The Unenthusiastic Critic is an occasional series in which I convince my highly reluctant girlfriend N. to finally watch movies that nearly every other person on the planet has already seen. (For a fuller explanation of this particular form of relationship suicide, read the introduction to the series here.) In this edition, N. and I sit down for her first viewing of Ridley Scott’s 1982 science-fiction classic Blade Runner.
As always, these posts are completely spoiler-filled, so if you’re the other person on the planet who has never seen Blade Runner, proceed with caution.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut. Directed by Ridley Scott; written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick; starring Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James, Joe Turkel, and M. Emmett Walsh.
Why I Chose It
In science-fiction cinema, it’s hard to think of a more influential one-two punch than Ridley Scott’s back-to-back films Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). The success of Star Wars in 1977 had made everyone anxious to get in on the lucrative market for family-friendly science-fiction, but British director Scott proved to be the right man at the right time to demonstrate that you could also make successful sci-fi for grown-ups. With Alien, he’d taken classic horror-movie tropes and updated them with science-fiction trappings, and with Blade Runner he’d do the same thing for films noir. While Scott’s film was itself following in the footsteps of earlier movies like Metropolis and Alphaville, every subsequent movie about a dystopian future was made in the long shadow of Blade Runner.
For this viewing, the first thing I had to decide was which version of the film to watch with my girlfriend: Blade Runner has, famously, been one of the most tinkered-with movies in history, with no fewer than seven different versions in circulation. I was sorely tempted to show her the original theatrical cut, which—at the studio’s insistence—included unbearably cheesy voice-over narration from Harrison Ford: that, after all, was the version I first encountered, and N.’s disdain for the faux-noir narration would no doubt have enlivened this post. In the end, however, I decided to give Blade Runner its best chance to impress, and went with Ridley Scott’s latest—and presumably last—version: the “Final Cut” released in 2007.
What My Girlfriend Knew About Blade Runner Before We Watched It
As always, before we watch the film I quiz N. about what information, impressions, or ill-informed opinions about Blade Runner she may already have picked up through simple cultural osmosis.
Me: So what do you know about Blade Runner?
She: I don’t know anything about Blade Runner.
Me: How is that even possible?
She: Why would I know anything about Blade Runner?
Me: Well, it’s a well-known, 30-year old movie, and widely considered a seminal science-fiction classic. I’d think you’d at least be aware of its existence.
She: I’ve heard of it, but when you first mentioned it I had it confused with the one Mel Gibson is in. You know, the one where Tina Turner sings “We Don’t Need Another Hero?” But apparently that’s inaccurate?
She: So I think I’ve always just put Blade Runner in that Waterworld, Thunderdome type of movie genre, where people are fighting wars over pee, or using pee as water, or whatever. I don’t know.
She: Or, my other thought was that it might be a post-apocalyptic roller derby movie.
Me: Where the hell did that come from?
She: “Blade Runner.” It sounds like a skating thing. Which could be really interesting.But yeah, in my mind, I just lump all these post-apocalyptic type movies together in the same box. Waterworld, The Road Warrior, Blade Runner…oh, and Dune. I have no idea if they have anything to do with each other, but in my mind they’re all one movie.
Me: Yeah, not as much as you might think. Just so you know, there’s no drinking of pee, or pee-based economy, or anything like that in Blade Runner. But, sadly, no Tina Turner either.
She: That is a downside. Tina makes everything better. Is there roller derby?
Me: No, no roller derby.
(To make it up to her, I’ll think about making this our next movie.)
Me: So what we’ve established is that you have absolutely no idea what this movie is about. Which is fun. Who gets to ever go into a movie like that?
She: Well, apparently I go into a lot of movies like that. But I know Harrison Ford is in this one, and that’s the other thing: I don’t really like Harrison Ford movies, and I’ve never really had any desire to see him in anything. I just don’t find him at all charismatic: he’s just so muhhhh.
(For the record, N. is making a difficult-to-transcribe moaning noise here, and an accompanying facial expression. Picture, if you will, a sleepy, drunken John Merrick dribbling warm porridge down the front of his shirt.)
