Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
Isaac Watts 1674–1748
The movie Bladerunner, starring Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer, came out over 30 years ago but still has one of the most profound monologues spoken in celluloid. Replicant (cyborg) Roy Batty yearns for more life and yet each of the robot models programmed by the Tryell Corporation gives each of them a pre-programmed expiration date. Roy Batty, model number N6MAA10816, has a life span of 4 years yet his appearance is that of a 30 year old male. The replicants are visually indistinguishable from adult humans. They think and act as humans do but are still attempting to understand and process what it is they are ‘feeling’. We observe their interactions in the movie; it appears they are no different from us.
They ‘feel’ emotions in some sense of the word just as we feel. The replicants work off-planet in fixed roles. Roy is a military-combat model built to kill. He is fast, intelligent and skilled in combat and no different from our U.S. Special Operations warriors.
Six of the replicants decide to revolt and Roy rallies his squad to return to Earth, seeking out their genius human creator Tyrell, who is in a sense God in order to extend their expiration date. They know that they do not want to die.
Special police operatives known as “Blade Runners” are dispatched to hunt them down and kill them. In the movie Harrison Ford plays a worn out, retired Bladerunner named Deckard. Deckard locates Roy but ends up being outmatched playing in a cat and mouse game. Roy Batty’s superior machine-skills are beatable. At the conclusion of the movie Deckard attempts to kill Roy after a chase which takes place in the Ray Bradbury building complex. Roy flees and jumps across two building rooftops with Deckard in pursuit.
Deckard jumps from the same rooftop and slips. It is at this moment that Roy pulls Deckard to safety. He chooses to let the Bladerunner live all while knowing that he will shut down and die. Roy saves the life of the man dispatched to kill him. Roy begins to shut down but not before unleashing a touching and totally profound monologue about losing all of his memories which speaks much on the brevity of life.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”-Replicant Roy Batty
The movie Blade Runner works on many levels for us and has much thematic complexity. In Blade Runner all Roy Batty wants to do is live longer. Haven’t all human beings shared his sentiment? Roy is a mechanical construct that isn’t human. Yet in his ‘dying’ moments this replicant seems to find humanity by obtaining empathy for Deckard. Roy transcends himself by using his precious last seconds to save someone else. How odd then, if this movie were based in reality, that a machine could love more than some men can. By the end of the movie Roy has saved someone, acknowledged that he is going to die (power shutting off), learned to accept death, and in doing so becomes ‘human’.
Roy begins his journey as one of Carl Gustav Jung’s archetypes. The hero archetype is also known by names such as the soldier, crusader, fighter or the warrior. Jungian psychologist Robert Moore and mythologist Douglas Gillette distilled Jung’s archetypes into four types known as the King, Warrior, Magician, Lover. For a hero to become a warrior he must move from immature masculinity to mature masculinity. In a nutshell and in geekspeak it is the difference between a fighter such as Luke Skywalker the hot-head and Obi Wan-Kenobi the warrior master; youth works for itself while adulthood works for others.
What we know of Roy is he’s a powerhouse and his domain is the battlefield. Roy is like your typical Marine: his purpose is to kill and he does it well. Roy in the most basic sense is a man of action rather than a man of thought. As a fighter he acts as fighters should with swift and forceful action.
A young hero can progress into something higher. Military indoctrination (in Roy’s case it is programming), increased conditioning and further experience can make a fighter a master over himself. The archetypical hero seeks out like-minded brothers and sisters who will fight as he does. Thinking is the enemy of the hero archetype because it inhibits him from acting swiftly and forcefully.
Yet a fighter that is all action and does very little thinking is nothing more than a drone programmed to kill. In order to advance from fighter to warrior a fighter must mature and becomes something greater. How does a fighter arrive at this place of enlightenment and mastery over himself?
