Analysis of Speech Acts in Movie Dialogues on the Example of Ridley Scott's Bladerunner

Seminar Paper, 2004

21 Pages



1. Introduction
1.1 Basic objectives
1.2 A short introduction to sci-fi
1.2.1 The world of Bladerunner

2. Language
2.1 Analysis and interptation of Interrogation scene 1: Holden – Leon
2.2 Analysis and interptation of Interrogation scene 2: Deckard – Rachael

3. Comparative Interptation

4. Concluding thoughts

5. Appendix

1. Introduction

1.1 Basic objectives

This survey will show that stylistic theories, especially the analysis of dialogues in terms of speech acts, turn taking and politeness, can be applied to movies. The intention is to show that these theories, pviously applied to literature, enable us to access a complete new level of movie analysis. Language and narrative features in movies are similar to the features in written fiction like novels[1] and can be valued under same criteria. The analysis will focus on two interrogation scenes using the effect of speech acts combined with performance features in order to create a realistic picture of the Replicant[2] itself. This fictional artificial lifeform has a decisive role in the plot of “Bladerunner”, for the difference between humans and Replicants can only be made out from deviations in language, gesture and reactions. These criteria will be looked at in reference to Mick Short’s[3] and Michael Toolan’s[4] basic stylistic theories. The primary objective is to reconstruct the way Scott uses language to outline the characteristics of Replicants from human behavior. Another ambition is to reconstruct the development of realism in sci-fi, in respect of the given criteria, and to show that it has increased over the last decades.

1.2 A short introduction to sci-fi

With movies becoming popular in the beginning of the 20th century, science fiction stories were also adapted to this experimental medium. Despite the fact that movies were still without sound, several directors made the attempt to bring at least some of the most popular fiction on screen. Starting in 1910 with “Frankenstein”[5], J. Searle Dawley introduced the first artificial lifeform in a main role in cinema history, inspiring later productions like “Der Golem”[6], “Homunculus”[7] and “The Day the earth stood still”[8]. A change in the genre took place, after the supposed crash of an U.F.O. in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, the occasion responsible for several movies about aliens landing on earth in the 1950s. The formerly mentioned “The day the earth stood still” is the most popular of these films and was beyond comparison in terms of special effects. An important fact is that the audience in the early 50s had no picture of what an alien could look like, though the actor repsenting the alien was undisguised, that means he had no inhuman modifications or make-up. One decade later in 1964, Gene Roddenberry realized the idea of a sci-fi series for TV, situated in a distant future with an utopian society, new technologies and different races of aliens. The 79 episodes of “Star Trek”[9] and the following feature movies, were responsible for some of the greatest improvements in the area of special effects and masks. The year 1968 was even more important, for when Stanley Kubrick released “2001: A Space Odyssey”, based on the novel by Arthur C. Clarke, a new chapter in cinema history was opened. He managed to combine elements of philosophy and technology to give the movie a deeper meaning than any kind of sci-fi cinema had before. He contextualized the debate about artificial intelligence and its dangers when the computer, HAL9000, rebelled against the orders of the human engineers and killed them for the reason of his own survival. This topic has been quoted in countless movies afterwards and was the content of many novels in the time between 1950 and 1970. Since then the genre focused more and more on our own development as mankind, involving the cold war, the nuclear threat, new technologies and genetic issues. A further interesting remark is, that even the first cinematic encounters with other lifeforms were mostly negative and threatening and that there are far more dystopian sci-fi movies and literature in the time between 1950 and today.

The most popular examples for stories from the 60s being adapted for nowadays cinema are e.g. “Total Recall”, “Minority Report”, “Paycheck”[10] and the 1982 respectively 1989 version of “Bladerunner”.

