By Jonah Ruddock
Final ranking: 4 out of 5 flames
Imagine the most beautiful nightmare you’ve ever had. That’s the best way to describe Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner. It’s a pillar of science fiction cinema, establishing tropes that helped to define cyberpunk as a genre while also playing on noir stereotypes to tell the captivating story of a man tasked with the extermination of humanoid robots called replicants. But make no mistake, this is more than just a classic rehashing of humankind confronting its sickest creations.
Set in the year 2019, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) lives in a bleak Los Angeles dominated by flying cars, massive holographic advertisements, abysmal weather, and quality Chinese food. He’s a blade runner called to hunt a batch of rogue replicants. Designed by the Tyrell Corporation, these replicants have been enslaved and abused, and now they’re loose in the city, some trying to blend in, others trying to stir up trouble. Two of such replicants, Roy (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Daryl Hannah), are determined to do whatever it takes to prolong their four-year lifespans. Deranged with trauma, they are amoral beings who have no qualms about the gore they leave in their wake.
But then there’s Deckard. His cynicism, his penchant for whiskey, the blood on his face–it’s all so human. Why, then, is he dragged out of retirement despite his protests, clearly having no power over his own future? Why, after murdering a replicant, is he told that he has done “a man’s job”? Why doesn’t he have a backstory? Why does his colleague seem to have access to his mind? Would LAPD really hire humans to do its dirtiest work?
Lines are blurred again when Rachael (Sean Young), a secretary at Tyrell Corporations, discovers she is a replicant after a lifetime of believing otherwise. Her memories are false, implanted so that she can be better controlled. In a world where only a machine-run test can differentiate between humans and replicants, Deckard’s disbelieving, “How can it not know what it is?” hardly holds up.
Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the film circles around a few central questions: What is the significance of a robot’s memories, real or implanted? Is the life that Rachael thought she’d had meaningless? Should Roy and Pris’s very human experiences change the way society views them? In a film where civilization is a numb dystopia, the replicants often show more emotion than the humans do. The uncertainty of Deckard’s nature asks another question: What does it even mean to be human? To do “a man’s job”?
An unsettling electronica score by Vangelis adds to the cutting suspense of the film, and the hellish cityscape’s set is a visual masterpiece (although Harrison Ford was driven half mad by the incessant dampness during filming). A team led by Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich created the pre-CGI special effects that the movie is often praised for.
Blade Runner is a fantastic journey. Distinguished by complex characters and unforgettable dialogue (Roy’s “tears in the rain” speech comes to mind), its thought provoking nature has made it a cult classic. It’s rated R for its graphic violence, heightened suspense, and nudity/sex. I would recommend it to fans of Alien, Ghost in the Shell, or The Matrix trilogy.