This is post #4 in my series, 100 Movies … 100 Posts. In this ongoing series, I’m watching and writing about each film on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 greatest movies from #100 to #1. I’m not just writing a review of each movie. I am going to write a piece about whatever I find most pressing, as a critique of the film, an address of the issues it brings up, or my own experiences with the film. It will serve as an examination of the list itself and of political issues in Hollywood and the film industry.
Without further ado, #97 “Blade Runner”
Note: There have been several editions of this film released since its debut. I’m working off of the original theatrical release.
It’s tough being Harrison Ford.
You can’t fall in love every woman, but why does the one woman you do fall in love with have to be a replicant? Your boss is a bigot who just wants you to kill them all. The women you meet all turn out to be replicants anyway, and you end up having to chase them down and shoot the ones you don’t like. The male replicants all want to kill you while spouting freaky poetic shit, and you can’t even kill them yourself. You were just sitting there minding your own business, when a guy who likes to make existential jokes picks you up and takes you to work, and all you wanna do is eat your damn noodles.
Then someone tells you they want you to record a voice log about your life, which sounds really boring and corny. It’s like a tourism video.
Welcome to Los Angeles. It’s the year 2019. After the great crash of 2015, when Amazon tried to become the sole proprietors of the Internet, we had to revert to pre-DOS computers that weren’t compatible with the Internet whatsoever. All the black people have apparently moved on to a better place, and the Japanese have decided to squat here instead to peddle their noodles and replicant eyeballs. But we do have flying cars. And we don’t even need real animals anymore, because we can make them ourselves.
We’ve figured out a way to avoid the use slaves ever again. Well, sort of. Instead of taking them prisoner, we just clone them ourselves, with the added bonus of being able to make them stronger, faster and more agile than normal people. We call them replicants. But they outlived their usefulness when they started to learn how to think and feel like people. Not what we had planned. Thankfully, we’ve implemented a safety feature that will cause them to shut them down after four years. And by shut down, we mean kill them. After all, replicants are just like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a hazard.
Eventually, we decided they were all a hazard, so we kicked them off the planet. They’re to be terminated if they set foot on earth. That’s where the blade runners come in.
The one who worked in Los Angeles was an interesting case. His name was Deckard (Harrison Ford). There was a woman, Rachael (Sean Young) who came to stay with him. The peculiar thing is she didn’t know she was a replicant until he informed her of this. She couldn’t believe it. She had all these memories, so vivid and clear. But when she had to think about the events surrounding them, there were too many gaps.
They fell in love. But could it really work? A blade runner like him and a replicant like her? It didn’t seem like it could last. But the on-world police didn’t know about her. She didn’t even know about herself. She was a secret experiment of Tyrell Corporation and a cleverly hidden one.
But then, the blade runner found one of the replicants he was hired to kill. She was a pleasure model (Joanna Cassidy), built for obvious purposes. The blade runner tracked her down and shot her dead in the street. But he felt bad about it. So bad that he thought he might like to have a replicant of his own to come home to. Especially after Rachael helped him put down another replicant who just so happened to be kicking his ass at the time.
Deckard didn’t mind getting a little rough with Rachael, though. There was a point where she wanted to leave, but he knew she really wanted to stay. And he made her tell him she loved him. But it’s OK, she’s just a replicant anyway.
Then there was that other replicant, who was strong and marvelously built (Rutger Hauer). He was bred to fight. He set out to put an end to this slavery, and what better way to do that than to take off the head of Tyrell, Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel). Then he taught the blade runner a lesson he’d never forget. He would teach the blade runner that it’s quite an experience to live in fear. That’s what it is to be a slave.
The blade runner finally understood that perhaps the replicants were not only stronger and faster, but that they might understand life even better than humans do, with their tunnel vision and their selfish desires to please only themselves, never counting the toll it took on others or the rest of the world. In the replicant’s final act before his last bit of life dripped away, he saved the blade runner as he was about to fall to his death. As the sole white dove left in the city appeared in the replicant’s hands out of nowhere before flying away, it became clear to Deckard, the sanctity of all life, for the sake of life itself. It was better to restore life than to waste it frivolously, whether real or “artificial.” It’s the replicants who truly understood the world. They were created to be the next evolution of humanity, then tamed, then discarded, but now proven to be far more valuable than the contents of a test tube.
Deckard decided he would leave L.A. and the life of the blade runner, to spend the rest of his life with Rachael, who was created without the failsafe termination mechanism. And thus they went on to forever bliss and endless dreams of electric sheep.
There’s been so much written about “Blade Runner.” It’s been dissected in so many ways including the Tyrell Corporation replacing God as creator, relating the replicants to African-American slaves, the reactionary fear of the rise of Japanese technology, and mostly done in much greater detail than I can afford in a blog post. People have done academic studies on this film, and there is much on the Internet to discover if you’re that interested.
This is one beautiful, ugly, complex, and very much postmodernist film. This is an example of why I love the medium of science fiction. Where so many science fiction stories are based on good ideas, most of them fall into cliche traps or are just poorly written, but this one stands as a monumental giant. It draws from so many influences, certainly Freudian ideas and existential philosophy and wraps them into a very original concept. There are endless interpretations of this film that hold up.
