Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bladerunner and Cartesian Selfhood

A dystopian vision - a future Los Angeles reflected in an eye.

I saw Bladerunner The Final Cut recently, with two old friends -Artneuro and GJ, at a packed cinema theatre. It's a film packed with symbolism.
A major motif is that of the eye and the act of seeing or being seen.

In the opening scene, LA of 2019 is seen reflected in a human (or replicant) eye. Chew, the maker of artificial eyes, hopes the rogue androids will leave him alone when he insists that he knows nothing about how to get them into the Tyrell corporation - "I only do eyes". Recognising that Roy Batty is a Nexus Six replicant, Chew tells him that he has made his eyes. Roy responds, "If only you could see what I've seen with your eyes", while Leon intimidates the poor man by festooning him with spare part eyes. Roy appeals to Cartesian optics in his claim to selfhood. "From the Cartesian perspective, what I see is my property; I own it in the sense that I experience it personally in the privileged realm of the interiority of the subject. Lacan will invert the Cartesian triangle and in doing so show how the subject is dependent upon the outside for his/her sense of self."

"Rachel wants to discuss the possibility of being a replicant since Tyrell refuses to see her. She shows Deckard a photo and says, 'Look it's me with my mother.' Deckard explains the memory implants from Tyrell's niece. Photo-sight-memory-subjectivity all work into Rachel's claim to being human and having a 'person' or self. This self includes a privileged interior - memories that no one else has access to."
Later on in Sebastian's apartment, Pris applies spray-on makeup to her eyes, and Roy clowns around by holding toy eyes over his own. After discovering that there is no way of reversing the use by date built into him, Roy gouges out the eyes of his creator - Tyrrel. (Leon is about to do the same to Deckard when he is shot by Rachel)
Again at the end of the film, Roy refers to his eyes and the wonders he has seen with them off-world. Other eye images are the pupil dilation test and the owl in Tyrell's apartment, also Tyrell's conspicuous glasses. The Geisha on the advertising blimp gazes down through the skylight of the derelict building where Sebastian has made his home. Pris and Zhora alter their appearance, the way others see them. "Being seen and who is doing the seeing affects the 'selfhood' or human-ness of the replicants."
Roy is offended by Sebastian's request that the replicants demonstrate some of their superhuman abilities. Roy seems to consider this an insult to his sense of being a self, not a machine. "We're not computers." Then, to Roy's approval, Pris invokes the Cartesian conception of self in terms of cognition - "I think therefore I am". But Roy does not achieve selfhood through thinking; if he does, it is by overriding his inbuilt combat programming and saving Deckard's life at the end of the film.

1 comment:

Art Neuro said...

The replicant eyes glow strangely in the dark.
In the Final Cut, this has been digitally managed, but it is consistent through this film, including Decakrd's eyes in his apartment.