For a sci-fi enthusiast, I took to watching this film relatively late. I could’ve watched it sooner but I guess a part of me wanted to wait until it knew I was mature enough to contemplate what the film was trying to convey. I’ve seen many films too young and did not make much of them.
Disclaimer: I did not read the book Blade Runner yet. It’s on my list but it’s a very long list. This is a good thing as the book would probably affect my perception of the film.
The film Blade Runner deals primarily in ideas, not story. The plot is there just to serve as a vehicle of the idea and theme. Of course this is true for every film and every book but this time I couldn’t keep this out of my mind. The actors, the music and the visuals are there to fashion a painting in one’s mind, to ask questions and to challenge the viewer to answer those questions. This rarely happens with Hollywood films we are so used of watching. The primary reason for Hollywood films is entertainment, not to stirr one’s mind. Now that I think of it, Ridley Scott tries to do this with plenty of his films. He likes to leave the ending open so the viewer can choose his/her own conclusion of the story.
There are a couple of examples that come to mind. One is Kingdom of Heaven, where the main characters ride out into the sunset. What kind of life did they choose, given their situation? No one knows but many have criticized the ending of Kingdom of Heaven precisely because of the open ending. Another example, even more infamous, is Prometheus. With its hectic storyline, the film has reaped massive criticism, even though some people had vigorously defended it and tried to find explanations for the bizarre conclusion. Unfortunately, what this means is that the film failed in a fundamental way. If you need to search the internet for explanation of the storyline, it’s a bad story. But I think Ridley Scott has always walked the line between bland blockbuster entertainment (pleasing his corporate masters) and to create films that make the viewer scratch their heads and think about it more than simply “Those were some cool effects.” For that, he has my respect and he certainly has my admiration for creating Blade Runner.
For starters, I had difficulty deciding who the main character is. The first choice is the obvious one: Deckard, Harrison Ford’s character. But he is intentionally left bland and vague (I doubt Harrison Ford’s acting was bad intentionally). Deckard is part of the society and therefore mechanical and soulless. The androids, however, the synthetic people, are the humane ones. They are both kind and gentle as well as supremely aggresive and savage. In short, they are the humans in a society of robots.
The other choice for the protagonist is the main antagonist, Roy, Ruther Hauer’s character. There is a lot of effort put into making Roy evoke empathy in the viewer even though he kills gruesomely with his bare hands. He’s the sci-fi version of Adam, the primal human, on a quest for answers about his life, his purpose. There are other androids in the story but they are there mostly to serve as emotional anchors for the Roy’s character. Killing his maker is the ultimate deed of becoming his own creature, instead of being someone’s creation. From then on, his life (and his death) is his own, not his creator’s.
It is worth mentioning that Rutger Hauer is a brilliant actor, one that can evoke terror as well as sympathy. The detail where he sticks a nail into his hand is of course reminiscent of the Jesus figure. A bit unnecessary to the plot but important for the symbolism.
While this film does not have a smooth storyline as many of the modern mainstream films, it breathes with unblemished creativity. The whole time I watched it, I felt it as an organic piece of human creativity. It was the first time that I was aware of watching someone’s creation, someone’s struggle to make his viewpoint clear, and enjoyed that awareness. In contrast, modern mainstream films are well-oiled but lifeless pieces of stylized bullshit. Synthetic beings, mimicking life, if you will.
The atmosphere of the film is at one point a typical space-opera, showing an exaggerated version fo the splendour and misery of the modern world, walking hand in hand. At the same time, one must not neglect the legacy of Jodorowsky’s never filmed Dune which inspired everything from Alien to Star Wars. And Blade Runner.