NRH’s Final Analysis: Blade Runner


Is there anything left for me to say about the film? I’m trying not to get ahead of myself but I’m something of a Blade Runner fanatic and, some might say, even a Blade Runner academic. I’ve written a book on the film, I’ve written countless columns and articles, some of which have gone unpublished, and it’s a story I’ve watched tens of times across multiple versions. I’ve seen the Spanish broadcast version, the original Workprint, the Final Cut, the Director’s Cut and so many fan cuts that, by this point, there’s nothing for me to say. Yet, here I am, about to tell you something. I’m writing a sequel to my book, Tears In Rain 2, and re-watching it for nth time got my brain churning.

Blade Runner isn’t ‘the’ film of my life, that’s a title reserved for 2001: A Space Odyssey. I had a think, however, about how personal this column series has been. For most of this year I’ve steered my analysis through topics from Freud to sins to duality to literary adaptation to food to philosophical wanderings. For my final piece I’d like to take a trip into a film that has taken a good portion of my brain for the last five years. A film that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Blade Runner is a film that seems impossible. A loose adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel that takes a chisel to the early eighties New American Exceptionalism; blends noir with sci-fi neon edge; charts a society that has devolved, decayed and is only one twitch of a dystopia away; has an atmosphere of dread, rain whilst still having this improbable momentum and, whilst doing all of this, keeps focus on its main philosophical pincer move. What does it mean to be human? Blade Runner opens up with a view of a flickering eyeball seeing the hellish industrial landscape, with fumes and fire flaming up into the night sky. This eye has been called Orwellian by Ridley Scott, the sight of God by many critics and, by myself, a self-aware gesture that looks directly into the audience and asks for their own meanings and interpretation. Blade Runner is a film that doesn’t exist in one concrete, confirmed ‘canon’ format; it is spread across versions and across entire generations. Much like its protagonist, it is trapped in ambiguity. Much as Deckard is neither Replicant nor Human, not truly, so too is the film not truly a ‘film’.

That probably reads like pretentious twaddle and you’re right, it’s a bit of a leap to say that Blade Runner isn’t really a ‘film’. I do mean it though. Blade Runner is a film that deals with the ambiguity of humanity, it’s only too fitting that it itself exists across various platforms, versions and different narratives. In some, Deckard is a Replicant and in others he is not. In some, there is a happy ending and in others there is a nod of despair. It’s been edited, re-cut and cut again and I doubt it’ll even stop happening. Even fan-cuts of the film have become incredibly popular. 

Blade Runner really is the transcendent film. Its provocative commentary, themes that all dovetail into the same literary soup and, quite especially, its visual flair all make it one of the finest efforts in storytelling full stop. It’s a brave piece of work given the context of eighties political highs with a thaw in the Cold War. There’s something of an air about the thing; it may be 2019 but it certainly feels like 1982 is clawing at the gates. Blade Runner is a smart thriller but its true juiciness lies in how it puts across the grandest ideas with fairly minimal effort. Roy’s final speech of existentialism, which truly challenges the notions of memory and humanity, is pretty much a theatrical monologue. He speaks on the rooftops above the sheeple who mill about and seem more Replicant than the Replicants themselves; who are out in the stars living the highest of lives.

Deckard himself is just a treat of a character. He doesn’t state his feelings, not really, and most of his persona, emotions and even ‘purpose’ are all guesswork. That’s what makes the film a constant joy for all of us fanatics; speculation. There’s so much material to work with. Authorial intent, to me at least, is a silly avenue to take. Art is really defined by what we take away from it, and Blade Runner, to me at least, offers vast amounts of ways in which to approach its oil-painting of a rain-soaked moral wasteland.

I’ve asked myself whether or not the film suffers any ‘pure’ faults in the classical sense. Performance, visual, script etc. that sort of criticism. It’s hard to judge given my Vangelis-tinted glasses when approach the film but, quite frankly, I’m not sure there’s any fault at all. The cinematography is mind-blowingly gorgeous, the visual effects are all blended together perfectly and, depending on your version (The Final Cut is, in my opinion, the definitive version) the narrative momentum is mostly preserved. Performance wise? Harrison Ford shows off his ability to give weight to the most mildest of scenes, Rutgur Hauer has the show of a lifetime and Sean Young, first timer, manages to show a robotic romantic quality about her character. All of them breathe depth into this beautiful beast of a film.

If there is one thing to pick apart, it’s how Blade Runner really ‘looks’ on your first viewing. Even my first viewing was full of some tepid confusion followed by a lot of extra reading. Coming back to it again and again and experiencing specific true ‘peak film’ moments, moments which are now completely familiar to me, is a joy that few mediums can express. Blade Runner‘s first viewing pales in comparison to its tenth. It’s a film that deserves to be picked apart, it needs your dedication. This is not a popcorn sci-fi flick in any sense.

That’s what keeps me coming back. Everytime I feel my view of the film is enriched in some way. Changed. Deepened. I’m currently trying to carve out some of the pure racial and religious commentary within the film, whilst also digging up some specific writings on the special effects. Blade Runner, you might say, is one of my life projects. I ‘research’ it. I don’t think I’ll ever stop and I wanted to end Weekly Analysis showing off my enthusiasm, trying to state exactly why specific films keep me, and perhaps you, coming back again and again. Reviews often don’t do the film world justice, analysis gets to meanings and the true joy that film allows us; to express ourselves within expressions. To talk about the messages behind food in Pulp Fiction, to argue about the politics at play within The Dark Knight and to bask in the truth that all of cinema has to offer us.

And on that note:

Blade Runner OST Soundtrack (End Titles)