Blade Runner, Coronavirus, & Loneliness

MV5BNzQzMzJhZTEtOWM4NS00MTdhLTg0YjgtMjM4MDRkZjUwZDBlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjU0OTQ0OTY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,671,1000_AL_One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot during the coronavirus pandemic is loneliness. Most of us are in a state of lockdown or practicing social distancing. Loneliness is going to be a real challenge for many people. Not everyone has a significant other or family in their household. Not everyone has a strong social support network. Humans, even introverts, are social animals who crave some sense of belonging.

Feelings of loneliness had been increasing in much of the Western world even before COVID-19. As our societies have become richer and more urbanized, community institutions and social trust have broken down. Several years ago, the United Kingdom released a cross-government strategy to address loneliness. The U.S Health and Human Services Department refers to loneliness as an “epidemic” in American society.

After listening to the latest Shoulder of Orion podcast episode, I started to think about this problem through the lens of Blade Runner, one of my favorite films. The original Blade Runner is one of the most poignant meditations about loneliness I’ve ever experienced. Rick Deckard technically is not alone for much of the film. He regularly communicates and interacts with other characters. Yet, he is emotionally disconnected from the rest of the world. He begins the film eating alone at a sushi bar. Gaff and the Los Angeles Police Department only want him because he’s useful for a job. He doesn’t have an emotionally fulfilled life.

Deckard had shut himself off from his emotions – probably a necessity for his line of work. He comes across as cold and dismissive. When Rachel confronts him about the results of the Voight-Kampff test, Deckard does not even try to comfort her – at this point, she is a job, not a person. Over the course of the film, Deckard reconnects with that human sense of empathy. He allows himself to be emotionally shaken by Zhora’s death. He learns to care for and love Rachel. He recognizes the humanity in Roy. By the end of the film, Deckard is no longer alone. He is not free from danger and runs away from his home  but he is with Rachel (the events of Blade Runner 2049 are another matter).

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“Blade Runner 2049 and Philosophy”

As regular readers of this blog will know, Blade Runner and its sequel Blade Runner 2049 are two of my favorite science fiction films. I’m honored to have a chapter in the upcoming book Blade Runner 2049 and Philosophy. The chapter looks at replicants from the perspective of the political science literature on ethnic conflict. This was a fun project and led me to new insights into the film. The book goes on sale on August 20, 2019.