Part futuristic noir part science fiction mood piece, Ridley Scott’s masterpiece is so actively weird that it’s amazing how influential it has been over the past few decades. It’s also weird in that, as a character driven film, it doesn’t seem to immediately lend itself to the director’s strengths. In a way, he got lucky. Rick Deckard’s gumshoe investigation chasing down the escaped Replicants is such a blatant examination of humanity and its relation to technology that Scott’s lack of abilities as a character director actually work to its advantage (alongside Harrison Ford’s questionable skills as an actor). Instead he plays to his strengths as a visual stylist and methodical world builder, which results in an unparalleled experience of heady, immersive science fiction.
Everything about Blade Runner feels so real, and so lived in. 2019 Los Angeles is bustling, perpetually dark, perpetually raining, perpetually smoggy and neon drenched. It is here that I should mention Blade Runner, which is quickly nearing its 35th birthday, still stands as one of the most gorgeous films of all-time. Scott and cinematographer Jordan Cronenworth craft a picture in which every frame demands to be hung on a wall. They capture the way the light hits heavy rain at night, the way broken light hits all of these broken characters (as all good film noir should). When these burning images are paired with Vangelis’ ethereal music, Blade Runner becomes a film one experiences rather than simply watches. The streets are impossibly crowded, and this only heightens the extreme disconnect its characters experience. Deckard is really a non-character, an empty and brooding man with no personality. Opposite him is the very alive and wild Rutger Hauer as Roy, the leader of the Replicants. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition, Deckard’s detachment and Roy’s roaring empathy, calling into question what it really means to be a human being.
Film noir is the perfect vehicle for isolation, loneliness, and detachment. By creating a futuristic world full of both sophisticated technology and decay Scott brings his themes of humanity and technology to the forefront. It is a world where human beings need machines to decipher their own humanity; thus, the brief flashes of raw, broken human emotion hit like a gunshot. Blade Runner is not a film of subtlety, and Ridley Scott is not a subtle director. It’s so visually poetic and immersive and explicit that its heady science fiction needs to be felt, rather than analyzed and dissected, as a human being. “It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?”