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Afterthoughts: Running With Blades

JediCole here. Yet again I find the Ever-Ticking Brain is filled to capacity with thoughts on our latest episode of the USG podcast. And that means I’ve got me some Bladerunner on my mind! While we covered many aspects of this film in depth I wanted to share some thoughts that were not conveyed during the recording of the episode, many of which did not occur to me until well after the mics went silent.

First I am compelled to touch upon the effect of having read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (retitled as Blade Runner to make it more marketable at the time) before seeing the movie. It did not help that the cover art for the book was the movie poster art so it was easy to visualize Harrison Ford as Deckard, Rutger Hauer as Roy, etc. This meant going into the film there was an expectation of the characters and situations I had grown accustomed to in the book would be translated directly onto the screen. Naturally this was not the case and led to my initial hatred of the film.

In the book great importance is placed on the prevalence of android technology in the world. Not simply the replicants, constructed for offworld work that is too dangerous or unseemly for humans, but also the artificial animals. Essentially the “electric sheep”. The title is derived from the fact that Deckard owns an artificial sheep while his neighbor has the prestige of owning an actual sheep, and a pregnant one at that. At this stage in Earth’s history a large portion of organic life has been obliterated leading to the replacement of extinct species with artificial specimens. This leads to one of my biggest bones of contention with the feature film, Tyrell’s owl. In the book a great deal of importance was put on the owl. It was claimed that the animal was real. An almost impossible rarity in the context of the story. Tyrell claimed that the animal had been found in Canada where the ravages of mankind were considerably less, making his story plausible to Deckard. Though it was later revealed that the bird was artificial, the fact that in the movie the owl’s inorganic nature was revealed outright seemed something of an affront.

Now while there were aspects of the book that were sorely missing in the movie there were others the absence of which were welcome. Most specifically the pseudo-religion of Mercerism. To prevent the level of boredom this often invoked in reading the book I will not go into great detail about the practices and beliefs of this religion. As I recall it involved a kind of immersive virtual reality involving a kind of electronic Sisyphus called Mercer. Frankly that was best jettisoned from the already convoluted plot of the story. Other aspects that were thankfully abandoned were the ubiquitous talk show host around whom speculation raged that he might be a replicant and the degree to which one’s fertility, and the maintenance thereof, was of tremendous social value.

Upon reflection I find that as the years have gone by and my love of the film based on the book has grown (after allowing myself to set the movie apart from the book) I find I am lacking in any connection to the literary source material. Rather an ironic turn of events given how easily I dismissed Blade Runner at the outset. But then of course it has been over 25 years since I first cracked the cover of the movie edition printing of the book, my copy of which has long since been lost to the ages. And during those years I have watched and rewatched the movie on VHS and DVD, though only in the original U.S. theatrical release form. I refuse to acknowledge the Director’s Cut and the suggestion that Deckard is a replicant. It just flies in the face of everything that I know and came to love about this movie.

While I did go on a bit on the podcast about this particular debate I wanted to address, and subsequently challenge, just a few of the arguments supporting the concept that Deckard is anything other than human. The first being the level to which he takes a beating from not one but four different replicants and survives. The concept has been put forth that only a replicant could have lived through such abuse. I strongly disagree. Firstly, the evidence against this argument is far stronger than the evidence used to support it. In fact Deckard’s survival capacity seems to be the only evidence put forth in support. I would suggest that in every instance our heroic Blade Runner is roundly beaten by his foes. He suffers cuts, bruises, and intense pain at every turn. He is effectively strangled by Zhora, brained by Leon, smacked senseless by Pris, and given a severe trouncing in Roy’s cat and mouse game. His tenacity and knack for survival is not greater than any action hero in cinema history. Do not let the fact that his enemies are not human blind you to the fact that he proves himself no more or less capable against inhuman odds than John McClane or Indiana Jones.

