Cutting Board: Her, Blade Runner, and Slumdog Millionaire

We open with an eye.

It belongs to Dev Patel.

Title Card: Slumdog Replicant. 

Dev is a contestant on the set of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’, a game show sponsored by the Tyrell Corporation. Across from him is Rick Ford, the grizzled, chiselled host.

Classic ‘when are we done filming’ look

Enough visuals. Time for plot. The gameshow begins. Rick Ford is monotonous and his mind is clearly elsewhere, but Dev is thrilled to be on the show. The first few questions are easy, and for each one, Dev tells a story about his childhood before answering. The world of his youth was messy, vibrant, tumultuous, electric, and unpredictable. This was in the 90s, so there’s little mention of technology or robotics.

They take a commercial break. Rick Ford takes a nap. Dev chats with Roy Batty, one of the technicians. Roy is awkward, twitchy, and suppressed, but he smiles and puts on a happy face for Dev.

What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner…

Back to the show. The next two questions correspond to Dev’s young adult life. Dev answers each question by describing a job he had. How convenient that the sequence of questions follows his life chronologically… 

The first job was writing personalized letters for people who were too lazy to do it themselves. It didn’t pay much, so he also worked as an extra for a dance studio. After that, he studied programming at the university. He helped write algorithms that could play chess against humans, an area of research that was exploding in popularity at the time. Once he graduated, he worked at a Tyrell Corporation call center, which recorded and data-mined the call transcripts for their emerging AI program.

Regrettably, this doesn’t come up again

Rick has been invested ever since Dev mentioned algorithms. He hangs on Dev’s every word, and there’s a palpable excitement in the studio. Dev makes it clear that he’s an AI supporter, not a Humanist (this will be relevant later). Roy is off to the side, still shifting about nervously.

The next question is about a chatbot named Samantha. It was a project created by the AI division of the Tyrell Corporation. Only a thousand randomly selected users, called ‘Suitors’, were able to chat with Samantha. Conveniently, Dev was one of them, so he’s able to answer the question correctly.

I’m sorry, Dev

Another commercial break. Rick tells Dev that he’s doing a great job. Roy continues smiling and nodding awkwardly in the background, hiding something. Dev is a little suspicious – partly of Roy, partly because the show seems unrealistically in line with his life…

The show resumes. Next is a question about Rachel, the world’s first sentient humanoid robot – the first replicant. She was created twenty years ago by the Tyrell Corporation, but was killed recently by Humanists in a wave of anti-replicant mass shootings.

Dev recalls how revolutionary she was, how the world came together for her ‘birth’, how she gained a cult following and international fame as the unifying Messiah of the post-modern era. And as Dev keeps reminiscing, Rick keeps asking for more detail by saying: “Enhance… enhance…”.

Her eyes were green

Suddenly the studio goes dark. There’s a scuffle, a panic, a strobe light, a killer synth track. Roy knocks out Dev and drags him off the set. Roy has a gun to Dev’s head and threatens to kill him if Rick follows them.

Dev awakes on the roof of the studio. It’s night, and it’s raining. Roy gives a stirring speech about fears, tears, and the Three Musketeers. “…all those fears will be lost, like tears in the rain… we are all for one, and one for all…”

This picture is dumb…

Roy tells Dev that the show is a trap. Roy and Rick are both replicants, and Roy says that it’s all a conspiracy to eliminate the humans and establish replicant dominance. The questions were designed to test if Dev was a human or a replicant. If he’s a human, Roy says, then he’ll be killed. Dev, being a human, is worried for his life.

And then – in the outline of a flash of lightning, Rick appears on the rooftop. He kills Roy, but Dev grabs Roy’s gun and shoots Rick. Rick calls him over for resolution – he needs to give Dev one last exposition dump before he dies.

Are you my mothe- wait, wrong movie

He tells Dev that the show was staged and that he was being interrogated. But Rick isn’t screening for humans and killing them off. Roy was just paranoid. Instead, Rick and the surviving replicants are trying to recreate Rachel so she can help their cause.

As it turns out, Rachel was nothing more than a physical embodiment of the chatbot Samantha – everything Samantha learned by interacting with the Suitors was mapped to a digital brain and put in a humanoid body. That’s why Dev is being questioned. The replicants want to know everything about the Suitors so they can make a new Samantha/Rachel who’s as close to the original as possible. They made the interview a game show so it would be less stressful.

Suffice to say, Dev is overwhelmed by everything. He had no idea that his conversations with Samantha were being used to define Rachel’s personality. He holds Rick in his arms as he dies and promises to fulfill the quest to bring Samantha/Rachel back to life. The closing shot is of the city skyline, with a woman’s voice saying ‘None of us are the same as we were a moment ago, and we shouldn’t try to be. It’s just too painful’.

Rachel 2.0 in the sequel: She, Robot