Bryant Tyler’s review published on Letterboxd:
Blade Runner: The Final Cut
An outsider in Hollywood and former commercial director, Ridley Scott, fresh from shooting his second film Alien (1979) in London, set out to adapt Phillip K Dick’s 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”. Dick’s novel was written at the height of the Vietnam war, it was a philosophical reflection on the horrors of Nazi Germany and what it means to be human in the face of mass atrocity (1).
To widen the appeal of Scott’s philosophical film, the studio hoped that casting Harrison Ford, who was popular for Star Wars and just debuting one year earlier as Indiana Jones, would bring box office appeal. The film had scheduled an arduous all-night shoot for months on end. Production was very stressful for the cast and the crew, and by the end of the production Scott and Ford weren’t even speaking, except when necessary on set. Scott went over budget and his assembly cut ran for nearly four hours. The producers took the film away from Scott, re-edited it, and contractually forced Ford to record expository narration, in an attempt to make the film more accessible for audiences.
In 1982, both Blade Runner and The Thing under performed at the box office because ET The Extraterrestrial was released around the same time and dominated the box office. Initially receiving mixed reviews and under performing in the box office, people in 1982 (even people today watching it for the first time) found that Blade Runner was not the action film that they expected, and it didn’t help that the film’s marketing in 1982 made it look like a sci-fi action film instead of the cyberpunk neo-noir. People were not expecting a contemplative slow-paced meditation on what makes us human, the effects of aging emotionally and dealing with our own morality. Despite the poor box office, the timing of Blade Runner’s release allowed it to have new life in the advent of home video and it became one of the first cult classics of that era. Blade Runner helped establish a style now known as “sci-fi noir” and later inspiring many films, including Akira (1988), Ghost in the Shell (1995), Dark City (1998), The Matrix (1999), Minority Report (2002) and Children of Men (2006).
Roughly ten years after its theatrical release, due to its popularity Warner Brothers released a “Director’s Cut”, which was improved with previously unseen footage and the elimination of the studio mandated voice over narration. The Director's Cut also added a brief dream of a unicorn for Deckard, which established that the blade runner himself was actually a replicant (whereas he was portrayed as a human in the theatrical). By incorporating this brief dream, the director's cut clearly establishes that he is a replicant (even though Harrison Ford still argues that it isn’t true). While Scott’s story was now told as intended, unfortunately he was barely involved with the “Director’s Cut” and was not happy with it. Thus, Warner Brothers, looking to commemorate the film’s 25th anniversary, gave Scott full creative control to do his “Final Cut” in 2007. Scott was able to aesthetically improve and digitally remaster his film, finally representing his ultimate vision.
In the end, there are 7 different cuts of the film, 5 of which are available to the public — notably the U.S. and International Theatrical Cuts (both 1982), the Director’s Cut (1992) and the Final Cut (2007).
In the futuristic year of 2019, society had been separated by class and technology has both polluted the earth and consumed people’s daily lives. The film’s setting of Los Angeles has become a decaying metropolis that doesn’t see the sun’s light any longer. The retro-fitted world has run out of room and has built upwards, creating a social hierarchy where the rich live high above in splendor and the poor multicultural population crowds the rainy streets below.
Humanity’s population has decreased with the rise of crime and pollution, thus people have begun slowly leaving the planet to off-world colonies for “the chance to begin again [in] a golden land of opportunity and adventure”.
The city has a perpetual rain, lingering fog and a darkness that is penetrated only by its neon signs and skyscraper-size advertisements. The film’s Cinematographer, Jordan Cronenweth, said the films constant “shafts of light represent the invasion of privacy by a supervising force; a form of control. You are never sure who it is, but even in the darkened seclusion of your home, unless you pull your shades down, you are going to be disturbed at one time or another.” (2) The film presents a world where advertisements are distressingly oppressive and invasive, establishing this through the aesthetics of the metropolis, where technology and consumerism work in conjunction. This dystopia seems to resonate in 2020, as video-billboards and voice-activated technology have progressively become common. The world of Blade Runner isn’t too different from the world of today, where people are dehumanized and technology runs the lives of humanity with capitalistic excess.
A corporation called Tyrell has created replicants: bioengineered artificial androids, who look exactly like humans. However replicants do not share the freedom of a human: they are created to fulfill a predetermined role. The NEXUS-6 are the latest and most advanced model of replicants, designed with a limited 4 year life span so as to hinder the potential for developing independent thought. Replicants are illegal on Earth, and if they appear, police officers called Blade Runners work to track them down, identify and “retire” them.
