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Posts Tagged ‘Ridley Scott’

If you’re having trouble grappling with the “similar content” in the Module A elective Texts in Time, these articles may help.

Worldspace in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner

This article, by Evan L. Wendel, not only helps students to focus on the relevance of each text’s setting, it is also a wonderful example of essay structure with integrated paragraphs.

Frankenstein‘s Futurity: Replicants and Robots

Jay Clayton’s contribution to the Cambridge Companion to Frankenstein is impressive in scope. You’ll need to scroll down to the section entitled The Replicant’s Tears (page 5 of the pdf or 88 if you’ve grabbed the book) for Module A specific stuff, but if you want a more general understanding of the ongoing relevance of Frankenstein, the entire chapter is worth a read.

The Evolutionary Relationship Between Man and Technology

This article by Magar Etmekdjian focuses on context and the way in which Blade Runner can be viewed as an extension of Frankenstein. It very helpfully refers back to the module rubric as well.

 

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One of the “big questions” explored in the comparative study of Frankenstein and Blade Runner is, “what does it mean to be human?”

This question is not only integral to developing an understanding of both texts but also so broad and ephermeral as to be almost useless. Let’s pin it down by rephrasing, “what are the qualities that distinguish a human being from artificial life forms?” or, for this particular study, “what are the qualities that, if present in artificial life forms, would force us to consider them human?”

  • humans imagine – humans have the capacity to not only remember the past but to imagine the future or to imagine alternate worlds. This capacity for imagination is integral to the next three points…
  • humans are mortal… and aware of it – the capacity to imagine a different world means the capacity to imagine a world without ourselves in it. It is this awareness of the fragility of human life that makes it so significant and important, not only to each individual but also as a subject of literary endeavour. It the awareness of their own mortality that drives the replicants to Earth in Blade Runner.
  • humans have empathy – the ability to imagine ourselve in the position of others–not just other humans, but also other sentient beings–is one which is developed through relationships but also through reading. The great irony in Blade Runner is that while the replicants are identified by their inability to empathise with animals, it is the humans who lack empathy for each other and for the replicants.
  • humans create – since the cave paintings in Lascaux, human beings have been driven to create works of art; and even before the invention of language and art, humans were procreating, seeking immortality for their genes through their children. The irony in Frankenstein is that Victor seeks glory through his unnatural creation and this eventually results in the destruction of any hope of having children when Elizabeth is murdered.
  • humans seek relationships – we are, above all, social creatures. The need to understand and be understood, to love and be loved, is at the heart of the human experience. It is this need that drives the creature to beg Victor for a mate in Frankenstein and empowers Deckard and Rachel to seek a life together in spite of not knowing how much time they have.

Most of the examples in this list seem to point to the humanity, and humane-ness, of the artificial life forms in each text. If you can articulate a response to this paradox, you are well on the way towards developing strong responses to this module.

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Looking at Module A responses recently, I have noticed something strange: students understand the context of Frankenstein, they have a handle on Romanticism, the Enlightement and the effects of Industrialisation; however, they don’t get the context for Blade Runner. There are some vague references to globalisation and capitalism but no real evidence of the values underpinning those movements. I think that it’s possibly because many teachers (like me) grew up in the 80s and so we assume that part of history is common knowledge. It’s not. Students completing the HSC this year were born in the early 90s and 1982 is outside their experience (and, let’s be honest, their interest). Here are some points to help rectify this problem.

The Cold War: Although it broke out into “hot” wars throughout the 20th Century (Korea and Vietnam being the most obvious examples) the Cold War consisted mostly of spying and tense international relations between the US and the USSR. It also manifested in the Space Race, the over-emphasis of western nations on capitalist policies and their continued interference in the politics of developing nations. The tone of this period of history was pessimistic, with the constant threat of nuclear war hanging over the world. This pessimism about the future of the human race and of the planet is clearly seen in Blade Runner.

Globalisation: this is a term which refers specifically to the unification of economies through free trade. It can also be used to describe the shrinking of the world through media and communication technology. Its effects can be seen in Blade Runner in the Chinatown scenes, where the movement of peoples and languages across borders is evident.

