Blade Runner Isn’t What Its Reputation Suggests
All of that history is important because it shows how Blade Runner has been reframed as something that it really isn’t. We’re talking about a movie striking for its sublime, ageless visuals that spends the majority of its time in a muted, grungy near-future where characters are non-plussed by their surroundings. It’s in the sci-fi genre and yet for all of Ridley Scott’s incomparable world-building, the story he’s telling is more of a noir, all smoky rooms and grizzled detectives. But a noir so about feel and emotion over narrative that it came across as cheaper with the genre-typical narration. That’s a lot of ingrained, ambitiously balanced contradictions for something that by its import demands to be viewed.
What really is Blade Runner, then? That it’s a technical marvel is well documented in its associated criticism, the craft inherent with production (behind-the-scenes documentary Dangerous Days is three-and-a-half hours of jaw-dropping filmmaking process) and its far-reaching influence across visual mediums. Its soundtrack from Vangelis may be the finest score to a film ever, even giving the work of John Williams a run for its money. And there’s an inherent poetry to so much of it, not least the paradoxically broken yet lyrical “tears in rain” soliloquy (Roy Batty’s final words are totally unmanufactured, on a fundamental level not following styles like the rule of three, yet evoke so much emotion thanks to the real life it teases). Cinematically, Blade Runner offers so much.
None of this means there isn’t a story. Narratively we’re dealing with a former cop hunting down rogue replicants – outlawed in the far-off future of 2019 – who have only come to Earth in a bid to get more life from their creator. But story-wise, we see the breakdown of Harrison Ford’s Deckard, reluctantly pulled into the fight again only to slowly be broken down by the fine line between “retiring” skin-jobs and murder, emblemized by his feelings for one-of-kind replicant Rachael. As it wears on, the distinct possibility he himself isn’t actually human becomes increasingly prevalent which, contrasted with Roy Batty’s slow acceptance of his mortality, breaks down the definition of what it is to be human.
Batty is perhaps where the film’s true nature comes to light. He’s the antagonist insofar as he’s who our protagonist is hunting and is framed as dangerous, yet his motivation – he wants more life, father/f*cker – is so fundamentally relatable, his degradation understandable. At the end of a brutal fight with Deckard, he even saves his nemesis purely out of acceptance of their shared existence. You can watch Blade Runner as his story – just as you can watch Scott’s Alien prequels as David’s – and find a fully rounded “hero”, one with more innate righteousness in him than the conventional lead. And that’s not an accident.
This is why the oft-cited “rape scene” fits; it’s an essential part of Deckard’s spiral, showing his conflicting love and lack of respect for artificial humans. Yes, it’s definitely uncomfortable viewed in 2017 and would not have made it into the movie had it been released today (or would certainly have been presented differently,) but it highlights that conflict and makes his eventual decision to run away with Rachael – one the film makes clear is out of genuine emotion – actual evolution.
All of this is a mixture of craft and storytelling that locks to create a fiery, eye-opening experience of our true future, symbolically if not literally (we’re just over two years out from the movie’s setting). The meditative thematic aspects are right there in the emotions of the story, as towering as the Tyrell corporation building.
Blade Runner is inherently different. That’s what made it so troubled a production and led to it taking so long to become regarded for what it truly was. That’s what gives such weight to subtle changes in stark contrast a popularization of director’s cuts. And it’s what makes it such a unique story still. Blade Runner is not a film that ever could be universally beloved, but that’s not an excuse to say it’s overrated.
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