Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner both draw upon their rapidly changing periods to contextually explore mankind’s ability to inherit hubristic ideas for forbidden knowledge which destroy one’s morality. Frankenstein examines irrational behaviours and immoralities of Romantic Prometheanism within the realms of science, ideology and politics. Meanwhile Blade Runner extrapolates a similar cautionary tale of a dystopian future and its contemporary excess from the 1980s era of economic hedonism. Hence both Scott and Shelley explore the loss of human morality and sensation due to a rise in technology and science in their texts.
Shelley’s Frankenstein is a text that warns the audience of how mans desire for forbidden knowledge can lead to the loss of our morality and emotional empathy, through the dehumanisation of Frankenstein’s creature. Shelley’s creature is a metaphoric representation of the consequences of the unrestrained intrusive science that was so despised by the Romantics; an embodiment of Locke and Rousseau’s Tabula Rasa, pure and virtuous. This is observed through its expression of emotion during its readings of Plutarch’s Live, “I felt the greatest ardour for virtue rise within me.” However it is when the creature discovers the hatred and fear expressed in the journal of its creator Victor, that begins to turn it into the “horrendous fiend” that kills William, “I too can create desolation” expressing the loss in emotional empathy and morality. This transition from feeling human to the degraded “animal” the creature has become is further emphasised in its reflection, “Once my fancy was soothed with dreams of virtue and fame… now crime has degraded me beneath the meanest of animal.” Thus we perceive Shelley’s expression of the Romantics humanist tradition and from the creature’s loss in morality, passion and emotional empathy that transforms it into a beast more ‘human than human’.
The loss of human emotions and empathy is also evident in Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner is connoted through the dehumanisation of the replicants. The values of Scott’s period the 1980’s, were based upon an obsession for profit where globalization and consumerism has reduced the individual human down to a resource or a statistic. This is demonstrated by the characterization of man vs machine. As one of the ‘motifs’ in the film is “more human than human” in the cross edited sequence of the Holden/Leon interrogation, clearly demonstrated that Leon has a greater capacity for human expression than Holden. During the interrogation, Leon responds with strong sense of curiosity, anxiety and facial expressions that are varied. Holden meanwhile is ruthless, un-empathic, reinforced by his machine aids and synthetic voiceover . This is also further depicted in the close up shot when Tyrell pats Roys head like a father does to a son. His dialogue, “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long… You are the Prodigal Son… Quite the prize”, conveys oxymoronic terms as he refers to Roy as a son, but changes this meaning to being a prize – something he owns. The candle metaphor also refers to Roy as a product hence expressing Tyrell’s emotionless bond with his replicants portraying him as an uncaring and arrogant creator. Thus Scott clearly communicates the erosion of capacity for empathy, due to the overwhelming desire for wealth and profit reflecting the 80’s corrupted way of making money.
Shelley warns the audience about the abuse of science in exceeding human limits and how this result in “misery and destruction”. This is based on the 1800’s Romantic ideology of nature as a divine trinity of to creation, created and created. This demonstrated by Shelleys acknowledgement of man’s place within nature, “Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth.” The simile and extended metaphor of knowledge as the seashell and man as mere children reflects the Romantic ideology of a great, pantheistic nature. Thus when Victor attends Ingolstadt, Shelley demonstrates the danger of modern science, “penetrated nature’s secrets” and “acquired unlimited powers,” The hyperbolic description of Natural philosophy undermines the relationship of man and nature as described by Newton. The corruption and misery caused by irresponsible use of technology is evident when Victor’s earlier promise of “light” and turns to something terrible and destructive. This is demonstrated through the change of “illumination” to, “nothing but a dense and frightful darkness, penetrated by no light.” Thus, Shelley clearly demonstrates through the fate of Frankenstein that disruption of natural order with human knowledge will only result in the destruction of man.
Similarly Scott’s Bladerunner communicates the observable consequences of the excessive misuse of technology in which man is a slave to the futuristic world of globalisation and commerce. Through the portrayal of the dystopic futuristic world, Scott connotes the 80’s era of globalisation where many companies abuse the rights of their workers through the industrial complex. This is portrayed through the opening scene of the film, as well as the absence of nature throughout. As the scene opens, a wide angle shot pans across L.A 2019, a dystopia of darkness “penetrated by no light”, illuminated only by artificial electricity. Gouts of fire remind audience that the cityscape is a place like hell, and all natural life is destroyed. This depiction of utter devastation and destruction is used by Scott to warn viewers about the irresponsible expansion of commercial technology. This is further demonstrated through the character Priss, who is dehumanized by the authorities as a “foreskin job”, a “standard addition”, a “pleasure model.” Thusly, Scott draws upon the visual irony of Priss disguising herself using the costume of a sex doll to assassinate Deckard. Cold, mechanical lighting in this scene shows a motionless Priss as an ‘object’ rather than a feeling, emotional being. Her death too, reveals this fact, with a cropped shot of her legs kicking like clockwork. The reverberating screech and the voice used are also inhuman and jarring. Hence, Scott clearly connotes the dehumanizing effect of abuse of technology and commerce.
Even though composed two centuries apart, both Frankenstein and Blade Runner operate as cautionary texts, warning their audience of the dangers that come from overriding Promethean hubris which transgress natural and moral bounds, and in spite of technological advancement, mankind still has a tendency to repeat their earlier mistakes.