In the film, Rachel ultimately becomes the love interest of leading actor Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Deckard.
There was a bit of discussion during the RedIce interview about the film and its symbolism. The mention of owls perked my attention and I recalled that, yes, the owl was indeed a very pronounced symbol in that film (I encounter the owl meme frequently so its appearance in a film is intriguing). This prompted me to go and re-watch the film, as I had not done so in a few years. I was curious to see what the symbolism of this film would say to me today?
What follows will definitely contain spoilers, so if you’ve not seem the film, you need to stop reading and go watch it. And if you haven’t seen this film, what planet have you been living on for the last three decades?
Also, I will be referencing the Director’s Cut version of the film – not the theatrical release version.
Let’s start with the source material. Blade Runner is based on a science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" P. K. Dick is a legendary writer and is quite the topic unto himself – just go hit a search engine for material on P. K. Dick. What I will note is that an over arching theme of many of his works is that apparent reality is illusory – there is some deeper hidden, or less apparent context as to what is really going on. So in respect to the film Blade Runner is there possibly a veiled subtext that is actually what is being told as the story? After all, why all the trappings of the symbolism? Such things may be messages in and of themselves or serve as pointers or guides as to a more proper understanding. Let’s just dive in and start making thematic connections and see what we come out with.
The apparent story of Blade Runner revolves around a group of Replicants, led by Roy Batty (actor Rutger Hauer), that have made their way back to planet Earth in search of a longevity of life span comparable to that of their creators. Replicants only live for four years. Replicants have a short life span but enhanced abilities. They are sent to outer space to take on the harsher challenges that are involved in colonizing other worlds.
Roy’s quest is reminiscent of the demi-god Gilgamesh and the arduous journey he undertook to search for the longevity of the gods as recounted in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was born part mortal and part god. He is a superman in prowess (as is Roy) but is fated to a mortal lifespan. After the death of his companion Enkidu, Gilgamesh sets out on a quest to obtain the longevity of life span enjoyed by the gods. He travels to a land where the gods have permitted the hero of the Deluge (Noah’s Flood), Utnapishtim, to reside. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh, “The life that you are seeking you will never find. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping.”
These words closely echo what Roy’s creator, Dr. Eldon Tyrell (actor Joe Turkel), says in the movie when Roy finally confronts him with the object of his quest.
Thus in both stories we have mighty men undertaking risky journeys and in each case are rebuffed of their objective (which is an identical one) by the “creator gods”. Both Roy and Gilgamesh in the end must find solace in the accomplishments of their mortal lives.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is amongst the earliest of literature and thought to be Sumerian in origin, though extant versions of it date to latter derivative Mesopotamian civilizations.
We also learn during the course of the movie that the shortened lifespan of the Replicants is quite deliberate. They are intended to be an artificial species purposed to slavery. The shortened lifespan should keep the slaves from becoming too highly self aware or from developing a sense of their personhood. They need to be rather intelligent in order to be effective slaves, but they shouldn’t be overly mindful of a sense of individuality to the point they recognize and place value on their own sense of inward identity.
We see this theme of constraining lifespan likewise coming down to us from ancient literature:
Genesis 6:3 And Yahweh said, My Spirit shall not always plead with Man; for he indeed is flesh; but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.
Earlier in Genesis 3 there was a sense of anxiety expressed regarding the potential lifespan of Mankind:
Genesis 3:22 And Yahweh Elohim said, Behold, Man is become as one of us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever ...!
This matter of gods wanting to artificially constrain the lifespan of their created species looks to be sourced from the same motivation as depicted in Blade Runner – to thwart the arising of a possibly rival species.
My 2010 article Heiser vs. Sitchin, as well as this very recent link, explores these associations in greater detail and builds the case that this literary material and the events in Genesis of the Hebrew Bible are derivative from the earlier Akkad/Sumer civilization that the Biblical patriarch Abraham migrated out of.
So we’ve identified two themes from the Blade Runner story outline that can be tied to ancient Sumer.
