The film Bladerunner by Ridley Scott and the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley address the concept of nature verse nurture and the impact these two elements have on the human identity, on free will and memories. Through both texts it is clear that humans are not created evil but rather a product of their environment (nature), molded and morphed by experiences and relationships (nurture). If humanity is abandoned or neglected, destruction follows. “Abhorred monster! Fiend that thou art! The tortures of hell are too mild of vengeance for thy crimes” (Shelley, p. 94)
Shelley’s novel Frankenstein centres around a misunderstood creature who is judged for his appearance which causes him to wreak havoc and seek revenge on his creator. Lost and alienated with no real sense of identity, he is verbally abused and tormented, as a monster who has morphed into evilness as a result of his environment. “I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew and could distinguish nothing; but feeling pain invaded me on all sides, I sat down and wept” (Shelley, p. 97). It was not the monster’s ugliness which determined his neglect from humanity, but rather the sad truth that he was never taught how to be human, was never nurtured.
Elements of abandonment and neglect portray how the ‘Wretch’ feels throughout the novel. “What chiefly struck me was the gentle manners of these people; and I longed to join them but dared not.” This shows the audience the creature’s desire to prove his good intentions and innocence that existed within, again highlighting the point that no one is born evil. These feelings however are contrasted later in the novel. As his environment gradually harshens so too does his identity. After his encounter with the De Lacy family, he comes to the sad realization that he will always live as a recluse from society. This sudden awareness leads to his dramatic change in behavior, and the creature (along with the reader) is left to ponder what could have been- “I should have imbued with different sensations ” (Shelley, p.117) thus showing the audience that his environment ultimately determined his identity and dictated his free will and memories. The reader is involuntarily forced to feel sympathy towards the monster and reminded that it was not his decision to be created “am I to be the only criminal when all humankind has sinned against me?” (Shelley, p. )
This idea of neglect is also emulated in Blade Runner through Tyrell, the creator of replicants. His abuse of technology and unquestionable power have left him with no compassion or love, caring only about control, with no consideration for his creation. Although he gives the replicants childhood and family memories, it is not because of a nurturing streak but rather a way to gain more power and control of his ‘offspring’. It is these memories which shape the way the replicants act. It is exemplified when Rachel, one of the more advanced replicants, comes to the sudden realisation that the memories she is experiencing, are not actually hers but a recreation of the creator’s niece. “Those aren’t your memories. They are somebody else’s. They’re Tyrell’s niece’s” (Deckard). They were not created by the environment in which she lives nor the relationships that she formed. They were merely an implant of someone else’s human experience. The pain reflected in Rachel’s face as she cries, not only endorses a human quality and reaction, but shapes her actions from here on. The motif of ‘Eyes’ is symbolic in reflecting the memories and past experiences. They embody the notion that they not only see but reveal who we are, our identity. Human qualities are also reflected in Roy Batty, who like Frankenstein’s monster, struggles against an oppressive ruling authority who created him and who rejects his appeal for ‘more life’. Although a violent killer, he is a loving and kind person who forms deep relationships and fights to save those he cares for. The replicants are mere products of the Tyrell Corporation, a product of their environment. In society and highlighted in Scott’s film, we are accustomed to believing that the creator is the sole owner and therefore has the authority to use and discard of its creation any way it chooses. Kant, a German Philosopher in the Age of Enlightenment, suggests it is morally wrong to use ‘persons’ as mere means, as slaves but rather aspire to create humanity. Ir
“If our efforts in AI result in creatures that can be considered sentient, then they deserve their full freedom, including the freedom to harm humans should they choose to do so.”( )
This emphasises the neglect shown by Tyrell, which impacts on the behaviours of the replicants, mirroring that of Frankenstein’s creature. It once again shows that one’s environment, relationships and memories mould an individual, and that good intentions and innocence are lost if not nurtured. Ironically, the replicants’ motto ‘More Human than Human’ reminds the audience that although their makeup is artificial, they desire freedom and more life from their environment. A human response that is born from a relationship with nature and interaction with others.
Scott uses a dark dystopia in Blade runner to comment that there is nothing natural about its world, all nature has been so completely destroyed, life has moved to “off world colonies”. This is represented in the film by massive smokestacks emitting pollution, empty neon lights, gently falling acid rain, and masses of people suggesting a hell on Earth. This reference to the destruction of the environment is poignant as it supports the concept that we are products of our environment. If our environment is destroyed, it is because of man-made causes, which is a reflection of the humans neglect and abuse of their surroundings. A controversial debate that still lingers in 2020. Shelley also comments on her decaying society through the monster. The monster, although not considered human, is the one that connects with nature.
Both creations become the tragic hero at the end of the texts. In the moment of his termination, Batty recognizes the value of life in his final act of saving Deckard. In the same way, Frankenstein’s creature cleanses himself of wrongdoing in a sacrificial fire. Without his creator, he cannot go on. The hatred and revenge that once held the two together in a tangled connection is revealed to be an even deeper love, the created has for the Creator who abandoned and deserted him. This surprises the audience and reader as we are forced to reconcile that such a tormented environment and a lack of regard has resulted in the greatest display of affection, despite the hardships and isolation that has been endured by both the monster and the replicants. Shelley’s caution “Be more than men” and Scott’s “our motto is more human than human”, has rung true and is the closest the creations will come in possessing a human like soul.
Both Shelley’s Frankenstein and Scott’s film Bladerunner execute the concept of how our human identity is shaped by the environment and the relationships we encounter. Our surroundings influence the type of person we become, as evident in the creature and Roy Batty. Our memories are formed by the experiences we have and our free will can only be determined by the liberties given to us. If we abuse those liberties and authority, it will result in destruction of humanity and our environment. Both Frankenstein and Tyrell are evidence of such abuse of authority. Both texts challenge us, as a society, to reflect on what it means to be human and identify ways we can value and show regard for the environment in which we live (nature), and the relationships that we form (nurture). We are products of our environment and not valuing these gifts can only result in devastation.
“I have love in me the likes in which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe if I cannot satisfy one I will indulge the other.”