Blade Runner—Model of Cyberpunk
“This rehearsal will end, the performance will end, the singers will die, eventually the last score of the music will be destroyed in one way or another; finally the name “Mozart” will vanish, the dust will have won.” (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 9.4) Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a classic piece of cyberpunk literature, a subgenre in science fiction. Its cinematic adaptation, the 1982 version of Blade Runner, serves as an archetype of cyberpunk film. The setting of cyberpunk is a dystopian, high-tech, but low-living future. With the background of accelerated advancement in technology, many cyberpunk literature and films provoke philosophical discussions such as the fundamental purpose of living, the definition of human being, and the uniqueness of individuals. In this paper, in order to analyze the text and the film, I will compare the context, ideas, and characterization on both. I will also analyze the style of the film in terms of music/soundtrack and cinematography.
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic city. Because of the promotion of colonization in other planets, many people have already moved out. The Earth is crowded with unqualified or inferior people, and they live in the desolation where pervades with radiation and ashes. Replicants, the robots that have high similarity to human beings, are created to assist human who colonize in other planets. Some mutinous Nexus-6 illegally fled to the earth for freedom and life extension. Blade runners, a force in the police department, have the mission to execute all the replicants on earth. Deckard is a brilliant blade runner. In his mission, he develops love with a replicant; he also changes his perspective toward replicants. Replicants are like human beings who have mechanism beyond the physical level. They have consciousness and emotion. They cooperate as a team. They also have love between each others. Therefore, the film is asking the audience: one day when the technology is advanced enough to create a robot that has almost no difference than the real human, shall we give them some sorts of human rights or legal status? If the boundary between human and machine is so blur that we cannot distinguish, shall we have empathy on them like we do on the living or organic creatures on earth? If machines have memory, consciousness, emotion, and personality, what feature(s) that human being can still preserve as uniqueness?
“Empathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every phylum and order including the arachnidan.” (3.16) The novel gives the answer on how to differentiate human and machine. There is a significant component in the novel—Mercerism, a religious-liked ideology accompanied by practice that emphasizes collective experience on empathy and suffering. It contests with an entertaining television program called Buster Friendly, a comedy that is hosted by a replicant, for dominating people’s metaphysical or spiritual life. Buster’s program is popular by his interesting but superficial talk. Although Mercerism is proved as a fraud by Buster, the idea of Mercerism is inherited by Deckard. Ironically, Deckard learns or (maybe) restores empathy from the mission of executing replicants. Another important figure in the novel is John Isidore (he might be the original character of J.F. Sebastian in the film, but they have different function in the novel and the film respectively). Isidore is intelligently inferior and therefore abandoned by the mainstream society. He helps the replicants to avoid execution by housing them. He finds a spider and values the spider preciously. A female replicant whom he has crush on thinks the spider has no needs with legs as many as eight. She cuts the spider’s legs one by one without any sense of guilt or empathy. Out of his instinctive compassion, Isidore—a real human who is even intelligently lower than the replicants, feels the pain of the spider and suffers psychologically. Therefore, empathy is the idea that the author mentions to differentiate human and non-human.
Besides the idea that is mentioned in the film, the novel has a strong reflection to the colony history. The replicants implicate slaves from Africa. They were demeaned as non-human and therefore they were assigned to the hazardous and repetitive donkeywork in the colonized new world. Even though they were talented and some of them tried to be assimilated into the mainstream culture, the social norms in term of laws and convention refused to accept them. So they fought for freedom and status as a dignified human being. Luba Luft is a powerful character to reflect this theme in the novel. Luba is a talented opera singer. Deckard is touched by her singing. She is also an art lover. She has impact emotionally when she looks at the paintings. Her execution is the critical point of change in Deckard’s attitude toward the replicants. Before the execution, Deckard bought her the painting collection. He was hesitated to kill her. He was depressed when she was executed by the other blade runner. This is Luba’s final words: “Ever since I got here from Mars my life has consisted of imitating the human, doing what she would do, acting as if I had the thoughts and impulses a human would have. Imitating, as far as I’m concerned, a superior life-form.” (12.30) In the film, Zhora, a dancer with a snake, corresponds to Luba. The process of Zhora’s execution is taken in slow motion. Three elements—her desperate running, pieces of scattering glass, and the depressing blues, strongly arouse emotional empathy to the audience. Her death is concluded by a drop of tear from her eye.
