“The design of the film is the script.” — Ridley Scott
This year marks the 40th anniversary release of Blade Runner, one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. I’ll admit, that is a subjective statement, yet the movie consistently ranks high on many film lists. Its influence over the SF genre and pop culture cannot be overestimated; it is the proto-typical, cyberpunk cinematic experience. It raises questions about the self, the authenticity of our humanity, slavery, artificial intelligence, genetics, the police state, ecological disaster, urban squalor, economic disparity, and oligarchic corporate control. If that sounds like a lot, it is. The movie showcases some of these themes more than others, but all are present, powerful, and pertinent.
In this first of four essays, I’ll touch on what I call a ‘dystopia of convenience’ in the film. I will primarily refer to the Final Cut released in 2007, since it is the most complete vision of the story that Ridley Scott, the director, intended.
Nearly every frame of Blade Runner is a damning condemnation of human greed disguised as progress. Everything — from the city streets, the furniture, vehicles, fashion — possesses a grandeur and nostalgia as if we’re looking at a funeral. A wake for the world we once had…and the world we wanted. From the opening shot of the so-called ‘Hades landscape’, to the metal doors sliding shut on Deckard and Rachel before the credits, the experience is bleakness strained through a sieve of yearning. Some might even call it dystopia porn, since so little hope is offered. Like a volcanic eruption, it is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. Particularly because it is so believable.
Yet the real horrors are only hinted at. They are obscured by rain and overcast skies. Sometimes their absence reveals their fate, such as the lack of animal life (all creatures seen in the story are artificial). Rain is typically a life-giving phenomenon; yet here, it hides the sun and accelerates the rot that is already claiming the civilization of 2019. Animals share Earth with us, with many current species far older than our own — but we exploit, displace, and even kill them for our sustenance, entertainment, and industry. In Blade Runner, most species are already extinct, and artificial creatures are manufactured…