The Reagan Doctrine: Ronald Reagan was President of the US from 1981 to 1989. His policies were shaped, at least in part, by the Cold War, and so included funding anti-Communist groups overseas  (like the Taliban – oops) and being aggressively pro-capitalist.

Thatcherism: Margaret Thatcher (who famously said, “No woman in my time will be Prime Minister” ) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. She was aggressive in her economic policy, which involved prioritising the control of inflation over the control of unemployment; and limiting the power of trade unions. Many people saw this attitude as being “money over people”. To understand more about the potential of Thatcherism see…

Alan Moore was not a fan of Thatcher or her politics.

One of the main practical outcomes of both Reaganism and Thatcherism, was Deregulation. This is the removal of government controls on corporate activities. Usually the justification was “free market competition”. The consequences of deregulation can be seen in Blade Runner in the unrestrained commercialisation of not only our planet but the offworld colonies. The looming presence of the Tyrell Corp over the government offices is a visual representation of the power shift which took place during the 1980s. It was during this time that many companies went multinational, thus breaking down national boundaries, furthering globalisation and the disempowerment of governments.

A useful word to use for this worldview is Neoconservatism. The main values associated with Neoconservatism are competition (in the free market sense of competition between corporations, free of government interference), economic freedom and traditional “family” values. In some ways, Neoconservatism is the natural child of America’s puritan past and its focus on the Protestant work ethic.

Another consequence of the deregulation of corporations and the commodification of everything is Environmental damage and its reactor, the Environmentalism. The fear of irreversible environmental damage is clear from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 source novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

The message that is explicit in the novel and implicit in the film is that the destruction of natural habitats, and the animals that live in them, is ultimately dehumanising. The key to passing the Voigt-Kampf test is demonstrating empathy with animals. This is almost ironic as the corporation that administors the test is probably one of the corporations responsible for the utter destruction of nature. The potential for mass extinctions due to human interference became a real concern for a number of people by the 1980s.

Technological Innovation. In the 1980s scientific progress had moved from the industrialisation of the 19th Century to a new medium: information. Innovation of this time focused on computers and software. The ’80s were the era of the personal computer (for the first time people had computers in their homes) and of arcade gaming. The replicants can be seen, perhaps, as just another consumer gadget, like a PC.

Space Exploration was also huge. American had won the Space Race in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon but there was more to explore. In 1977 NASA launched Voyager 1, a probe designed to visit the outlying planets of our solar system and continue beyond. It also carries a “golden record” designed to convey information about the human race to any extraterristrial life the probe may encounter. Space exploration was the antidote to the pessimism of the Cold War. In Blade Runner the optimism of colonising new worlds is undermined as they are necessary refuges from the polluted ruin of Earth rather than symbols of human endeavour.

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This is just a quick post to outline an idea that came up when I was talking to a student today.

In the Christian Bible, God gives two gifts to the men (humans) he has created:

1. Companionship.

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
Genesis 2:17-19

2. A generous life span.

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Psalm 90:9-11

Both Victor and Tyrell are poor reflections of the Creator. While God made Eve as a companion (or “helpmeet”) for Adam, Victor destroys the female creature before she is created. In a similar vein, while God promises at least seventy years – enough time to live, to love, to experience the richness of life – Tyrell limits the Replicants to four years of life, all of which, unless they rebel, will consist of slavery of one sort or another. The injustice of this span is reinforced by many of the replicants’ ignorance of their own creation date, and their status as a replicant.

She won’t live. But then, who does?

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What does it mean to be human? This is the central question of the comparative study of Frankenstein and Blade Runner in the HSC. Other questions result. How far can we extend our concept of humanity? How inclusive can we be? Will artificial life ever be accepted into the human family?

Take a step back. We do not yet have the artificial life pictured by Mary Shelley and Ridley Scott but robotic modifications to the human body are not unknown. Watch this:

Aimee Mullins and her 12 pairs of legs

The phrase that strikes me most in this video is not the child suggesting that Aimee Mullins should fly (although that is pretty cool) but the friend who cries of Aimee’s variable height “that’s not fair!” Aimee Mullins, suffering a serious, in most societies debilitating and ostracizing, disability is the envy of her school friends. Far from being someone to be pitied, she is someone to be admired.

