Blade Runner is one of the great iconic sci-fi movies of the modern age. Last Thursday, we were fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the Final Cut version of the movie in the cinema. This is the definitive version out of a staggering seven, and the only one to satisfy Ridley Scott’s impeccably high standards.
The movie is, of course, loosely based on the Philip K Dick cult classic, Do androids dream of electric sheep?, a product of the Cold War era, and published at the height of the Vietnam conflict. It is fairly typical of its time, in that its portrayal of the future is dystopian, rather than offering a brighter and more progressive outlook of humanity’s fate.
The novel’s core characters are transported from post World War Terminus to a decrepitly dank and darkened LA metropolis. The wealthy elite has deserted the resource drained planet for the more prosperous spoils of the off-world colonies, leaving the “chicken heads” fighting for survival in the purgatory that is life on Earth in the movie’s re-imagined decades of the twenty first century. 2019 LA is a distant cry from the LA we know today, it’s skies an endless night, the only colour in this decaying world is the luminesce of the neon strip lighting of the street markets and nightclubs, and the domineering skyline billboards.
Film noir accents dominate; Deckards first encounter with Gaff, complete with fedora, itself worthy of an Edward Hopper portrait. The haunting Vangelis score, which permeates the decaying world, creates suitably melancholic tension throughout.
The storyline is straightforward one: Harrison Ford’s Deckard is a highly specialised bounty hunter, known as a “blade runner”, who is tasked with “retiring” a group of escaped off-world colony slaves. These particular renegades are identified as being sixth generation replicants, the Tyrell Corporation’s most advanced model android yet, marketed as being “more human, than human”.
Whilst the movie is not as overtly theological as the book, the religious and philosophical notions are undeniably. Deckard’s main adversary is military model, Roy Batty, who returns to Earth in search of his maker, Eldon Tyrell, who he perceives as his only hope to save him of his built in obsolescence. The prodigal son’s raging against the dying of his bright light ends with him inflicting vengeance on his creator in a particularly violent and distressing way, epitomizing the extreme capabilities of men. Dick himself had become more acutely aware of the horrors of such dehumanization following the research he conducted into the Nazi regime for his earlier alternate history work, The Man in the High Castle. This violence, however, is markedly offset by Batty’s own redemption, as he saves Deckard from death atop the Bradbury Building at the film’s climax. His poetic soliloquy about how his memories and consequently, his key life moments will, in his death, be lost in time, like tears in rain, acknolwedges the complexity of the “human” condition.
Batty’s struggle with his imminent death, together with Rachael’s declaration that she is not IN the business, but IS the business, sparks Deckard’s own mortality musings, as the line between human and machine becomes irredeemably blurred. Without humanity, what is it that makes us different to the machines? The definitive version of the movie continues to explore this fundamental question, and Gaff’s silver unicorn leaves us without doubt about Deckard’s own existence.