On the 25th June 1982 the Ridley Scott film “Blade Runner” opened in American cinemas. This was a big budget Hollywood adaptation of a novella by the American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick originally entitled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”. Dick died shortly before the film`s premiere and at that time his writing reputation was in a state of relative obscurity. In his lifetime he endured mental illness, penury and near bankruptcy but continued to express his creative vision in spite of his numerous personal and financial struggles.
The original novels and stories reveal a deeper insight into the human condition than the films that were created afterwards. “Blade Runner” is ostensibly about androids ruling over a country after the devastation of a nuclear war. However the original story delves into unsettling notions that are increasingly pertinent to us today.
The book posits a scenario in which androids supersede all humanoid cultures. The result of such a situation means that it is a highly functioning society but devoid of any imagination or feeling. In an empty and emotionally barren world like this, all animals are sacrificed without any regard for their sentient feelings as they are either commodities to be exploited or sources of food.
The remaining humans have been coerced into accepting the rule of their android colonisers, as they helped to rebuild the society after the war ended. This is a situation that prevails until one courageous individual human decides that the android empire is immoral and contrary to his own ethics. He devises his own “empathy test” to discern whether a citizen is an android or not. He realises that the androids are exceptionally intelligent but sadly lacking in any compassion for any biological life form including intelligent creatures like dogs.
Dick`s dystopian vision does not seem so frightening or far fetched in the light of recent political and societal events. Lockdown has lead to greater human isolation and an increasing dependence upon technology. The results have been toxic.
The relations between people have coarsened, especially on-line. There used to be a semblance of empathy, now that has vanished. It is becoming more difficult for some of us to acquire enough imagination to perceive that other people are different. A society that becomes largely insensitive and focused entirely upon functionality rather than artistic innovation is doomed to failure. Human values need to return if we are to thrive as a society.