Men are not machines. Killing solely to kill is done by beasts and not by men. Men are far more complex than that and they have the ability to be introspective. Certainly discipline keeps the fighter rooted in his skillfulness but to advance beyond his armor, that shell of protection, means he must look within his body and into his heart. The heart is where a warrior keeps patience, selflessness, love, courage, humility and compassion among many virtuous things. Warriors without empathy for others are simply machines without emotions; they are an empty construct that is no different from a wrecking ball. But thinking too deeply can paralyze a person until they can’t accomplish a thing. One side of the house is action and the other side is paralysis. A master has learned balance; when to act and when to sit still.
The internet is populated with millions of memes from social media users insisting that people get off their butts and ‘Live Your Life.’ ‘Get Some’ or ‘Carpe Diem’. If someone knew the exact time of their death would they really bother to seize the day? The writer Anatole France believed that most men are stuck living in a bourgeois compromise where they do not live fulfilling lives and don’t know how to get out of it. Eat, sleep, dream, eat, sleep, dream…
“We do not know what to do with this short life, yet we yearn for another that will be eternal”
If men could live forever then what kind of life would they envisage for themselves? Wouldn’t it be hell to live forever and at the same time lack a plan for life? Why should anyone need more time? Henry David Thoreau wanted to escape from the human condition. He disliked the perpetual cycle of waking, working and sleeping and so he went to the woods, as he said, “to live deliberately and front only the essential facts of life”. Thoreau wanted to see if he could learn what it had to teach, and not when it came time to die, discover that he hadn’t lived.
The existential living that Thoreau partook of isn’t something everyone can do; not because people aren’t willing to, indeed some at their deepest emotional root just do not care, but pondering meaning often means rejecting a certain amount of responsibility. Not all people are as sensitive in nature as Thoreau, or T.E. Lawrence or T.S. Elliot for that matter. Not only were these men thinkers but they were also producers. Not all thinkers are producers. These men were the Magician archetype. They wrote books, plays, philosophies and were intellectual power houses that tapped into human sublimity. Some thinkers of their ilk were often stuck in contemplating philosophies far too much and needed some type of ‘absurdity’ to shake them out of it. What was the absurdity they needed?
Many people yearn to feel alive and escape the life of mowing lawns and going bowling. Is there something ‘off’ about wanting to get out of a simple life? There’s nothing wrong at all with living a sedate life for in fact many amazing warfighters have come home to retire in peace and raise families, write books, tend gardens and do other things that bring healing…
So, the issue isn’t that these people have stopped ‘living. I propose they understand something that Roy Batty finally understood before he ‘died.” They understand the intrinsic value of life. I also believe those who have seen some dying are rooted even deeper in appreciating life. Those who feel stuck are feeling a discordance between what they want and what they need. They haven’t really parsed their life down to the bare essentials to find out their purpose in life. Thoreau made the attempt to strip away everything so he was in constant contemplation and reflection so as to live purely.
The reality is that many people stop living and end up spiritually dying. How did this happen? What do warfighters keenly know that many don’t? Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard felt the world had lost its passion.
Let others complain that the age is wicked; my complaint is that it is wretched, for it lacks passion…mens thoughts are too paltry to be sinful. For a worm, it might be regarded as a sin to harbour such thoughts, but not for a being made in the image of God.
How then to get to this place of passion? Death seems to be the great equalizer. It seems to be the ‘kick in the pants’, the absurdity that for a moment removes sense from the world and injects incomprehension into it.
Death takes away great men and weak men alike and does it without prejudice. It strips away all pretensions until the true nature of a man is revealed. If he can use the pain wisely then he can produce something noble. If he is weak then he will create only pain. If he can survive his brush with death or the death of his friend he might regenerate his energy and become something better.
Death compels thinkers and fighters into motion and forces them to do something, anything in order to stop them from feeling pain and discomfort, and this is where the learning begins. Contemplation on the worthiness of life seems to bring compassion for others.
