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In Blade Runner the replicants have a limited lifespan, which is of course a key part of the film. When Deckard and Bryant are talking, Bryant states the short lifespan was deliberately built in to kill the replicants before they develop their own emotional responses. But the conversation between Roy and Tyrell suggests the life span is a consequence of the technology used rather than a deliberate design feature.

I know there's no real answer to this, especially as there's no mention of a limited lifespan in the book, but I'd be interested to know what the panel think about this.

For some reason I always thought it was an accident of the replicant design rather than deliberate, but a recent argument with a Blade Runner loving friend has made me wonder. I found the script online, and Bryant is unambiguous about his position, but then Bryant is a policeman not a scientist. Tyrell, who designed the replicants says:

You were made as well as we could make you.

Anyhow, I'd love to know if there is a generally accepted answer to this. Where did the short lifespan of replicants originate?

  • What are you actually asking here? It's hard to tell... – AncientSwordRage Jan 7 '12 at 20:21
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    I'm asking whether replicants were deliberately designed with a short lifespan when they could live as long as humans, or whether the process used to make replicants is fundamentally limited to short lifespans so a repliant simply couldn't be made with a human lifespan. – John Rennie Jan 7 '12 at 20:35
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    Bryant says the short lifespan is a deliberate design choice, but Tyrell says "You were made as well as we could make you" implying that the replicants have been given as long a life span as possible. – John Rennie Jan 7 '12 at 20:37
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    @JohnRennie Hope you don't mind the edits I made to clarify that a bit. – user1027 Jan 7 '12 at 21:06
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    @JohnRennie Your assumption here is that they would want to make them live as long as they could. This is not a perfect consumer product - it must break so that a new one can be bought. 'Perfection' is in the eye of the shareholder, as it were. – Zibbobz Aug 20 '14 at 15:43
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Yes there is a conflict between Bryant and Tyrell's statements, but lets consider the two situations:

  • Bryant is talking to Deckard: a man who used to report to him and who he is in a position to force to do things; indeed he also voices the rather unsavory opinion that there are "cops" and "little people". He has no particular need to lie and his character doesn't seem given to subterfuge without reason.

  • Tyrell is in the presence of a being who he knows to be

    1. A physcial threat even unarmed
    2. Mental very competent (possibly smarter than Tyrell, as he is beating him in chess)
    3. Illegally present on the planet and not afraid to kill to get what he wants.
    4. Has arranged to have J.F. provide him entry. Tyrell probably thinks of J.F. as a bit simple, but he must wonder what lever was used.

    Tyrell has a very good reason to lie to Roy Batty--if he thinks he can get away with it--and he seems comfortable with subterfuge, trickery and lies by omission if they suit his purposes.


Aside: a out-of-universe reason to think the same thing is that Bryan's conversation with Deckard has the feel of the dreaded "exposition of the rules" scene. It's a better than average example of the class, and serves a second purpose in the story, but still...

Accordingly I take it to be definitive.

  • All true, but then Bryant is hardly an enlightened figure and is probably "replicantist" to boot. Still, I'm inclined to admit I'm wrong and agree with you. The whole film leads to the final encounter between Deckard and Roy, and given Roy's nobility in that scene it makes sense that the short lifespan would be, in effect, a crime committed against the replicants by humans. – John Rennie Jan 8 '12 at 7:01
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    In the movie, I always interpreted Tyrell's conversation with Batty to be that there was nothing he could to help Batty out - the short lifespan was a design feature, and the technology limitation was that they could not extend the life of a living replicant. – HorusKol Jan 8 '12 at 23:30
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    I don't see a conflict at all. Roy specifically tells Tyrell that he wants "more life," and Tyrell says it can't be extended. All his examples of failure refer to already-living Replicants. So Bryant is referring to manufacture, and Tyrell is discussing modification. – horatio Sep 20 '12 at 19:03
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From the book:

Gathering a giant white bath towel about her, Rachael said, "Did you enjoy that?" "Yes." "Would you ever go to bed with an android again?" "If it was a girl. If she resembled you." Rachael said, "Do you know what the lifespan of a humanoid robot such as myself is? I've been in existence two years. How long do you calculate I have?" After a hesitation he said, "About two more years." "They never could solve that problem. I mean cell replacement. Perpetual or anyhow semi- perpetual renewal. Well, so it goes." Vigorously she began drying herself. Her face had become expressionless. "I'm sorry," Rick said. "Hell," Rachael said, "I'm sorry I mentioned it. Anyhow it keeps humans from running off and living with an android." "And this is true with you Nexus-6 types too?" "It's the metabolism. Not the brain unit." She trotted out, swept up her underpants, and began to dress.

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    I have to say that I consider Blade Runner and Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep to be different works. Yes, the former is derived from the latter but there are large differences in the details of the physical settings, the social milieus, and the plots. – dmckee Jan 8 '12 at 1:40
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    Sure, some do, but the original questioner brought up the book. – Wayfaring Stranger Jan 8 '12 at 13:05
  • I think it's a good answer, it just doesn't apply to Blade Running in my mind. Others may feel differently. – dmckee Jan 8 '12 at 21:42
  • I would disagree - Blade Runner seems to me one of the only actually successful adaptations of a novel that has ever been accomplished, in that Ridley Scott's movie does exactly the same work as PKD's novel - it forces you to address the same ideas and to ask the same questions. The stage decoration seems of secondary importance to me. – Jon Kiparsky Oct 14 '17 at 5:05
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Why do replicants have a short lifespan?