The cityscape of the Blade Runner environ is dominated by huge pyramidal buildings. These more resemble the style of the step pyramids of Mesopotamian civilizations than the smooth (by comparison) Egyptian pyramids. In Blade Runner, the pyramid buildings are where the elite class resides and those that serve the elites come to work. The Anunnaki gods of Sumer were said to reside in the topmost floors of the step pyramids that were built as temples to them.
The Replicant Roy goes to confront his “creator god” in a top chamber of one of these pyramidal complexes.
In the Atra-Hasis tablets, the Anunnaki gods were recounted to be the creators of Mankind and that Man’s purpose was to do the work of the gods, as per this Wikipedia synopsis excerpt:
Enlil assigned junior divines to do farm labor and maintain the rivers and canals, but after forty years the lesser gods or dingirs rebelled and refused to do strenuous labor. Instead of punishing the rebels, Enki, who is also the kind, wise counselor of the gods, suggested that humans be created to do the work. The mother goddess Mami is assigned the task of creating humans by shaping clay figurines mixed with the flesh and blood of the slain god Geshtu-E, “a god who had intelligence” (his name means “ear” or “wisdom”). All the gods in turn spit upon the clay. After ten months, a specially made womb breaks open and humans are born.
In my Heiser vs. Sitchin article we see that Man, as related in the first chapters of Genesis from the Hebrew Bible, is created by the Elohim and assigned to toil at the task of food cultivation.
The Sumerian word for Mankind is Adamu (Adam in the Bible). So substituting Replicant for Adamu (or vice versa), and the parallelism of these mythologies (one presumably futuristic, the others ancient) distill to the same essential narrative. Highly adept beings create an order of subordinate beings to do arduous labor for them. In each of these accounts the creators work from a pre-existent substrate (as opposed to ex nihilo creation).
The atmosphere of the Blade Runner world is ecologically damaged.
In Zechariah Sitchin's thesis, as presented in his 1976 book, The Twelfth Planet, the atmosphere of the Annunaki gods’ home world is in crisis and they journeyed to Earth to obtain gold in large quantities. From the ore they would presumably refine it into a form suitable to be dispersed into their home world's upper atmosphere. (NASA has used a thin layer of gold shielding in astronaut helmet visors – is it conceivable to deploy gold into an atmospheric layer for similar purpose?).
A viewer of Blade Runner presumes that that world’s dilapidated environment is the result of poor environmental stewardship. A cause of the Annunaki Nibiru atmospheric crisis is indeterminate.
This factor of the movie is a more indirect or tenuous connection to ancient Sumer mythology, but it’s still plausible to make. It is the gamut of the other Sumerian connections that tend to likewise suggest this one.
(A more contemporary adaptation of Sitchin’s original thesis is that the Anunnaki home planet, Nibiru, would likely be in orbit in a miniature solar system around a brown dwarf star. The consequence of a close proximity orbit around such a star, in order to achieve sufficient warmth, might be a continual balancing act of deflecting the undesirable portions of the radiation spectrum – as well as deflecting the brown dwarf’s charged particulate solar wind. The planetary orbital arrangement of such a miniature solar system would likely be artificial in origin instead of natural. A wondering brown dwarf star, with planets in tow, would be one way of making a trek through the galaxy. The question only remains: can a civilization arise to the point of engineering at this scale? The Saturn moon Iapetus, due to the perfectly linear 3 mile high ridge that runs half way around its equator, has been suggested to be an artificial body. There are other characteristics too such that it actually appears to be polygonal instead of circular over the curvature of its body.)
An owl perched in Dr. Eldon Tyrell’s chambers gets a lot of screen shots in Blade Runner – thus it’s really a rather heavy handed symbolic reference. Owls have a tie to Mesopotamia as well, but I will save owls for last.
The Replicants are a product of genetic engineering. In many ways the designers sought to enhance their creations. Rachel is representative of their state of the art. She is perfect physically – an ideal feminine form – but also neurally she is much more sophisticated than previous generations. She, more so than other Replicants, has a human-like emotional construct to her consciousness (its one thing to be intelligent like Roy, but it’s also vital to feel as a human does). Instead of wanting to constrain Replicant mental development, as was the case with the off-world slave models, the Rachel model represents an effort to go the other way – see how human-like a Replicant can be engineered to be – in respect to the seat of consciousness, that is.