When the film begins, four replicants, who after a mutiny on an off-planet colony, have made their way back to Earth in a quest to meet their creator, in hopes to extend so they can be released from these bondage of their 4 year life span.
Deckard, a retired Blade Runner, is called back to service to track down these replicants who are charged with stealing a shuttle and killing its crew. Deckard initially refuses, though the police chief, Harry Bryant, tells Deckard he can’t reject the job because a top Blade Runner, Holden, was killed by Leon, one of the escaped replicants. Furthermore, he threatens Deckard by telling him “if you’re not cops, you’re little people.”
Deckard doesn’t have a problem retiring replicants, because he views them as manmade creations, as he says “replicants are like any other machine, they’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.” The word “retiring” also characterizes the action with a lack of sympathy, terminating an object that has outlived its use. But for replicants this would be considered murder.
The Voight-Kampff test (inspired by Cambridge mathematician Alan Touring who created a test called the “imitation game”, which aimed to determine machine intelligence) is meant to determine whether the subject is a human or a replicant through a series of questions meant to illicit an emotional response, and particular cues would reveal a replicant as a synthetic being, measuring their response by observing the iris. The questions are intended to evoke empathy and the participant’s iris is monitored for involuntarily dilation. It also measures bodily functions such as respiration and heart rate in response to questions dealing with empathy. Ironically, they rely on machines to tell them who’s human or not. How can a machine, built by humans, determine what is human?
Deckard first visits the replicant creator Elden Tyrell. The film is also about class, as Tyrell lives in a tall tower (presumably other privileged elites do as well), where he is parallel to the sun (linking him to the Greek god, Apollo). Tyrell wears trifocal glasses (which have three lenses correcting for near, intermediate, and distance), a reflection of his aim to be all-seeing with his vision. Tyrell asks Deckard to perform a test on a Replicant to demonstrate the Voight-Kampff's efficiency. Tyrell asks Deckard to demonstrate the test on a "human subject", a woman by the name of Rachel. Deckard’s perspective begins to change when he meets Rachel, an advanced replicant who is unaware of her true (replicant) nature. Rachel is separated from her peers due to the inclusion of one thing: memory. Rachel was given implanted memories from Tyrell’s niece, presenting an illusion where she believes she is human. Because she is unique, it takes an unusually high number of questions for Deckard to finally determine that she’s an android. Deckard says that her past is “all false”, suggesting that she is not real, and he asks Tyrell: “How can it not know what it is?” With the knowledge she is a replicant, he views her as an object, an “it,” rather than a person.
Tyrell tells Deckard the secret to the NEXUS-6 line - memories. Different from past replicants, Tyrell has given each NEXUS-6 replicant a set of their own manufactured memories. These memories, Tyrell explains, give the Replicants a padding against their own inhumanity and the psychic space they need to develop themselves. This buffer, then, gives them the unprecedented ability to acquire emotion in their short existence. Deckard will begin to recognize Rachel’s humanity, not only because of her apparent ability to have feelings but also because of his growing emotional response towards her. This adds complexity to his worldview and leads him to question his own authenticity.
Two of the NEXUS-6 models are Roy, a combat model programmed for "maximum self-sufficiency," and Priss, a "basic pleasure model," and last remaining female Replicant. When Roy Batty comes to Earth, he doesn’t place value on human life. The film first presents Roy as a Lucifarian angel, he deliberately misquotes William Blake, saying "fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rolled around their shores; burning with the fires of Orc". Instead of resigning to his mortality, Roy endeavors to commune with his maker, hoping to postpone his expiration date (to gain life after or beyond death). This is a universal and primordial fear.
When Roy meets with Tyrell, he is confronted with the inescapable truth that every person must face: their mortality. Rather than reacting with fatherly affection or benevolent omnipotence, Tyrell treats Roy with the pride of an inventor looking at a brilliant machine. Tyrell calls Roy the “prodigal son” to show that he considers Roy his perfect creation. Roy says "it's not easy to meet your maker," and mockingly calls him “the god of biomechanics”. Roy tells his creator that he’s done “questionable things”, though Tyrell affirms “also extraordinary things. Revel in your time.”
