I was recently discussing the classic science fiction film "Blade Runner" with a friend. And since I had typed up some of my thoughts on the film, I came up with a cunning plan to make those thoughts work double-time and put them into a blog post. Before I start, I just want to say that this is a very spoiler-y review. This post is for those of you who watched it and left wondering if you missed something. If you haven't seen it yet, DON'T READ ANY FURTHER. Get thee to a blu-ray player right now. And please do not watch the repugnant theatrical version with the voice overs by Harrison Ford and a "happily ever after" ending. That is not the right way to see it. Speaking of which, I wouldn't recommend watching this film during the day with popcorn and candy bars. The best viewing experience would be at night. With the lights off. With a refrigerated box of Chinese takeout. And a can of Coca-Cola.
So we're shown a bleak future. I wouldn't say 'dystopian' because in pop culture that implies that there is a malevolent government or an overarching lie to a repressed society that tells them that their situation is actually ideal. There is no such lie in Blade Runner. The inhabitants of 2019 Los Angeles all seem to know their life is miserable, and the only thing perhaps 'deceiving' them are advertisement billboards. But 'dystopia' in Greek basically means "bad place" so technically the world of Blade Runner fits the bill.
This bleak future is beautifully photographed by Jordan Cronenweth, using deep, dark shadows and blinding, flaring light in stark contrast. The visual palette brings about a whole new definition of the word "Neo-noir" - inspired of course by the film noirs of the 1940s, and in turn inspiring countless other science fiction films after this to be shot in a similar manner. The images are complimented perfectly by the sonorous synthetic dulcet tones of Vangelis - there's really no other soundtrack quite like it.
We meet Rick Deckard, a 'blade runner' - which means he hunts down rogue replicants (androids) that look perfectly human, and 'retires' them. He seems to hate his bosses, and he keeps dreaming of a unicorn. Weird, but more on that later. After testing Rachel, a replicant that thinks she is a human (she's even had memories implanted to convince her she had a childhood), things start to get complicated. Rachel asks the tough questions - "Have you ever retired a human by mistake?" and "Have you ever run the empathy test on yourself?" bringing about an interesting point - Deckard is cold, calculating, emotionless for the entire film, whereas Rachel the replicant cries and shows various other emotions. Rachel plays the piano beautifully, and all Deckard can do is give us the coldest, most emotionally void make-out scene in movie history. As we are shown the other replicants Deckard is hunting for, this contrast becomes even more apparent. The humans in this story seem to be less alive than the robots.
The scene in Tyrell's (the creator of the replicants) home, at first glance seems to emphasize a deist worldview (a creator god who has cruelly left the world to itself). But I don't think that this is the parallel to draw here. Instead, it seems to illuminate the horror of having a creator who ISN'T divine - or eternal in any way. Having a human creator means Roy Batty's pleas fall on powerless, if not deaf, ears. The proof his creator is flawed? Simple. Roy crushes him to death. Their creator is dead. Mortal. For these creations, this existence is a tragic one.
As Deckard's hunt for Roy Batty and Pris turns into him running for his life, Roy points out that Deckard is being both irrational AND unsportsmanlike. Our protagonist is shown in multiple ways to be imperfect. Fallen. Mired in human nature. Again, the replicants seem to be better off without many of the flaws that are inherent in humans. The replicants are mostly shown to be vicious, and often crazed killers. But once Deckard stops hunting Roy, once he's hanging for his life, and about to fall to his death, Roy reaches down and saves him - delivering a soliloquy about the things he's seen.
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die."
Gaff, the policeman who realizes Deckard has fallen in love with Rachel, says at the end, "It's too bad she won't live! But then again, who does?" Mortality is something both human and replicant must grapple with. Then, at the very end, he leaves an intricate origami message behind - a unicorn. Is it possible that Deckard's dream of the unicorn that we saw earlier was implanted, just like Rachel's childhood memories? Could Deckard himself be a replicant?
What does it mean to be human? We all have to deal with our own self-perception at one point or another. And since none of us remember the moment of our birth, there is no way of being absolutely certain where we came from, or who created us. We all have to take whatever answers we arrive at on faith. So the question is, are you robotically going through the motions, or are you living? Are you going through life with vitality? A sense of wonder at beauty - at things like C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhauser gate? Do you care for people? Do you love? I have to say, since 1968 when the original story was written, these questions have only become more and more relevant.