A review on Blade Runner, 1982, directed by Ridley Scott

by: Masood Sabet

     Everything started with the discovery of fire. And human, in the metaphorical flickering glimmer of this fire started to look upon himself. A revolutionary change in the course of human evolution, which drew his attention more to himself, other than his surroundings. Human was banished to the earth, because he started to query his own existence by asking who am I? And where am I from? Based on scriptural stories about the creation, the devil took the form of a serpent to deceive man, but in most mythologies the genesis of the devil is fire. From the light and warmth of fire, the angels and from the flames the devil was born.  Like fire, human split into a duality. Life was no more an eternal, meaningless cycle of animalistic needs and whims. There was something more to it. Abstract concepts started to come into existence from nothing, just like the myriad galaxies following the big bang. Human rose to his feet and set out on a quest for answers, seeking a creator. But the more he sought, the less he found. Frustrated man, sick and tired of this futile endeavour and countless efforts and theories to no avail, decided to become a god, rather than finding one. But little did he know that God was far from a mere creator. Becoming a god required attributes which man utterly lacked in nature. Not only didn’t man find his way back to the heaven from which he was banished, but he found himself plunging head first into a self-made inferno.

     Blade runner starts with a hellish landscape of Los Angeles in the future. Flames erupting everywhere in a dark grim setting, which is reminiscent of scriptural descriptions of hell, nightmarish and horrendous, and an eternal rain, which lashes heavily and indiscriminately through the grooves of the city like open wounds. This everlasting rain, along with the massive fog and smoke leaking from everywhere and shadowing everything, besides the thematic functions in the film, are serving to compensate for the insufficiency of the technology of the time for the mise-en-scene. We could add the low angle cinematography to this collection. It is still the early 80s and it hasn’t been long since the advent of the CGI, and this provides the filmmaker with the opportunity to utilise creativity. Scott’s Blade Runner, after almost four decades, still looks decent and even commendable. The production design is astonishingly ingenious, which is particularly highlighted in the scenes of Tyrell’s and Sebastian’s houses. Vast spaces, high-rise ceilings and very tall lavish doors, which through this highly exaggerated grandeur is evidently compensating for some inadequacy and timidity.

Blade runner starts with a hellish landscape of Los Angeles in the future

     Blade Runner is loosely based on a novel by Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But the screenplay was written by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples. In juxtaposition to the other aspects of the work, the script seems to be suffering from some shortages. For instance, we could start from the exposition in the beginning. There is an on-screen text which presents the viewers with some essential information about the story. What is a Replicant? What do they do? Who is a blade runner and why are they after replicants to kill (“retire”) them? This information could be (and partly is) conveniently conveyed through the dialogues during the film. In one of the early scenes, we see a blimp hovering over the hell-bound city, trying to entice people to migrate to off-world colonies, in which replicants will serve them as slaves to fulfil a broad spectrum of their needs and desires. The very same piece of information has already been conveyed through the on-screen text in the beginning.

     In mission persuasion emerges another shortcoming in the screenplay. Deckard is a retired police officer, but captain Bryant needs his expertise to hunt four replicants who have stolen a ship in the space and have returned to earth is search of their creator. Mission persuasion is supposed to establish a base on which the second act and the entire narrative for that matter will be based. But this mission persuasion is not particularly persuasive. Deckard first refuses the call, but only one single sentence is enough to bring him round. “Bryant: if you’re not cop, you’re little people. Deckard: So, no choice ha?”

     Generally, the screenwriters have been a bit impatient when it comes to some critical milestones during the film. Deckard, in search of Zhora, finds himself in Abdul Hassan’s shop, who makes high-end artificial snakes. Even though Hassan doesn’t show the slightest unwillingness to cooperate, Deckard turns to violence, which seems utterly unnecessary. In another part of the film, it surprises Deckard to hear that replicants have come to earth, whereas his career would make no sense if there were no replicants on the earth.

     Gaff is a police officer who apparently has a talent in origami. In the last scene of the film (in the directors’ cut) Deckard finds an origami unicorn in his house, which couldn’t be made by anyone other than Gaff. We already know that Deckard sometimes sees a unicorn in his dreams. Although this could be a mere Jungian coincidence, but it also could be an indicative of the fact that Deckard might be a replicant himself, and the unicorn is an implanted memory, downloaded into his bio-engineered mind. But this seems quite far-fetched, since this theory has no other indicative to this in the movie and we also have the privilege of seeing the sequel (Blade Runner 2049), in which Deckard is still alive and well after three decades, whereas we know that the lifespan of replicants is limited to four years, as a fail-safe measure in case replicants develop their own characteristic feelings and emotions.

     Ridley Scott’s film is filled to the brim with symbolism and extratextual references, especially to scriptures and the Greek mythology. But Blade Runner in regard to form is so powerful that it not only makes up for the shortcomings, but puts the film among the best in the history of cinema. The replicants who have come to the earth pursuing this mission have attributes which transcend them from human and transform them into deities. These attributes were designs and implanted in the replicants by their creator, Tyrell. Roy is the leader of the rebellion replicants with a deiform posture, blue eyes and a face reminiscent of a marble bust of an ancient Greek deity. Tyrell corporation, the manufacturer of replicants, has a famous motto: “More Human than Human!” But before the confrontation between Tyrell and Roy, this phrase means nothing more than an empty advertising slogan. Here, we are presented with a Nietzschean definition of God. Man created gods because they served a purpose; compensating for man’s ignorance and weakness. The enlightened man has no purpose for god, therefore its existence is obsolete. Roy, seeking a long life confronts his creator, but finds him weaker to answer his prayer and fulfil his desire. Human goes past another milestone in his evolution, and more human than human is born by killing his creator, and finally Tyrell’s motto comes true.