Though Roy wants to go to biomechanic heaven, Roy pleads with his creator for more time, to be given a chance to create more for himself beyond the years he spent as a slave, bound to the fatal genetic shackles of his expiration date. Though his human maker could not save him and at that moment, Roy abandons his faith. Roy embraces his father, though in a reversal of the prodigal son homecoming, he gouges out his father’s eyes and kills him.
This parallels to both Oedipus and Polymnestor, where Oedipus gouges out his own eyes in remorse for unknowingly killing his father, Polymnestor has his eyes gouged out as retribution for the death of others at his hands. When Roy kills Tyrell, he is symbolically avenging the deaths of the Replicants. This also ensures that no other Replicants could share the same fate.
In the film, real animals have become a rare and expensive commodity. It’s significant that many of the implanted memories focus on animals because the world of the film places superior worth on real animals. Thus replicants dreaming about real animals signifies their desire to be human, to be valued and to be real. The title of Dick’s novel implicitly asks if a replicant’s dream animal is less real than the animal in a human’s dream. Rachel has an implanted memory of a spider building a nest outside her childhood home and Deckard dreams of a unicorn, suggesting that his memories are also artificial. Deckard also doesn’t dream just about any animal, he dreams about a mythical creature that doesn’t exist. It’s as if Deckard hopes to be an exceptional replicant, one who really lives. The unicorn was used in medieval art to represent Jesus Christ. The unicorn is a symbol that appears in folktales and fairy tales representing values and ideals. A replicant itself is a unicorn, a fantastic creature, even a miracle. Deckard has been conditioned to view the world as evil, yet he dreams of purity, of his true potential. But he doesn’t come to this realization until he comes face to face with humanity through his hunt of the replicants.
Roy is now the last remaining off-world replicant and he has an existential crisis. He has hours of life remaining, and everyone who he has been close with have been retired.
He sees that he is both physically and mentally superior to Deckard. He breaks Deckard’s fingers, stripping Deckard of his power, then showing the flaws in the morality that drives the Blade Runners. Roy runs between ruins and taunts Deckard. Deckard is out of his depth, while Roy is at one with nature, echoing wolf howls and bird calls. Deckard desperately clings to the destroyed sides for cover, but it seems that the weak-walls are against him too. He leaps out the window, and holds the side of the building. He climbs the structure, only to clamber onto the rooftop. “I thought you were supposed to be good,” Batty says to Deckard. “Come on…show me what you’re made of.” also playfully calls Deckard “little man”, again underscoring the possibility that Deckard is just a creation of a frenetic toymaker. Almost everything Batty says can be geared toward the specific question of Deckard’s humanity.
At one point, Roy's hand starts to freeze. Knowing that the end of his four years is at hand, Roy exclaims "not yet" and pulls a long nail from the wood and impales his hand with it. Here he is also embracing a Christ role, sacrificing himself for his cause.
Roy tilts his head and smiles as the rain pours down upon him. Once again, a Christian image (of baptism) is integrally linked to Roy. Roy corners Deckard on the roof of the building. Deckard jumps to an adjoining building and grabs hold of the cliff. As Roy approaches the edge of the building with his arms folded and holding a dove. Holding the dove with his arms crossed like a pharaoh, Roy silently leaps to the other building. As Deckard begins to loose his grip on the wet precipice, Roy tells him "quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it's like to live as a slave." Roy saves him by grabbing his wrist with the nail-impaled hand and pulls him to the roof.
The Voight-Kampff test was designed to prove Replicants have no empathy, though here is disproved due to Roy’s redemptive act. Roy’s last act is not of vengeance or violence, Roy goes from trying to kill Deckard to saving him, coming to understand the importance of life. Roy has been programmed to be a killer, but decides to rebel against his programming and save Deckard, pulling him up to his level and incidentally showing him that there can be good in this world and that life has value. Just because Roy was created instead of being born, he still understands the value of life, the killing they have done served no purpose and killing someone else achieves nothing at all. It is here that he fully exercises free will, making the choice not to kill Deckard and showing him another way. It is choice that separates humanity from machine. And in this moment, Roy became human, perhaps understanding humanity better than Deckard. Throughout the film Roy has been the villain, but now he is just a man, who has lost everything including his dream. He wanted to add more years to his life, not for money or power, but just to live longer.
