How to shear an electric sheep

By Fabian Veron

The novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is set within the realms of a dystopian post-apocalyptic future world, ravaged by the fall-out from a global nuclear war. The novel was written by the prolific American sci-fi writer Phillip K. Dick (1928-1982) and was published in 1968.

Dick’s body of work covers an eclectic number of themes that range from the nature of reality, perception, human nature, identity and alternate artificial constructs.

The novel is the basis for the cinematic adaption of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, released in 1982. The movie did not perform well at the box office and received mixed reviews from critics. Over the years, the film has acquired cult status for its atmospheric cinematography and unsettling dystopian vision. The film draws inspiration from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis’s stratified urban environments and the dark undertones and sensibilities of neo-noir cinema.

Scott’s sumptuous direction depicts an exalted peak of human ingenuity, where AI merges with bio-engineered humanoids; ghosted by a nihilist moral decay. The cinematography stunningly captures the dark vision of the novel in what could only be described as an enigmatic visual feast of a world made moribund by its inability to transcend beyond its barren linear mindscape.

Vangelis’s music score beautifully and eerily pierces the veil of what is to come by conjuring up a ghostly and yet alluring vessel, transporting the viewer upon a stark and surreal setting. One could argue that the merging of Vangelis’s aural landscape and Scott’s stark vision evokes Blake’s nightmarish satanic mills in a world lost within its own shadows; unable to seek redemption from within.

The film’s setting keeps true to the novel’s post-apocalytic vision of a world ravaged by a nuclear holocaust and the wretched souls that endured its aftermath; living in cluttered and decaying cities, haunted by the invisible spectre of radiation sickness. In a ravaged world, unable to sustain life, authorities deployed a migration program encouraging selected humans to emigrate to off-world colonies in order to preserve the human genome.

Denizens left behind scuttle around an alluring yet barren landscape, where nature has retreated and a hollowed-out manufactured techno reality takes its place. The portrayal of the metropolis starkly reminds one of the blurry lines between sci-fi and contemporary global cities, mimicking a hotchpotch of cultures bathed in neon lights.

The novel constructs its meaning by stealthily laying bare a dark world that has lost purpose; where daily life is pre-determined or scheduled by synthetic mood implants derived from a machine that modulates agency and autonomy.

The narrative eerily reflects our modern world, devoid of a higher purpose, seeking technological dominion over every aspect of earthly life; where contemporary technology is animated by electromagnetic algorithms, devouring our narcissistic tendencies.

Featured image: Movie artwork and a novel cover. Pictures: Li’d/CC/flickr, Sven Sivertssen/CC/flickr

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