The ultramodern cityscape of Los Angeles belches fire as flying vehicles streak across the sky. Modern pyramids accentuate a robotic city that seems to almost run itself, as an eye provides a reflection of those who created this city of steel, fire and light. The futuristic is quickly replaced with a classic office scene that is painted in harsh blue light, as fan blades spin cutting through the cigarette smoke. Now outside this room looking in, the building is a hard, futuristic landmark that is the antithesis of the vintage scene inside. Two men sit at a table as the viewer is introduced to genetically engineered people called replicates. The meeting ends in the death of a human and signals the beginning of Rich Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) hunt for those responsible.
Part of the beauty of the film ‘Blade Runner’ is how it exists seamlessly in two worlds. Blending vintage technology with engineered humans and flying cars makes this distant future an accessible one. The Voight-Kampff machine for example, is an advanced polygraph for identifying replicates. This device however, includes bellows, a technology that has been used by Egyptians since 4000 AC, and seems out of place within a world with extraterrestrial colonies and little limitation in technological advancement. Additionally, the use of fans in the first interrogation scene and when Deckard visits Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) to discuss the rogue replicates, creates a sense of the vintage and the modern coexisting—while giving viewers a definitive point of reference in a somewhat unfamiliar world.
This use of anachronism, a chronological inconsistency in some element or object, allows the film to adopt an older style of filmmaking. Film noir as a style has low-key, hard lighting, which is accentuated by a detective and femme fatale. Deckard is clearly the detective figure and his love interest Rachael (Sean Young), is the femme fatal, as her presence brings about additional danger. Furthermore, Deckard’s apartment and many of the places he visits are poorly lit, using shadows and the extremes of light and dark. Throughout the entire film it is only daytime once – and this is as the sun is setting, the rest of the story happens under the cover of darkness. This lack of daylight helps draw attention to the noir style of filmmaking employed by Ridley Scott.
In the final moments of the film, Deckard and Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) faceoff in the Bradbury Building, using the old space to their advantage–both try to kill the other. Batty represents the height of technological advancement—who is drawn to a century old building to fight for what remains of his life. This juxtaposition of old and new is very apparent in the final scene and summarizes the tension of human advancement and the consequences. The building is in a state of decay, pointing to the fragile nature of human history and how progress can create and simultaneously destroy elements of society.
Characters and history are linked to the landscape and objects within the film, like J.F. Sebastian’s (William Sanderson) connection to the Bradbury Building, Deckard’s link to his piano and photographs, and Rachael’s fondness of the image of her mother. Despite the extreme advancement of the technology, personal history and vintage objects point to a simpler time before the advent of replicates. It is also interesting that after creating new replicates they equip them with photographs and memories in an attempt to make them more human and less dangerous. Furthermore, replicates seem to be collectors of memory, with most of them collecting photographs in order to create a sense of history and identity.
This trait however, is problematic for Deckard because it suggests that he too could be a replicate due to his vast collection of photographs. This idea is suggested by Rachael and hinted at throughout the film. There is a point when Deckard dreams of a unicorn running through a forest. In the closing sequence, Gaff (Edward James Olmos) creates an origami unicorn and leaves it in the hallway of Deckard’s apartment—suggesting that Gaff has access to Deckard’s memories making him a replicate. Gaff also states ‘It’s too bad she [Rachael] won’t live! But then again, who does?’ directly connecting humans with replicates – blurring the lines between the two.
Considering that Gaff is the only person to create something on screen by folding origami animals, he becomes an authority on the development of something unique. He is not replicating something – rather he is creating an original item. The idea of the replicates literally means a duplicate, a copy of something else – thus Gaff’s original creations, even if they are just origami, are juxtaposed to the copy of humans that populate the film.
Whether you believe that Deckard is a replicate or not, Blade Runner is a visually impressive film that represents a classic science fiction film from the 80s. The real question is, if ‘You’re in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down and there is a tortoise laying on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over’ what would you do?