Even though it’s quite disappointing that the production crew failed to cast any black actors, the film touches on the slavery of the replicants, and the fact that many people who had to pass examination have moved to off-world paradises while the human refuse is left behind on earth. This might suggest that African-Americans were the ones who were able to move on to better things. But this is also a cop out, as there’s no reason for Los Angeles to be completely devoid of black people. Director Ridley Scott may have been trying to make a statement about race by the absence of people of color and the replicants being white, which also makes allusions to Hitler and the Aryan race, but he still did it to the exclusion of people of color. And when it comes down to giving people the benefit of the doubt in this series, I’m generally not going to offer it to the people who made the film.
Still, it’s difficult to make direct comparisons between the replicants and any one group of people. The reference to slavery would seem an obvious one, and there are some great statements made about the evils of slavery, but it isn’t a completely accurate comparison, as the replicants are created by a corporation, initially without emotion or feelings, unlike people. In this regard, they were meant to be a more useful, less emotionally complicated slave than humans. So, there are many other ways to consider the replicants and their existence in this futuristic world.
Certainly there are comparisons between replicants and animals. Humans breed animals for food, for work (used to anyway), for experimentation. As Deckard sees that all life is beautiful and meaningful, it would seem to say that we, as humans, need to have better regard for animals. As L.A. has become an industrial shithole, we need to take steps to prevent industry from taking over the world.
The film also critiques the objectification of women, as one of the replicants is simply built for pleasure. She’s even trying to earn a living as an exotic dancer or something (it’s not really clear what she does). And she’s not being violent, but just trying to fit into society. Even so, the blade runner still decides to kill her, just for trying to make her way in the world as a person.
The replicants get treatment as being better than humans in a way. We see that they understand life and beauty better than humans, who waste their lives and don’t take the time to cherish simply being alive. The replicants only have four years to experience as much life as they can, especially as they spent most of it as slaves. But the humans still treat them as a threat that needs to be extinguished.
I could go on and on talking about what this film might be saying, but it’s best to see it and come to your own conclusions. That’s what makes a film great.
“Blade Runner” takes most of its criticism for having a weak story, which is does. Deckard isn’t exactly a hero. You can kind of feel sympathy for him, as he’s pressed into service because he was a blade runner in the past, but you get the sense that he doesn’t want to do it anymore, and he just wants to make a living without drawing suspicion, so he goes along with what they ask of him. But, he’s still a killer, though it takes him shooting a replicant woman in the back for him to realize there might be something wrong with doing this. It takes him the entire movie to learn to view replicants as more than just robots or something less than human.
The middle of the film does drag a bit, as it’s presented as a detective noir, and he spends a lot of time gathering evidence and putting pieces together about how to track down replicants. But there’s a lot of symbolism and it’s interesting and funny to see what people in the 80s thought the year 2019 would be like. So, despite being a “slow” film, if you’re engaged in the world, it doesn’t feel slow. This is one of those films where every frame has meaning, so if it doesn’t all go over your head (that it could is an honest criticism as well), then it’s fascinating to watch.
Having seen the first director’s cut previously, that version is vastly superior to the theatrical version. Ford’s voiceover narrative is really corny and he sounds bored. It also forces meaning into the film as Ford describes exactly what Deckard is thinking as the male replicant self-destructs, removing any subtlety during the pivotal moment of the movie. The ending of the film is changed too, with Deckard and Rachael driving off into the sunset to live happily ever after. The director’s cut shows them fleeing Deckard’s apartment, but doesn’t show them getting away, leaving the ending and their fate open to ambiguity. All of this was done because the studio wanted a more accessible, crowd-pleasing, satisfying movie.
It didn’t work anyway, as the film was a flop upon its release, especially as it was competing with “E.T.” It wasn’t received well critically either, though obviously, opinions have changed since 1982 and over the course of several new cuts. It just goes to show what happens when studios nerf a film thinking they’re making it more commercially friendly. Makes you wonder how much potential was squandered in other films and other media because the people supporting it financially were doing what they thought would make it more crowd-friendly for the sake of raking in a few more dollars.
Asian sighting: As the Japanese were kicking our asses in technological advances back in the 80s (well, they never really stopped doing that), the film expresses the fear of the Japanese taking over. It isn’t a hostile or violent takeover, but more that they crept in by offering their advanced technology, which the U.S. has no choice but to accept. The Japanese move in as everyone else moves off-world. So there is a significant Asian presence in the film. The signs are in Japanese, there are moving billboard ads for American products featuring Japanese people. All of the Asians who play any real role are older and more caricature than realistic people. So we Asians are what Americans were afraid of a few decades ago, that’s fun.
“Blade Runner” certainly isn’t a popcorn flick, though it might look like one judging by its cover. If you want something that will let you turn your brain off and have some fun for a couple hours this will probably provide you with little more than a cure for late-night insomnia. If you’re in the mood to think about your entertainment, give it a watch and prepare to offer your own dissertation on artificial life and the human condition once you’ve finished it. It’s due Monday.
Next up, #96. “Do the Right Thing”