Blade Runner

Blade Runner ★★★★½

Science fiction isn't really my cup of tea. There lies a methodical coldness in their approach to naturally logically complicated, mind-twisting concepts which is also reflected in the uncomfortably sterile environment that confines these ideas only to be filled in with rarely impressive intergalactic spectacle that keeps me from being fully invested. Thankfully, I cannot say the same about Blade Runner.

Where Blade Runner succeeds is in its highly introspective view on the meaning and the value of life, which can be compared to other titans of the genre such as 2001: A space Odyssey and Solaris. However, Blade Runner combines the best of both worlds in terms of stylistic grandeur and profundity somewhat better than the two aforementioned films. It might just be the film that immediately comes to my mind when I think of sci-fi, which can be the ideal genre to explore the many curiosities of human existence from a significantly detached, third-person point of view to gain a clearer view of life itself. That is, if done remarkably well. And Ridley Scott’s vision of a futuristic dystopia featuring men and their synthetic counterparts comes close to perfection.

Los Angeles, in the year 2019, is a melting pot of clashing cultures drenched in smog and bright neon lights. Geometric skyscrapers and giant electronic billboards loom over the noisy, crowded, polluted alleys littered with different food stalls, white steam rising from freshly-cooked meals into the air. Flying vehicles soar and patrol above, the constantly dim sky is their highway. This is the world of Blade Runner, a world where the past collides with the future, one that seems familiar, one which seems to have progressed technologically but has gone backwards in everything else. The race of mankind is lost, unable to assume an identity, its people distant on many levels, perhaps more now than any other time in history. Meanwhile, an advanced android race called replicants, manufactured by the powerful Tyrell Company, are made slaves in off-world colonies. Four of these replicants have escaped to Earth and are illegally hiding under the busyness of the city, trying to find a way to extend their short lifespans, and it is up to reluctant blade runner Rick Deckard to terminate them.

A hunt for the replicants begins, but as the fight narrows down to Deckard and Roy Batty, the leader of the renegade four, the disparity between man and android slims as well. The ultimate question of science fiction, where fantasy is essentially made reality through whatever technological breakthrough and where disaster results from an anomaly in a hard and fast system, circles back to what is most real: the meaning of life and the makeup of man. Serious debates about the dangers of artificial intelligence hypothetically closing the gap between creation and creator in our rapidly advancing world have forced us to look at what makes us human. This fear has stayed in the back of many minds ever since man sensed how high he was flying and how scarily high he could still go, and is more relevant now in the current generation where scientific innovations seem to come at a breakneck pace and the dream of colonizing other planets becoming more plausible with each passing day. It is honestly terrifying and concerning to think about a future where humans are under the rule of their own invention, but possibly the best thing about Blade Runner is that it takes the issue head-on and finds something beautiful in it.

Near the end of the film, Deckard and Batty play a game of hide-and-seek in a murky apartment, both set on killing each other; both become hunters and both become the hunted. Batty, realizing his body is shutting down soon, thrusts a nail through his palm to keep him functioning just a little longer. Deckard, with an injured hand of his own, jumps from one rooftop to another, struggling to cling on to a metal beam. Batty then emerges from the other building clutching a dove with one of his hands, like a glorious embodiment of man and machine stalking the helpless hero in the pouring rain. With ease, he leaps the distance to meet the hanging Deckard on the other side. He looks down at Deckard, who is now at the mercy of the superior replicant. “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave”, he says. Deckard loses his grip on the beam but Batty, with his nail-jammed hand, catches him before he falls, lifts him with one arm, and spares him. In the penultimate scene, he sits down calmly and delivers a poetic, now-iconic soliloquy to Deckard, who can’t seem to understand why someone he was trying to kill would save him. Batty shuts down and dies, the dove in his hand flying away like a pure spirit freed from the clamps of suffering.

Roy Batty was an android, but his final act of selflessness and symbolic Christlike sacrifice proved that he was no different from a man. What makes a human being a human being? Is it the anatomical specifications, the ability to think, or the capacity to build and sustain civilizations? Blade Runner suggests that it is, rather bluntly, emotion. To feel--for yourself and for others-- is to live. Emotion is the language of living beings. Our memories, dreams, and our experiences are all different (and even implanted as in the film’s context), but the degrees of our emotional responses reach the same highs and the same lows. Roy realized this in those final moments. “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 Tannhäuser gate”, recalls a dying Roy, reflecting on the life of violence he has led up to that point. “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain”. Roy recognizes the futility and the briefness of life as well as the memories that compose it, but also the value of living our momentary stay to the fullest. He has done ‘questionable’ things and his killings have rewarded him with nothing that can prolong his life or fulfill his already short existence, so at the end, he saves a life instead of taking another one. It’s a better way to go out.

In that moment with Deckard hanging on, he saw in Deckard’s eyes the same feeling of fear that had governed his life as an outcast slave. He is no less or greater of a being than Deckard. For the first time in his life, he displays empathy. Empathy is the peak of humanity, the keyword of our emotional language. Roy was an android but he was indeed more human than human. Whereas the real humans in the film were faceless and impassioned, Roy lived with a lust for life, with rebellion, and with emotion. Though his short life was fading before him, he knew what a real human being should aspire to live for more than what any computer program can dictate.

