Vision, Sight & Seeing

Vision, sight and seeing in Blade Runner

You may have noticed that there are many references to eyes and vision in Blade Runner. Below is a list of the various parts and dialogue that refer to sight:

– The full screen blue eye at the start of the film

– The voight-kampff test measures eye responses, and magnifies the eye

– Eldon Tyrell wears thick glasses, he has bad vision

– Roy and Leon visit ‘eye works’, a genetic engineering lab that makes eyes

– “Chew, if only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes”

– “Not an easy man to see…I guess?” (Roy referring to Eldon)

– “He wouldn’t see me” (Rachael referring to Eldon)

–  Deckard uses the ‘vision’ of the computer to see into Leon’s photo and spot  Zhora

–  Deckard tells Zhora he want to check her dressing room for holes: “you’d be     surprised what a guy would go through to get a glimpse of a beautiful body”

– Vision is bad for the masses on the streets, many of them wear glasses and they   have to navigate crowds, there is fog and smoke, whilst the elites (police, Tyrell) have   a better view up above…

– Leon is about to gouge Deckard’s eyes out before Rachael kills him

– Pris covers her eyes with black spraypaint

– Roy places glass eyes over his and tries to humor Sebastian (“we’re so glad you  found us”)

– Roy gouges Eldon’s eyes out

– Roy says to Deckard when chasing him: “I can see you!”

– “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…”

– The eyes of replicants seem to glow red in some scenes

The number of references clearly suggests that there is a symbolic reason why eyes and vision are part of this film – in other words, their inclusion is by no means accidental and therefore must mean something.

So what does it mean that there are so many references to eyes and seeing in Blade Runner?

“As the ‘window to the soul’, the eye is the point where the exterior reflects inward for understanding of the world and ourselves. But in Blade Runner, veils, mirrors, rain, smog, smoke, and neon lights define a mise-en-scene that clouds human vision and distorts sight”

(Rushing & Frentz, p.152)

“None of the human characters can see their shadows in the replicants. Ordinary people cannot distinguish between a replicant and a person, and even the experts, armed with the empathy test, can be fooled on occasion”

(Rushing & Frentz, p.152)

Blade Runner’s most nearsighted person, both literally and figuratively, is Eldon Tyrell…[he] never sees himself in the replicants…for just as human parents reproduce themselves in the genetic structure of their offspring, so too has Tyrell reproduced himself in his replicants – not simply his technical intelligence, but his unconscious as well, the feelings, bodily desires, and spiritual instinct that he has repressed in himself and in them. He fails to see, in other words, that he will be haunted by projections of his own shadow”

(Rushing & Frentz, p.153)

Blade Runner repeatedly underscores the connection between the replicants and superior vision (or insight). Chew tells Roy that he designed his eyes, and Roy retorts by undervaluing the vision of Chew in place of his own superior experiences: “If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes” Roy is also able to make the winning moves in the game of correspondence chess that Eldon and J.F. are engaged in – also notice that Eldon and J.F. are playing against each other without seeing each other, another reference to absence of vision.

update in progress…
References used

Rushing, J & Frentz, T 1995, ‘Blade Runner: On The Edge’, from Projecting the Shadow: The Cyborg Hero in American Film, University of Chicago Press


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