The epic scene of the film, where Roy confronts Deckard, with an immaculate production design, the historical acting and monologue by Dutch Rutger Hauer, and an enthralling tune by Vangelis, has guaranteed its immortality in the history of cinema. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire, off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” Roy’s half-naked body in this scene symbolizes the rebirth of the first man. He is holding a dove is his hands, which has a dual function. Roy, by eliminating his creator, has chosen to behave against his own “nature”. A nature which is not natural. The filmmaker here reminds the viewer of the subjectivity of the elusive concept of nature. This duality has a constant presence throughout the whole film; the duality of human and more human than human, human and creator, and finally the Cartesian duality of body and soul, which manifests itself in the mystical ascension of the white dove in slow motion. The white dove in Roy’s hands is a declaration of a new rebellion. He recreates his own identity, and consequently his function in the universe. Contrary to the function that gods (Tyrell and associates) have defined for Roy, he now is a messenger of peace, and incarnation of Jesus Christ who dies for man’s sins and to save him. This salvation has been ingeniously symbolized by Roy saving Deckard’s life by pulling him up and sparing his life.

     Each one of Roy’s companions have traits evocative of ancient deities. As though these are delegates from the world of replicants to meet with the God of gods. “In classical Greek polytheism, Zeus, Hera, Apollo and their colleagues were subject to an omnipotent and all-encompassing power [called] Fate, [who] is devoid of interests and biases, and therefor it is unconcerned with the mundane desires, cares and worries of humans.”[1] Tyrell is the Fate for replicants. Replicants were born on the earth and considering the miserable conditions they are suffering in off-world colonies, they still see earth, in all its horridness, as a heaven they long to return to. They have been banished from the heaven, and the only way they can return to it is embrace death. The replicants have started this Odyssean journey in pursuit of relief from this everlasting horror of an overhanging Damocles’ sword of death, which in human scale could be translated to a quest for immortality.

     One of Roy’s companions is Lion, who has an extraordinary physical strength and could be a rival to Hercules, the son of Zeus. Pris, another companion of Roy is a pleasure model and a match to Hedone, the Greek goddess of pleasure. But among these deities, Zeus has another representative: Artemis, the goddess of hunt and wild animals. But Zhora’s choice of wild animal is not a deer like that of Artemis. It is a serpent. “Watch her take pleasure from the serpent, that once corrupted man.” Another verbal reference to the story of creation.

“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain”

     Replicants start their pursuit of the creator from the modest laboratory of Hannibal Chew, who designs replicants’ eyes. To reach for the brain (Tyrell), replicants start their journey from the eye, the most notorious Achilles heel of humans. Upon entering into Chew’s laboratory, Roy recites a poem from William Blake, the English poet of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. “Fiery the angels fell, deep thunder rolled around their shores, burning with the fires of Orc.” Although in the original poem it says: fiery angels rose, this subtle adjustment, considering the replicants’ descent from the skies appears to be justified. This poem is from a book called: “America, a Prophecy”, which Blake published in 1793. This book belongs to a series of books in which Blake foretells the fate of the continents on earth with a poetic diction reminiscent of that of the sixteenth century French seer, Nostradamus. In all Blake’s books in this series, there is a character called Orc, who is a symbol of rebellion and insurgency. Orc was born as a worm and then transformed into a serpent. His mythic opponent, Albion’s Angel, describes him as “Lover of wild rebellion, and transgressor of God’s law”. Orc was bound upon a mountain and so as to set himself free and seek vengeance, he needs to emancipate his imagination. He needs to discover fire.

     Time and memory (which are collectively manifested in the form of photographs) are the fundamental thematic elements in Blade Runner. Man, in order to preserve his memories against the destructive and fierce torrent of time, records them in the form of a two-dimensional projection, a photograph. But this image is so deceitful (Rachel’s implanted childhood memories) and so betraying (Lion’s photographs which lead Deckard to Zhora) that has proven utterly unreliable. Yet human so firmly clings on to this untrustworthy shred of the lost memories, a remnant of a former existence, as if a man overboard on a driftwood, stranded in the ocean. Human has proven an astonishing capability of creating spirits for rocks and trees, and souls for the dead. So, what could stop him from arousing a sentiment over an “unreal” memory? After all, a memory is what I remember, not the moments which are long lost in time. And who can trust their memories? We form our perception of the world based on our experiences, which are nothing more than a personal account of the events.

     The confrontation scene between Roy and Deckard presents the utter diffidence and paltriness of human, who finds himself at the mercy of his own creation. There is still a long way to become God. The creator, in order to protect himself against criticism, humiliation and even vengeance, should have stayed hidden from the eyes, shielded by the unknown and mystery.

[1] Noah Harari, Yuval, Sapiens, a brief history of humankind, London: Penguin Random House UK, 2014, print, p.238

3 thoughts on “More Human than Human

  1. Beautiful and insightful article of this complex film, and roads that he has to take in order to find the truth of his existence. Absence of choice lead him to an ultimate painful error of wrongful decision to replace one replicant (another) with another, and then he call it a day. Right!


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