bringing bloodshed and loss of life. Their ‘Bloody Revolution’ is the ultimate challenge of the values in the 2019 world Scott has created. Both Mary Shelly and Ridley Scott create characters that reflect the values of their contexts and also characters that embody new and changing ideals, these characters and their actions work to highlight a problem with societal values or to show the good in them.
Both texts have a strong science base, Victor at the forefront of medical technology and Tyrell at the forefront of robotics and synthetic life, this allows them to push boundaries and create situations where the authors can ask questions of, reveal problems with and challenge societies’ values. As science and technology progresses, so will the need for humanity to evolve to incorporate it into daily life. Blade Runner and Frankenstein show the importance of maintaining a strong sense of humanity, in all of its imperfect forms, as societies and worldviews adapt and develop alongside technology.