The interaction between Deckard and Rachael is the major story line in the film. Rachael is the most advanced replicant. She works as a secretary of Dr. Tyrell, the founder of Tyrell Corporation and the creator of replicants. She has implanted memory so that she had thought she was a real human until Deckard told her the truth. Rachael is the key that changes Deckard completely. In their first contact, Deckard was cruel to her, aimed to find out she is a replicant or not. In their second contact, when Deckard told her the truth and the technology of implanted memory, she cried. Deckard felt so sorry about his rudeness. At that moment, his perspective about replicants has started to change. Rachael has real emotion like human. Deckard has empathy on Rachael. In their third contact, in order to rescue Deckard, Rachael fired on a replicant. The following scene in Deckard’s home is the most romantic part of the film. Accompanied by Love Theme, Vangelis’s music with electronic music as background and sax solo as the leading melody, Rachael was combing her hair with fingers and then playing the piano. When Rachael played the piano, even though her music Memories of Green and Love Theme have different melodies, Memories of Green was blend in Love Theme’s atmosphere. The cinematography of Rachael’s slow movement is elegant and classic. The 90° horizontal direction shot and 45° high angle shot on Rachael’s face and hair are impressive. I think the director tried to arouse the audience’s sympathy on Rachael. In another hand, this scene might be taken from Deckard’s point of view. Deckard was attracted by her, then they had the intimate relationship. I think the love and intimacy between them is beyond the physical level, it is empathy of affection. Their final contact is the end of the film. After Deckard was done with his mission, he left with Rachael. Even though Deckard is supposed to execute Rachael, love and empathy change him.
Rachael in the novel has a huge difference than Rachael in the film. In the novel, although Deckard likes her and they do have sex, everything that Rachael does just her mission, not real affection. Deckard is just one of her many men (before Deckard, many blade runners had worked on the execution; Rachael was preprogrammed to seduce them). Nothing is romantic in Deckard and Rachael’s relationship. In contrast, the interaction between Deckard and Luba is more emotionally appealing in the novel.
Blade Runner is a neo-noir film. The manipulation of light and shadow is exquisite in cinematography in order to establish the atmosphere and elaborate the scene for aesthetic purpose. Similar to most of the film noir—the somber tone, dusty air, crowded streets, shabby buildings, chaotic neon lights, and exotic people are elements of the setting in both the film and the novel. Execution, murder, fight, and gun are components of the story. However, different from most of the film noir—compassion, affection, romantic scene, sentimental music, and poetic scripts contribute a strong impact to the audience. The director uses sequences of slow-motion shots in the following scenes to arouse the emotion of compassion and empathy of the audience—Zhora’s execution, Rachael’s hair combing, and Roy Batty’s death. I will analyze the character Roy from multiple approaches.
Roy is the leader of the replicants. He is brilliant physically and intelligently. He treats his teammates as brothers and sisters. He has true love to Pris, a female replicant. He is cruel to human. Personally, I am impressed by how the actor performing Roy. His facial expression, bodily movement, and speaking tone vivify Roy. The actor’s performance makes me feel Roy as a real person who has a romantic and sentimental spirit. He leads his teammates to come to the earth to pursue a life of freedom, without the fear and humiliation as being a slave. He wants to extend his, his lover, and his teammates’ lives. When he knows from his creator that their lives have no ways to extend, he acts like a real person who is informed of having a fatal disease. Before his death, he saved Deckard and released a dove. All of these characteristics—pursuit of freedom, desire of longevity, love of his teammates, and compassion, define him as a “human”. His final word is the highlight of the film “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. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
In term of structure, the novel is much more complicated. Some ideas such as colonization cannot be fully addressed in the film due to the limited time. However, characters like Rachael and Roy are personalized and elaborated in the film. Impressively, the film makers take the advantage of motion picture to vivify the story through vision and audition. Thus, the text and the film have their own structures to present their ideas. Both of them model the genre of cyberpunk.