A Hero Named Roy: An Essay.

*note: You might want to see, or have a working knowledge of Blade Runner before reading.

Blade Runner (1982/1992) has often been commended for not only its breathtaking cinematic achievement in film making and its foundational impact within the Science Fiction/Speculative Fiction genre, but also for its ability to illicit philosophical dialogue amongst its thinking spectators, and one of those dialogues that will be centered upon in this paper is that of the Hero.

I will be discussing 4 key concepts of how we identify a hero, sticking to just these four rudimentary, but popular, key points for the sake of both space and the discussion at hand and then I will also touch base on the roles of Protagonist and Antagonist, as they are also important to how a hero can be defined, and how Roy as the antagonist can be role reversed with Deckard as the protagonist in the film, followed by my conclusion.

Being a hero, while there are many definitions, I believe can be defined with these following four key attributes: Change, Preservation, Sympathy, and Empathy. By applying them to a character such as Roy, an identified antagonist, we can see how he would embody the hero.

We shall begin with the first attribute: Change.>/p>

A hero is one who engenders change within themselves or a large group that helps to catalyze an evolution within an individual, small group, or society.

When it is just singular people who fall under this category, they are those who upset the status quo within themselves by realizing that their way of being is flawed. Once this recognition is made, the person then goes through various experiences that make them into a different person (also called character development). The journey they take to make the change, the fact that they made it at all, as well as the end result, molds them into the ideal heroic figure. An Example of this in narratives is the Hero’s Journey, a commonly known narrative formula, whose definition is pretty much above stated.

When it is just singular people who fall under this category, they are those who upset the status quo within themselves by realizing that their way of being is flawed. Once this recognition is made, the person then goes through various experiences that make them into a different person (also called character development). The journey they take to make the change, the fact that they made it at all, as well as the end result, molds them into the ideal heroic figure. An Example of this in narratives is the Hero’s Journey, a commonly known narrative formula, whose definition is pretty much above stated.

When a person engenders change within society, they are usually individuals, or small groups, that defy a certain pre-established, often flawed, concept such as the perception of a race, gender, species, etc. This common heroic quality can be found within the “Rebel Hero” archetype within narratives, as well as historical heroic figures from our own history. They embody our ideals of establishing/upholding morality.

Now that we have defined the first key attribute of a hero, let us now apply it to Roy, and we shall see if he embodies any of these qualities.

It is safe to say that Roy is definitely embodies the rebel hero archetype. Roy and his small band fellows rebel against how society views the meaning of their existence, which is the fact that the Replicants are slaves, created as the tools for the whims of humanity. The fact that they are slaves is stated straight off within the opening worded exposition in the film:

“ …Replicates were used off world as slave labour, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets…” (2:35).

Further, they are so denied being persons by human society in this narrative to a point that when they are executed, it is not given the same severely equal connotation referring to it as death or execution as a human being executed would have been referred, simply calling it “Retirement” (2:54) and thus, the movie cements the, as we recognize it, flawed ideal perception of persons within this society.

As stated earlier, heroes embody our morality, and a popular ideal of morality is that slavery, or the denial of treating those who have the sapient qualities of persons such as free will, emotions, etc. When this popular morality of every person having the right to be free is embodied in a person who stands against a society that we know to be acting in our purview as morally wrong, which is exactly what Roy does, we deem them to be a hero.

Granted, there is some debate about whether Replicants can be considered persons, so I will briefly touch on this.

Due to the fact that Replicant knowledge is derived from false memories (22:17), they are often considered less to the original in the way we view a copy of an original document to be lacking compared to the original, and thus of less worth. They are still memories however, sourced from beings that understand free will, thus we can postulate that it also provides the Replicants, who have the ability to cognate “more human than human” (21:46), with the framework to recognize autonomous thinking, as well as dignity as persons.

They are capable of emotions as well, exemplified in such scenes as Roy’s rage at the death of Priss (93:00) or Rachel’s devastation when she realizes she is a Replicant (33:15). Thus it is safe to conclude that the Replicants are persons as they embody autonomy and emotions as persons do.

Therefore since Roy is, from this understanding at least, a person and he embodies the moral right to be free, and he is rebelling against a society that says he is a slave, he embodies the first key concept of change found in a hero.

Now that we have covered change, we shall move onto its opposite: Preservation.

A hero defined in this attribute is one who embodies the ability to preserve something of value for the continued betterment/sake of others.

While the previously mentioned aspect of change as a vital component to individuals and society, there is also the necessity for preserving something in self/society that we recognize as valuable in maintaining. The persons embodying this attribute of preservation; sometimes do so at great cost to them. This can be found in the preservation of the value of the continuance of life, which can be found in the simple saving peoples lives and the preservation of the value of ideals/knowledge is also heroic, particularly through self-sacrifice, and is usually found in literature and cinema as archetypes of “The Martyr.”