I would further counter the contention that Deckard is a replicant from the standpoint of how it undermines so much of what makes the story so compelling.  At the risk of repeating too much of what I covered on the podcast I have to reitterate some points and perhaps touch on others that are new.  What bothers me most about the idea of Deckard as replicant is that it cuts out the heart of this story, such as it has a heart.  Absent his humanity Deckard has no meaning in the context of the film.  His is a struggle of very human proportions.  He is a retiree from the gritty and unsavory life of a Blade Runner, a life he would just as soon put behind him.  And yet like any reluctant hero he is drawn back into the world he wants to forget.  For that ineveitable "one last time".  His life is a somber one filled with regret and lonliness in a world that in which lonliness is the status quo.  The film paints a bleak urban landscape of the future that is more depressing than facinating.  The purpose of this is to make Deckard a sympathetic character.  To allow him to find love in a life where it is as rare a commodity as a real living animal.  All of that is lost if Deckard himself is not real.  Lost like tears in rain.

Now I realize I have provided an ample opportunity for the replicant camp to hop in and say that the purpose of all of this is to illustrate the level to which memory implants like those utilized in Rachel are effective.  The android, unlike even the state-of-the-art Nexus-6 an android like Tyrell's "neice" is patently unaware of its artificial status.  A compeling arguement to be sure, but again it undermines the whole point of the story.  The sole effect of casting Deckard as a replicant of the nature of Rachel would be is to suggest that Tyrell was behind the very hunter of his renegade creations.  Were that the case, especially knowing his own life might well be in jeapordy at the hands of the rogue androids, why not simply create an android proxy of himself to stand in his stead within his bleak ivory tower and subsequently be destroyed at Batty's hands?  If you really want to delve deeply into things perhaps all of the principle characters are replicants.  It is no less far-fetched in the context of the story than Deckard being one himself.  If the police are utliizing replicants as Blade Runners that could at least suggest that Gaff is one.  Why risk perfectly good humans still remaining on Earth in such an unseemly profession.  Of course such thoughts are nonsense.  But then so is the idea that Deckard is a replicant in my opinion.

In closing this article I would like to touch on a few inconsistancies and other oddities that can be found in the film.  The most glaring seems to be the mention of more replicants running riot on Earth than are accounted for in the meeting with Bryant.  A rather glaring error really!  Bryant tells Deckard of six replicants jumping a ship and returning to Earth, one of whom was fried in an electric field at the Tyrell corporation.  Leon is identified as an infiltrator ultimately bringing Zhora, Pris, and Roy to light for the authorities.  There is no mention made in the fate of the sixth replicant and as the action picks up the lack of such continuity is easily forgotten.  It is possible that there was some exposition of this particular character's demise that was lost on the cutting room floor, I simply am unaware of such a thing.  Another really odd shot in the film is the first involving Roy on screen (apart from his factory video during Deckard's briefing).  It opens with a tight shot of a hand gripped in a painful claw, bright lights strobing over the shot.  This then cuts to Roy just before he is joined by Leon.  That opening shot has always struck me as odd and frankly looks like it was filmed during the end sequences.  The lighting, the strobe effect, the pale skin tone, and the rain and moisture of the immediate background all suggest this origin.  It is not uncommon for a moment from another sequence to be cut into a scene for whatever reason, usually to preserve a compelling shot.  Usually we don't notice such things except in repeated viewings.  And speaking of this sequence, Mrs. JediCole noticed something else that I had never seen.  If you look very closely in the shot you can see what appears to be someone's hand on Roy's shoulder.  It is just at the point where, if there is someone behind him touching his shoulder, all but part of their hand is offscreen.  After looking at that shot repeatedly it is almost impossible that this is anything else than a very tight shot to remove the other person from the frame.  Again, a product of repeated viewings that allows the things you normally miss to stand out.

And now I conclude this latest installment of Afterthoughts.  As with so many of the topics we explore on the podcast there is far more to discuss than time would allow in the show format.  And whenever there is too much that demands to be brought forth than such time constraints will permit you can be sure that there will be more of my own particular afterthoughts for your reading enjoyment!

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