She: He just has this, like, troglodyte thing. I just don’t find him at all engaging as an actor, or charming, or anything. I didn’t kill my wife…muhhh. That’s really all I know of Harrison Ford. I did see him in Sabrina. And Working Girl. These are the Harrison Ford movies I have seen.
Me: So you’re more familiar with the romantic-comedy Harrison Ford…
She: Which is a different Harrison Ford, I realize. But even there he’s all muhhh.
Me: I don’t know what that means. I don’t even know how to spell muhhh.
She: I don’t know either. Find an emoticon that’s like…Mt. Rushmore speaking. It sounds like rock trying to talk. Whenever I see him, I’m like, How did you get this job? I don’t understand his career at all.
Me: I had no idea you had such strong feelings about Harrison Ford.
She: I didn’t know either. I’m glad we’re doing this, because, until I sat down and thought about it, I hadn’t really articulated why I don’t like Harrison Ford movies. And now I know why. It’s because, whenever I see him talk, I’m like, You look like a fucking mountainside trying to open your mouth to speak. It’s just bothersome. I don’t enjoy that at all.
Me: He’s Indiana Jones. He’s Han-motherfuckin’-Solo. Show a little respect.
Me: Okay. So this should go well then.
She: Yeah. Sure. Let’s do it.
How Did It Go?
Blade Runner opens—after some very slow, black-screen credits—with some scrolling exposition about how far robots have come by the early 21st century. The Tyrell Corporation, we learn, has advanced robotics to the “Nexus” phase, to create beings called “Replicants” who are virtually identical to humans. The Nexus 6 Replicants are the most advanced of the bunch: so advanced, in fact that they’ve begun to mutiny against their human owners, and have been declared illegal on Earth. “Blade Runners” are the cops assigned to execute—or “retire”—renegade Replicants.
Me: Got all that?
She: Got it. Slave revolt.
Me: You always side with the slaves.
One of the stated goals of the Unenthusiastic Critic series—as described in our very first post— was to bring N.’s fresh, ruthlessly unbiased eye to movies that are woven so thoroughly through my own consciousness that I can’t really be objective about them. I first saw Blade Runner when I was about 14, and I thought it was deep and important: it was, I suspect, formative in making the mental leap that science-fiction could try to do something more interesting than the silly space operas like Star Wars. (I remember trying to talk my parents into watching Blade Runner, eager to convince them that a sci-fi movie could be serious and good.)
But N. was not of an age to encounter Blade Runner that way: in fact, she was not much of any age at all. (The film came out about three months after she was born.) Obviously, this means she was unlikely to react to it as I first did.
For example, one of the things I take for granted is that Blade Runner looks fantastic. The first shots of the movie are stunning views overlooking Los Angeles in 2019, in which the city looks both beautiful and bleak: flying cars zoom through the crowded, smog darkened city, and oil refineries release clouds of flame. It looks, in short, as though L.A. has finally taken that last step towards becoming Hell on Earth, but the shots are impressive.
But N. is not particularly impressed—which, when you think about it, makes sense: nearly every city in nearly every dystopian future in nearly every science fiction film in her lifetime imitated Blade Runner, so she barely even notices the scenery.
What I notice is that Blade Runner takes place only six years from now, and—as I often do—I feel like we’ve been cheated out of the jetpack, flying-car future that science fiction movies promised me as a boy.
She: The future looks bright.
Me: Hey, at least they have flying cars. We’re not going to have flying cars in the next six years. Or jetpacks.
She: You need to get over it, dude. No one promised you jetpacks.
Me: I want my jetpack! And my flying car!
She: You don’t even drive on land.
Me: I would learn to drive, if I could have a flying car.
She: You have a computer that fits in your pocket: quit your bitching.
