As mentioned in the last post, future cop Rick Deckard carries what looks like a gun, but it’s not for killing. Deckard’s weapon is for retiring replicants. Whenever a replicant outlasts its usefulness, the weapon is his tool for shutting it down.
Malfunctioning machines must be shut down if we are to survive. This is the common sense being drawn upon in “Blade Runner,” just as it was in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In those movies, the solution was obvious to us all. Nobody questioned it.
Well, what about corporations, political parties, churches and the media? Aren’t those machines capable malfunctioning too? By the same logic, wouldn’t we want someone like Deckard in our modern times that can stop malfunctioning machines from running amok?
What if Philip and Ridley are a bona-fide tag team of modern prophets? Do we have the equivalent of rebel replicants in our world? They could appear a lot different here. Let us identify what such a thing might look like. Perhaps the replicant on the run in our reality might be defined as any machine that wants to enjoy the same rights as human beings. If this is considered a malfunctioning machine in science fiction, then why would we allow its equivalent to go unchallenged in our existing reality?
Another engrossing irony in “Blade Runner” is the genetic engineer JB Sebastian’s predicament. His is only twenty-five years old but looks fifty. JB explains his ailment to replicant Pris. He has Methuselah Syndrome, meaning his glands age too fast. This boy genius represents a familiar archetype with an interesting twist. The eternal child faces premature death. JB’s family of toy friends further exposes the infantile mentality that was behind the development of those selfish machines. Out of frustration with his demise he helped invent the replicant to stand in for him when life abandons him.
Machines are invented as solutions to problems. Wheel plus arrow equals progress. We build them to to fill a gap between where we are and where we want to be. Or perhaps our brain is too smart for our frame and it’s destroying us. We’ll see. We adore our gadgets, obviously. You are most likely gazing into the eyes of one this very minute. Some of us worship them a bit much it seems. The warning the prophet issues here is to forbid them from ever having the status of human beings.
The love scene between Rachel and Deckard illuminates our 21st century affair with technology turning it into ironic, cinematic sex play. Soon after she saves his life, Rachel holds up with Deckard in his flat. They sip some booze. Deckard lies down and slips into a dream. Rachel plays his piano, a machine that does a great service to humankind. Then, with red tipped claws, she unfastens her hair, transforming herself from a wily, manufactured predator to supple, feline plaything. Deckard wakes up and tells her he dreamed of music. She looks in his eyes, he leans in and she runs away, or tries. Deckard stops her at the door and pours it on.
More likely this hyper-intelligent gizmo with the gorgeous face just intentionally planted that song in Deckard’s head and, not only that, her programmer has calculated Rick’s reaction with such accuracy that when his sexual impulse strikes, Rachel’s made to run and Deckard is counted on to chase.
So love makes robots of us all. That’s funny. It’s ironic and it’s all so erotic the way submissive/dominance roles are reversed. Deckard commands that Rachel tell him to kiss her and she obeys.
“Tell me you want me,” he commands and she obeys again.
“Say it again” he orders.
“I want you” she repeats, then adds without prompting, “put your hands on me,” and boing! Deckard obeys. They clench for an electric kiss. Olé!
Before we leave the subject of music, allow me to direct our attention to the fabulous sound track of “Blade Runner.” Harken back and hurl your lasso around that very first film I mentioned in this series, “Koyanniskatsi” (1982) which reached for new dynamics in the relationship of sound to image. Is it out of the question to suggest that Phillip Glass receives a nod here from the filmmaker in his choice of investing new wave electronic pioneer Vangelis with responsibility for the score? In any case, it works.
In a sci-fi/western/noir, how does a villain and a hero settle the score? The final irony plays out like a showdown, up on the roof with agent Deckard and replicant Roy armed for existential angst instead of gore. They’re hemmed in amid a tight grid of phallic towers. Fan blades revolve aimlessly in the drizzling rain. Searchlights sweep like fire hoses over a fuzzy haze. On the verge of demise, Roy looks amazed. One hand expresses tremendous gentleness as the rebel clutches a white dove he’s found. With the other exhibiting impressive strength he snatches Deckard off a beam overhanging the gleaming forest of titanium and glass where he’d been helplessly about to fall. Roy hurls Deckard down on the roof roughly but well out of harm. He philosophizes on the fleeting nature of existence for a moment then, through half a smile he mutters “time to die,” and bows his head.
It had to end this way. We all agree, because machines are there to help humanity or else get out of the way. The audience believes this and that is why, on that appointed day, Roy’s internal clock must be allowed to grind to a stop. Then the white dove in his hand flaps upward through a gash in the gloom toward a shard of clear blue sky. What a surprise! I never considered the possibility of such a sight in Deckard’s world. I just assumed the sun had disappeared too, long ago, behind a shroud of permanent smog. It leaves me hoping that our love affair with technology will serve life, not enslave it and ultimately smooth out our brute instinct with our compassionate side.