Now that we have defined the second key attribute of a hero, let us now apply it to Roy.

It is safe to say that Roy isn’t about preserving society’s ideals, as we have pre-established that they are flawed. He is also kills with ease, and has a similar attitude to the humans that the humans have of him; though he doesn’t lessen them as beings in death by at any time referring to his killing as retirement, they are just in his way for the most part or no longer needed for his purposes. However, in the final confrontation between Deckard and Roy, Roy chooses to save Deckard’s life instead of letting him fall to his likely doom from the roof top (101:19). Here is an example of Roy willing to preserve someone’s life, even if there is the strong possibility that it will cost him later, as Deckard is his enemy.

So, while Roy perhaps doesn’t display quite as strong characteristics for this attribute, he did still choose to save a life, so he does, of a fashion, embody the second key attribute of being a hero.

The following last two attributes are, in my opinion, necessary tools that those who identify heroes need to recognize with heroic persons, or may also value within their heroes as valuable qualities that we recognize in ourselves, a reaffirmation of a person’s humanity, even if not human. So now let us dive into the third attribute: Sympathy.

A hero is one that other persons can sympathize with, even if not having experienced the hero’s misfortunes, and one who also embodies this ability themselves. Sympathy in its most generalized definition is “…the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc…”– quote, (Merriam-Webster).

For us as spectators to narratives, being able to sympathize about the troubles and misfortunes that a hero inevitably faces creates a bond of investment on our part in whether the hero overcomes their misfortunes and because we ourselves are creatures who define misfortune as a part of our existences in varying degrees, and recognize it for the most part as an undesirable state, even if we are not directly affected ourselves, we recognize something as bad, and thus worth our compassion. Thus we seek misfortunes in others, especially in our heroes, as it makes them more real to us in having misfortune because we want our heroes to be relatable, as they are our idols. Heroes in their sympathetic reliability usually give us this reassurance that misfortune in general can be given catharsis.

Then there is also, in some cases, where the spectator likes to see that the desirable protagonist be able to express sympathy for others, as sympathy for others is a desirable human trait which should be exemplified in our idols. For some, a hero is not a hero unless they can exercise sympathy for others plights and make the choice to correct it.

Now that we have defined the third key attribute of a hero, let us now apply it to Roy, and we shall see if he embodies sympathy.

We sympathize with Roy because we choose to be moved by the misfortunes and struggles he goes through trying to prove, perhaps more to him than anyone, the misfortune of his existence is more than that of a slave for others.

Roy also embodies the ability of sympathy for others by choosing to display mercy (showing compassion for someone who is otherwise within their purview to punish) which is a form of sympathy, towards Deckard (101:19), and because of his ability to both be a sympathetic character and to have the capability himself, if perhaps only the once, thus embodies the third key concept for a hero.

Finally we now reach the fourth key attribute in the discussion: Empathy.

A hero is some one that embodies the ability for us to form a visceral bond of recognition, a deeper level of understanding and thus investment in relation to our like kind.

While often misinterpreted with sympathy, empathy is more an instinctual reaction to a situation that causes us to feel as the other might feel due to underlining similar experiences or ideals. It is a less autonomous then sympathy, a more deterministic sentiment that allow for the instinctive reaction we have for others. An example would be, again referring to the film’s climax, when Roy tells Deckard: “…quite an experience to live in fear isn’t it? [referring to Deckard’s fear for his life as he dangles of a building]…That’s what it is to be a slave.”-quote, Roy, (100.55).

So then, why is empathy important for creating a hero? An example to help answer this is looking at something we and the hero share viscerally: Struggle.

We, as persons for the most part struggle. It is a generally accepted fact that life is a struggle to meet a goal and is an integral part of our existence; indeed the most basic and key part of existence and evolution. Some may argue against it, but for the most part it is an accepted dominant belief.

Our heroes are ones that share this commonality, a realism that provides a bond of recognition with another like us on a deeper level like we recognize with each other despite not knowing another personally, or that person not even existing.

Roy himself is shown through the movie as he similarly struggles through his rebellion, his return to Earth with his team, despite the death sentence that it incurs (2:50) and his goal to meet his creator and demand answers, his mission throughout most of the movie. His very existence, from his point of view, the very meaning of his existence, is structured by struggle and since we are struggling beings, we are able to emphasize with him as both Roy and us struggle to define and promote our existence. Because of this empathetic bond we can establish with Roy, he embodies the fourth key concept in recognizing a hero.

