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Theme of the Unequal Distribution of Power in 'Blade Runner' and 'The Handmaid's Tale'

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The novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ written by Margret Atwood and the movie ‘Blade Runner’ share the similarities of power being distributed unequally throughout their respective society. Both protagonists have some sort of power although for Offred's power is very minor and only used at very rare moments. Tyrell and the Commander in both of their societies have immense power, however both of them do not abuse as much as everyone else, for example, the officers forced Deckard into killing the replicants without taking his scrutiny into consideration. Even Tyrell commits the same acts of not exploiting people who have less status and power. Tyrell who is seen as a God when approached by a replicant was welcoming and understanding when they asked for their lives to be extended, with calm and patients he explained why such things couldn’t be reached, although this later led to him being murdered, he still was more understanding than anyone else. Deckard and Offred both have power to an extent in their respective societies. Deckard although is a type of law enforcement, police still hold power over him, Deckard still has power, but only over the replicants. Him being a blade runner which is a bounty hunter he is legally permitted to kill replicants on sight without any warrants needed or reason. Offred used her power to taunt men who cannot have her or have any women. The power distribution in both societies is what causes the exploitation of the weak and corruption that lingers with it. Though the exploitation of the weak tends to occur less frequently the more status the person has in the society, Tyrell and the Commander are great examples of this.

Tyrell and the Commander both possess the pinnacle power of both their respective societies. The power they have may in some cases be more than the actual governments that are supposed to be controlling the societies. Tyrell is the genius who designed and created the nexus-6 replicants, he is the powerful and rich God figure who lives in a pyramid shaped mega mansion that looks over the city and people below. This is a symbol showing that Tyrell is at the top and no can come close to him. The exploitation of his power is very similar to the Commander, both use their power to break the law with the knowledge that they will not receive any consequences for doing so. This is demonstrated when Tyrell is keeping a replicant on earth which is against the law and was experimenting with the replicant by placing memories in the coding to see whether it would make them more human-like. He performed this and even invited a blade runner to conduct the replicant test on his experiment. Similarly, the Commander invites his handmaid Offred to play a game of scrabble with him, while having the knowledge that women in the Gilead society are not allowed to read or even learn to write. The Commander doesn’t bat an eye towards this and pays little to no attention that a major law is being broken to the fact that his power is so immense that he would most likely not even get a slap on the wrist for this. In both ‘Blade Runner’ and The Handmaid's Tale’ a recurring theme of uneven power distribution causes people to be more corrupt. It seems that the more power a person has the less they exploit people around them while the less power a person has the more, they exploit people around them. This is supported when Tyrell allows a replicant to conversate with him and discuss the possibility of prolonged life for replicants, a person like a police officer or middle hierarchy status person would not even allow a replicant to be in their presence to the perception that replicants are lower people. The exploitation of people is done less frequently by both the Commander and Tyrell, because of the immense power they hold and how exploiting people would not even benefit them.

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In ‘Blade Runner’ Deckard’s occupation grants him power over normal civilians and replicants in the society. Though Deckard being a blade runner puts him below the other type of law enforcement, even the officers when encountering Deckard began to label him as part of the ‘little people’. However, Deckard does have some power over the officers due to him being able to kill replicants without needing the authorization or warrant to do so. Deckard realizes this and begins to exploit people such as Rachel. He forces himself upon Rachel, knowing she, even in strength, could not fight against Deckard, and Rachel knows that if she doesn’t comply, she is at risk of either getting killed or being handed to authorities. Though keeping Rachel alive for his own pleasure was a misjudgment of the amount of power he possesses. Deckard faces the consequences for his actions at the end of the movie when he is being hunted down for keeping Rachel alive. This demonstrated the extent of Deckard power and how insignificant it was. This is similar to Offred and how even though she was seen as the bottom of the hierarchy of her society, she still possessed a tiny amount of power. The power Offred possessed didn’t give her the ability to physically exploit people or break the law like Deckard, she rather used her body to taunt and exploit men who do not have the status or power to have women or even be married. Her exploitation of power was more subtle and leaned more towards the psychological aspect of manipulation. The reasons why Offred commits these actions was due to the fact that unlike other handmaid's Offred a past life before the takeover of patriarchy, she knew what freedom was and wasn’t born into being a slave like the other handmaids. She even describes herself as being a ‘rat in a maze’ and how she is ‘free to go anywhere’, but she is still ‘inside the maze’. The knowledge of a past life gives Offred the power of free will and the dream of things going back to the way they were. Both protagonists do exploit their power, however the methods and the execution of how it is done are drastically different.

The film ‘Blade Runner’ and the novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ both demonstrate that a hierarchical distribution of power causes corruption and the exploitation of the weak. In ‘The Handmaid's Tale’ the women living inside the patriarchy governed Gilead are all subject to exploitation, whether it would be being a handmaid that is used for their fertility, or housewives who have the most power out of all the women but are only there to please their husbands. Although women are not the only people being exploited for Gilead, men who have insignificant power and status in the society are not granted the power to have their own handmaid or even the ability to have a wife. While in ‘Blade Runner’ the power is distributed through wealth and status rather than genitalia and achievements. This is why the exploitation in ‘Blade Runner’ seems to be more subtle at times although there are moments where it is directly shown, for example, Deckard using Rachel for his pleasure, or the police officers forcing Deckard to kill the replicants even though he quit that part of his life. The similarity is drawn when both the top hierarchy standing characters use their power to break the law rather than exploit the people. It demonstrated that the use of power differs depending on where a person stands in the hierarchy of power and status. A person who is in the middle of the hierarchy will without a doubt use and exploit people to work their way up to the top, while a person who is already at the top will break the law and conduct illegal activities for the sake of their boredom or curiosity. This demonstrates that power in both stories is used to exploit people however depending on how is exploiting the reasoning or method will differ.

Overall, both ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ show the audience or reader how power is used to exploit the weak, whether it is subtle or obvious. Both stories also demonstrate power isn’t always used to exploit just the weak or people, rather it can also be used to fulfill oneself benefits such as curiosity or boredom.

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Theme of the Unequal Distribution of Power in ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Theme of the Unequal Distribution of Power in ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.” Edubirdie, 01 Mar. 2023,
Theme of the Unequal Distribution of Power in ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
Theme of the Unequal Distribution of Power in ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Mar 01 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from:
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