The first real scene of the movie—and one of the best—is a strange interview that takes place within the Tyrell Corporation. In a smoke-filled room, a smarmy guy in a suit named Holden (Morgan Paull) is posing weird, hypothetical questions to Leon (Brion James), a not-terribly-bright worker. Scott plops us down in this scene without any explanation, so we—much like Leon—don’t really understand what is happening, but it’s fascinating and unsettling. “Reaction time is a factor, so please pay attention,” Holden says, as machines study Leon’s pupil dilation, respiration, and galvanic skin responses. Holden launches into a scenario in which Leon is in a desert, watching a tortoise that is dying in the sun:
Holden: The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can’t. Not without your help. But you’re not helping.
Leon: What do you mean, I’m not helping?
Holden: I mean you’re not helping. Why is that, Leon?
“So, the SATs get shittier,” my girlfriend says.
Leon has grown visibly more agitated, and Holden’s machines have begun beeping ominously, but Holden presses on with another question, asking Leon to describe the good things he remembers about his mother. “My mother?” Leon asks. “Let me tell you about my mother.” And then he shoots Holden, blasting him right through the wall.
She: Apparently, “Yo Mama” jokes are not big in the Replicant community.
Me: “Yo mama’s so fake, you shoot me every time I bring her up.”
Then we get a better look at Los Angeles at street level: it is raining—it is apparently always raining—and the miserable denizens wander through the crowded streets.
She: Oh, look, the umbrellas light-up in the future. Why the fuck would anyone need a light-up umbrella?
Me: Well, L.A. has gotten really dark. Apparently, the weather’s shitty all the time.
She: That’s the first thing about the future they’ve gotten right.
Overhead, electronic billboards—then a fantasy, now a ubiquitous reality—tout products, while a blimp encourages people to move off this shitty planet and start a new life in the off-world colonies.
Again, the production design is exquisite—and heavily influenced by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis—but N. is not impressed.
She: Are they selling Fruity-Oaty Bars?
And indeed, one thing most versions of the future seem to agree on is that the East is going to eventually take over everything: as in Joss Whedon’s Firefly, culture here is an amalgamation of American and Asian influences, with most everyone speaking a patois of mixed languages. We first meet our hero, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), eating noodles with chopsticks, before being accosted by another Blade Runner, the taciturn Gaff (Edward James Olmos), who has a fetish for origami.
Gaff tells Deckard that his old boss, Captain Bryant, wants to see him, and they get into Gaff’s flying car with its state-of-the-art on-board computer.
Me: You know, you have a point about the computers. They’re the only things that have turned out better than predicted.
She: That does look pretty primitive.
Me: I’m pretty sure you can play “Missile Command” on that.
She: What the fuck is “Missile Command?”
Me: We get it: you’re young.
Captain Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) turns out to be the same fat-assed, slightly corrupt police chief that is standard issue in any detective story, and Deckard turns out to be the same loose cannon, not-a-team-player loner cop who just happens to be the best there is at what he does. Bryant explains that he’s got four escaped “skin jobs” roaming the city, and he’s drafting the retired Blade Runner back into service to deal with them.
She: “Skin jobs?” Is that a racial slur?
Me: Oh, you’re so sensitive to racial invective. It’s used affectionately, I’m sure.
(Actually, as Deckard says of Bryant in the overly literal original narration, “In history books he’s the kind of cop who used to call black men niggers,” which is as good an example as any of why the narration was a horrible idea. On the other hand, it’s comforting to know that, by the end of this decade, cops who use the N-word will only be found in history books.)
Bryant provides all the necessary exposition to Deckard, including the identities of the four Replicants: apart from Leon (a worker drone, whom we’ve already met), they are Roy (Rutger Hauer), a combat model; Pris (Daryl Hannah), a “basic pleasure model”; and Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), programmed for a murder squad. “Talk about beauty and the beast,” Bryant says. “She’s both.”
Me: I have to admit, the dialogue in this movie is a little worse than I’d remembered.
She: It’s kind of stilted and weird, to be sure.
