Blade Runner as Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that developed in the U.S. during the 1980s. It began as a literary genre, but its style has also been present in a number of films, television shows, comics and video games. One of the earliest and perhaps the most well known and influential cyberpunk work was William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, although there were of course many antecedents to the cyberpunk genre (including the novel Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick).

The characteristics of cyberpunk

Situated within the broad scope of ‘postmodern literature’, cyberpunk novels are generally set in a dystopian post-industrial urban society where ‘high tech’ and ‘low life’ come together. That is to say, they are set in a near future where science and technology have advanced considerably, whilst social and environmental conditions have deteriorated. They create depictions of an electronic society that is networked with computers, and dominated by a small number of large corporations that have largely replaced government. Many of the novels feature the concepts of cyberspace and virtual reality. The technology depicted in these stories is often a logical (although perhaps undesirable) continuation of the technology that is already present in our society, amplified to become completely ubiquitous. This is in contrast a fantastic/unrealistic depiction of technology, such as light-speed spaceships and intergalactic travel: the technology in cyberpunk is much closer to home. Technology is an ever-present aspect of people’s lives, and in order to survive and prosper one must use it. This usage of technology in the cyberpunk genre is unique, and may involve an extreme human-to-computer interaction that allows for a change in mental perception or physical state of being (body alteration). Thus the line between what is human and what is technological becomes blurred, as does the difference between reality and ‘virtual’ images.

The protagonists in cyberpunk fiction are often outcasts, loners, rebels and criminals and may be involved in computer hacking or some other form of cyber crime. They are often flawed anti-heroes, placed in situations out of their control where a ‘happy ending’ may not be possible.

Much of the atmosphere of cyberpunk is influenced by film noir and the hardboiled detective genre. The pessimistic and dystopian outlook portrayed is in clear contrast to some of the earlier utopian science fiction of the 1940s and 1950s.

Blade Runner as cyberpunk

Blade Runner is considered one of the earliest and most influential cyberpunk films, having been released in 1982 before Gibson’s classic Neuromancer.

It can be classified as a cyberpunk film because it depicts a near-future urban dystopia where science and technology have progressed to a dangerous level, alongside terrible environmental degradation and societal collapse. The creation of Nexus-6 replicants is classic cyberpunk: the line between human and android is blurred, the genetically engineered being with its augmented physical and mental capacity is indeed ‘more human than human’, and takes on a self-reflexive capacity whilst setting out to destroy its creators.

It should be noted however that there are a number defining cyberpunk elements that aren’t seen in Blade Runner. The most obvious are computers/cyberspace, virtual reality, television and the mass media. These are either completely excluded from Blade Runner or only shown briefly.


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