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Blade Runner (1982)

The year 2012 is a perfect time to reconsider Blade Runner, which was shot exactly 30 years ago. The theme of technological progress as a dehumanizing factor covered by the film is quite topical today. Created in neo-noir stylistics, the film uses the genres’ traditional approach combined with the futurist technology. Neo-noir also dictates the touch of cynicism and immorality, which are revealed in its main character.

Speaking about Blade Runner in the context of neo-noir, it is worth paying attention to its visual part, which clearly uses some traditional film noir techniques. Low-key lightening is one of the striking details that contribute to the overall perception of the plot. The colors are gloomy, the contrasts are dramatic so this is what characterizes the film’s belonging to neo-noir. Besides, such technique as the use of low-angle shots is applied to contribute to creating comic larger-than-life characters. The futuristic city, devoid of life and light, impresses by its gloom, which is clearly another sign of neo-noir. Non-stop rain supports this atmosphere of cold hopelessness that the world has about it. Apart from cinematography, the very mood of the story is characterized by pessimism and cynicism, and explores the darker side of humanity. The borderline between the good and the evil is blurred. Moreover, there are no specific criteria of the good except social reasonability. The replicants need to be destroyed mercilessly, because they threaten the stability of the system. As a researcher writes, the film is about to be called classical in the frame of the genre containing the following features: “detachment, alienation, disillusionment, lethargy, ambiguity, corruption, evil genius and claustrophobia. Although it is not a black-and-white film, the inhumanity is evidenced by readily identifiable symbols of future filth; shadowy, sadistic and repressive lighting” (Narada).

Because the film can be classified as neo-noir, it clearly uses some background of classical noir films and fiction. It is a well-known fact that Sam Spade, a protagonist of Dashiell Hammett's novel The Maltese Falcon (1930) served as a pattern for creating a whole series of other characters in the same genre. Thus, it is also possible to find analogies between him and Rick Deckard, the main character of Blade Runner. As Ridley Scott was openly inspired by Spade when creating Deckard, his initial idea was to get him wear the same clothes to make him look like Spade’s double. However, he refused from giving him the same hat as the connection would seem too straightforward. Yet, the coat, the tie and the gun of Deckard still resemble the one, which belong to Spade (Narada).

Dark as it is, with violence and coldness bordering on disgust, the film raises certain moral issues that are still relevant today. In fact, the main dilemma has been covered by arts not once in human history starting with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (a noir kind of fiction too, in many ways). As usual, the question is whether humans have the right to take the role of God in relation to other beings. The creators are far more exquisite and far more cautious than classical English literary characters: they give life to perfect creatures that yet have to live for no longer than four years each. Thus, they protect themselves from potential threats that the replicants can pose. However, they appear to be dangerous, because they have human feelings, which they do not always control properly. In fact, the replicants are reflections of people’s subconscious, of those impulses that humans tend to repress. Considering replicants as machines, humans of the depicted world get themselves a license to kill. They coin a special euphemism term for killing, “to retire”, which helps them be merciless to replicants. In this sense, Deckard is not a superhero; he is the one who can kill in a cold-blooded state of mind. Yet, in the course of his operation, which involves destroying replicants, he suddenly becomes hesitant about his mission. He starts doubting the righteousness of the accepted attitude to the creatures while discovering how much sensitive they can be and how similar to people. Dechard’s conventional vision is especially undermined by Rachel, a beautiful replicant woman who saves his life. Falling for her, he is not capable to retire her, but instead he tries to humanize her.

Yet, when comparing the film with its original source, the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, some significant differences could be found. While the film belongs to noir genre, as it has been discussed before, it has to follow some canonic principles dictated by this genre. This is why some aspects of the book cannot be addressed in the same way in the film, because they would contradict the laws of the film noir. Thus, for instance, characters need to be glamorous but detached, happy ending is scarcely possible, the tone of humanism cannot be convincingly integrated in this type of film. As the film has several cuts, they are not equal in terms of their correspondence to the book. However, it would be true to say that because of visual glamour of film noire, the message of it as anti-utopia is underrated. The stylistics of the film makes it look more theatrical and distracts the viewers’ attention from the major questions that it should cover. The book addresses the question who can be considered a human and who is not, and the difficulty for people to identify themselves among other people. In contrast, the film avoids focusing on this idea, as well as on other social issues of anti-utopia that are present in the book. For instance, the book describes the religion named Mercerism, which is absent in the film. Paradoxically, it explains how joy and suffering can be shared by all members of society. Yet, the final cut of the film focuses more on the theme of identity by making the viewers question the origin of the main character. It is not clear whether he is a replicant or not, yet the chances that he either a human or humanoid get higher. In the same way, the film only partially touches upon the question about what reality is, which is crucial for the book. The reality of the film is so refined and dictated by the laws of the genre that it only manages to reach one goal: to suggest that any reality is artificial, it is just a play of mind, and that it can be easily induced in human consciousness as it is the case with the replicants.

To conclude, it is worth saying that the film’s cult status is not surprising. Although there has been some shift from the original issues raised by the book’s righter, the film is still relevant and resonates with the modern audience. It raises the issues that are important today in the world where virtual reality conquers new space and ousts people’s physical existence and interpersonal communication. Although the world is not as dark nowadays as it is presented in the film, it still catches some traits of the questions posed by humanity. It makes one think about identity and human rights and about the link of science with morality.