While we’re here, let’s just admit that the screenplay for Blade Runner— by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples—is not why everyone remembers it. The script really is kind of clunky: it’s a mixture of genre clichés, faux-noir tough-guy dialogue, pseudo-profundity, and fairly clumsy plot devices that make less and less sense the more you think about them. (One small example: Bryant explains that Holden was running the Voight-Kampff test on all new employees of the Tyrell Corporation, on the off-chance that the Replicants would try to infiltrate. But why, exactly, was it necessary to ask Leon complicated, abstract questions about tortoises when they have pictures of what all the Replicants look like? If Holden had just looked at the file—or, you know, at the wall of the local Post Office—he probably wouldn’t be breathing through a tube now.)
Bryant also explains that the Nexus 6 Replicants all have a built-in safeguard: four-year lifespans. He sends Deckard to test the Voigt-Kampff machine on another Nexus 6 model at the Tyrell Corporation. (Again, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense: Deckard will not only never use the machine again in the film, but, as I mentioned, he also has pictures of all the Replicants he’s looking for.)
The Tyrell Corporation is housed, it seems, in the Luxor Casino, and it is here that Deckard meets Rachael (Sean Young).
She: Oh, Sean Young: she was pretty. Why didn’t she have a better career?
Me: Apparently, she was crazy. Like, really crazy.
She: Oh. Is that why she’s dressed like Mommie Dearest?
Deckard also meets the big man himself, Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel).
Me: Does he look familiar?
She: No, who is he?
Me: That’s the bartender from The Shining.
She: Oh, it is! He’s creepy.
Me: “How’s my credit in this joint, Lloyd?” “Your credit is fine here, Mr. Deckard.”
Tyrell asks to see a demonstration of the Voigt-Kampff machine, and he claims he wants to see a negative response before he provides a positive, so Deckard runs the test on Rachael. It takes him over 100 questions to determine that she is, in reality, a Replicant: she just doesn’t know it. “How can it not know what it is?” Deckard asks Tyrell, after Rachael has left the room, and Tyrell explains that they’ve provided Rachael with artificial memories.
Deckard goes off to investigate Leon’s apartment, where his super-duper Blade Runner detective skills lead him to discover some photographs and some weird scales in the bathtub. Meanwhile, we get our first real look at Roy (Rutger Hauer), who is doing some investigating of his own. He and Leon go talk with a genetic engineer about their little mortality problem, but this guy can’t help them: he only does eyes.
She: He has day-glo hair.
Me: It’s not the most inconspicuous look, to be sure.
She: No, it pretty much screams “bad guy.” And I think the eye-guy [played by James Hong] was in Big Trouble in Little China.
Me: He was. How the hell have you never seen Blade Runner, but you’ve seen Big Trouble in Little China?
She: Yeah, there’s no rhyme or reason to it, I admit. But I like Kurt Russell better than Harrison Ford. He has better hair. And actual charisma.
Rachael turns up at Deckard’s shitty apartment, because she has begun to suspect that she might just be a Replicant. It’s one of the better scenes in the movie, as Rachael protests that she remembers her childhood, and Deckard—who has read her file—starts telling her memories from that childhood—which are actually memories from Tyrell’s niece’s childhood:
Deckard: Remember when you were six? You and your brother snuck into an empty building through a basement window. You were going to play doctor. He showed you his, but when it got to be your turn you chickened and ran. You remember that? You ever tell anybody that? Your mother, Tyrell, anybody? Remember the spider that lived outside your window? Orange body, green legs. You watched her build a web all summer, then one day there’s a big egg in it. The egg hatched…
Rachael: The egg hatched—
Rachael:—and a hundred baby spiders came out… and they ate her.
My girlfriend, however, is getting bored, and is mostly distracted by the clothes.
She: They should get together and rub collars.
Me: I’m surprised you haven’t commented on the fashion before now.
She: It’s always a problem in these movies: some costume designer’s concept of what fashion will look like in the future. It always ends up looking like shitty ’80s fashion.
We pause the film for a moment to discuss her boredom.
She: It’s probably not fair to this movie, but, unfortunately, this story has been done a thousand times by now: the human-cyborg thing who wants to come to terms with its creator. I mean, I know this was one of the first….