1.2.1 The world of Bladerunner

The plot of Bladerunner is situated in the Los Angeles of 2019, after a global clime collapse caused by nuclear war. Most people have fled from earth and live in outer space colonies, while the residual mankind lives wretched together in the biggest metropolis like L.A.. The nuclear rain caused the death of nearly all animals and made the surviving ones very pcious. It also affected the genes of humans, who are forbidden to leave earth because of their disposition. The exploration and colonization of other planets was only possible with the help of Replicants, genetically constructed, human-like slaves, with supernatural strength and resistibility. There are several different classes of Replicants, like workers, military units and Replicants for entertainment purposes. The Tyrell Corporation is the largest manufacturer of Replicants in North America and worked for years to elaborate the perfect copy of a human being, the Nexus 6. The Nexus 6 has a life span of 4 years until his cellular structure breaks down, though only a short time to develop emotions and gather experience and memories. They are forbidden to come back to earth under death-sentence, and are being tracked by Bladerunners if they try. Bladerunners are a special police unit with the only purpose of finding and eliminating Replicants appearing on earth. Deckard, the main character, is one of these Bladerunners and has the task to find a group of four replicants led by Roy Batty, an extremely intelligent and dangerous Nexus 6 model. The group consists of two male and two female Nexus 6: Roy, Pris, Zola and Leon, who try to infiltrate the Tyrell Corporation in order to find a way to extend their lives.

Another main character is Rachael a new class of Replicant supposed to be Nexus 7, with an artificial memory implant of Eldon Tyrell’s nice and a longer life span. When Deckard applies the Voight-Kampff[11] test on her, he finds out that she is not human and tells her. Despite the fact that Rachael is a Replicant on earth Deckard falls in love with her and tries to protect her from his own unit. In the final encounter between Roy and Deckard the “Machine” realizes the meaning and value of existence and spares the life of the Bladerunner in spite of Deckards attempt to kill him. Rachael and Deckard escape together.

The key scenes are the interrogations and dialogues between humans and replicants, for here the viewer becomes the investigator searching for abnormalities in the behavior of the interrogated subject. Especially the first scene with Holden, a Bladerunner, and Leon being questioned is of special interest, because the viewer has no knowledge about Leon being human or not. To show how we can define that Leon is a Replicant I will start to analyze the scene according to its language combined with performance features in the next chapter. The mutual effects of the single speech acts[12] made by the two characters play a decisive role in the analysis.


[1] Bladerunner is adapted from the novel Do androids dream of electric sheep? Phillip K. Dick: 1968, Doubleday Inc., New York

[2] replica: „1. a reproduction or copy of a work of art 2. any very close reproduction or copy“ 2002: Webster’s New World College Dictionary, p. 1216

[3] Mick Short, Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose (Pearson Education Ltd., Harlow, 1996)

[4] Michael Toolan, Journal of Pragmatics 32, p.171-201 (Departement of English, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, 2000) Michael Toolan, Language in Literature (Hodder Headline Group, London, 1998)

[5] Frankenstein the first version,directed by J. Searle Dawley, with the involvement of Thomas Edison, 1910

[6] Der Golem [German] directed by Paul Wegener,with Heinrich Galeen, 1914

[7] Homunculus [German] the most popular serial in Germany, throughout World War I, influenced clothing styles, 6 chapters of 1-hour, actually totalled 401 minutes, Otto Rippert directed, 1916.

[8] The Day the earth stood still directed by Robert Wise, with Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal, 1951

[9] Star Trek: 79 Tv-episodes, 1966 10 feature movies between 1980 and 2003 based upon the idea of Gene Roddenberry

[10] Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck are based on short stories by Phillip K. Dick

[11] Voight-Kampff test: the only way to differentiate between humans and replicants with the help of a device controlling the fluctuation of the pupil in order to measure the reaction time when asked a question concerning an ethic contradiction.

[12] Mick Short, Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose, p. 197ff (Pearson Education Ltd., Harlow, 1996)

Excerpt out of 21 pages


Analysis of Speech Acts in Movie Dialogues on the Example of Ridley Scott's Bladerunner
University of Münster  (Englisches Seminar)
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Speech Act, Linguistics, film theory, bladerunner, movie dialogue
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Robert Kampf (Author), 2004, Analysis of Speech Acts in Movie Dialogues on the Example of Ridley Scott's Bladerunner, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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