A little introduction:
In 2011, wizard/director Ridley Scott’s classic, Bladerunner, became the topic of an interesting blog and online conversation. Four disciplines took a particular critical focus of the film, analyzing such aspects as the dichotomy between human|machine, the post-apocalyptic reality that the film predicts, and how the film differs from Philip K. Dick’s out-of-world sci-fi novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The film deserves conversation. It has stood the test of time because it presents many ideas still relevant – if not even more relevant – to the world we live in today. Further, Trent in Oshawa did something important: it attempted to connect with the local high school students and introduce them to potential pathways in university and the dynamic conversation that goes on in the classroom.
I have unearthed this older blog above because I would love to begin the conversation again, especially in the light of the new Media Studies program being offered at Trent and the recent addition of a Film Studies concentration in English. Similar to all great films, such as Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bladerunner asks the tough questions to its audience. It does not simply entertain (even though it does this effortlessly!), but requires audiences to interpret and think about the narrative being presented. I first saw the film at a ripe age, when one questions everything. At 15, I was perplexed and amazed by Bladerunner. I was convinced it was about our times and connected the dystopian world presented to the world that exists outside our normal day-to-day existence (this was before I saw The Matrix). Interestingly, one of the first details of the film I noticed was the cinematography, especially the use of a blue filter on the camera. After seeing the film a few more times, I regarded this as an insignificant detail. The blue, or the Bladerunner blue, was merely an attempt by Scott to make the world seem more dystopian and futuristic. Perhaps I was just embarrassed that I had not read more into the storyline and assumed that aesthetics were not meaning-making. Since studying film theory in English, I realize that I could not have been more wrong. Colour is a crucial part of the narrative. Deepa Mehta, one of Canada`s leading filmmakers, stands by her belief that colour is crucial to the telling of a story and the performance of her actors. Mehta`s masterpieces, Fire, Water, Earth, and Heaven on Earth, all use colour to convey the themes of the stories and the emotions of the actors.
Bladerunner is no exception. Aside from exaggerating the feeling of a post-apocalyptic dystopia, blue conveys a coldness about the environment. The setting is constantly shrouded in night and chill. Shadows are everywhere. The future race of people live in a Plato`s Cave of shadows alongside androids and machines who cannot feel. It must be terrible. This lack of feeling and lack of humanity is not simply just cold to touch, but connotative of a world that is devoid of meaning. It is nihilistic and reliant upon a post-modern hyper-reality to continue its existence. Scott shows the androids, who appear as human, as constantly attempting to be human. They attempt to feel, but are short-stopped, or short-circuited, by the lack of heart, so to speak (remember the Tinman?). Their metallic core cannot reproduce the muscles and neurotransmitters of a human, pulsing with emotions, such as fear, elation, and love. The film’s anti-hero, Rick Deckard, hunts these androids, similar to a bounty hunter who gets paid to corrupt the corporate elite. Deckard becomes the conduit for the audience. He is our narrative eye. As a bounty hunter, he is not supposed to feel for those he kills. However, being the hero of the narrative, he is struck with a moral crisis. As Deckard hunts his targets, he begins to see them as human, not merely as replicants. This moral crisis puts the post-apocalyptic existential one into question. Suddenly, Deckard feels, yes feels, for the droids (is this not ironic? An android-hunting bounty feels for his unfeeling prey. An irony only Philip K. Dick could render).
The underlying story of the film is the troubled conscience of humanity in world of machines. Philip K. Dick and Kubrick alike saw the paradox: despite humanity’s ability to progress into the future, we are still humans, with organic bodies and primitive minds. We may evolve socially, but biologically we progress gradually. The film’s cinematography reflects this depressing paradox. Humans are idealists and science is always attempting to push forth, without regards to the consequences of the progress being made on the present world. Furthermore, when corporations use science as a money-making vehicle, the result is often negative. In Bladerunner, the powerful Tyrol Corporation produces and sells the replicants to perform human duties. This, of course, gets of control, and the androids become indistinguishable from actual humans, even replacing them in many instances. The title of Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, plays on this (if we humans dream of sheep, do androids dream of sheep made from electrical wires? Are androids really that similar? Or that different?).
By the end of the film, Bladerunner presents a final scene resolving all ironic tension. Tears in the rain. An android’s tears are indistinguishable from the rain – meaningless and inhuman; asymptomatic and cold. Same with their love. Deckard has his share of droid love interests, but does not find actual love – the mushy heart stuff.
Tears in the rain. An android’s tears are indistinguishable from the rain – meaningless and inhuman; asymptomatic and cold. Same with their love. Deckard has his share of droid love interests, but does not find actual love – the mushy heart stuff. The final scenes of film epitomize the futuristic noir tone – that hypnotic, neon blue that looms over our futures.
Ultimately, Scott’s film adapts the novel to a new age. The early 1980s was the beginning of a new corporate age, one of which pushed past the revolutionary decades of the 60s and 70s. The 1980s was also moving forward into a new globalized world, a revolution we are still experiencing. The 1980s was also the beginning of Reganism – need I say more on a film that depicts existential anxiety and dystopian fears! “Time to Die” is both a premonition and a memory: perhaps that age that would see the death of an idealized future would see the birth of a new age, one of which is far more human than expected. Or perhaps the droids have become us; us them. The technology that we incorporate, capitalize, and hunt, becomes incorporated in us, capitalize on us, and hunt us by the end.
Regardless, the blue looms through the film and does not disappear by the end. Similar to many of Philip K. Dick’s novels, the ending is ambiguously, full of potential and deadly uncertainty; full of existential angst that remains cyclic and repetitive until death breaks the cycle (A Scanner Darkly; Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said; Valis). Death is the ultimate, finite answer, where the blue fades to black, but life is likewise an answer and this film chooses life every time.