Wednesday 29 November 2023

Blade Runner (1982)


Blade Runner

Before I started this project, if anybody asked me for my favorite movie, my default answer would have been “Blade Runner”. Some 700 movies down the line and some amazing movies under the belt, I am not so certain anymore and yet, “Blade Runner” continues to have that special in my heart. Last night’s revisit confirmed that. As if I needed confirmation. I doubt there is any movie I have watched as many times as “Blade Runner”. I know the dialogue line for line and there was a period where I would put the soundtrack on every night before going to bed. Yeah, I am a fanboy.

For those who have watched this less than a hundred times, “Blade Runner” takes place in 2019, yup, four years ago, but also 37 years into the future as seen from 1982. The Earth is a messed up place, ruined, presumably, by pollution, and humanity has gone into space. Artificial humans, replicants, have been constructed to cope with hardships in space, but on Earth they are outlawed. A special unit of policemen, blade runners, seek them out and retire them. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is such a blade runner.

A group of replicants have returned to Earth and are trying to gain access to the Tyrell corporation, the company who makes the replicants. For safety reasons replicants have a lifespan of only four years and this group is trying to do something about that. Deckard is tasked to find them and retire them.

The first impression is that “Blade Runner” is a neo-noir. A classic private eye story with femme fatale’s, uncertain plots and a dystopian world. The cinematic version even had the cliché voice-over. Something later editions thankfully ditched. This narrative is actually the least interesting thing about the movie. Philip Marlowe cyberpunk.

A level below this narrative we find a number of allusions to what it means to be human, a religious fable of the children of God seeking out their maker to challenge him with their lot and a paradise lost tale of Eve biting the forbidden fruit and losing her place in Eden. The wonderful thing about “Blade Runner” is that it is so open to interpretation and leaves clues everywhere. My personal favorite is the sub-plot around Rachel (Sean Young) who start out as an aloof and almost mechanical human, but as she discovers she is herself a replicant, she loses the disciplined surface and reveals her humanity, symbolized by letting her hair out and allowing Deckard to come in. The lost son motif featuring the replicant Roy (Rutger Hauer) is also very strong with him using a “saint” (J.F. Sebastian, Wiliam Sanderson) to gain access to his creator, who is a lonely creature in the forbidding and aloof Tyrell headquarters, i.e. God.

Yet, the element I love more than anything in the movie is the ambience. Yes, it is dystopian, but there is a deep pervading melancholia that gets deep under the skin, strongly driven by the soundtrack and a phenomenal cinematography, This has never ever been done better. Period. When you watch the movie over and over, you discover all these small gems, pieces of music, décor, ambience, a mystifying scene here and there, an ambiguous exchange of dialogue, and everything is so loaded. With meaning, with emotion, with anguish. It is a candy store for the movie lover and it represents everything that science fictions can do when it is great and not just an excuse for special effects.

Talking of special effects, a lot have been made of the special effects in “Blade Runner”, but they are different from the usual effect feast. In “Blade Runner” they are subdued and primarily serve to enhance the ambience of the scene. There are remarkably few explosions and stunts, but every scene has that little special effect that takes us to this terrible, hostile and yet very familiar world of “Blade Runner”.

“Blade Runner” has been formative for me. I would not be the same person had it not been for “Blade Runner”. The best assignment I had in high school was to analyze “Blade Runner” as a post-modernist type case, for which purpose we watched it five times in the school’s basement. When I read or watch science fiction, “Blade Runner” is the golden standard. To me it is not Han Solo chasing replicants, it is Deckard flying the Millenium Falcon.

Yeah, this may still be my favorite movie of all time.



  1. Of the June, 1982 movies that have resonated through time (this, Poltergeist, E.T., Star Trek II, and The Thing), this is the one I didn't see in the theater that month.

    It's hard not to love it, but because I saw it much later, it doesn't have that formativel feel for me. It will always be one that I mention later, after The Thing and Poltergeist.

    1. It is impossible to ignore the personal impact movies have on us. This is hardly an exact science. I have met many people who do not see half of what I see in Blade Runner. I can live with that. Although I did not watch this on release, but only much later, it came into my life at a very impressionable age and pressed all the right buttons for me. I am just happy it was Blade Runner that did this to me and not something really stupid.