Blade Runner ★★★

It's been years since I've seen Blade Runner, but this week I seemed to not be able to stop stumbling across it. It was like a Baader-Meinhof phenomenon sans the prerequisite of some initial, novel stumbling upon.

There's so many things about this film that hit me different now, right now, with my fourth week of social isolation right around the corner in the middle of a pandemic. The deliberately overcrowded streets of Blade Runner's Los Angeles feel desolate despite their density. No one seems like people. Perhaps it's the direction—a meta choice, given the theme of what it takes to identify a human and what it means to be one or not—but no one seems to have an honest, real, emotional, mundane conversation with each other throughout the entire film. Every single interaction is mediated through either an ethos of strict business or pure and pathetic fear. The bleak asocial atmosphere of Blade Runner is as thick as Los Angeles' smog; it just rubbed its fingers in the increasingly painful loneliness of this pandemic.

The closest that we get to something genuine is two things. The first is Deckard's penchant for fake voices and identities in his policework, a weirdly goofy and lighthearted strategy in such a serious movie that it seems like something he does so often just because he personally thinks it's fun. The second is the tenderness between Roy and Pris while Sebastian makes them breakfast, tenderness which gets its closure as he embraces her still, dead body a final time. Similarly, the pandemic has also spiked my already always-latent death anxiety something severely, so to see these robots desperately afraid of dying as their very short lives come to an end is...intense, right now!!

But aside from that, I'm remembering how much Blade Runner is touted as this masterfully thematic work of subtext and interpretation, with such a powerful question at its core about whether Deckard is a replicant or not. And all I can say to that is that anyone who thinks it's a "powerful question" or the main attraction to the film just can't be very smart. I watched the Final Cut version and while it's naggingly subtle in the first half, I cannot fathom there being a single attentive person walking away from the last scene of this film and not knowing Deckard is a Replicant. It's foreshadowed in Rachael's killing of Leon, even; "replicant-on-replicant violence." But I'm not bringing this up because I want to complain that the movie's subtext regarding Deckard's humanity isn't subtextual enough—I'm bringing this up because ultimately I just don't care about Deckard at all.

I care about Rachael. I relate a lot—a lot—as a trans woman to female robots. I've felt like I've had to learn how to be myself, acquire a particular form of sexed sentience, construct myself in a certain way. Rachael's implanted memories only exacerbate my aching identification with her: I have disassociated so much from nearly everything in my life prior to my transition that it doesn't feel like my life, no, it feels exactly like somebody else's memories. When Deckard breaks the news to her, you can almost watch her entire world collapse to pieces, you can watch her sense of self shatter as she realizes that she's not who she thought she was, she's someone else. It's gruelingly painful but it's also liberating: once you realize you're not who you thought you were, you get to start being who you actually are.

Unfortunately for Rachael that leads to the movie's most infamous scene. Of all the memories implanted into her, she evidently wasn't given memories of love, romance, intimacy, or sex. She doesn't say "no" but she's clearly terrified and uncertain. When Deckard assaults her, he's teaching her how to love and how to fuck the same way that you might teach a child to swim by trebucheting them into the ocean. She yields and relents and concedes only because the lesson is internalized that this is what she's supposed to do: she doesn't know any better. Fortunately I haven't had any experiences remotely similar to this but I know a heartbreaking number of other trans women who have been exploited under this exact pretense—being vulnerable and insecure and new, being inexperienced with how to receive affection and therefore capitulating completely to whoever shows it first. I find Rachael to be so captivating, so tragic, so lonely of a character for all of these reasons. I find Deckard to be reprehensible, though if he's a replicant, maybe he's not bad, he's just made that way (but in the end, what's the difference?).

There's something else, too, about Blade Runner that affected me. It's the shots of Deckard looking through photos. That's it, just the shots of analog Polaroid pictures in a person's hands, slightly faded and a little grainy. I've never felt particularly attached to pictures and I'm guilty of getting annoyed when someone at a social function wants to take a lot of them. But for the first time I've felt genuinely remorseful and regretful for that annoyance. This pandemic is forcing to the forefront the possibility, however remote, that a lot of people that I know personally and love could catch sick and just die. They may literally die and I will never see them again, and I can't even see them if they do get sick without endangering so many other people as well as myself. What will I have to remember them by if they go so suddenly? Whether now or some other time, do I have enough memories to keep them precious to me? Are the memories that I do have strong enough, good enough, me enough, or are they lost to the ether, too tainted as someone else's? Am I as close to the people that I care about right now as I'm supposed to be, as I should be, as I want to be? It's such a small thing, such a small and inadvertent thing in this movie, but you don't just watch a movie by itself, you bring your entire life with you when you watch a movie. Which is why I was hollowed out, for a bit, about the nature of photographs and memories and loneliness from a single shot of old Polaroids.

I've little else to say about the rest of Blade Runner. Aesthetically, it's as iconic as ever, though it's become almost retroactively generic from the sheer number of movies since who've taken inspiration from it. However, the way the film lingers so frequently and thoroughly on Asian people and Asian signage in its future Los Angeles, though, feels distractingly overbearing if not uncomfortably Orientialist. Rutger Hauer gives an all-timer performance but all of the jerking off of the tears in rain monologue has rendered Daryl Hannah's performance as Pris direly underrated. She's so, so good!!

Also, the coats in the movie. The fucking coats!! Deckard's coat! Rachael's coat! Roy's coat! Deckard's other coat! There are so many INCREDIBLE huge trenchcoats in this movie! I could seriously just watch a full runtime's worth of cool coat footage from 2019 Los Angeles!