Me: Well…not even, really. I mean, Frankenstein…
She: Right. And I’m just not enjoying it. It’s so slow. And again, I don’t find Ford’s performance enjoyable: he has no inflection. All his line-readings are exactly the same.
Me: Okay, but the movie’s pretty, right?
She: Is it? I wouldn’t call it pretty. Dark, dystopian, yes. Except when we went to Tyrell’s place: then we’re suddenly in the fucking Temple of Isis. But otherwise everything is shitty. He looks like he lives in a shitty garden apartment made from milk crates.
Me: You’re hard to please.
So let’s pick up the pace a little here. Deckard does some more detective work, spending about 20 minutes running a photo he found in Leon’s apartment through his voice-activated computer (which looks like a tiny portable television set). This is another example of how computers are the one thing no one in the ’80s could envision: at the time, this sequence seemed very cool, as the computer tracked back and forth around the photo and zoomed in on it. Now, when we can all do cooler things on our phones, this scene feels hopelessly outdated, and seems to go on forever.
Deckard comes away with a lead: a small, low-resolution shot of Zhora.
She: That’s a whole lot of effort for a little porn.
Me: And fuzzy porn at that.
This, and the scale he found in the bathtub (which turns out to be snake), leads him to a seedy strip club where Zhora is performing an erotic act with a synthetic snake. In what is basically the only attempt at humor in the film—however unsuccessful—Deckard infiltrates her dressing room by putting on a high-pitched, nerdy voice and pretending to be a union rep investigating the sleazy management.
Me: There you go: Harrison Ford does have a range of vocal inflections.
Strangely, Zhora sees through his clever ruse almost immediately, and punches him in the neck. She flees the club wearing a very practical outfit—a metal boob-harness under a see-through raincoat—and Deckard chases her through the city in another sequence that feels like it goes on way too long. He finally shoots her as she runs through a seemingly endless number of plate-glass windows in slow-motion, while the score (by Vangelis) ramps up to almost unbearable levels of eighties-ness.
It’s supposed to be a very emotional scene, and—right on cue—my girlfriend begins laughing.
Me: You have something to say?
She: I’m sorry, but the synthy-sax over this scene? And the slow-mo?
Me: It’s a bit much.
She: The music in this movie is a fucking problem.
Me: I was just thinking I should download the soundtrack for you. For when you need some cool, sad, electronic jazz.
She: No thanks. Really.
I have to confess, one of the occasional side-effects of doing this series is to completely ruin movies for myself by seeing them through my girlfriend’s eyes. I mean, I hadn’t seen Blade Runner in decades, but it was a movie I remembered fondly, and one I thought of as having a certain visual poetry to it. Now, however—though I still think Ridley Scott has a gift for atmosphere—so much of it seems unbearably dated, cheesy, and obvious.
Take this shot, for example, as Deckard looks at Zhora’s body while all the other artificial women (the mannequins, echoing Zhora’s outfit) look on accusingly. It’s the kind of thing that struck me as deep when I was a teen-age boy, but now—though still a stylish shot—it seems like the sort of thing only a teen-age boy could find deep: the Miami Vice neon-noir aesthetics are horribly dated, and the whole death of Zhora has an operatic grandeur and implied significance that just isn’t earned in the film.
Bryant and Gaff show up to congratulate Deckard on his kill, and to inform him that he still has four Replicants to kill, as Rachael, too, has now gone on the lam. Almost immediately after, Leon shows up on the scene and starts beating the crap out of Deckard.
Me: Say what you will about Harrison Ford, but the man can take a punch.
She: And that makes him a great actor?
Me: It makes him a great punchable actor. When he gets hit, he looks like he’s been hit: he looks genuinely dazed, and his legs go all wobbly. That’s talent.
Fortunately, at the last moment, Rachael shows up and shoots Leon, saving Deckard’s life. The two return to Deckard’s shitty apartment, and Deckard admits that he won’t be coming after her, since he owes her one. “But someone will,” he tells her. “You know that Voigt-Kampff test of yours?” she asks him. “You ever take that test yourself?”
