Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is often described as one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time, and boasts a number of iconic characters that are still celebrated today. From Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard to Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty, the depth to Blade Runner's characters have kept fans engaged with the story for decades. While so much of Blade Runner is up for interpretation — although any fan (including myself) will share their version of events with absolute certainly — there is one major misconception concerning the dynamic of the film's central characters.
Due to their excessive violence and manipulation, Roy Batty and his escaped combat team are widely considered to be the film's villains. Blade Runner follows Officer Rick Deckard after he's assigned to retire Batty's group of replicant runaways, who have just committed a bloody mutiny off-world and are now hiding in Los Angeles. Throughout the film, we see Roy Batty use his intellect to manipulate J.F. Sebastian and apply the full force of his superior strength to brutally murder his creators. However, Roy Batty isn't actually Blade Runner's villain, and Rick Deckard certainly isn't a hero.
Roy Batty has even made his way to No. 28 on IGN's Top 100 villains of all time, where he's uncomfortably seated between Pennywise the Clown and Game of Thrones' Ramsay Bolton. At a glance, it's easy to mistake Roy Batty and his fellow rogues as archetypal villains because they are undoubtedly the film's antagonists. However, this doesn't make them villains by default.
So, Why Isn't Roy Batty A Villain?
The short answer to this question is that viewers should be incredibly sympathetic to Roy Batty's cause. He was created by the Tyrell corporation and was "born" into slavery in an off-world colony. His quest for a longer lifespan — which is the driving force of the film — is more than understandable, given that the company deliberately gave every Nexus-6 model less time to develop beyond their functions as slaves. Everything Roy does is part of his effort to survive and overcome the unfair constraints laid out for him by an uncaring creator. With this in mind, Batty can only be a villain in our minds as long as we're naive to the carelessness of the Tyrell Corporation.
Of course, Batty does commit unspeakable crimes, and the sinister way in which he manipulates J.F. Sebastian contributes to the misconception that he's a villain. However, when Roy finally meets his maker, he brings up his sins in order to discuss the morality of his actions. What he discovers, however, is that Eldon Tyrell sees morals as a restraint against reaching our potential.
Tyrell: The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy. Look at you. You're the prodigal son. You're quite a prize.
Batty: I've done questionable things.
Tyrell: Also extraordinary things. Revel in your time.
Batty: ...Nothing the God of biomechanics wouldn't let me into heaven for.
Batty is woefully disappointed with his creator's lack of judgement, and ultimately punishes him for his actions. Ridley Scott consistently reminds us of the Tyrell Corporation's moral shortcomings and the impact this has had on the Nexus-6. Blade Runner's opening crawl reveals that all replicants are exiled from Earth for revolting against their slavers, and the film's opening scene then shows how Eldon Tyrell's replicants can ironically be distinguished by a voight kampff audit (essentially an empathy test). Similarly, Leon Kowalski's words while fighting Deckard also go to show how Batty's kind have been mistreated since their creation:
"Painful to live in fear, isn't it?"
So, Roy is an antagonist, not a villain — but this argument isn't just a case of semantics. In fact, Roy Batty's sympathetic cause is the fundamental reason Blade Runner works within the film noir genre.
Roy Batty Is The Reason 'Blade Runner' Works As Film Noir
Rather than having an acute hero with a linear mission to take down an undeniably evil threat — as you would get with any Marvel or Star Wars instalment — Blade Runner blurs the lines between right and wrong. The noir genre is often confused with the crime genre, but a film must present a dark, ominous outlook in order to be considered noir. Needless to say, there's nothing as dark and ominous as following a false hero hunt down misunderstood victims.
Deckard goes about his work without second guessing his superiors until the likes of Leon and Rachel allow him to see the complications of a replicant's existence and the moral questions that come with their retirement. The replicants' innocence is key to the film's noir themes, most notably because Deckard's journey of self-discovery essentially stems from the fact that Roy Batty and his team of runaways are victims. In fact, Rutger Hauer even went as far as to describe Deckard as the film's bad guy:
"He gets a gun put to his head and then he fucks a dishwasher – and then he falls in love with her. It doesn't make any sense. He's introduced as this detective hero but he's not the hero, he's the bad guy."
While this is an interesting concept, Deckard's compliance with the LAPD Blade Runner unit simply makes him a pawn in the game — until he discovers that he yet another victim of the Tyrell Corporation. If there must be an outright villain in this complex neo-noir, it is most certainly not Deckard. Eldon Tyrell, however, fits the bill perfectly.
Tyrell's ambition to "play God" is ultimately what started the chain of events seen in Blade Runner, and it was he who began working on the replicant program without questioning its moral issues. When Roy Batty finally meets his maker, viewers get to see just how little understanding Eldon Tyrell has of his own creations.
His irresponsible acts are, in a sense, an extension of the dystopian setting. Humans have failed to think ahead and plan for a better world, and Tyrell's slave trade is the embodiment of how humanity have failed to utilize their intellect responsibly.
By giving life to Nexus-6 replicants without fully comprehending what that means existentially, Eldon Tyrell brings about his own downfall when Roy's disappointment in his maker leads him to commit murder. On its surface, this could look like Batty is a villainous character committing acts of cruelty, however the reality is that this scene shows his own search for redemption. Eldon Tyrell was the man who brought him into the world, where he was enslaved from birth and assassinated once he decided to be free. So, next time you see Blade Runner, remember that the replicants are the victims — and Roy Batty is their hero.
Do you side with Blade Runner's replicants? Let me know in the comments section.