‘Blade Runner’ and The Question of Self

There are few movies as impactful and defining for me as 1982’s Blade Runner. I recently mentioned the Ridley Scott film when talking about its similarities to the recently released Reminiscence, and I haven’t been able to get it off my brain since then. While my love for the Denis Villeneuve sequel — Blade Runner 2049 — is unquestionable and unfaltering, my journey with the original film is substantially more uncertain and “bumpy.”

The first time I watched the movie was — funnily enough — in November of 2019 (I believe). I’m pretty sure I had bought it earlier that year at Best Buy for a pretty good deal and then was only eventually convinced to watch it because everyone was talking about the fact that it was currently November 2019. So, there I was, on the brink of my 17th birthday, ready to experience the film that impacted so many people before me: I was left unsurprised by my own disappointment.

Of course, having built up this movie as some mystical item that would change my life I would be disappointed. That’s why I wasn’t surprised. But my disappointment wasn’t in the way you might assume. For those of you who have seen the film, you’ll know that the movie doesn’t waste time waiting for the viewers to catch up. Instead, it just goes at its own pace and allows for the audience to fill in the story with their own interpretations and conclusions. Now, I see it as a strength of the film, but then I was just disappointed there wasn’t a straightforward story to blow me away.

Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty.

I’ve now seen Blade Runner 3 times and each time I felt substantially different than the last. So this is where I’m at now: Blade Runner is the most interesting movie I’ve ever seen. It’s incredibly complex, but also about as straightforward as it gets. The story is simple: Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a “Blade Runner,” an officer specifically assigned to “retire” (or kill) replicants. He’s assigned to retire 6 replicants who’ve recently returned to Earth after escaping from slavery off-world.

While the iconic Harrison Ford does portray the titular Blade Runner Rick Deckard, the real star of the show is Rutger Hauer’s performance as Roy Batty, the leader of the replicant gang. Hauer taps into something primal — the urge to live — as he plays a man desperate to meet his creator. Roy Batty and his crew are motivated by the fact that they live a limited life. The “model” of replicants quite literally has an expiration date built into themselves.

From very early on the film presents very deep questions about self and existence. Rick performs a test called the Voight-Kampff on a woman named Rachel (Sean Young), who for the very first time ever recalls memories and is unaware of the fact that she is a replicant. Creator Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) boasts this fact, seemingly unaware of the mental effect it could have on someone to be unsure of whether or not they are “real.”

But let’s focus on our protagonist here: Rick Deckard. Rick is the root of all vagueness and lack of clarity in this film. Now, as I said, I see it as a strength, but back then it really bothered me. In the cut that I watched, the 2007 Final Cut, Deckard doesn’t really have much of an arc. He’s more of just a vessel for us to learn new information and in turn, lets Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty shine. But deep in the cloudiness of the interpretable themes and the straightforward nature of the story, there are seeds of something greater involved. While Roy Batty and Rachel are deeply troubled by the questions regarding their sense of self and are stuck in the middle of an existential crisis, Rick Deckard takes another approach. While he faces the question of whether or not he himself might be a replicant, he dusts it off and doesn’t worry about it.

Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard.

It’s a brilliant contrast to the heavy-handed religious symbolism that covers the rest of the film, and almost directly points a warning at the audience: don’t worry about it. It’s not only a perfect piece of instructions for anyone who wants to watch the film a second time, but also just a good life lesson. Seriously…don’t worry about it.

Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies ever. I can go back over and over again and will almost always come out the other side of the viewing with something of substance. Maybe someday I’ll get around to covering the masterpiece of a sequel, Blade Runner 2049, but that is going to take some time.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut is currently available on Netflix, HBO Max and other streaming platforms. Blade Runner 2049 is currently available on HBO Max and other platforms. Other versions and platforms may be found through a search of this website: Just Watch.

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