And then Vangelis’s “Blade Runner Love Theme” kicks in, and here I have to complain, because I’m sorry, but its main melody is just a plagiarized, cool-jazz elevator version of Franki Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
But whatever: it gets Deckard in the mood for a little Nexus Sex. He begins putting the moves on Rachael.
She: I’m uncomfortable.
Me: C’mon, this is the big love scene….
She: But she’s not real!
Me: He knows. But Deckard always had a thing for Tyrell’s niece.
And truth be told, it is a little problematic, for a number of reasons. First of all, Deckard’s seduction technique leaves a lot to be desired. He throws her up against the wall, and starts feeding her lines. “Say ‘Kiss me!'” he orders her. “Say ‘I want you!'”
My girlfriend is not exactly swooning at Deckard’s manly, take-charge attitude, and she has some serious issues with the whole setup.
She: That was…not at all erotic.
Me: But romantic?
She: Nope. Not at all. In fact, it was kinda rapey.
Me: It was a little rapey.
She: Plus, there’s the whole fact that he’s supposed to kill her, so she has pretty good incentive to keep him happy.
Me: Wait, are you saying she’s using him, or are you saying she’s a robot?
She: I’m saying she’s a fucking robot.
Me: You’re such a bigot.
She: She’s essentially a love doll, and she needs him not to kill her. So the power dynamics are all fucked up.
Me: You can’t buy it as a Romeo and Juliet type of thing? He’s a cop, she’s a cyborg…
She: No, because Romeo and Juliet were two real people, both with agency. Juliet didn’t need to be fed her lines.
(If it sounds like my girlfriend is being unfairly harsh, it’s worth noting that Harrison Ford apparently didn’t think much more highly of the love story: “It’s a film about whether you can have a meaningful relationship with your toaster,” he once said.)
While all of this has been going on, our fourth Replicant—the “pleasure model” Pris (Daryl Hannah)—has moved in with J. F. Sebastian, a genetic designer that the Eye Guy told Roy could get them to Tyrell. Sebastian is played, with a wonderfully sad vulnerability and strangeness, by the great character actor William Sanderson. Sanderson is still best known to most people as Newhart’s Larry (of “Larry, Darryl, and Darryl” fame), but we are big Deadwood fans, so in our house he’ll forever be…
She: Is that E.B. Farnum?
She: Motherfuckin’ E.B! Still hanging out with whores, I see.
The sub-plot with Sebastian is designed to echo—not very subtly—the themes of the main storyline. For one thing, Sebastian makes his own friends: his spookily-empty building is filled with dolls, mannequins, and robots, several of which are programmed to greet him—Home again, home again, jiggity-jig!—when he comes in the door. (Are Pris, Roy, and the other Replicants any more real than Sebastian’s souped-up Teddy Ruxpin dolls?) For another thing, Sebastian has “Methuselah Syndrome,” a disease that causes him to age prematurely. (Do the Replicants have any less right to seek a cure for their own accelerated aging?) Sebastian—who has no prejudices against artificial beings—befriends Roy and Pris, and reluctantly agrees to help them get in to see Tyrell (with whom Sebastian has an on-going chess rivalry).
Despite the fact that Tyrell knows that Replicants are trying to get to him, his security system is a joke: all Sebastian has to do is call out a chess move for him and Roy to be allowed up into the Temple of Isis in the elevator. There, Roy confronts his maker, and learns that there is nothing to be done about his nearly exhausted life-span. “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long,” Tyrell tells Roy. Roy, who doesn’t particularly like this answer, crushes his creators skull in his bare hands, and then kills the witness, J.F. Sebastian.