Roy Batty, interstellar killing-machine extraordinaire, is humbled in the last few minutes of his life and he realizes that he doesn’t want to die alone. We know this because he tells Deckard how much he has seen in the universe. We know this because he tells Deckard all those brilliant memories and moments of his will be lost. We know that when someone dies that they are NEVER coming back. It is such a terrible thing to lose someone. But if Roy can share a moment of his life with Deckard he will have passed along his history.
The legend of Thermopylae as told by Herodotus has it that the Spartans indulged in calisthenics and combed their long hair before battle. The Spartans created rituals in order to be closest to the thought and feeling of dying. Ecclesiastes mentions that it is better to feel loss than it is to celebrate joy because those who feel sorrow can learn by its presence.
It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2
Death seems to initiate empathy in men. It seems to be the thing that allows men to get out of the mental constructs they build into their minds. Death is a truth that simply cuts away at illusions and forces men to think more humanely. Like living, dying is a natural and an unavoidable process, and it can allow us to transcend our simple life if for a brief moment. If we use that moment honestly then we can become more mature than we can comprehend.
Our family, our society, our unit, our customs, our tribe tells us who we are or should be. One of the hardest things in the world is to be ourselves. Death opens a door where there are no longer any pretensions to keep up. The fighter is bare. He see the world for what it is; life is precious and the dead need to be honored for his time will come too. He transcends from fighter to warrior. Roy Batty transcends from machine to human. Both machine and human mature and become anew.
Honoring the dying can be done through rituals. Rituals not only helps warriors express their deepest thoughts and feelings about the most important events in their life but it celebrates the life of the fallen as well. Rituals like baptisms, weddings, birthdays, and funerals helps him honor others. One of the greatest things a warrior can do is to have reverence for the dead.
These rituals for the fallen help a warrior acknowledge the reality of life and death and opens him up to expressing joy or grief. In Robert Bly’s book named Iron John a fighter mourning the loss of a fallen friend would sit in an ash heap. The rest of the tribe ignored the troubled warrior, who smothered himself in gray, and let him grieve. When the warrior was done mourning he would then rejoin his tribe.
Those who do not have a fallen brother or sister should find a way to honor others. Doing this will surely help one grow into a warrior; this is something our warfighters know and the character Roy Batty knows too; life is worth living and is not to be wasted. Those who want to honor the dead can go to military memorials or law enforcement funerals to pay their respect.
I propose that acknowledging death allows a fighter to accept the reality of death and all the things life stands for. Roy does just this as his internal countdown begins. Acknowledging death allows a fighter to accept the facts and the finality of death (whether his or another’s). It spares no one. Better to be with others than alone. If a fighter can do this then he grows as a person.
Understanding death allows him to understand life. Understanding death means not trying to intellectualize what is happening. A fighter embraces the pain and loss of his friend or of his own imminent loss of life.
Remembering what he has lost allows him to learn what he has gained. It means recalling the good and bad times; all of the experiences come flooding back to him. Roy has no one but Deckard to share his story with. Roy begins to recount the things he has done and imparts a portion of his life on Deckard. Going to a memorial is a way to preserve the memory of the dead. Reading the history of the fallen allows the fighter to be imbued with the sparkle of life of those that perished. The person performing the ritual becomes deeply affected by feelings.
Experiencing the feelings allows the fighter to begin anew and become something different. It allows the fighter to ask questions: What is the meaning of life, why did this person die, what value can I provide in this world, why did they take a good man, how can I learn from this, did I learn from this, what will become of my life, now what? If he is honest and sincere with his feelings he can regenerate. He recovers and begins anew. If he dies than I believe he passes onto greater things. Til Valhalla they say…
I believe if the fighter is honest the fighter will learn who he is and what he can become. He can state, “This is who I am, this is what I believe, this is how I intend to live my life” We all die. No one has a choice in that matter, but we all have a choice in how we live. Don’t waste life on petty things.
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