A Picture is Worth a Thousand Souls

This post is a cautionary tale for all those who create or view photographs, not that they are evil soul sucking devices, but that they are also not the innocent pastime we think them to be.  When I was younger I heard that the Amish in my state did not like having their pictures taken because they felt the photographers were taking a piece of their souls.  Off and on, I have thought about the idea of photos stealing our souls even as I have watched the changes in the Amish communities around me.  Whether or not they still hold this view today, I feel that I have a unique argument to support, at least, the danger in not fully understanding the nature of a photograph.

When someone takes a photograph, be it of a person or a landscape, they are capturing a moment in time.  A moment that cannot be repeated exactly the same way ever again.  In addition, they are only taking an image of a small portion of what is actually there to be recorded, more of a sampling than a recording.  For example, have you ever seen a home listing where a house looks nice in the photo, but when you get there, it seems nothing like what you saw.  The house next door is ratty and there is an ugly shopping center a few blocks away.  You are dealing with framing.  The photographer purposefully framed the photo to exclude as much of the negatives as they could.  In addition, depending on when the photo was taken, the way the house looks at a different time of the year might actually change your opinion of the property.

Now take this notion and apply it to people.  When you look at a picture of a person, you are looking at them at a certain time and place, which can never be exactly duplicated.  In addition, you are seeing a still version of them.  People are constantly in motion naturally and because of the need to breathe, they never truly come to a complete stop until they die.  So you are not seeing their real likeness.  Add in the fact that the photographer chose when to take the photo and, in a lot of cases, even composed the person’s stance.  Thus, you are seeing that person in an artificial sense.  I sure all of you have seen people in photographs that you also met in real life and thought they looked nothing like you pictured them.  They do not look as good from the opposite side that the picture depicted and, in the case of women, wow, they have Tammy Faye makeup issues.

Unfortunately, for the most part we tend to gloss over these issues and accept the images we are fed as reality.  We form our opinions about people and places based upon images of them, which in this day and age, are so digitally manipulated that the truth is almost completely lost.  We look at a picture of a person and say this is them, this is the soul of them.  We want them to fit into the image we are seeing of them.  One of the biggest problems with such a world view is that we expect the person to remain static.  We get angry if they get wrinkles or gain weight.

What we are doing to them is taking a piece of who they are and saying that this is them, even though they will never exactly be that depicted person again.  In truth, they never were since we are seeing only a minute part of the whole.  However, because we tend to view this image as the whole, we are taking a piece of that person and making a new mental picture of them.  In other words, we are taking a piece of their soul and making this the entire person in our mind and when they don’t live up to that image in real life, we get frustrated.  Think about it.


A Question of Replicants

Yes, if you have not guessed it, this is a post about the movie Blade Runner.  First of all, let me preface this post by saying I was not a fan when I first saw this movie in 1982.  I was only sixteen at the time and still riding the high of Star Wars (1977), Star Trek the Motion Picture (1979), and Star Wars the Empire Strikes Back (1980) where the subject matter, while not necessarily juvenile, was definitely lighter in nature.  The heroes were heroes and the outcomes were less bleak, escapism at its’ finest.  Of course now, I am a big fan of the movie and consider it to be one of the finest Sci-Fi movies made to date.  Warning, if you have not watched the movie stop reading right now, go buy the 2007 four disc set with the Final Cut and watch it along with the documentary “Dangerous Days:  the Making of Blade Runner” then read the rest of this post.  After that, watch the movie again.

Why am I writing a post to discuss topics from a 32 year old movie?  Well, because it is that good; however, the main reason is because of an interview in the bonus material of my four disc set of the movie.  In the interview, the director of the “Shawshank Redemption” refused to believe that the main character, Rick Deckard, was a Replicant and felt that the entire narrative of the film fell apart if Deckard was not human.  He felt the story revolved around the plot of a man forced to do inhumane work surviving and finding his humanity on the other side.  Although this argument has played back and forth over the decades since the movie’s release, I wanted to express my own opinion, not only as a person that had seen the movie, but also read the book.  I desire to share my insights about certain aspects of the movie I had gleaned from several viewings along with hearing conversations with Philip K. Dick, the author of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”, which is the basis for the movie.

