I am walking down a very dangerous slope right now by reviewing Blade Runner. Well, not really, it is just the first time I have decided to over space here on the blog to a film that I have a deep admiration for, so much so that it is my third favorite film of all time. I have reviewed films since the blog started that have since made it into my favorites list, but nothing quite like this, where my attachment to the film emerged well before I ever thought of devoting time to writing about movies on the expansive web. As such, I am wholly aware that my opinion of this film might be clouded by some bizarre mixture of over-zealous adoration, flakes of nostalgia and genuine belief that everyone should see this film. Frankly, I am quite fine with that because Blade Runner is a masterpiece, even if half of the people I recommend the film to come back to me frustrated at being forced to sit through a two hour film that drones along. Indeed, I am often mounted with attacks on the film being "boring." While I can understand such critiques, I would context that the very ambient nature of the film is what makes Blade Runner work twofold as a deep reflection on the existential questions of human life in a world where it can be easily and near perfectly replicated. Furthermore, because it makes careful strides to exist as a neo-noir thriller, the malaise and sense of dread that comes purely with being alive and on-the-run comes second only to the absolutely dreary world of Le Samouraï. One might assume a sort of cult attachment to a work like Blade Runner, something that is afforded a less realized, but certainly enjoyable sci-fi work like Soylent Green or Logan's Run, however, Blade Runner also happens to be a work of cinematic genius, one whose composition, editing and execution are all signifiers of how to compose a film and use the language of movies to their greatest advantage (although this did take upwards of five cuts and re-cuts to achieve, my personal preference going to the 1992 Director's Cut). Indeed, if one of the great achievements of a film is to leave viewers not with a variety of answers, but a series of questions and inquiries, then Blade Runner achieves this to the highest degree, as it ends in perhaps the most perplexing of manners, asking the identity of its main character and causing as much of a contentious debate as the closing section of 2001: A Space Odyssey still demands.
Blade Runner focuses its neo-noir narrative on the future world of Los Angeles, at the time 2019, wherein humans living on Earth have begun to colonize the spaces of the farthest reaches of the galaxy, relying not only on the advances of weaponry and technology, but on the creation of living and synthetic being known as Replicants, whose sole purpose is to be a being that is "more human than humans," while also still existing as a form of slave labor. A particular group of Replicants defined as the Nexus 6 models have come to realize that their own lives are of more value than mere labor for humans and seek not only to free themselves from this hinderance, but also to negate another issue with being a Replicant, which is the factor of only having a four year life span. As such a group of these Nexus 6 models have returned to Earth and are attempting to reach the leader of Tyrell Corporation, Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkell) to bargain for their models begin upgraded for a further lifespan. This navigation of neo-Los Angeles is not that simple though, proving difficult and bloody as the Replicant's leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) kills viciously in the name of achieving what he desires, life at a greater length. To prevent such occurrence, individuals known as Blade Runners are introduced into the society to hunt down and stifle--often violently--any rouge Replicants. In this case Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is the Blade Runner tasked with preventing the Nexus 6 models from reaching their goal. Working against the clock, Deckard goes to the top and illicits the help of Tyrell directly, who places his own hyper-real Replicant Rachael (Sean Young) in charge of guiding Deckard. However, when it becomes rather clear that Batty and his partner Nexus models, specifically sex model Pris (Daryl Hannah) are quite ahead of the game, Deckard moves into a state of paranoia and worry that is doubled by his own identity crisis as he begins to navigate his own memories in relation to the larger issue of Replicants. Eventually, Batty is able to track down and kill the various engineers of his body, each failing to over him the one thing he so greatly desires, a chance to live longer. This rage culminates in a confrontation between he and Deckard on the rooftop of a decrepit Los Angeles apartment, where Batty delivers a monologue on what memory means when it is lost forever. Deckard confused leaves the scene and rescues Rachael, but not before one sequence suggests his own future to be tenuously short and dire.
I realize even as I attempt to hit the highlights of this film in a plot description that it is barely even skimming the surface of the layers of narrative and theoretical implications in the film. The Los Angeles on display in this film is a space that is completely modernized, one that has built upon itself a new layer, wherein, like in the classic Fritz Lang film Metropolis, privilege is reflected in being above ground, here in a very literal sense. Allowing for the navigation of the noir elements of the film to take place on the saturated seedy streets of Los Angeles that are so densely populated that to navigate them is an existential maze in themselves. Here Ridley Scott reverts the expressionist streets of loneliness and anguish noted in classic noir films into something completely claustrophobic. The existential threat here is not the individual in relation to an expanse of nothingness, but in relation to an inescapable sense of everything compounding upon a singular individual. Indeed, it is this identity in relation to a larger, all-consuming pressure that makes the Replicant versus human debate all the more fascinating. The question in Blade Runner is about the point in which emotion outweighs the physical advantages of being human. Indeed, what individuals like Tyrell and Deckard seem to think advances them is the ability to think not about the logic of a situation, but how that situation might make them feel. Their ability to look at a Replicant as an 'other,' is predicated not on any physical signifiers, but one's that are wholly of a theoretical space. Yet, in a panoptic kind of way, eyes still factor in heavily to how this is judged as if perceptions of emotions and feelings are a thing that is tangible. Scott, borrowing from the Phillip K. Dick novella seems to say that to have one physical way of testing an emotional "awakeness" of an individual is futile, because it is still predicated upon looking, which is a physical act itself. The physical body as superior is indeed dealt with quite intensely, as Batty represents not only an insurmountable force of power that can navigate any space regardless of its physical barriers, but also as a replication of the Aryan ideal of perfect human. The privilege in this film is predicated upon a belief that somehow the human can feel human, but can only know such a feeling if they are human. The Nexus 6 Replicants spit in the face of this presumptive issue and very little is done to negate their actions as noting the illogical structure of humanity as a felt thing. Embodiment and humanity within Blade Runner move full-on into the space of post-humanism by contesting that one must always and at once consider how it will be effected and and affected.
Key Scene: The "tears in rain" monologue, obviously.
The recently released 30th anniversary bluray is stunning. It has every conceivable cut of the film and enough special features to make any fan happy. Obtaining it is of necessity.