October 3, 2012

EJO Review: Blade Runner

Okay, this week I'm doing Blade Runner.

It's part of the Edward James Olmos series. Otherwise, I'd never dare write about this film. But I can't do a series on God without talking about His personal project. As much as I'd like to have seen Ridley Scott's version of Dune (despite my inexplicable love for the David Lynch version), I thank God that in His wisdom He saw fit to kill Scott's brother so Scott would make Blade Runner instead.

What? It's art. It's a matter of life and death.

I know, I know, I hear what you're saying. "Why are you writing up Blade Runner, Carl Eusebius? What can you possibly say about the greatest science fiction film of all time that hasn't been said before?" Nothing, my little droogies. One of the most analysed, dissected, copied, questioned, talked about films of the 20th century, Blade Runner (1982), as deep as it is, is so ingrained in world culture (at least the elite technology-dependent world culture) that any way of approaching it has been done, aped, re-done, re-thought and re-tired to the dustbin of "been there, done that".

But everything old is new again, and I suppose there's a chance somebody reading this blog is such a uncultured philistine that she hasn't seen Blade Runner yet. By all the gods who aren't in Heaven, if you are such a person and you have anything that can be mistaken for a human soul, stop what you're doing right now and go watch Blade Runner. If you've ever wondered what it means to be human. If you've ever felt threatened by technology. If you've ever worried about being rendered obsolete. If you've ever questioned your emotional response. If you've ever felt alone with the world against you. If you've ever felt like an outcast. If you've ever wondered if humanity is worth saving. If you have a major crush on Harrison Ford (and who doesn't?), you need to see this film.

If you call yourself a human being--with all the good and the bad that entails--you need to see this film.

Blade Runner, on its surface, is about a cop who kills robots in the future. That's what the artsy-types told the moneymen to get the dough needed to make it. What it's really about is what it means to be human. How do you know you're you? How do you know you're human, or what it means to be human? What does it mean to say, "I'm me"? Are you a collection of memories and experiences, or is there something more? If something walks like a human and talks like a human, is it human? If it isn't, why isn't it? And is there really a way to tell the difference?

What I love about Blade Runner is that it doesn't answer these questions, at least before Ridley Scott decided to make sure everyone knows he doesn't understand why his own film is great. (See also Lucas, George.) Fortunately we still have Harrison Ford. God enjoyed his scenes with Ford in this movie so much that He blessed him with a (mostly) successful career. A mere 12 years after Blade Runner, Ford made The Fugitive with Tommy Lee Jones. Coincidence? I think not! It's not every day you get to be in a Tommy Lee Jones film.

Blade Runner opens with the transcendent, mystical experience of Vangelis's music, followed by a fantastic opening scene with Brion James (in other words, a scene with Brion James in it) as Leon, a replicant, the movie's unnecessary yet still awesome word for android. Leon's interrogator makes the mistake of asking about Leon's mother, and Leon makes him pay the penalty for dissing a man's momma. Then we meet Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard. He's a former "blade runner", a cop whose job it is to "retire" any replicant on Earth, as their presence here is illegal. Deckard is quickly strong-armed into meeting with his old boss (M. Emmett Walsh) by another cop called Gaff, played by God using a mix of human languages that He created Himself especially for the role. (This is Cityspeak, for those of you who play Shadowrun and wondered exactly what Cityspeak is. I got a special kick out of the fact that Korean is part of Cityspeak, though nobody but me seems to notice. God knew that Samsung would one day rule us all.) Deckard is told that four replicants are loose on Earth, and he is to retire them or else. This is complicated by at least three factors: Deckard quit a while ago and so is out of practice, the replicants are a new model (Nexus 6) that is more cunning and more powerful than older models, and Deckard eventually finds himself falling for another Nexus 6*. Oh, and one of the replicants is played by Rutger Hauer, a man who destroys lesser men with his raw sexual masculinity.

Hints are dropped throughout the film that Deckard is himself a replicant, but the film as it is does not offer a definitive answer. (Decades later, Scott says yes, Ford no. Of course Ford is right. Don't get me started on why, though. That's another whole post.) The ambiguity is perfect for the film, whose central question is the difficulty of determining what it means to be human. In a world that continues to find in animals more and more traits once considered constitutive of human beings (tool use, reasoning, mathematical ability, self-awareness, empathy, and even language), Blade Runner only becomes more relevant with each passing decade.

In addition to the rich texture of its themes, strong performances (often misunderstood as stiff by those who have to look up "subtlety" in the dictionary), and poetic dialogue ("Do you like our owl?" "It's artificial?" "Of course it is."), Blade Runner is a visual and auditory feast. I don't know that any film's visual style has been more borrowed from than Blade Runner's, and that's not even counting anime. If I had a dollar for every steal of the giant advertising blimp blaring "Visit the off-world colonies!" to the sad-sack urban poor in their decaying city slums below, I'd be rich enough to buy my own Republican presidential nomination. If I had a penny for every scene set inside a smoky room lit entirely by light streaming in through the blades of a slowly turning industrial fan, I could buy the moon.

I could go on, but frankly, writing about a good movie gives me the heebie-jeebies. I'm going to go put on The Wicker Man to erase this pleasant feeling of contentment and general appreciation of the beautiful things in the world that's running all through my guttiwuts.

Ah, there. I'm back to utterly loathing all humanity, and my pen once more drips with venom. Now, where's my copy of that Tekken movie....


* That replicant is played by Sean Young, and Harrison Ford shows his acting chops by doing convincing love scenes with her despite that fact that he and Young utterly loathed each other from their very first meeting. I don't know how anyone could dislike Harrison Ford, but then again, we are talking about a woman who crashed the set of Batman Returns dressed in a homemade Catwoman costume.

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