Director Ridley Scott accentuates this understanding of Rachel’s genetic perfection through the manner that Rachel first makes an appearance in the film. Even though it was 30 years ago I can still recall a sense of my first time reaction. Rachel’s entrance was one of those moments in film like when Ingrid Bergman enters Rick’s bar in Casablanca, or when Grace Kelly leans over to kiss Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
Rachel appears suave, urbane, and stunningly attractive – but within an appropriate dystopian ambience via the film noir style of low key lighting, shadows, framing...the close fitting outfit, the high heels, a unique slant on a 1940’s hair style:
And there will naturally be the obligatory film noir cigarette smoking:
(From the scene where Rachel is tested we also become introduced to a sense of underlying vulnerability in Rachel that’s always there – both in her speech and in her eyes. Despite the initial impression conveyed by her entrance, we begin to see that Rachel is fragile. This plays to another angle of this character as meshed to over-arching themes of the film that we’ll circle back to later.)
In this perfected Rachel Replicant there is an inference here – as we listen in on the dialog between Dr. Tyrell and Deckard in the aftermath of Rachel’s test – that the genetic engineers are working toward an ultimate “Raymond Kurzweil” Transhumanist Singularity. That is, a point at which the advanced Rachel model would be a truly suitable host for downloading an existing human consciousness into. So-called immortality achieved via the technological means of genetic engineering and a mechanistic view of consciousness – pragmatic immortality, if you will.
Of course we’ve seen this particular theme more recently in the SyFy Battlestar Galatica TV series. However, Blade Runner was touching on this idea in 1982. Star Trek episodes dealt in this concept as well but Blade Runner conveys more realism with respect to the tangibility of the genetic engineering it portrays.
Through this lens of transhumanism we infer that the ruling elites of the Blade Runner world are looking to obtain immortality and enhanced vibrancy of life through materialist technological pursuit. Perhaps this is their means to a pathway to “salvation”.
From Rachel’s testing scenes, we also see Rachel confronted with the realization that she is an artificial being – that she is a Replicant too. This begins to visibly dawn on her as she is asked by Dr. Tyrell to leave the room so he can talk privately with Deckard. Later she confronts Deckard at his flat. She is in shock and denial at the outset of this traumatic realization. Yet Deckard is able to recite some of her “private” memories as they have been merely implanted in her mind so as to simulate having an historical past.
It’s a shattering moment for her sense of self-identity as a person. (The operating presumption in the Blade Runner world is that a Replicant, as an artificial being, is not truly a person.) The vulnerability we detected in Rachel’s speech and the look in her eyes during her testing by Deckard suggests she had already been harboring doubts well before being subjected to the test. For the moment, Rachel is crushed psychically.
So far we have seen how Blade Runner is a recasting of narratives that come to us from ancient Mesopotamian sources and that the film has symbolic references that connote association to that particular milieu of ancient civilizations.
As such, the film can be seen to work as an allegorical retelling of the creation of Mankind by the Annunaki/Elohim – the gods of these Mesopotamian civilizations, or their close cousin derivatives such as Abrahamic influenced Hebrew culture.
In the debut of Rachel, her testing scene, and subsequent dialog from Dr. Tyrell, we see possible implication of a transhumanism agenda to be afoot.
The trauma of Rachel’s self-realization of whom and what she really is works allegorically as representing the existential crises of those that encounter the Ancient Astronaut Theory of human origins, and are exposed to the voluminous circumstantial evidence thereof (e.g., the allegorical parallel of Deckard telling Rachel of her presumably private memories proving they’re not authentic memories). The Rachel character, then, is representative of each of us of the human race in grappling with the ramifications of AAT.
Those are some potent themes to be telling as an occulted back story in 1982. Yet let us now switch gears as the film will take us into a rather different slant of symbology (still holding off for now on the owl, though).