Before he dies he gives his reflects on his journey, saying “I have known adventures, seen places you people will never see, I’ve been Offworld and back...frontiers! I’ve stood on the back deck of a blinker bound for the Plutition Camps with sweat in my eyes watching the stars fight on the shoulder of Orion. I’ve felt wind in my hair, riding test boats off the black galaxies and I’ve seen an attack fleet burn like a match and disappear. I’ve seen it…felt it!” “All those moments, would be lost, like tears in rain.” Tears have meaning, purpose, emotion, tears are not just precipitation, but in a sea of precipitation they become indistinguishable. He laments that his experiences and his memories will vanish from existence, but has come to appreciate the transitory beauty of experience. Roy’s words echo Psalm 103:15-16 “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field, for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.”
Roy finally appreciates his short lifespan and what he has achieved and ultimately Roy does in fact achieve “more life”, through passing on his memories and his humanity onto Deckard. This ensures that he will live on in Deckard’s memories and hopefully Deckard will pass on stories of Roy and not allow him to be forgotten. Roy sits down, holding a replicant dove (a traditional symbol for the spirit or soul) in his hand, and he calmly surrenders, accepting his death. Roy has demonstrated he has a soul by showing mercy, by manifesting something that he wasn’t programmed with. Roy releases his grip on the dove and it flies into the sky, symbolizing his soul leaving his body, towards the first glimpse of sunlight in the film.
Despite having just retired his partner Priss, Roy spares Deckard, showing a sign of forgiveness (recalling Jesus’s lament “forgive them they know not what they do”). Like Christ, Roy sacrificed himself for humanity and for understanding. Deckard later remarks that "Roy loved life more than anyone." Even when society tries to strip down everything good in the world, one simple act of goodness can have an enormous impact.
His words, expressing the value of his life experiences, are all the more meaningful because these are the last words of his life. In his four years, he has acquired a unique combination of experiences, experiences that he both remembers and treasures. Our humanity is expressed in the deep emotional appreciation that we bring to what we take in. Ironically, given Tyrell’s final advice to his “prodigal son,” Roy knows how to “revel” in the present moment.
When the police come to claim Roy’s body, Gaff approaches Deckard, speaking for the first time in English, and telling him, "you've done a man's job, sir." He then says that "It's too bad the girl won't live. But then again, who does?"
After Roy’s sacrifice, Deckard breaks with his programming as a blade runner, and acts with empathy, by choosing not to turn Rachael in for retirement and instead goes on the run with her. It is this ability to act with autonomy and perhaps this inexhaustive capacity for relationships with others, that is at the heart of what it means to be “human”. They gather their things to escape the city before someone in the Blade Runner unit finds them. As they leave the building, Deckard sees an Origami unicorn on the ground. This unicorn, a symbol of purity and light, was left by Gaff. Deckard finds a origami unicorn left by named Gaff, throughout the film Gaff has mocked Deckard with his origami, calling him a coward and someone who thinks only with his genitals. Though the reveal of the unicorn shows that Gaff knows that the dream has been implanted and that Deckard is a replicant. Gaff had known that Rachel was there, and despite the fact that it was his job to kill her, he let them go. Deckard crushes the unicorn model and nods with acknowledgement. After Roy saved Deckard, his perspective changed and he is able see what Roy saw, the beauty in humanity and grows to appreciate it. He leaves to start a new life with Rachel. Thus Deckard begins to pursue a life that has meaning.
Roy’s speech also shows how precious the present is, rather than obsessing over the future, it affirms to cherish what we have been given, what we have done and what we have seen. All these experiences are finite. We live in the moment, in the present.
Whether someone lives four years or seventy years, life is still too short.
Roy obsessed over the future while Rachel was dependent on a false past, and the call to meaning is again emphasized as Gaff laments to Deckard, “it’s too bad she won’t live, but again who does?”
The pursuit to struggle and create a life worth living is what it means to be human. To create, develop and grow, discovering more within ourselves. The human experience is predicated on making the most of what we have. Live for today, cherish the past and look forward to the future.
(1) Bowes, Danny. “Philip K. Dick Takes the Stage: An Interview With Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Playwright/Director Edward Einhorn.” Tor.com, 24 Mar. 2015, www.tor.com/2010/11/24/philip-k-dick-takes-the-stage-an-interview-with-do-androids-dream-of-electric-sheep-playwrightdirector-edward-einhorn/.
(2) Khan, Maaz. “Blade Runner: The Cinematography of Jordan Cronenweth.” DIY Photography, 17 Apr. 2014, www.diyphotography.net/blade-runner-cinematography-jordan-cronenweth/.