I first watched BLADE RUNNER before I was a teen. And while I loved it there’s no way I got so much of what makes it astoundingly great. I had no idea what film noir was and so I missed out on pretty much exactly why the aesthetic of the flick is so brilliant. I understood the brutal beauty of the skyline, the hard cool stench of the smoky streets, but I didn’t get the thick vein of homage running through it that causes the masterful juxtaposition of it all.
This is a firm sci fi flick and yet it’s filmed, shot, and put together like an old film noir of the finest kind. Young Ryan did not have that knowledge but Aged Weary Creaking Ryan gets it, and the love for this flick grew exponentially. Because the balls to put a Vangelis score against what we can only imagine was Ridley Scott thinking he saw a vision of Beijing’s future and he actually did see that future and then have the language change to meet the sci fi parameters of this android populated Philip K Dick story and then infuse it with all of the film noir style tips has gotta be one of the wildest mash ups of all time at the time this debuted on the big screen.
Putting a close-cropped Harrison Ford into a nice dirty coat, having him eat on the streets and know the lingo, those Venetian blinds. This flick looks like it was made in the 40s, of both the 20th and the 21st Century. It’s a bold undertaking. And it paid off. Eventually. Obviously the earliest 80s people didn’t know what to initially make of it but sharper minds prevailed and we got the classic we know and love and revere today. And no doubt will tomorrow also.
But for today, I want to look at the plain noir aspects of the flick, of which there are a few.
I love that Rick Deckard, everyone’s favourite Replicant hunter, spends pretty well the whole flick getting his ass kicked. Deckard succeeds not because he’s a beast but because he refuses to succumb to beasts, despite them pounding him down repeatedly. But go back and watch THE BIG SLEEP and watch Bogart get slapped around there, too. It’s not the fight in you so much as the resilience. Because they won’t wear you down physically but you’ll wear them down mentally. It’s refreshing to see a sci fi hero just get handed around into a few beatings.
By the end, it becomes ludicrously fascinating because the final showdown doesn’t come off as one for the good guys through any skillset of Deckard’s except for his propensity to take a pasting and keep on ticking. He literally just waits out Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty until he shuts down of his own volition. It’s an intriguing low key and passive way to end the hero’s journey. Perhaps this unconventionality is why it flopped; it was up against E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL and everyone could understand that kind of structure and tone.
Deckard spends the flick hunting these Replicants – itself something we can never gel as actually being the right thing to do because of the moral and ethical quandary it raises in regards to sentience and thus right to life – but we follow Deckard because it’s Ford with the best haircut he’ll ever have in his life and these robots are violent. Though Deckard is also violent. It’s as murky as the real world. But through all his hunting, Deckard is pretty useless except for his hard-headedness. And it’s this in the end that saves him but also goes a great length to showing us why he’s wrong. Why our ‘hero’ is anything but one.
Rutger Hauer delivers the ‘tears in rain’ soliloquy and it’s still as haunting and captivating today as it was all the way back then. Through this final dialogue, despite having watched Hauer break Deckard’s fingers and act like most big bad level bosses are supposed to, from all that we get a speech about the beauty of the universe and it’s something we can understand. Something we can comprehend, we yearn for, and we mourn its passing in what might feel like empathy on our best days when we want to self-congratulate but really, when you are honest with yourself, you frown for the fact you’ve never seen something as beautiful as what is described. You’ve never even comprehended it. Because you’ve been too busy just standing back up from life’s beatings. We are all Deckard and when we finally land that killing blow to the man/system/whole goddamn world, we instantly see why it was wrong and why nobody else does it, at least not with any frequency.
BLADE RUNNER is a noir and it’s Roy Batty’s fall from the majesty of space into the very real and human surface world of our everyday existence. Suddenly the fact this flick represents our future is sad and crushing, we are all walking into the dystopia of man and we are doing so little about it. Climate change, mining, space junk, all these chickens are going to come home to roost and all we have is one gargantuan nest made out of our regrets and our fears, all of which we failed to ever act responsibly upon. An emotionless walking computer can learn to see it but we are blind eternally.
With the blinking passing of Roy Batty, we see the noir of mankind writ large, atop a grimy rooftop in the rain. Because that’s how we’ll all go, unclean, afraid we might fall, and looking up and hoping/wishing for the more we know we deserved.
However, depending on your leaning on the flick, there’s more noir to share around. You see, Deckard might be a replicant also. Ridley Scott certainly believes him to be – I won’t say intended him to be one because that implies external intent, whereas Scott’s side of the story just is, and we can still choose to buy it or not. And if Deckard is a replicant, well, that means his life is a lie, his clock is ticking, and he’s just going to wind down to the middle of the end in exactly the same way Batty did right in front of him. Deckard has already seen his own demise and has only to wait. It makes his silence as Batty powers down all the more weighted. That’s worse than being locked up in a cell awaiting sentence, it’s standing on the gallows and not being given a time nor any reprieve and so stand you will continue to do.
The final sequence of the flick shows Deckard and Rachael escaping with each other. Deckard is willing to go forward with Rachael even though he knows she’s a Replicant and her clock is ticking, albeit a little longer than Batty’s. Deckard is willing to take that heartbreak of knowing a finite time and then having to say goodbye to her. And if you take on board that he’s a replicant then it’s doubly as sad. Either way, those two are escaping down and they won’t reach the bottom so much as they will just stop the descent and become a barnacle on the side of the final journey.
BLADE RUNNER has stood the test of time because it is not your standard action/adventure fare. It’s thematically weighted and leaves us with post-viewing questions and for me the meatier the movie then the more I get out of it through hours/days/months/years of discussion. The only thing I never discuss and merely state is, the story is a downer. Hell, it’s the downfall of man. That’s a big concept to see lost in time like tears in rain.