Central to the story of “Blade Runner” and its sequel, “Blade Runner 2049,” are Replicants. In the movies’ future, Replicants are artificial beings created to serve as slave labor in a variety of roles.
What exactly are Replicants, though? Their exact nature is never quite discussed in either movie, although things are made a bit clearer in “Blade Runner 2049.” By and large, Replicants look like regular people, but they’re genetically engineered and created artificially. They’re considered “machines,” but they’re not quite robots in the sense we usually think of the term.
In the original movie, Replicants were used for tough jobs that humans couldn’t handle or didn’t want. That mostly concerned colonizing other planets, participating in combat, and the like. The Nexus 6 model Replicants, the ones seen in the movie, are stronger than regular humans and at least as smart as their designers.
We know for sure that Replicants are biological creatures who are manufactured, but not robots inside, as seen in movies like “The Terminator.” When people like Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) call them machines, they’re referring to the fact that they’re manufactured. The Replicants in “Blade Runner” have a limitation on their lifespans of four years in order to keep them from rising up against their creators, and to limit issues with their emotional development.
Since Replicants are born fully formed, they don’t have the time to develop emotions as humans do when they’re children. That gives them emotional problems that get worse as they age. It also means they don’t fully develop empathy, which is why Deckard and other Blade Runners use an empathy test (called “Voight-Kampff” after its creators in the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” on which “Blade Runner” is based) to tell Replicants from regular humans.
In “Blade Runner,” Replicants are illegal on Earth, and special police officers called Blade Runners are tasked with finding, identifying and “retiring” (killing) them.
The Tyrell Corporation, the business that created Replicants, is trying to make Replicants more stable and more human-like by giving them false memories. We find out in “Blade Runner 2049” that Rachael, a prototype Replicant Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) had given the memories of his niece, wasn’t a Nexus 6 (with a short lifespan), but rather a new Nexus 7. The last model created by the Tyrell Corp. was the Nexus 8, which had an open-ended lifespan and implanted memories. That made the Voight-Kampff test obsolete, and new Replicants instead had a serial number added to their eyes to make them easier to identify.
The Tyrell Corp. went out of business after Replicants were declared illegal everywhere following more violence and uprisings (Tyrell himself was killed by the Replicants in “Blade Runner”). Industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) bought the company and convinced the government to lift sanctions against Replicants. He created the Nexus 9 model, which is designed to be more obedient than previous Replicants.
In “Blade Runner 2049,” Replicants are still genetically engineered humans, but they’ve been tweaked to make them less likely to resist human control. They’re still considered second-class citizens by society at large, and their use as slave labor in colonizing other planets has led humanity to expand to nine new worlds.
Like “Blade Runner,” the question at the center of “Blade Runner 2049” concerns what it means to be human, and whether Replicants are, in fact, people.