We have reached the point in history where the iconic movie Blade Runner was set. In case you happen to have been living under a rock all your life Blade Runner a movie masterpiece created by the holy trinity of director Ridley Scott, science fiction writer Philip K Dick and artist Jean Giraud (aka Moebius). I feel like I’m standing at a crossroads here, there is so much to write about every aspect of this movie, the numerous directors cuts, to voice over, to not voice over…. and then there is the whole business with the dream sequence and the significance of the origami unicorn. Frankly, there are film theorists who could do a far better job than I would ever do, suffice to say its importance as an artist and culture arctic is immeasurable.
I think the best thing for me to do that is to write about it in personal terms.
I was twelve when Blade Runner was released, far too young to see it at the cinema and that meant the long wait until it turned up on the television and sneakily watching it late at night, probably when I had to get up for school the next day. My parents had the, cliched, narrow working class horizons fostered by a diet of tabloid journalism and mainstream media and would have viewed a movie like Blade Runner as violent sci fi crap that I shouldn’t be watching and, too be fair, as someone in my early teens by then, that all I would have seen in it, particularly when watched on a fourteen inch colour tv with poor reception. I remember the end scene getting to me though, when, Replicant (genetically engineered superhuman with an inbuilt six year lifespan) Roy Batty spares the protagonist ‘s life only moments before his own cuts out. The speech is legendary and I feel duty bound to quote it verbatim.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
On his death, the white dove that he was holding takes to the air as if his soul is departing his body, except does an artificially created being have one? The character had already met and killed his own maker, or God if you like, some scenes prior to his own pre determined death. Unless you have an intractable faith in a God, it’s hard not to watch that scene and ponder our own mortality. Why do we set out to achieved anything when it all ends in our inevitable demise, oblivion and subsequent person loss of everything, our own worlds end with us. It’s classic existentialist territory and I doubt I had the full capacity back then to even try and wrap my head around it, that would come later after listening to the Cure a lot and reading too much Sartre, Camus and Simone de Beauvoir as a young adult.
Watching Blade Runner as a young man in my late teens at home on a big telly, most likely with a spliff on the go, I took in the visuals a lot more. Having vague notions of a career in art, I became fascinated by the clothes, the set design and all the props that made up the world that the movie portrayed. I think I may have been pretentious enough to use the word ‘dystopian’ but possibly not. By then, Blade Runner was a cool thing to talk about, in pre Google times, knowing things about things had a sence of value, whereas now I get the impression that being facile has an element of kudos to it… I hope I’m wrong. Knowing about the significance of the tiny unicorn left by Deckard’s door was like being part of a special club, understanding that the protagonist’s memories were as artificial as he was changed the movie entirely.
When the Director’s cut came out in the early nineties I finally had the opportunity to see it on the scale in which it was intended to be viewed, rather than a tiny television screen. I took my then girlfriend with me and I actually drove there in my car, something I now consider a kindness to the rest if humanity for me not to do. I remember thinking that I wished that I had gone alone as she really didn’t want to be there and I was too concerned about her wellbeing to concentrate on the movie, it was a fantastic experience though.
Watching Blade Runner now as a middle aged man is tricky, as with a lot of movies, I have seen it so many times that it’s hard for it to have the same impact that it once did. I have reached a shakey truce with my own mortality, enough so that the concept of everything that I do being essentially fleeting and futile is just another annoying thing that I’d rather not think about that much. The idea that all my art is just some crap to be cleared out and taken to the dump by a bemused landlord rather than archived by a grateful world makes me laugh as much as it does cry and that is about it as far as existential angst goes. I look at the world outside and it is not yet the fever dream sprawl of towering buildings. The pluralisms of a mishmash of cultures aren’t there yet but it is starting to happen despite the feeble efforts of assorted nationalist and racist groups to stay firmly stuck in the past. The environmental nightmare of a world foreseen by Philip K Dick is not quite there yet but it is definitely in the post and we have utterly failed to find the wherewithal to colonise other planets and sod off to somewhere that we haven’t wrecked yet.
Most important to me personally though is that no one has made robots to the standards of J F Sebastian, the character I have always identified with and steadily seem to be becoming, holed up in a decaying apartment filled up with weird and wonderful things that he’s created. The really interesting thing about what imaginary projections of our future that were filmed in the last century never imagined was the endless stream of people who did nothing but watch shit on the television and endlessly stare at their telephone screen.
Ironically, of all the films set in the future, the most accurate so far seems to be Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, with the would overpopulated by stupid people progressively breeding more and more stupid children and the president of American being an utter moron but for style and a level of profundity, buried amidst a Hollywood sci fi movie, Blade Runner set a benchmark for it’s genre that still holds true today over thirty years later.