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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Blade Runner: 1982

Foreign characters painted on gas station pillars are made visible by a grease fire. Panning laterally, the camera weaves its way through rows of cyclists in the night. Junkyard gangs fight over hubcaps to sell as scrap in the rain. This is Los Angeles, 2019. The world is in cultural and economic collapse. The social gap grows steadily wider as the rich claim towers above the clouds, and the poor claim shelter amidst the rain. Humanoid robots called replicants have evolved and now question their existence alongside the cops, called Blade Runners, tasked to destroy them.

This is the setting of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, the science fiction film that originated the subgenre of cyberpunk. Usually cyberpunk settings would place the audience in the distant future while borrowing archetypes from film noir: crime drama, high contrast lighting, and rain. Storylines involved societal deconstruction, mega corporations controlling the world’s industries, and the balance between high tech and low life. The cyberpunk angle that Ridley Scott takes transforms Blade Runner from a simple blockbuster cop flick, into a universe brimming with thematic exploration.

The social structure of 2019 Los Angeles is explored through an engaging atmosphere. Decker's (Harrison Ford’s) job as a Blade Runner takes him through the rainy streets of L.A, now a diverse hive of scrambling lower-class citizens. We visit the seedy nightlife of clubs and cafes, but we also see within the pristine and sunbathed citadels of the upper class. The structure of social hierarchy is conveyed entirely through visuals. The audience's first brush with this social commentary comes from a blimp advertising the colonization of off-world colonies, wherein citizens could ascend beyond the skyscrapers and clouds, into other worlds. Ridley Scott’s theme of societal deconstruction adds depth and purpose to the architecture and overall setting of Decker’s world.

Blade Runner’s dystopian city sits in the palm of Dr. Eldon Tyrell, creator of highly evolved humanoid robots called replicants. Blade Runner follows Rick Deckard’s efforts to hunt down four replicants who want to meet Dr. Tyrell and discover meaning to their existence. Viewers understand Tyrell’s importance as the final piece to the replicants puzzle. They share the humanoids desire to answer the pressing questions: What is my purpose? And why do I exist? In the end, Tyrell holds the most power by leaving those questions unanswered. Identity remains the most vexing theme in the film and, like film noir, science fiction creates a wonderful platform to explore it with more visual freedom. Robots that appear identical to humans raise the question of whether or not the main characters we know are even human themselves. When the theme of identity is explored through the lenses of both film noir and science fiction, viewers are treated to a larger array of imagery and perspective.

On the surface Blade Runner is about an ex-cop who neglectfully reenters the force for one last job, rejects authority, and longs for a meaningful relationship with a woman. However, Blade Runner is also about social decay, hierarchy, and of course, identity. Audiences are greeted by a history and deeply thematic story behind its simplicity. The beautiful relationship between science fiction and film noir offer a unique and captivating perspective of Los Angeles. And even though viewers are watching a plot they seem to know by heart, they are captured by the world of Blade Runner.