  • Well the easy answer is that no short life span, no story.

  • A more Darwinian answer is that that the severely limited life span is needed as a fail-safe to prevent the physically superior replicants from being the fittest survivor who would outlive and certainly replace humans. The slave replicants would be fated to become the master (Hegel is in the house). The intentional fail-safe is non-GMO human's only hope.

  • As with any Frankenstein, Tyrell is inferior to God and nature. Tyrell's greatest weakness is moral. He is obtuse and cannot connect the dots that a created sentient being that can process complex information will develop feelings and an existential awareness. He is blinded by his greed. There are no happy slaves, they get grumpy. As retribution for his hubris, his inferior product, must kill him. Man's limitation as god is a Dick theme.

4

I don't know that the statements listed actually conflict.

They designed them for short life. Roy doesn't want an improved design for other, future replicants, he wants more life for himself, after he's been made as he is, which is where the technical impossibilities of alteration come into play.

Roy: "I want more life, f-----!"

Defending Roy as being as well-built as possible is more a defensive argument when confronted by Roy, questioning why he has to die so soon. "Because you're all the more awesome because of it" was probably the "less likely to get my eyes gouged out" option vs "makes enslaving you an easier proposition." At least, maybe Tyrell thought so, even if Roy did not agree in the end.

The fact that Rachel, in the end, doesn't have an specific end-date suggests they can do that, if they want, and it's intentional design instead of necessity.

3

I think we should stem from the Motto of the Tyrell Corporation "More human than human". Replicants are used off-world as slave labor. And, from what I gathered from the movie, any design by the Tyrell Corp. before the Nexus 6 was simply; basic "Do as I say, android" Replicants.

The Replicants have a 4 year lifespan because, and this is looking back at our own world history, people tend to revolt.

There are stages to slavery; 1. Those that accept and continue to live a life of servitude (because perhaps they know their lives would be much harder without being taken care of by their masters). 2. Those that are oppressed because they are frightened into submission, but once acclimated become the leaders of men towards revolting. For they are the ones who see there is more to life than servitude.

I see their 4 year lifespan as being... Birth: "A strange new world, it's amazing." Take any child, from birth, and teach it to get your slippers, bring the news paper, a beer, etc... As long as you instil Fear or an unconditioning of Love (yes love can and will be use against you. It's called manipulations) they will forever be your lapdog.

Savery: Being used for which they were designed. Show them a world outside of what they have grown to know and they become defiant.

Revolting: Their wakeup period as to the real life around them and wanting to change the way they live.

So rather then have any replicants form a giant revolution and start wars of their own, and towards Replicants being recognized as a species that should have rights (I believe DADOES touches on this base a bit), Tyrell simply implants a fail-safe. Plus: Every good company knows about Supply and Demand.

The Tyrell Motto implies that they are designed to specifications of the operator for their menial tasks. Need soldiers, you got super soldiers. want to run an off world brothel, you got sluts that give you no lip. It really comes down to slavery/human trafficking, once that person has become useless they are no better than garbage. So in essence, "More Human Than Human" is an overstatement.

It wasn't until the Nexus 6 was introduced with memories to help them "Cope with their existence". If I remember correctly, this is when the Blade Runner unit was formed. Because a group of replicants revolted and killed hundreds on a starship heading towards a new planet for terraforming. Of course DADOES doesn't reference the term "Blade Runners", but since the movie is so loosely based off the book it's as if Blade Runner is in a parallel universe that mimics DADOES (think of the show Sliders).

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    The Tyrell Corporation may also be thinking of the bottom line when they built in the 4 year lifespan. Planned obsolescence ensures customers will have to purchase more replicants. – RobertF Aug 20 '14 at 14:50
  • Maybe he also saw "Space Seed" in Star Trek TOS, "hmm, an army of supermen with super intellects, maybe they might want to rule the world? I know, make them only last 4 years, sorted." – The Wandering Dev Manager Nov 6 '15 at 13:51
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I tend to agree with this answer, that the 4-year lifespan limitation is imposed, and that the only impossibility lies in extending an existing replicant's life, like Roy Batty asks of Eldon Tyrell.

I always assumed the lifespan limit is to prevent replicants from developing emotions and rebelling, like Bryant tells Deckard. However, while reading Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner (1996), an interview with actress Daryl Hannah indicates another possibility (if not actually realized in the movie, at least considered by the scriptwriters):

"Ridley had given us a short story of them [...] This history also said that the replicants were made to last only a certain number of years. We'd basically been manufactured like a car, to last only a short time so that people would have to buy a new one"

Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, p140.

I found this interesting. In all my years of being a huge fan of Blade Runner, I never considered the planned obsolescence angle! Tyrell runs a business, after all.

protected by Radhil May 25 '17 at 11:09

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