An Appreciation – Blade Runner
The movie makes explicit in its opening prologue scrawl that the killing of replicants is considered retirement, a commentary on a prejudicial attitude towards replicated life in the future. You can’t kill what isn’t alive, but you can retire a program or a robot. Legally Deckard’s actions may not be that of murderer but it’s clear his personal views may not be sympathetic to that as Deckard buys a bottle of liquor immediately after “retiring” Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) in the back, shaking and unnerved. Or is it all that simple?
One of the lasting aspects of Blade Runner’s legacy is its dual interpretation among its multiple presentations. The theatrical cut, featuring a voice-over by Deckard, was proceeded by an international cut which featured extended scenes of violence. In 1992 a “director’s cut” was released which turned out to not really be a director’s cut but one based on the notes and changes Ridley Scott wanted to make. It removed the voice-over narration, trimmed some of the violence from the international cut and added a sequence in which Deckard daydreams the imagery of a unicorn running through a forest. Scott would eventually revisit the movie to finalize his director’s cut in 2007, which keeps the unicorn sequence firmly intact.
The unicorn at first seems out of place and cryptic. Why is Deckard dreaming of a unicorn? Is the scene symbolic in the intellectual montage way of being a representation of something else? The final scene of the movie, which omits the original ending of Deckard and Rachel escaping to a far off forest, reveals the unicorns connection and sparked off an old debate around the nature of Deckard’s own humanity. Is he a replicant? In the movie’s closing moments, Deckard awakes Rachel (Sean Young) who’s sleeping in his apartment and tells her they need to go or another Blade Runner will be after her. Outside of Deckard’s apartment he finds an origami unicorn, a present left by Deckard’s Blade Runner rival Gaff (Edward James Olmos), an indication of Gaff’s presence at Deckard’s apartment before Deckard’s arrival and a connection to Deckard’s vision. A connection that can be viewed as an indication of Gaff’s knowledge of Deckard’s visions or symbolic of Deckard’s uniqueness as a replicant.
Blade Runner on its formal surface plays out like a detective story about a cop hired to hunt down terrorists. Beneath that it acts as a paranoid testament to inherent corrupt nature of institutions. Like the literary works of Philip K. Dick, the real story is never what the surface story presents. Whether one believes Deckard is a replicant or not is ultimately not relevant for the movie to work. Deckard has a goal, sets out to achieve it, is faced with a choice and makes it. However, the idea of Deckard as a replicant further complicates the story and fleshes out the world Deckard inhabits. As Scott himself said in a 1984 interview with Danny Peary, “having Deckard be a replicant is the only reasonable solution.”
If Deckard is indeed a replicant, then for all we know he could’ve rolled off the assembly line earlier that day. Deckard, like the replicant’s he’s hunting, has an affinity for photographs, as we see them literally lining his apartment. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), the replicant’s creator, tells us this is a way of forming memories of a past, a device for control over manufactured slave labor. The movie also tells us these replicants Deckard is after are a new breed of replicant. More human than what’s ever been created before. In true Dick fashion, we have the institution of the state using its own creation to eradicate the mistakes of their other creations; a vertically integrated and cyclical system. Replicant’s are created for slave labor and when they step out of line the institution sends in a replicant to punish.
Despite and in part because of its flaws, Blade Runner is a wholly contained statement. A work of art. Structurally it comes off a bit as a mess, but when looked at from an artistic design perspective, from its production design, to the special and practical effects to the music and sound design, this is a movie that wants to be absorbed more than taken in linearly for plot and narrative.
Now, 35 years later Ridley Scott and director Denis Villeneuve are bringing a sequel. Blade Runner requires no sequel as it stands on its own self-contained merits. Nor was the movie popularly received upon its initial release. Only after years of finding a cult following has it gained mass notoriety. However, Villeneuve, like Scott before him, is a director more concerned with a visceral experience than any tightly wound story and coupled with cinematographer Roger Deakins seems the perfect esthetic replacement for Scott. It’s visible how much Blade Runner has had an enormous influence on science fiction since, with its blending of film-noir, art-deco and lived-in science fiction, coupled with pulsating synths and flying cars. How many movies since have tried themselves to be Blade Runner? It will be interesting to see if a movie can actually, officially, be that now.