And here’s where I run into problems with the “Sympathy for the Replicants” theme that Blade Runner seems to half-heartedly promote: the Replicants are assholes. Roy and Pris are both attractive, likeable people on the surface—both performances are excellent, deftly straddling the lines between charming, sad, and totally insane—but they are also completely amoral. They pretend to befriend the tragically lonely and sympathetic J.F. Sebastian—with a fair amount of flirty manipulation from Pris—but they’re really just using him, and they kill him without a second thought. Within the context of the film’s story, there’s no real moral conundrum here: the Replicants are dangerous monsters, and they should be killed, since they apparently have no moral compasses.
With the Replicants now having lost all hope, there’s really nothing left but for the denouement to play out. After Sebastian’s body is found alongside Tyrells’s, Deckard goes to Sebastian’s conveniently dark and spooky building for the final confrontation with Roy and Pris. (These scenes are wonderfully atmospheric, and I still maintain that no one shoots air better than Ridley Scott: logically or not, the air in his films is always visible, swirling with dust or steam or smoke.) Deckard stumbles upon Pris first, sitting motionless among the rest of Sebastian’s dolls.
She bolts suddenly into action, and kicks his ass for a few moments. (Apparently, her “pleasure model” programming includes some kinkier and more violent sub-routines, like crushing her client’s head between her shapely robotic thighs, and trying to rip his face off by the nostrils.) Unfortunately for her, her grand finale—a quadruple handspring attack—takes one rotation too long, and Deckard manages to shoot her mid-flip.
Now it’s just Deckard and a more-or-less totally unhinged Roy—who has reached the end of his lifespan, and is slowly shutting down—stalking each other throughout Sebastian’s decrepit building. This sequence lasts nearly 20 minutes, as Roy toys with Deckard: it is clear that Roy could kill him anytime he wanted to, but Roy’s having more fun taunting Deckard and posing dramatically while backlit. They have their final confrontation on the roof, in the rain.
She: Umm…why is he holding a bird?
Me: Because this is what it sounds like…when doves cry.
Deckard nearly falls to his death, but is saved at the last moment by Roy. Roy, who is winding down, reflects on his life with his last few breaths, in a short monologue that has become—in my opinion—far more famous than it deserves to be. (Hauer is very good here, but the writing is not):
Roy: 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 Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain. Time to die.
Roy dies, and as he does—of course—he releases the dove he’s been holding all this time.
This is the moment that pushes N. over the edge.
Me: So…that’s why he was holding the dove.
She: For the fucking death moment? “I’m going to create a perfect scene here when I die…Got my monologue planned out, got my dove…”
Me: “Ridley’s gonna hit the slo-mo, crank up the synth music, and I’m going to release the dove: it will be beautiful.”
She: I’d shoot him in the face just for that. And then I’d shoot the dove.
The gnomic Gaff shows up to put a thematic cap on the whole movie. Of Rachael, he says, “Too bad she won’t live! But then again who does?” Deckard rushes home to take Rachael away before Gaff or anyone else can kill her, but there he discovers one of Gaff’s origami figurines—a unicorn—and realizes Gaff has already been there, and decided to let Rachael live. (Why, we have no idea.) In the theatrical cut, there was a whole implied happy ending in which Deckard narrated that Rachael—unique among Replicants—had no set mortality limit, but here in the Final Cut the film just ends more ambiguously, with Deckard and Rachael going off together towards uncertain fates.
Blade Runner wasn’t a huge success when it first opened in 1982—for one thing, it had the misfortune to open while Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial were both still in theaters—but it found a growing following on VHS. Reviews of the film were also mixed: when it opened, many critics praised its stylish production design but criticized its hackneyed plot, its paper-thin characters, and the disastrously cheesy voice-over narration in the theatrical cut. (In a typical first review, Janet Maslin, writing for the New York Times in 1982, said Scott could not “expect overdecoration to carry a film that has neither strong characters nor a strong story.”) However, in the decades since, Blade Runner’s critical reputation has steadily improved. (Roger Ebert has reviewed the film three times, and each time his opinion has improved: in the most recent review, of the Final Cut in 2007, he finally breaks down and admits it to his personal “Great Movies” canon.) Nowadays, Blade Runner frequently ends up near the top of lists of the best science-fiction films of all time, and it recently finished at an inexplicable #69 in Sight & Sound magazine’s decennial poll of critics to determine the greatest movies of all time. (To put that placement in absurd perspective, Casablanca finished at #84.)
