An Appreciation – Blade Runner: The Final Cut
Life, death, identity. The Replicants can make the argument that they are just as human as everyone else because they are aware of their finite existence. It’s that fear that pushes them toward a larger meaning, perhaps maybe even toward some type of religious enlightenment. This is something that Ridley Scott has revisited in his oeuvre. The further his career has gone on, the more often we see him returning to the same kind of questions: Who created us? What is our purpose? He tackles these ideas in his Alien franchise as well. Although Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017) were met with mixed reactions, the most intriguing aspects of them dealt with these very concepts. In an early draft of Blade Runner, it was revealed that the head of the corporation responsible for producing Replicants, Dr. Tyrell (Joe Turkel), was a Replicant himself. This twist begs the question: Who created Dr. Tyrell? How far back does the chain go?
The narrative hinges on its two central performances, complete opposites in delivery but equally vital. The first is from Harrison Ford. Unlike the charismatic turns he took with Han Solo and Indiana Jones, Ford’s work as Deckard calls for him to be more subdued, more cynical. There’s almost a self-loathing in the way he carries himself, as though he despises his job regardless of how good he is at it. Deckard is the classic noir protagonist, a hard drinking cop called upon for “one last case.” This is an underrated performance from Ford, and is one of the aspects that I have grown to appreciate as the years have passed. Deckard enters the fray with a level of detachment. It’s not as though he hates Replicants, it’s that he doesn’t care about them at all. Only when he delves further into his investigation does he come to not only understand their plight, but develops an empathy for them.
Rutger Hauer is the true star as Roy Batty, the de facto leader of the Replicants. Hauer clearly is having a ball with his performance. He is the most compelling character – he has the best lines, and is the most self reflective, and thus most poetic. Batty may actually be one of the few characters we see break a smile. Hauer chews scenery whenever he can, calling attention to himself without being a caricature. His motivation is to extend his life passed the four-year mark, and when Tyrell tells him it’s impossible, there is genuine heartbreak coming from Batty, even though he is a murderer and criminal. Hauer can generate our sympathies and then turn on a dime to be a menace. Notice the way Batty toys with Deckard in the climactic scene in the hotel, playing with him like an insignificant prey about to be devoured. But Hauer gives Batty a richness that enables him to act unlike your usual bad guy. This is highlighted in the best scene of the film: Batty’s death. Knowing that his lifespan is about to end, Batty delivers a monologue to Deckard about all the memories he has and the experiences he has gone through, all of which will be forever lost “like tears in the rain.” It’s one of the great movie speeches, improvised by Hauer, but it condenses the central theme into this one profound, powerful moment.
It’s fortunate that Ford and Hauer bring the most they can to their roles, because sadly much of the supporting characters don’t share the same kind of success, particularly the female characters. The Replicant Pris (Daryl Hannah) is almost a non-character, lacking any kind of personality or nuance. We learn nothing of her except that she likes to put on strange costumes and make up, and occasionally practices extreme gymnastics. Sean Young has an even more problematic role as Rachael, an employee of the Tyrell Corporation who discovers that she is a Replicant as well. The conception of Rachael as a character is inconsistent. When we first meet her, she is cold, detached, robot-like. It’s only after she learns that she is manufactured (along with her memories) does she develop humanlike emotion. The romance between Rachael and Deckard might be one of the least believable story threads. Not only is it contrived, but Ford and Young share no onscreen chemistry. There’s no sizzle between them, and their supposed “love” scene (in which Deckard shoves Rachael up against a window) borders on abusive.
Maybe the lack of character development was part of the point. Blade Runner works much better in regards to theme and philosophy than it does on character and plot. We see these people compared and contrasted, and we’re asked to point out what distinguishes one from another or if the line between them is blurred. The most famous instance of this is with Deckard himself. For years, the question of whether or not Deckard is a Replicant has plagued audiences. All throughout the plot, we see tiny clues that point one way or another. The narrative seems to contradict itself just to keep the question ambiguous. We see a shot of Ford with glowing eyes, which would tell us he is a Replicant. But if he is, why does he not have the same kind of abilities of the others? Why does he feel physical pain when Batty and his crew do not? Does Deckard have a four-year lifespan also, and if he does, how did he manage to remain with the police department long enough to retire? The biggest clue is the image of a unicorn, appearing first in Deckard’s dream and then as an origami figure in front of his apartment. The figure was left there by the officer Gaff (Edward James Olmos) telling Deckard that they know he is hiding Rachael. But it also works as a potential clue that Deckard’s dream was also manufactured.
Many have given their interpretation of Deckard being a Replicant (including Ridley Scott). In the end though, any answer would be insufficient. It doesn’t matter what Deckard is, what’s important is the emotional journey he goes through. He starts off as a character aloof to the problems of the world only to learn what it means to care about something again. Maybe that’s what Blade Runner is all about: Sometimes being perceptive enough to ask the question is more rewarding than any answer could possibly give.