When I first viewed the director’s cut of Blade Runner (1982), around age 14, I was simply astonished by the use of cinematic beauty juxtaposed by a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk backdrop, including the establishing shot of the city skyline that sets off the film by storm. However as I started to view the film more than once, I began to realize of what the film represents both in an existential and socially economic way of thinking. It prompts question after question. What truly lingers in our memories? Is the whole world itself just fabricated; life itself just a lie? What is the emotional impact that machines/replicants “actually” feel? It is the “beginning and end” or, in some vague sense, the “beginning of the end;” the overall theme of life and death. The film may well be one of the most ingenious productions ever made.
Philip K. Dick’s name has become the epitome of pure science fiction writing, but this is matched by his intellect and the social commentary he is able to convey in viewing mankind and advancements of technology in the future. His 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? gave an insight of planet Earth choking to death due to nuclear war. It is a philosophical message that mankind should know its fault with chaos and devastation desperately trying to reconstruct civilization in space to bring life anew. One has to acknowledge the social crisis that the world was facing during the Cold War Era when the book was written. America and the Soviet Union had destructive arsenals capable of destroying millions, and the Cuban Missile Crisis led us close to nuclear war.
The novel is very poignant and experimental in a way to take all these serious elements in tone and implant in a detective story. Normally, in contemporary detective stories or, in another viewpoint, film-noirs, the whole world becomes foreboding. This characteristic gives the whole environment emotion. Both versions explore the thematic structure of a dystopian setting, desperately searching for a meaning in a world that always seems to be ending. This was Philip K. Dick’s analytical study of the future. The book, as well as the film, plays as a cautionary piece about how to stay human, but it ultimately reflects on how to stay spiritual in such a bleak world. There is much allegorical meaning within the visualization of story.
The original story of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? gave a fair view of the world itself described almost as a giant dustbowl with cities in decay, androids running amuck, different species of animal going extinct, and humanity trying to rebuild civilization in space. Reading the material somehow played with your thought process, hinting at who was human and who was not. It presents an ecological concern for pollution and overpopulation. It was actually my second time reading the novel, and this time, it seemed much more much more ambiguous, giving a clear study of machines or androids with human emotions. The plot itself is a detective story involving a bounty hunter named Rick Deckard, as he has been given the assignment of killing (or how the book says, “retiring”) androids as they are proclaimed illegal on Earth. The writing itself gives the blend of a noir style of expression, matched by a surrealist way of thinking.
Deckard is the one that tries to search for an empathic meaning about of human morals as the story progresses, even if means killing other androids and having sexual contact with one of them for finding a meaning. Animals in the original story play a prominent role. Since life on Earth is now on the verge of extinction, different species of animal are sacred. Humans have completely lost the balance of nature, and subsequently they, want rare animals as pets to remind themselves of the nature they once endured. Incidentally, Deckard owns an electrical sheep; a distinct metaphor for the happiness in life that has been taken away by the advancement of new applied sciences and technologies. An animal that presents itself being false life.
With this idea in mind about the future, came Blade Runner, which is a looser adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel. But still as you are viewing the film, you are completely overwhelmed by the world that becomes almost dream-like. It plays out as a nostalgic yearning of memories. The thematic structures still stay faithful to the androids becoming more human and memories from other people being implanted. The term, “android” has been substituted by the term, “replicant,” a rather poignant way of expressing a mere copy of a human being. The setting takes place in 2019 and follows Deckard, a “blade runner” who is assigned to track down and kill six rebel replicants who have returned to Earth illegally from the “off-world colonies” in space. Now they are on the loose in Los Angeles (San Diego in the book). The world is portrayed as a new wave of tech-noir, acid rain always pouring down, and overpopulation with other cultures blending in. It also brings out the cyberpunk feel, a dystopian future.
Blade Runner has also superb casting, especially Harrison Ford playing a neo-Humphrey Bogart type of character. Rachel played by Sean Young as a replicant and love interest to Deckard, always pure and beautiful. Edward James Olmos as the sly Detective Gaff, always folding origami that becomes consistent to the story. Joe Turkel as Eldon Tyrell, the founder of the Tyrell Corporation, playing almost a false prophet if one were to look at the symbolic subtext. And of course, Rutger Hucer, as the child-like Roy Batty, the philosophical leader of the six mercenary replicant, ruthless hoping to gain more longevity since a replicant has an expiration date and dies.
As mentioned before, life and death play a special part within the film. There are even forms of religious aspect. One example is the towering Tyrell Corporation, built as pyramids similar to the Egyptians. In one exterior scene, within the corporation, the sun rises up from the distance that implies god-like abilities. The opening sequence, an extreme close-up of a human’s eye (or possibly a replicant’s eye), lidless, looks out toward the hellish landscape. After Roy Batty dies, a dove is released from his grip as he is letting go his life. A prominent moment that leaves a viewer in deep question is the final sequence where Rachel and Deckard practically elope. Earlier in the film, Deckard dreams of a unicorn, in the last few moments of the film, Deckard finds an origami at his doorstep left by Gaff. Its shape is that of a unicorn; this could conclude that he is really a replicant, hence, memory implants.
Blade Runner is a master film. It contains the layers of society that begin to bewilder a new generation. In some vague sense, it tries to teach us of what would happen if we distort the world through world wars and polluting our environment so much that life would become so meaningless.