Review: Blade Runner (1982)


Blade Runner is a haunting film that gracefully submerges any sense of genre convention in favour of something far more evocative. The primary genre at play is Film Noir, and the movie wields the frequent cinematic touches of the “dark film” to fascinating effect.

In the context of a cross-examination scene, a character uses the archetypal Femme Fatale persona as a tough front to exude acute awareness. The rest of the picture serves to illustrate the unravelling of this atypical type, as Racheal (a fascinatingly solemn and vulnerable Sean Young) wrestles with existential angst and purpose.

A recurring image in the film is a pervasive and probing beam of light that illuminates the rancid and abandoned remains of an apartment complex (The Bradbury Building). At once it points to the feverish paranoia of the author (Philip K Dick) of the source material (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), whose work featured continual instances of crass commercialism and authoritarianism.

More particularly, the noir lighting flourish is reminiscent of an exploratory beam that is searching the remains of a centuries-old sunken ship. The real power of Blade Runner is in its ghostly excavation of humanity.

Director Ridley Scott conceives of LA in 2019 as a blighted, overpopulated and rain-soaked city that feels like a purgatory where one is downtrodden even within the confines of mundanity. A frequently advertised blimp emphasis “a chance to begin again” on one of the off-world colonies.

In this way, the persistent message typifies humanity at its most progressive insofar as expanding beyond the parameters of our Earthbound existence. Though, this comes at the cost of many of our species, particularly the sickly who are left behind to live in a cesspool.

Philosophically, the film grapples with the question of the soul. Is a being whose memories are implanted susceptible to control? Or is there an inner spark or essence that propels the being in question. By the film’s admission, a desire for life and empathy are the essential qualities that define a human being.

In fact, the concept of empathy underpins the entire film. It’s used as a metric of measurement in determining whether someone is a Replicant. (Bioengineered androids with identical qualities of a human being except for superior strength, agility, and a four-year lifespan). Crucially, the concept is the fire that fuels Rick Deckard’s journey (Harrison Ford in compelling silent form)

Deckard is a bounty hunter who is tasked with finding and killing members of a renegade Replicant group called Nexus-6. However, through the course of his investigation, he gains empathy for his hunted prey. In a Gothic-inspired climatic showdown with Roy Batty, (a captivatingly heartfelt and maddening Rutger Hauer) Deckard is saved by the leader of the group and eventually watches him die. Consequently, a profound irony exists within the picture of a Replicant being responsible for Deckard gaining some semblance of his humanity again.

Whether it’s the cool blue colour scheme that permeates the film or the faint sound of a heartbeat during Zora’s death scene: Blade Runner is a science fiction film of strikingly unsettling small details and substantive thematic weight that in its final moment alludes to a fundamental existential dread.

Deckard’s adversarial colleague- Gaff says “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?” It does not matter if you’re a Human or Replicant, who can claim to have lived a worthy life? Much like the synthetic beings, he once hunted, Deckard now lives in fear as the elevator doors close on him and Racheal, as they both venture into an uncertain future.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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