This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Darren Carver-Balsiger’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
This is it. The greatest American movie since blockbusters became a thing. A film so clearly made within the limited scope of commercial Hollywood filmmaking - popular source material, A-list lead, large effects budget - but so unequivocally artistic and profound. It only gets better with each viewing, growing in textual richness and philosophical depth.
Ridley Scott's vision in Blade Runner is absolutely unparalleled, showing a technical proficiency few have ever acquired. The lighting, the sets, the props: so dynamic, so tactile, so realistic. The visuals alone place Blade Runner is a class of so few, it's easily among the greatest looking science fiction movies ever made, likely only surpassed by 2001: A Space Odyssey. Then there's the score by Vangelis, which is perfect - an elongated funeral march for a society where science has bettered humanity; the ultimate Frankenstein. All of this allows Blade Runner to build a world in greater detail and believability than any other film I can think of. Smoke swirling through crowds, adverts shining through the damp darkness, Blade Runner is a broken world and one can almost smell the desperation that reeks from the screen. Scott's camera constantly moves beyond the plot and characters, leaving whole seconds of screen-time dedicated just to showing us life in this grim dystopia. There's so many cutaways, trivial by themselves, but a forceful depiction of cultural haze when viewed as a tapestry of a dying world.
When the final chase comes, with all of its loaded atmosphere, it's bone-shaking in how tense and scary it becomes. Then it culminates in the most perfect of monologues, one that summarises everything, not just the film, but what it means to live. As Rutger Hauer (who's so perfect in Blade Runner) speaks over towards Harrison Ford (in one of his finest performances), it isn't just a declaration of life, but a transference of being. In telling Deckard his most sacred memories, he's preserving himself. Identity isn't just a sense of self, but a sense of perseverance, to keep the memories you have, for losing them changes who they are. As the city becomes engulfed in rain, washing away its characteristics and rewriting its identity, the replicants cannot let those moments be lost like tears in the rain. By telling Deckard those moments, he keeps them alive as a memory.
Much has been made of whether Deckard is a human or a replicant, and whether one version or the other diminishes the movie in any way. But, it's deeper than that, Deckard is a human and a replicant. The ending of the movie is fairly unambiguous, although not explicit, but Deckard is heavily implied to be a replicant. Yet it's only from that point that he is, because he is now self aware. Prior to that, unable to think of himself as anything but human, he was in every way except biologically, a human. His belief in his identity overcame any sense of doubt, and identity isn't crafted by oneself. How you identify is not necessarily how others see your identity. It takes two to build an identity. To those in the know, Deckard is a replicant. To himself and to casual observers, Deckard is a human. He is both, because both identities are valid, and who is to say exterior reality is more correct than interior self-reflection. His fight against Roy Batty is not a replicant vs replicant battle, because both characters perceive Deckard as human. It's a brawl between two characters, one dying and sure of oneself, the other surviving but more unsure than ever. If all we are is just a collection of thoughts, memories, and feelings then the physical body we manifest is almost irrelevant.
There's a recurring focus on eyes throughout Blade Runner. Roy spends his last breaths talking about what they have seen. He mentions them more vividly when visiting the man who created them: "if you could only see what I've seen with your eyes". In many ways, eyes in Blade Runner represent a window into the soul. They are the recorder of events, a filter for memories, and what they sense makes them important for identity. No one else sees exactly what you see, and those images belong to you. Even if imprinted by someone else, they still determine who you are. The power of memory is often drawn from the power of images, and Blade Runner's characters need those images and their connotative memories to retain a sense of identity.
What's impressive though is that all this barely scratches the surface of Blade Runner. There's still tonnes of other things, like the discussion of death, heaven and hell, and what it means to even live. Then there's the religious overtones, from the doves down to the dialogue and into the plot about replicants looking to meet their maker, their father, the creator who made them in his image (Scott would return to all this in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant).
1968 to 1985 is, in my opinion, the greatest era for American cinema and films like Blade Runner are the reason why. It's so inspired, complex, bleak, and philosophical. It's just a big budget arthouse project. Yet it works on a level that almost transcends cinema. Blade Runner has been among my favourite three movies since before I joined Letterboxd in 2014, but I think I'm going to have to up it to top two after this rewatch (commiserations to my favourite anime, now dropping down to third). Blade Runner is practically flawless and a movie of jaw-dropping awesomeness. A virtually peerless work of art.
Also, I watched The Final Cut, because it's the best version and I've got no time for studio hatchet jobs.