Now that I have covered the four key concepts of identifying the hero, I shall now be interpreting the narrative roles themselves under discussion: Antagonist vrs. Protagonist. This will be a rather rudimentary section, but I feel is necessary for fleshing out how Roy is the hero and the film is his story.

I had already mentioned earlier that Roy’s assigned role in the film was that of the antagonist, but what is an antagonist? Can we truly interpret Roy as an antagonist based on the definition? What is a protagonist then? And can we interrupt Roy as a protagonist as well, based on that definition alone?

A basic definition of an Antagonist is “one that contends with or opposes another…”– quote, (Merriam-Webster). The antagonist is often a villain or undesirable person role within a narrative, but can also be just a fricative foil, not necessarily good or bad, that works in concert with the protagonist as a conflict. The Antagonist, of course, is not the one the story is about.

Roy does definitely fit the description of antagonist. He contends with, and opposes, not only Deckard, but the entire status quo of his world in regards to his species own existence. He even solidifies his role somewhat as a villain by being rather relaxed in killing and manipulating others to his own ends evidenced throughout the film.

So does that mean he cannot be considered a protagonist?

The basic definition of Protagonist is “…a leader, proponent, or supporter of a cause…”-quote, (Merriam-Webster). They are also defined as the principal character in a narrative, usually the focal point to which one perceives a story.

Taking into earlier consideration some of the basic building blocks we use to define a hero, such as the sympathetic and empathic connections we need with our heroes, which I have proven that Roy does embody, and the fact that his position in the film as leader of a group of their own cause of denying that they are just slaves, a clear quality of the protagonist, we can indeed define Roy as the protagonist in the first part, and the moments of his character arc worked through the film for the later.

Comparatively, if we took Deckard, who is considered as the protagonist, we can see that he is not a leader, beyond his own minor defiance near the end in disappearing with his female love interest, another Replicant. Deckard is in every way a servant to the whims of his own perceptions of Replicants, with the hypocritical exception in his lover, though it is never clear if he comes to accept her as a person. He really does not exemplify the qualities of the hero of a story as well as Roy does. One can just as easily define him as the antagonist, as he works more as Roy’s fricative foil as the personification of what the Roy is rebelling against. In fact, Roy has not outright acted against Deckard until Deckard kills someone he cares about (90:50).

So then, in the sake of applied roles, both Deckard and Roy can be considered both protagonists and antagonists in their own rights, but Roy is a stronger case for protagonist, with his stronger qualities of such, while Deckard is better suited for antagonist, despite their individual screen times and point of views within the film.

After exploring some of these basic building blocks of how we create our heroes, and seeing that Roy, passively cast as the antagonist, but has proven that he displays qualities that make him identifiable as a hero more so then an antagonist, what does that ultimately mean then in regards to our responsibility as spectators in to Roy? Does it ultimately affect how we determine ourselves within our ideal heroic idols?

Our responsibility as spectators is such that we are perceivers; a form of judge, jury and executioner if you will, to any sort of our creation that we are exposed to. It is a power greater then creators themselves of a fashion, as many creations are often defined, evolved and preserved upon the whims of the opinions, educated or otherwise, by us. Fiction, especially popular fiction, are particularly vulnerable to the tenuous longevity of existence through our whims, but at the same time, are never the same from what they were originally as time passes and our discourses shapes it into something else, whether subtle in change or extreme.

If we choose to perceive that Deckard or Roy is the hero of this story, we argue that the foundations of what makes either of them the hero of the story are qualities that we perceive as worthy of importance, because the hero is our idols, often embodying our favored narratives with our own idealized reflection, or hold up as an example to shape ourselves and others in.

Since Roy is clearly exemplifying as the more desirable protagonist, a more clearer example of the more desirable human traits we wish to see ourselves reflected in our hero, and since we cannot find this perceptual relationship as strongly as Deckard, we are responsible to the more highly valued preservation of Roy, as it more closely emulates what we wish to see in ourselves.

So in conclusion, after deliberating through how we connect and recognize our hero through the four key attributes in recognizing heroes, comparing Roy to Deckard, showing how the both of them can have their roles reversed, that of Roy as the protagonist, and Deckard as his antagonist, plus Roy’s greater desirability an idol over Deckard as our own exemplar of what we wish to see in ourselves, we can conclude that: Roy can be defined as a hero, Roy is definite suited to both protagonist and antagonist roles, but has greater strength as the protagonist, thus a better idol for ourselves, and since the story is all about the protagonist which is always the hero of a story, Roy is the indeed a hero and this film is indeed his story.

*Blade Runner trailer:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhJ7Mf2Oxs


  • Blade Runner, Director’s Cut. Dir. Ridley Scott. Warner Bros, 1992. Online Film.
  • Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
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