Review & Analysis: Blade Runner (1982)
In 1982, the world was entranced with films like Star Wars and Planet of the Apes; science fiction as a genre had taken off in the previous decade, with no clear signs of slowing down. Philip K. Dick was well versed in his craft, but was not quite the legend he would become after his death. By that time had written the piece Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep? Which would be turned into a script and directed by the now well-known filmmaker, Ridley Scott, who had just gotten off of huge success from his (other) science fiction classic, Alien. Enter Blade Runner, a science-fiction chase film mixed with noir sensibilities; starring Harrison Ford, Blade Runner is about Rick Deckard, an assassin of replicants (androids) referred to as a blade runner. Replicants, unlike typical robots you might find in a sci-fi film such as this, are quite realistic when it comes to being like their human counterparts. Down to the hair strands on their heads, they have synthetic everything - blood, brains, sweat, and muscles. Recently retired, Deckar is swiftly called back into the field (Los Angeles in the year 2019) to find and eliminate 6 replicants who have escaped their otherworld colony and are hiding somewhere in LA.
What struck me first about Blade Runner is that Scott does not approach the film in a typical fashion. The film I just described to you probably brought to mind a fast-paced thrill ride, and Blade Runner is the complete opposite. Utilizing slow camera moves and a sense of pacing that hinges on being too slow, this film is not worried so much about the action, so much as it is the tone, environment, and characters.
Similar to 1927's Metropolis, Blade Runner weaves a story around a dystopia, a city which appears to be thriving but is actually in shambles. Here, animals serve as a status symbol, as after the events that plagued the world, most animals were wiped out and as such, owning a real animal is very expensive and used to show the current state of the economy. The architecture, which is similar to Metropolis' but far more detailed, has beeping lights, long lines leading the eye skyward; hierarchy is at play here, lower class citizens dwell on the floor of the city, and the upper class nest like owls in the buildings high above the horizon.
In this world, replicants are at a point where they are so very close to being human. Science has advanced to the point that these androids are implanted with memories, either of a deceased real person or with made up memories developed exclusively for them. There's an increased acceptance of violence, which Scott uses to play tricks with the audience; whenever a replicant is killed, it is as bloody and gruesome as if it were a real human and therefore, the audience reacts in the same way. This is a smart move by Scott, who perhaps is trying to say something about what really triggers an emotional response in the human psyche. At the time Blade Runner was produced, there was a surge of Asian influence in America, and it shows in the movie. Advertisements, people, design, are almost 75% done with an Asian aesthetic in mind, again alluding to the idea of advancement in technology.
One of Deckar's target replicants, Roy, is tall, muscular, with blonde hair and blue eyes, which serves as a metaphor for past interpretations (Greek and Aryan) of what the perfect human would look like.
But perhaps the most famous symbol (and believe me, Blade Runner has tons of symbols) in the entire film comes at the halfway point in the movie. Deckar is tired and in his apartment, he sits on his couch and dozes off, and has a dream of majestic white unicorn, galloping through a serene forest. One of Deckar's fellow detectives has knack for making origami, and along with a crane, and a man with an erection (symbolizing sensuality before Deckar confronts an exotic dancer), he makes towards the end of the film, an origami unicorn. This to some, means that Deckar is a replicant himself. Of all the debated things in cinema, this one ranks up there. So what's the true answer? Is Deckar a replicant? Is he not? Well, for me personally, this is one of the more genius aspects of Blade Runner. Scott doesn't say exactly, and leaves a lot of character moments up to the viewer to decide. It's as if Blade Runner were a great painting, one could stare at it and talk for hours, debating on what certain symbols really me - I myself don't think Deckar is a replicant, as that would clash with what the rest of the film is saying about the importance of being human and what sets humanity apart of it's machines. If Deckar is a replicant, then the integrity of the film is lost. But, it's never decided, so the integrity of the film is still there.
Blade Runner is a masterpiece in Science Fiction - it's themes, ideals, all wrap up so neatly with the physical world that's presented alongside it. Scott delivers the story, not so clearly, and sadly that's it's weakest point - you may have to watch it a second time to really understand everything that's going on. But, the atmosphere and the characters are where this really shines. If I had to sum up Blade Runner in three words, it would be: technology, discovery, and ambiguity.