How far can it go? I am not in any way suggesting that Aimee Mullins is less than or more than or something other than human. She is beautiful and strong and a great role model for girls and boys alike.

Yet the question remains: how many body parts can be replaced before we no longer regard someone as fully human? A thumb-drive for a thumb? A video camera for an eye? A hydraulic arm? A clock-work knee joint?

Consider the “Ousters” of Dan Simmons’ epic sci-fi romances Hyperion and Endymion*. Humans, living for centuries in the dark spaces between the stars before the advent of faster than light travel, they modify themselves to fit their environment. The second wave of humans who preserve tradition among the stars are unable to see the Ousters as kin and so fail to accord them human rights.

How do your own ideas about creation and re-creation, about modification and evolution, affect your reading of the two core texts for Module A? Take some time to reflect in a personal response.

* I plan to write more about these wonderful novels in the context of the Extension 1 electives: Science Fiction, Romanticism and Crime Writing.

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The composers of Frankenstein and Blade Runner both use non-human characters to shine a spotlight on the human experience. In addressing questions related to these texts we must ask ourselves, what are the fundamental needs, experiences and desires shared by human beings? We are all born, we all need nurturing, we all desire to know the answers to questions such as, ‘why am I here?’ ‘what is my purpose?’ We all want companionship at different levels, from acquaintances to friends to romance and sexual fulfillment. We are all aware, at some level, that we will one day die and we all fear that end of our existence, yet we all hope that something of ourselves, whether it be children or achievements or just moments in time, will live on after we are gone.

Thinking about these issues in relation to the characters and themes in key moments of both texts will help you to deepen your understanding of the texts and the module. Focus on scenes that have resonated with you as reader and viewer. Spend time reviewing them and journalling your responses. The more engaged you are with the texts and concepts of a module, the better your responses will be and, more importantly, the more you will enjoy it.

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Biblical allusion is a key technique in both texts for the Comparative Module: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott. In an increasingly secular and multicultural country, it can no longer be assumed that students know the bible verses being alluded to in various texts. Here are some suggested verses and associated notes to help you out.

Matthew 6:22-23

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.

Of course eyes are a key motif in both texts. It is the creature’s eye opening that disgusts Victor. And it is Roy’s eye surveying the city (Los Angeles = City of Angels) at the beginning of the film. The above verse is one of the sources of the saying “the eye is the window to the soul”.

Unto the last generation

This phrase is used so often in the Bible I won’t bother to list all the references. Victor uses it to describe who will benefit from his creation: “all mankind to the last generation” (p4).

Deliver us from evil (part of the the Lord’s Prayer)

The creature says to Victor, “Yet it is within your power to recompense me, and deliver them from an evil.” This reinforces the notion that Victor is playing god.

Isaiah 14:12-15

“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit.

First of all, isn’t that a beautiful piece of poetry? This passage is probably actually about Babylon but, since the Mediaeval period has been taken to describe Lucifer’s fall from heaven. This works beautifully with our texts in a number of ways. The Creature says to Victor, “I ought to have been thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel” (p118). The Prelude to Frankenstein quotes from Paradise Lost (check out Book 2 of Milton’s epic for a deeper understanding), which was clearly inspired by this chapter in the bible. Finally, Roy’s confrontation with Tyrell and subsequent death can be seen as an allegory of Lucifer’s challenging of god’s authority.

There is, of course, far more to it than that. In the film Roy can be linked with the prodigal son, Adam and–at his death–the crucified Christ. Key place names include (the already mentioned) Los Angeles and, in Frankenstein, ArchAngel and St Petersburg. Victor talks about Paradise and Providence. He describes his mother, Caroline, as a “guardian angel”. The Tyrell Corp building is a pagan pyramid, while the Swiss Alps are pictured as “domed” cathedrals.

Then there is the theological question raised by both texts: do the created beings (Frankenstein’s “daemon” and the replicant Roy Batty) have souls?

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