This film, I believe, deserves a higher status than that of cult, and is much more than just an acceptable homage to Philip K Dick, author of many original science-fiction novels, often laced with philosophical perspectives on the human condition. The film is multi-layered; thrilling and unsettling, part dark science fiction and detective film noir, realistic and dream-like, intelligent, mature, artistic and powerful.
Purely on the surface, it has a visual richness which is wonderfully atmospheric (enhanced by the soundtrack of Vangelis), drawing one into a vision of the future which is not only a sprawling, technological metropolis, but an mpty, soulless place. It is a film, which not only incorporates the strong themes presented by Dick but also adds its own mood, more aloof and tragic, which includes through its characters a sense of life’s quiet desperation.
They are withdrawn almost, living in a mellow dream which when disrupted, is painful and struggling. The characters seem random, everyday people of the city, but through the story are united by a will to survive because there is nothing else, nothing but fear. Death to the replicants is represented by their own mortality and the outside embodiment of the Blade Runners; stalkers such as Deckard.
Throughout the film, life and death are displayed in ways that illuminate their surrealness; life in the case of a radically imposing world – large, expansive, beautifully decadent, grown strange even to the hero Deckard – and death, especially in the example of Zorra’s death sequence, as a sprawling, slow-motion operatic and disjointed event. Survival is a weary task amongst such decadence, but it is a prominent theme; the replicants are not human yet they want life, Deckard scrambles extensively on the rooftops and at one classic point, is moments from certain death.
The film itself is called ‘Blade Runner’ suggestive of the confrontation with danger that hunting replicants for a living invites. ‘Quite a thing to live in fear isn’t it? ‘ Towards the climax the film attempts to bring the viewers as close to the ledge of death as possible. ‘4,5 – how to stay alive’ shouts Batty chasing Deckard with a nail plunged through his hand, an attempt to retain his failing sense of sensation by an infliction of harsh pain. This is all artistic nerve touching, and with the roles reversed to Deckard as the prey, the viewer senses the hopelessness of
Deckard’s situation. This highlights another interesting factor which distinguishes Blade Runner from being a conventional sci-fi thriller to a surprisingly relevant and resonant work; the mix of the traditional with the untraditional. We have the typical cop hero in the character Deckard, found in a downtown bar at the beginning, wanted for an assignment by the chief. There is the usual love interest in Rachel, the main villain Batty and his boys heading for a showdown, a few minor characters of interest and behind it, the clever scientist whose plans backfire.
Before long however, all is out of joint; the baddies are not evil, but confused creatures of Frankenstein seeking like us all, extended life and answers for the pain and suffering caused by grief and heightened doses of emotion. Rachel, one of them also, complicates Deckard’s task and in general there is a sense of confusion, horror in Zorra’s realistic death scene and complexity in man’s modern creations and lack of control. Technology, it seems has surpassed our ability to control and relate to it. This futuristic city is forlorn, lonely and lost.
The characters are world-weary; they have een and done it all, and are none the wiser. Instead of a great showdown with the enemy where the viewer witnesses good triumph over evil, we have a prolonged, desperate fight. Our hero is disarmed, forced to flee and is saved by the enemy who is dying anyway. It is a scene where we wait to see if Deckard will survive and return to salvage all that he now cares about – his strange love for Rachel. After this case, we may discern that Deckard ‘won’t work in this town again’.
It has been suggested that the film suffers from an identity crisis through not knowing whether it is a science fiction thriller or a lever detective film noir. This was never the case. Like in the book, Deckard in the director’s cut is a conventional cop confronted by an unconventional case (Nexus Six replicants with memories and primitive emotions) which will bring him close to confronting a hazard that is inherent within us all; the darker more horrific desire for holding onto life.
For this is the struggle of Batty and the replicants – how to live with dangerously acute powers and sensibilities bestowed by people such as the arrogant scientist Dr. Tyrell. They are not happy with their gift; playing second-rate to humans, living in fear of death, and by the end, suffering a painful, protracted and useless end. Their inability to comprehend their own mortality and loss of experiences (‘like tears in rain’) mirrors our own.
This is the result of arrogant science, of playing Prometheus, and as a powerful theme resonates to the consideration that human life is not dissimilar. It is true perhaps that this fundamental idea of ‘what it means to be human’ may come over better in the book than in the film; a stronger depth inherent in the film is that of hunter and hunted. But what we do witness is Deckard’s natural but ironic predicament of falling for the enemy, i. e. Rachel. This is perhaps the only goodness in a film illustrating the fallibility of humanity; love and the need to be loved.
It is here where we get the dream image of the charging unicorn, a symbol perhaps of an attainable goodness and simplicity amid such dark modernity and angst. Deckard doesn’t find an enemy as such in the replicants, but beings every bit as fallible as himself; confused, fearful and understandably dangerous when threatened. A more apparent interpretation of the unicorn is that it is a memory implant given to Deckard – himself a replicant, confirmed at the end when he notices the silver origami creation of the cane-man (a real Blade Runner? Have they used Deckard as a thief to catch the thieves? Personally, although this is a strong connection, I prefer to think of this as a suggestion only, and that the dream unicorn may also be a real dream, but perhaps attaches to a deeper meaning shared between the blade runners.
This, however is the cleverness of the subtle ambiguity in the film; that its uggestions work on numerous levels. There are other groundings for understanding Deckard as a replicant, with his unemotional dedication to completing the task set for him by the chief.
The reaches of Tyrell’s influence on the positions of the city are uncertain. Possibly it is all one engineered experiment by the god-like mental Tyrell; introducing Rachel to Deckard, their relationship, Holden’s incapacitation at the beginning by Leon, and the need for a being able to match and destroy Batty. But this is relatively inconsequential and merely dds strength to the theme of presenting the experience of humanity – its strange needs and compulsions – through the concept of replicants.
The fact that the reference to their murder is classified ‘retirement’ draws attention to an unjust but deliberate discrimination. What these cops are tracking down in the Nexus Six replicants are mirrors of themselves, suffering from a lack of empathy. The film is laced with a subtle, ironic perspective. By the time Deckard enters Sebastian’s building it becomes apparent that Deckard from this point will hardly be likely to just kill Batty and walk home to Rachel. The climax distils the running of the blade for both characters and for all people.
Ultimately, as Rachel and Deckard rush to escape the vicinity of other Blade Runners, but of still inevitable death, their weakness and futility matches Batty’s. But they have a sort of love, one that possibly only Deckard feels, and we guess that they will cling to this as they enter the lift and the difficult future. The door slams, life goes on; the players have left the stage. They are left threatened, for possibly the cane-man will ensure that Rachel is hunted down. ‘It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again who oes.
The definitive version of the film is the director’s cut, which retains the proper level of ambiguity by subtracting the ill-fitting, unnecessary happy ending. Instead we may wonder whether the unicorn of hope, love and purity (my interpretation) can live, or deserve to live, outside the dream and inside such an exhausted, dead-end of a world. This film is both far-fetched and realistic, bleak in setting but finally hopeful, striking a powerful chord with its searching, struggling characters. Crucial aspects of the human condition are here on display in surely what is a fine creation.