I have another admission; I hated the book.  The story made no sense to me compared to Blade Runner and was so vastly different that I could hardly believe they were related.  However, the main aspects of “what is it to be human” and “who is human” did come through.  I came away from the book unsure of the answer to whether Deckard was an android or not; which is the same in Blade Runner even though I now know that he was a Replicant in the movie.  Ridley Scott was so subtle with his clues that most people would not have caught them, including a younger me.  Scott’s final cut of the movie is far superior to the original since you have to think to understand it.  He does not dumb it down, which risked alienating his audience, especially in America where we need everything spoon fed into our ADHT brains, but he took the non-Hollywood approach anyway.

To understand my argument that the movie is better served by Deckard being a Replicant, you have to know the fundamental difference between the book’s and the movie’s portrayal of the artificial humans.  While both art forms work on the idea of what it is to be human, they do so in different ways.  Philip K. Dick chose to make his Androids sub- human and evil since they had no emotional responses to keep them from committing horrible acts.  They were amoral.  Killing a baby would be no different to them then picking out a suit to wear; the same type of issue we face in mass murderers in our modern culture.  They could and so they did.

Ridley Scott, on the other hand, chose to make humans the villains of the movie.  They created artificial beings not out of love, but out of a need for slave labor.  Replicants are endowed with strengths and intelligence greater than our own but given limited emotional capacity and short lifespans so that we can control them.  He highlights our history of deeming others as less worthy of rights so that we can use them without feeling guilty, the United States’ treatment of African and Native Americans, Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews, and Russia’s treatment of dissidents.  However, what happens when we lose control of our slaves.  In Blade Runner, we create a police force to terminate the rebellious machines we have made; we create machines to destroy the machines.  Ridley focuses on man’s inhumanity to man and, by proxy, Replicants.  We treat each other horribly along with all the other creatures of our planet then why not the beings we create?

For this reason, Deckard being a Replicant makes a much more profound statement.  Throughout the movie you are shown how horrible the world has become under our stewardship.  We have destroyed our environment to such a point that the weather patterns are changed and most animal species are extinct, only obtainable as clones.  Humans suck.  Just look at how they handle problems with their manufactured slaves; they assassinate them.  Yes, you could follow the idea that Deckard is a human damaged by the inhumanness of the task he is given; however, he is not regaining his humanity because humanity at that time would deem it correct to destroy the Replicant Rachel whom he loves.  In truth, given the relationships of the Replicants he has dispatched, Deckard’s actions portray his conversion to the Replicants point of view.

To me, making Deckard a Replicant provides an even more profound statement.  It shows that Replicants have evolved beyond the ugliness of their creators, in affect transcending them.  What a profound statement to make about what mankind stands to lose by continuing on its self-destructive path.  Our creations will learn how to love while we continue to destroy ourselves.  I would rather be the Replicant.  Of course this is only my opinion, Ridley Scott may or may not have had these ideas in mind when he chose to make Deckard a Replicant, but these are my thoughts as I watch the movie.

Now for Some Fun

Here is where I will discuss interesting observations about the movie given that Rick Deckard is a Replicant.  First off, let us discuss the character of Holden who was shot by Leon at the beginning of the movie.  Is He a Replicant?  I don’t think so.  Although given Deckard being a Replicant would lead you to believe that all Blade Runners were Replicants, I don’t buy it.  As portrayed in the movie, humans don’t think of Replicants as anything other than fancy machines that are expendable.  Sure, Blade Runner models might be pretty pricy, but would it be worth saving one as badly damaged as Holden.  If he had really been a Replicant, he would have just been replaced by a new Replicant; thus, the fact that they mention Holden being taken care of means he is human.

Second, if Deckard is a Replicant then it puts a whole new spin on the scene in Tyrell’s office where Deckard tests Rachel with the Voight-Kampff machine.  If Deckard was a Replicant then Tyrell would know and that makes me think that he was not necessarily testing the work they did on Rachel.  He may really have been testing whether Deckard could be trusted to work or if he was smart enough to figure out who he really was, think about it.  Maybe Rachel was an earlier test for making a stable Blade Runner and Deckard was the full deal.  Maybe the police department wanted further confirmation.

Finally, there is Gaff.  Gaff who does the departments dirty work, who knew what Deckard was, and who let him go.  For the limited amount of screen time Gaff actually gets, he greatly influences the story line.  To me, Gaff fulfills the dehumanized human finding the humanity that man once had.  He has most likely done questionable things for the department, but in the end, he lets Deckard and Rachel escape.  He sees that the Replicants deserve better than what they have gotten and does something to make amends.

Again, these are only my thoughts on the story.  Ridley Scott may not have thought as deeply about these aspects as I have, but they are the things I took away from the movie and its attending materials.  Let me know what you think.