Up to this point the narrative of Blade Runner has been decidedly dystopic. The viewer receives no particular satisfaction (there’s no resounding moral affirmation) in watching Deckard terminating the Replicants. He’s a tool of the ruling elite and is compelled to carry through regardless. Replicants strike back – sometimes in defense or in desperation to obtain their quest, but mostly from a sense of nihilism that ebbs from the starkness of their fate due to what they are. The film moves through various bleak and unsettling exchanges and acts of deadly violence. Of course, it’s also the kind of plot conflict narrative that fuels the ticket sells for Hollywood sci-fi action movies.
Yet in the concluding scenes of Deckard having his show down with Roy, Blade Runner in its own fashion repudiates the nihilism inherent in the preceding violence. It does so through the device of Gnostic transcendence.
Instead of culminating in a final pitched struggle to the death between the two combatants, in Roy’s last moments he chooses to spare Deckard’s life. Roy’s life essence at this point is rapidly ebbing away and he knows he will soon die. Instead of spitefully insuring that Deckard dies with him, he saves Deckard and then begins to recount the wonders of things he’s seen and done. (It is a memorializing of Roy’s mortal life that parallels the memorializing that Gilgamesh accomplished as King, where his deeds were later recounted to his glory – thereby achieving a form of immortality.)
We also see use of visual symbols in this portion of the movie that portray Roy as a Christ figure – not a Christ as sacrificial lamb but Christ as Gnostic Revealer.
The Christ association is established by these visual cues: Roy pulls a nail from a plank, a long, wedge shaped nail that resembles a Roman crucifixion nail. He then pierces his hand with this nail. Later when Roy finally breathes his last, he releases a dove that ascends into the sky – symbolizing his spirit released and ascending into Heaven. It is a manner of visual allusion to the baptism of Jesus where the Spirit descends on Jesus as though a dove:
John 1:32 “And John bare witness, saying, I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven; and it abode upon him.”
Coauthors Marvin Meyer and Willis Barnstone in their book The Gnostic Bible: Revised and Expanded Edition write this describing Christ as a Gnostic Revealer:
“The role of the gnostic savior or revealer is to awaken people who are under the spell of the demiurge—not, as in the case of the Christ of the emerging orthodox church, to die for the salvation of people, to be a sacrifice for sins, or to rise from the dead on Easter. The gnostic revealer discloses knowledge that frees and awakens people, and that helps them recall who they are.”
Roy as Gnostic Revealer initiates a gnosis in Deckard that awakens him. He awakens to the worth of all life – even the lives of an artificial slave species that his society has dehumanized.
Later this revelatory gnosis culminates in Deckard’s understanding that his dream of a unicorn racing through the forest indicates that he too is a Replicant – that he's really in the same lot and just as expendable as the those he'd previously helped herd and cull on behalf of the ruling elites.
[Update] Masonic scholar Manly Palmer Hall, in his 1928 book, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, cited the unicorn as mythical symbol of the awakened pineal gland:
The single horn of the unicorn may represent the pineal gland, or third eye, which is the spiritual cognition center in the brain. The unicorn was adopted by the Mysteries as a symbol of the illumined spiritual nature of the initiate. . . .
As the movie ends, both Rachel and Deckard have now fully confronted their existential crisis of personhood. For both Rachel and Deckard, their internal crisis arises because of what their societal context has programmed them to believe. They ultimately must reject those external precepts of normalcy and trust in their personal gnosis of their own individual sense of personhood and thus self value.
The allegory here to the perceptive audience: It is not for others to determine personhood; in the final analysis we each have only our individual conscious experience from which we assert our full sense of personhood. It doesn’t matter really what we are in terms of the physical shell (artificial slave species or not). It is instead the spirit that sojourns therein (the spirit rising to Heaven as a dove) that is the true seat of our personhood.
Excerpts from Graham Hancock’s 2007 book, Supernatural, pages 324-325:
“The abduction experience of a woman on the west coast of the U.S.A began when an entity that she construed as a “five-foot-tall owl” strode down the highway towards her parked Jeep and started at her over the hood.”
