Friday, April 14, 2017
Ridley Scott’s landmark sci-fi opus “Blade Runner” (1982) imagines two years from now (that is, 2019) as a 1940s noir with a 1980s music video gauze in a schizophrenic urban hellscape eternally beset by pounding rain or wearying drizzle that is eerily contrasted by an unremitting swath of bright lights. That’s why even if the future “Blade Runner” proposes seems much farther than two years off, those bright lights, generally rendered as eye-beating advertisements projected onto buildings and into the sky, seemingly everywhere you look, still sort of evoke our screens-everywhere-there’s-screens present day. It is a terrifying portrait of a place where the industrial has won out over the environmental, leaving us to rot, reminding of the couple times I’ve taken the Pedway from State/Lake to Washington Park with air so grimy and unnatural that I truly sometimes feel like I can’t breathe. It makes you wish for a flying car, to get up and above the steady beat of gloom.
In such a place, where it is so easy to feel so small, it becomes all the more reasonable that people would want to escape, except that in “Blade Runner’s” 2019 I doubt there are online articles titled things like “12 Waterfalls Just Outside Los Angeles That You Never Knew Existed.” So, how to escape? Well, I think of Philipe Petit’s line in “Man on Wire”, huddled under a blanket at the top of the World Trade Center to avoid detection by a security guard, saying: “To ease the torment, I return to my memories.” Ah yes, memories. When the world around you stretches out into boundless darkness, and when floodlights from passing law enforcement outside fill your home at all hours of the day, probing, watching, where else can you go but inside yourself. But what if what’s there really isn’t there at all?
That question becomes paramount in the movie’s plot as Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a kind neo-noir private eye, is tasked with tracking down and “retiring” (that is, killing) replicants, androids built by humans and implanted with fake memories. Of course, as Deckard’s quest progresses, going after a quartet of replicants, captained by the charismatic Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), that have gone rogue and banded together rather than drifting apart, as so much of this 2019 earthling gaggle seems to have done, questions intrinsically emerge, not least of which becomes whether or not Deckard himself might be a replicant. And if Deckard is a replicant then his memories can’t be real either.
That’s the long-running sci-fi fan parlor game - is Deckard a replicant or isn’t he? It’s been fueled not just from the film itself but by the myriad versions of “Blade Runner” that exist, like the “Final Cut” which hints much more than other versions, on account of its Unicorn Dream, that Deckard is a replicant, while Ridley Scott himself has said he thinks Deckard is a replicant and Ford himself has said he thinks Deckard is not a replicant. Watching the movie start to finish for the first time in a long time I came away, despite the fact I was watching said Unicorn Dream-ed “Final Cut”, siding with Ford.
If Ford is deploying his patented gruff disinterest to fine effect, making him perfect for this sci-fi interpretation of Raymond Chandler, Hauer practically gleams, animately existent in a way at odds with most humans going through the drudgery by going through the motions, a man, or thereabouts, who knows he’s living on borrowed time already and is determined, if not desperate, to alter his own pre-programmed fate, to live, which he most remarkably expresses on the precipice of death, reciting those lines that thirty-five years on still shimmer: “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 Tannhuser Gate.”
It is in this moment, the rooftop tete-a-tete between Batty and Deckard that their incredible dichotomy truly becomes clear, the way in which Batty, a make-believe human, for all intents and purposes, has an appreciation for his existence that Deckard, an actual human, if you will permit me for sake of argument, does not. And while I suppose one might contend that in this moment Batty provides Deckard the keys to unlocking his own inner replicant, maybe it’s the fatalist in me that cannot quite come around to that line of thinking, just as I cannot come around to the idea that Deckard as human has potentially in this moment suddenly converted to YOLO altruism.
As I left the theater after seeing “The Final Cut” on a cold, rainy Chicago night, I turned my phone back on, as you do, though I wish I wouldn’t, and soon found myself scrolling various social media apps, like the Facebook where it cued up an old “On This Day” memory. I remembered it, or I thought I did, and I wondered if the Facebook had slipped a fake memory in there if I would even know. Who knows? I put my phone back in my pocket and thought for sure “Blade Runner” would be less tragic if Rick Deckard was a replicant. I also thought that maybe we were closer to 2019 than I ever would have thought possible.