Blade Runner is a brilliant film from every aspect of filmmaking. Its themes which explore existentialism, identity, and the essence of humanity, and commentary on artificial intelligence, capitalism, and morality give viewers something thoroughly riveting to think about other than simply providing audiovisual thrills like most products of its genre do. This is thanks in large part to Ridley Scott’s excellent direction and Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples’ powerful writing based on Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” The film fleshes out its world effectively and finds balance between moments of action and rest while continuously adding layers to characters and ideas. Jordan Cronenworth’s cinematography makes my eyes drool. The retro-futuristic cyberpunk aesthetic (which oddly has become many people’s mental image of the Eighties, including mine) with icy blues and luminescent pinks and yellows make Blade Runner one of my favorite visual experiences and one of the most stunning films in general; I love this aesthetic to death and I prefer its style over its equally magnificent sequel. That also wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the very talented team of production designers, set and costume designers, art directors, visual effects supervisors, and sound designers. And speaking of sound, what a killer Vangelis synth score! The composition sets the tone perfectly, sounds otherworldly, and complements the visuals as an abstract emotional anchor. Blade Runner fires on all cylinders with how well it was made, and nearly four decades earlier, it’s still being imitated but never duplicated.

Harrison Ford has an eye for amazing roles. He plays to his strengths as an actor and as Rick Deckard, he struck gold once again, turning in one of, if not the best performance of his career. Known widely as the charismatic masculine action movie lead, Ford steps into darker and more melancholic territories with his acting here, and he gets better as the film goes on. While Deckard is ostensibly the protagonist, I reckon that in another lens, the same can be said about Roy Batty, one of my favorite characters in cinema, masterfully portrayed by the late great Rutger Hauer. So menacing, enigmatic, vicious, and yet so vulnerable and human: this is how one can describe Hauer’s wide-ranging emotional performance. His input on his own final monologue has endured the test of time and that’s just the icing on the cake. Rutger Hauer’s performance is overlooked when it comes to conversations about some of the best acting ever and the film is worth revisiting just for his third act showdown with Ford alone. Sean Young is Rachael and captures the emotional restraint and elegance her next-gen replicant character required; watching her was like truly watching an android learn to deal with its own humanlike complexities. And she looks gorgeous while doing all of it and I’ve got a crush on her character and I don’t care if she’s a fucking robot. Very good side performances also come from Edward James Olmos as Gaff, M. Emmet Walsh as Bryant, Daryl Hannah as Pris, William Sanderson as J.F. Sebastian, Brion James as Leon, Joanna Cassidy as Zhora, and Joe Turkel as Eldon Tyrell.

Blade Runner is a near-perfect film but it would’ve been flawless if it weren’t for four things. First, which also seems to be its main criticism, is its evidently thin plot dragging at points. While I don’t really care about plot (many of my favorite films lack a traditional plot), Blade Runner’s narrative minimalism makes it feel too long as it is and in the end, though satisfying to see arcs reach completion, I was left wanting more. Secondly, the actual ending, where Deckard escapes with Rachael and picks up the silver unicorn, felt kind of rushed. Though I like what it’s trying to suggest, it was an ending that seemed to beg for a sequel like how many mainstream films today, and maybe a scene in between Batty’s cathartic death and this one could’ve let me breathe. Thirdly, I’m not a big fan of Deckard being a replicant. I actually think that him being a replicant reduces some of the power in his and Roy’s final interaction since a replicant empathizing with a human is something while a replicant empathizing with another replicant is expected. Though it would be hard to guess if Roy knew, the logic stays the same for us audiences, who were given enough hints beforehand that Deckard was an android himself. I can look past this but I have to admit I’m not too keen on Deckard being a replicant reportedly for the sake of ambiguity, but we’ll find out if 2049 can change my mind when I see it again. Finally, what’s up with the rape scene? This, to me, is why Roy was the real hero. Sure, he killed violently but showed anguish and guilt, but Deckard is actually a lot more cold-blooded, and in that one scene, misogynistic. Deckard is a bigger asshole in general. People can justify why he acted aggressively towards Rachael but the scene just feels weird and pointless, and it makes the eye-gouging bit more comfortable to sit through.

Well, that’s Blade Runner for you. I did like it a bit more this time compared to my first viewing having picked up on more details and emotional ideas. It might be Ridley Scott’s masterpiece. Science fiction has so much potential and when its form and storytelling opportunities are utilized properly, you get a film like this one. I am now hyped to see the copied and pasted modern classic Blade Runner 2049 to see how the original’s story and themes branch out to a new direction. Anyway, God knows why it took me hours to write this (almost or even over as long as I did for The Tree of Life!) and I should get some rest. Thank you for reading this write-up and I’ll try to do one for Burning tomorrow. Again, many thanks and have a good day, friends.
“Time... to... get some sleep”

P.S. Damn, those paragraphs are thick as hell, I'm sorry.

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