“A registered nurse from the north-eastern United States, Carol’s abductions were of special interest to me because another of her encounters with strange, compelling owls included further levels of transformation, as well as unexpected symbolism that she herself recognized as shamanic.”
“Remembering his childhood in the Amazon, he told John Mack about an occasion during a tribal ceremony when the figure of an owl was seen perching at the top of a tree. The elders chanted, ‘Ikuya! Ikuya! Ikuya!’ Bernardo asked them why they thought the creature was an ikuya and not simply an owl: They said that, because they were in a trance, they could see light and force around the owl, which told them it was a humanoid in disguise. Also when they shoot arrows at the ikuyas disguised as owls, the arrows seem to pass through them without killing them.”
Excerpt from page 328:
“That the onset of some shamanic initiations and of some UFO abductions should be marked by the sudden materialization of owls – or of other birds and animals with huge owl-like eyes – is mysterious enough in itself. But what I thought made the coincidence even stranger was the way this sort of imagery seems to pick up a reflection from the caves of Upper Paleolithic Europe. A prehistoric engraving on the wall of Trois Freres in south-west France, described in Chapter Four, features two large owls, which archaeologist judge to have distinctly humanoid characteristics.”
In Babylonian demonology, Lilith was a monster who roamed at night taking on the appearance of an owl.
The visage of the humanoid owl figures frequently in the realm of reported incidents and phenomena that are characterized as manifestations that are not of conventional physical nature that, say, accord with what we regard as the normal operation of our reality context.
Often the humanoid owl is recounted as an implacable silent observer (though not always) to these incidents of high strangeness. In the Blade Runner movie, the owl is an implacable and present observer of the travails of the human drama.
That director Ridley Scott chose to reference the owl (to the point that it has become iconic as evidenced in the poster) as such a high profile symbol – back in 1982 no less – is perhaps the most intriguing riddle in respect to this film. It is intriguing as to what does Ridley Scott really know about such things? And how did he come about such knowledge at that time frame?
The owl symbolism speaks to a whole other level of special occluded knowledge than just mere Ancient Astronaut Theory – it hints that there lurks a possible cognizance about the very fabric and nature of reality (or super reality). That really would be something surprising for a film director to be plugged into in some fashion.
Blade Runner began as a dystopic tale of a world run by a ruling elite bent on a materialistic transhumanist agenda – all the while artificially crafting beings as slaves with no respecting of the lives of said slaves. To be found as one of the slave race is a despairing condition – if that reality is realized for what it is (hence the various precautions to keep the slaves in the dark).
Some would say that pretty well summarizes the human condition today on planet Earth (the ruling elites determined to keep the masses in the dark as to what and who humanity really is, as well as various other matters that may be going down).
Yet Blade Runner, via the methods of its various symbolic overlays, imparts at its conclusion that waking up to the nature of slave status is merely incidental – it is not really crucial in respect to authenticity of personhood. What is crucial is Gnostic awaking. The spirit that ascends from the physical shell into Heaven is that which is our vital selves and is what we need to awaken to.
Astro-Gnosticism is a term Christopher Knowles uses in his writings at The Secret Sun. The term denotes themes of Ancient Astronaut Theory, Gnosticism, and gnosis of the manifestation thereof. Reading Chris’s treatment of comic book artist Jack Kirby will embody the sense of how this meme may manifest in popular cultural.
Thank you, Mary...for being a catalyst – or muse, as you Hollywood folk would say.
The act of penning and then sharing that brief synopsis with you was a nudge that caused one of those instant insights to fire in the brain: there are some really significant underlying themes to this film and those are even more relevant in today’s situation than 30 years ago. Those themes deserved to be expanded on in light of our current zeitgeist.
There is now a much broader and more developed public domain knowledge base by which to understand and interpret those themes, there is the Internet, and in riding the wave of synchronicity we can go at this all together.
MyCoreArticles (and some related links)
[awakening, synchronicity, Gnosticism, AAT, nature of reality/consciousness, etc.]
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