Me? I suspect critical assessments will ultimately swing back the other way: certainly my own has. After this viewing, I think Blade Runner is a visually impressive film, but little more than that: its influence is undeniable, but its screenplay was never its strongest element, and Scott’s ’80s-influenced directorial flourishes are not aging well. Films like Casablanca are timeless, but Blade Runner is painfully of its time: in my opinion, it will—like its forefather Metropolis—ultimately be remembered more for its influence than for its intrinsic value.
But what did my girlfriend think of it?
She: So…never need to see that again.
Me: Really? Because I think you missed some nuance.
She: There’s no nuance. When someone releases a slow-mo dove right as they die, there’s no fucking nuance to be found. That’s a bludgeoning, not nuance.
Me: So what I’m hearing is…not a big fan.
She: Oh, I wouldn’t even call it a bad movie. It was just fine. The dialogue left a lot to be desired. The symbolism…was a little heavy-handed. The soundtrack was awful. And I hate Harrison Ford. He’s a void. Every line reading is exactly the same. “I’m gonna let this collar do all the work.” If Harrison is serious, the collar’s up. If he’s feeling sexy, the collar’s down. If he’s feeling rapey, the collar comes off.
Me: There was a lot of collar work.
She: Otherwise, I really don’t have anything to say about this movie. I mean…it’s fine. Why is this considered one of the best movies of the past thirty years?
Me: Production design, atmosphere.
She: I mean, it’s definitely textured in an interesting way. He definitely succeeded in creating a believable world. Maybe I’ve just seen it before, so I’m not impressed.
Me: You weren’t invested in the story?
Me: The characters?
Me: Did you care about the love story?
She: Nope. For one thing, she’s a fucking cylon, so…no. She’s not even real.
Me: But isn’t that one of the questions the movie raises? She has consciousness, she has memories…
She: But they’re not even her memories.
Me: So she has no rights?
She: I didn’t say that!
Me: How do you know your memories aren’t implanted?
She: I’ve met my family.
Me: Yeah, me too. You wish your memories were implanted. But how do you know the memory of meeting your family wasn’t implanted.
She: Well, I don’t have super-strength or anything, so if I was created for some purpose, they fucked it up.
Me: You’re a basic pleasure model.
Me: Can you do that backflip thing? ‘Cuz that was hot.
She: Sorry, I’m a Replicant 1.0.
Me: So, speaking of which, there’s a big debate about this movie that doesn’t seem to have occurred to you: the question of whether Deckard himself is a Replicant.
She: No, that did occur to me. Because there’s that scene when they’re both in his apartment, and both their eyes seem to do that weird glowy thing that Replicant eyes do.
She: And then that thing at the end, where Edward James Olmos says she’s gonna die, but you’re gonna die too, or whatever.
Me: So the thing that’s in this version that’s supposed to make it definitive is the unicorn. Earlier in the film, Deckard has a dream about a unicorn, and at the end of the movie, Gaff leaves a unicorn in the apartment. Why would he do that, unless he’d read Deckard’s file and knew the unicorn was part of his programming?
Me: But frankly, I never really bought it, and I never really understood why I should care. I mean, I never understood what it means if he is a Replicant. Does that mean they just activated him to hunt these other Replicants? It feels like an afterthought, and I don’t see that it means that much one way or the other.
She: Well, it would explain Harrison Ford’s inability to emote.
Me: So maybe we should watch all the other versions, just to compare and contrast.
She: Nope. I’m done. I’m done with Blade Runner. I wish it had been about pee and roller derby.
Me: Do you wish it had starred Mel Gibson?
She: Oh, hell no.
Me: He’s more dynamic.
She: Well, yes, crazy racists are very dynamic.
Me: Okay. Any final thoughts?
She: When I’m dying, I’d like you to put a dove in my hand, and arrange for it to be raining.
Me: I’ll see what I can do.