Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Blade Runner 2049
Replicants were first introduced to the world with the release of Blade Runner in 1982, and now that Blade Runner 2049 is in theaters, fans of the original movie can see just how much they have evolved since 2019. Replicants don’t contain any circuits or wiring, but instead are biogenetic androids made of entirely organic substances, originally created by the fictional Tyrell Corporation. They look nearly identical to adult humans, with extra features dependent on the model, but are (supposedly) incapable of experiencing emotions. They can only be differentiated from humans with the Voight-Kampff test, in which the suspected replicants are asked a series of questions to provoke an emotional reaction.
The first replicants (also known in derogatory terms as “skin-jobs”) that director Ridley Scott introduced were the Nexus 6 series which benefitted from increased strength, speed, resilience and varying intelligence but were fitted with a safety mechanism that meant they only had a four-year life span. This is so they couldn’t develop an immunity to the Voight-Kampff test by improving their emphatic responses to be more like a human’s. A normal replicant’s genetic status can usually be identified after 20-30 questions. These replicants were used as a form of slave labor on Earth, as well as the off-world colonies located in Planet Earth’s Orbital Space and planets such as Mars and Arcadia 234. However, after a gang of Nexus 6 models caused a bloody mutiny off-world they were banned from Earth.
This is where the blade runners come in, as their job is to kill (“retire”) the rogue replicants still running around on the planet. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was one of the best in the business and in Blade Runner he is forced to do one more job after six Nexus 6 replicants kill 23 people off-world and commandeer a space shuttle back to Earth, in order to find a way to extend their lives past the four-year mark. Sadly, they soon find out that any sort of tampering with that aspect of their biogenetic make-up would kill them.
These six were created for various purposes. The leader, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), had the highest intelligence (Mental-A) and was a self-sufficient combat model used for colonization defence, while Leon Kowalski (Brion James) was Mental-C class and a loader for nuclear fissure material. Pris (Darryl Hannah) was a “pleasure model” for use by the military, while Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) was “trained for an off-world kick murder squad,” and both were classed as Mental-B. The two other replicants were killed before they reached Earth, and the sixth replicant is mysteriously never heard from again.
Though it is never explicitly said in the movie, Ridley Scott has confirmed that Deckard was a replicant. He said in the Channel 4 documentary, On the Edge of Blade Runner, that “Deckard is a Nexus 7, he probably has an unknown life span and therefore is starting to get awfully human.” Screenwriter, Hampton Fancher, said in 1999 that he never wrote the blade runner as a replicant but in later drafts he toyed with the idea:
“He was less human than the people he was after, because they were machines. He was more of a machine. And he becomes less of a machine through the ordeal of falling in love with [Rachael]. She’s smarter than he is and she’s better than he is, and at the end, he kills her. And it’s not an outright execution. It’s elliptical. But you hear the shot, and you see where it took place, and you saw her face, and she wanted it, and it was an act of love.”
Rachael (Sean Young) was a more advanced replicant, a prototype created by Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) after he noticed that the Nexus 6 were developing “strange obsessions” that began to show emotional issues because they lacked the experience to understand what they were. Because of this, they became hard to control so with Rachael, he implanted false memories – originated from his own daughter – into her mind which made her more controllable but unaware of the fact that she was not human. It’s only after meeting Deckard that her suspicions are confirmed when he conducts the Voight-Kampff test on her and, unlike older models, it takes about 100 questions for him to confirm she is a replicant. Blade Runner 2049 delivers far more information about her bioengineering and abilities, but before we get to that let’s take a look at the evolved replicants Denis Villeneuve’s movie introduces.