Blade Runner The Final Cut Ridley Scott (USA, 1982) Harrison Ford; Rutger Hauer; Mary Sean Young.
viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle UK; ticket: £7
Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ is a virtuoso statement of filmic style; it’s a style that is underpinned by a strong conceptual vision of not only how the film should look but why it looks as it does. Ridley Scott’s movie is driven by a number of conceptual and moral imperatives.
‘Blade Runner’ opens with a text that establishes simply and immediately the world which the script and scenario will explore and develop. We read: there is a population of entities, called replicants who are manufactured automata; in look and intelligence they have become indistinguishable from humans. They are used as slave labour to do the dirty work off-earth in other galaxies. It is illegal for these non-persons to be on Earth. Should they be discovered here they are dispatched (retired). The task of Blade Runners is to track down and retire these creatures, who when going amongst us, look no different from us.
This short prefatory text sets up the framework for the design of Blade Runner: the concept of the vilified dehumanised other, the alien; and the embedded developmental idea of ‘passing’. Blade Runner is often called dystopian, which may be so but these days it’s an overused term. What grabs the attention in Syd Mead’s visual design are the polar extremes represented: the dilapidated burnt out shantytown of LA, the rococo antique interiors of the private apartments, the stripped functionality of the offices laboratories and dwellings of the state’s apparatniks. Looking at the development of American cities in the ‘80s, Blade Runner’s richly embroidered high key lighting set, anticipates the development of an urban architectural mode that increasingly favoured the impoverishment and abandonment of public spaces in favour of the enhancement of private space. The design setting of the movie complements in its polarity the scripts posited existence of two populations: the authentic native earth born and the despised inhuman and dangerous replicants.
Looking at the economies of most Western developed states, there is a familiar pattern. The immigrants do the hard repetitive work: agricultural toil, unskilled dangerous construction and demolition, and scrubbing and scraping deep in the steam addled kitchens of the big cities. Mostly ignored and despised, the immigrant is an analogous stand-in for the replicant. Denied by the mainstream population as having the capacity to ‘feel’, denied recognition of their co-existent humanity, this state of mind is basis for our callous even murderous exploitation of immigrants who are seen as little more than our ‘replicants.’ And of course this isn’t some dystopian future, this is our society now and in its post 1945 past.
For a class of people to be considered in a general way to be sub-human, their voice needs to be suppressed. Because voice provides immediate phenomenological evidence that ‘sub-humans’ have: feelings, emotions, personal and shared histories, memories; that they share these critical attributes of being human with ourselves and employ the same expressive signs as those by which we define ourselves. And it is the elemental human voices of the replicants that Fancher and Peoples develop in the script: memories personal histories and emotions. Roy’s anger that replicants lives have been exploited twisted and determined by the techno- economic system that created them; Rachael’s ‘love’ her aroused emotional involvement with Deckard. Of course, in terms of a determinist argument that wants to deny the replicant’s humanity, some might argue that the expressive signifiers used by the replicants are simply designs installed and activated by deep programming. But at this point, the very concept of consciousness starts to become problematic, because are we not all deeply conditioned entities?
At the opening of the film Scott establishes a familiar stereotypical format: the ennoblement of Deckard the Blade Runner, and the demonization of the replicants who like all revolutionaries take on an aggessive confrontational stance towards the authority that would destroy them (but not of course Rachael who has a sort of honorary white status). The replicants are labeled as dangerous and ruthless. But as the scenario develops we start to see that their response to their situation is all too human They want revenge and its personal, but something more as well. In the plot’s denouement when replicant Roy has Deckard at his mercy there is the moment of absolute truth. Roy’s internal clock is winding down to the preordained time of his death, but he choses not to deliver Deckard the coup de grace. At this moment, Roy realises something about life: that life is precious. And at this moment of life and death, this realisation creates an empathic bond with Deckard: Roy understands that although he must die, Deckard can live; he Roy can give Deckard the gift of life. No one wants to die before their time. The script’s probing of the psycho-social collision of the human and the replicant completes its circuit of logic. The machine returns to the human their own humanity.
And this same circuitry is part of our contemporary experience. A logic that poses questions for us through the current rapid development of AI. AI entities in conversations with humans have already passed the ‘Turing Test.’ We can’t necessarily tell if we are speaking to a human or to ‘a machine’. Perhaps some time soon we the humans are going to have to make a decision: to take the direct route and dismantle ‘HAL’ to save ourselves; or to forge another human type relationship with these human-created entities.
The other dynamic concept driving the script engine is the idea of ‘passing’. Passing refers to regular involvement in social interactions on the basis of a false identity. Good examples are drawn from the world of spying where men such as Philby, Blunt, Mclean, Burgess all working at the heart of MI5 for some 20 years plus, were in fact Soviet Agents regularly reporting back to the KGB. They passed themselves off as loyal Brits. ‘Passing’ in temporarily limited situations is common. But many individuals who were Gay or Jews or members of many other discriminated groups, whose identity in itself assured vicious social and even murderous discrimination, learnt to pass as straight, Christian etc as a way of living/surviving. The idea of ‘passing’ lies at the core of Blade Runner. It’s embedded in the opening section in which the suspect male replicant is subjected to interrogation using a lie detector type machine that focuses mainly on his involuntary iris dilation. As this interrogation proceeds, and we understand the process better as Rachael undergoes the same testing, we see that only with the use absurdly complicated equipment can we tell the difference between the replicants and ourselves. We can see them in the street, we can drink with them, make love to them, and we wouldn’t know they were different. Only they know. We can be fooled as to who they really are. I am reminded of the intensity of the Jewish legislation in Nazi Germany which burrowed back two generations into the heredity of suspected Jews, to validate that they were the Aryans they claimed to be.
Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ pulls together the insecurities of a new emergent age: issues of identity, issues of the increasing power and claims of machine intelligence. When the movie was made these were ‘ideas of potential’ but clearly seen (by writers such as W. Burroughs) on the event horizon. Blade Runner’s achievement, even today is to frame these emergent realities in a script that is dedicated to the purely filmic, which economically without digression uses film to explore ideas.