500 Movies #2: Is this the Real Life?

Realizing that although I’d seen many, many movies in my life, I still hadn’t seen enough, I recently created a list of the 500 Best Movies I’ve Never Seen. As I attempt to watch them all, I will write about my experiences seeing classics (and some not-so-classics) for the first time. Warning: these are spoiler-ridden posts, as the films are all past their time in theaters (some, long, long past). If you haven’t seen the film I recommend you first see it and then read. If it’s on the list it’s probably worth seeing. 

2. Blade Runner (1982) Ridley Scott

I haven’t seen much Ridley Scott so far. Many of his movies are on the 500 Movies list, but my current exposure to him is rather limited. I’ve seen Alien, of course. Randomly I’ve also seen Robin Hood, because history has always appealed to me. Oh and I’ve seen the Apple superbowl commercial from the 80s. With my limited knowledge of Scott and how he directs I sat down to watch Blade Runner with a friend (whose reaction to my revelation that I’d never seen it could be most casually described as aghast). And so in writing this article I do not intend to claim any knowledge of Scott or his directing style or tropes or anything. But goodness me if Blade Runner wasn’t just dripping Ridley Scott all over the place. The low camera angles. The dark filter. The future that’s a bleaker than the present, rather than brighter. I felt like the world of Blade Runner was the world of Ridley Scott. And it’s a dark, dark world.

The story of the film felt all at once cliched and entirely original. A neo-noir sci-fi thriller that made you think but relied on old tropes. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Battlestar Galactica, what with the rebellious robots who look just like us, and, of course, Edward James Olmos. I had to remember that the film came out in 1982, and place myself in context. That, I think, is going to be the hardest part of my 500 Movies venture. But I think I’m okay so far.

The story itself was that of Rick Deckard, expert blade runner, or in laymen’s terms, robot hunter. See the science of this future (which I was surprised to find out is only 2019. It’s 2012. Where are my flying cars? Hmmm?) has created robots that look just like humans, and they have rebelled. They are only allowed on the colonies outside of Earth, but four escape and make it back to home sweet planet Earth. They are seeking their creator, Dr. Tyrell, to get him to extend their limited lives. Deckard is called upon to hunt them down. Along the way he meets Rachael, a replicant (as the robots are called) who believes she is human. She has had fake memories implanted in her, as an experiment. Conflict and violence ensues. Deckard falls for Rachael. He kills three of the four escaped replicants. The fourth saves Deckard’s life before dying due to his own time-limited existence. Deckard and Rachael leave together.

Laying aside the tired cop-hunts-fugitives storyline, the oneness of Blade Runner is in its handling of the question of life. It’s interesting, lately I’ve been watching a lot of film and television that deals with the idea of consciousness and life. Blade Runner. Battlestar Galactica. Dollhouse. What is alive? Who are we? How much is body tied to life? Is there a soul? Is consciousness life? I claim no answers to any of these questions, yet am incredibly intrigued by the way they’ve been handled in pop culture over the past thirty years. In Blade Runner‘s semi-dystopia, replicants were not considered alive. In fact, the whole purpose of Deckard was to “retire” them, not “kill” them. Yet the four who escaped sought to prolong their non-lives, and Rachael remembered a whole life before she was told she didn’t have one. As Deckard’s partner Graff says so succintly, “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?” And true, who does live? Were any of the humans any more alive? Was what they were doing living? In the bleak world we are presented with through dark filters, there is clearly not much to life, even for humans. Everything is fake, from the companions that JF Sebastian builds for himself to the snake draped around the stripper’s shoulders. The whole world is artificial. The line between real and fake is blurred. So is the line between human and machine. Even the line between life and death.

My friend informed me that one of the major points of discussion amongst fans of the film is whether or not Deckard is an android. This does not surprise me. Hints are dropped throughout the film. The most poignant moment occurs when Rachael brings Deckard a photo of herself and her supposed mother when she was a child to prove that she is real. When she leaves Deckard is moved to look at his own photo collection and realizes that they prove nothing. Nothing is real. Photos are just pictures on paper, and they can be faked just like people can be. So why should Deckard be real? 

I don’t know if I can definitively say whether or not he is a replicant. And I kind of love not knowing. Because at the end it’s not about what anyone is, but the choices they make. That is how life ended for Roy, our most villainous replicant. He ends his life by saving Deckard’s. In the world of Blade Runner, the old adage “actions speak louder than words” should be changed to “actions speak louder than DNA.” It turns out it doesn’t matter what you are. Who you are depends on what you do. And so Deckard and Rachael leave together at the end of the film. And that is all I need to know about what or who they are.

Blade Runner is now 180/709 movies on my Flick Chart

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