I just watched the original Blade Runner with my family (Final Cut, fwiw, but I’m aware of the main differences between Director’s and Final).
It was interesting to rewatch it with a greater ability to analyse media. I’d forgotten a lot of the plot: I could remember the broad outlines, but I totally forgot that Roy kills Tyrell.
These are just bullet point thoughts because honestly who needs another review of Blade Runner?
- “techno-orientalism” only begins to cover it. It’s not just how the film uses Asian imagery to flesh out its cyberpunk dystopia while telling a story about white people; it’s incredibly striking how differently the film portrays its Asian characters (apart from Deckard’s cop buddy Gaff, they’re mostly shopkeepers and street vendors) in contrast to its white characters - especially with regard to languages and accents.
- the Replicants are incredibly sympathetic and relatable from a trans perspective. They also have some fucking amazing aesthetics, especially Pris. Like everyone rips off the trenchcoats and rain, why not more characters with hair and makeup like Pris?
- the film is famous for its ambiguity, but frankly there’s not really any way Deckard can be seen as sympathetic at all. He’s a straight-up murderous, rapist cop. I’m not sure how much the film expects us to sympathise with him, except as one more person caught in the cruel and violent system.
- speaking of which, the scene where Deckard rapes Rachel is fucking awful. I get the impression we’re supposed to see a genuine romantic relationship, but as it is, Deckard - a man who has spent the film killing women like Rachel for existing on Earth, who holds absolute power of life and death over her - tries to kiss her, slams the door in her face as she tries to run away from him, pushes her against a wall, and demands that she tell him to kiss/fuck her. She’s blatantly scared shitless, and it can’t reasonably be read as anything other than abusive. But I think we’re supposed to somehow believe she ‘really wants it’.
- I feel like the film puts quite a lot of effort into making the last two Replicants seem ‘crazy’/‘off’ in their mannerisms, and I’m kind of uncomfortable with how that plays out? Especially when Deckard shoots Pris and the camera lingers on her body twitching rapidly on the floor.
- I guess the point is that they’re childlike - they’re at most four years old! - and not exactly well socialised after spending months on the run from people like Deckard. But when Roy is chasing Deckard, it seems like we’re supposed to see him like the standard ‘scary psycho’ type character of horror films (accentuated by all the weird toys in JF Sebastian’s apartment), and the point when he pulls Deckard back onto the roof and delivers his famous speech as a ‘redemption’ for the Replicants.
- Perhaps it’s good to not overstate a theme that Wikipedia describes as “The replicants appear to show compassion and concern for one another and are juxtaposed against human characters who lack empathy, while the mass of humanity on the streets is cold and impersonal.” But I felt like it lost something when the characters were ~going crazy~ in the final segment.
- “Is Deckard a Replicant?” is pretty much the least interesting theme of the film, and it’s kind of tedious that it’s what people talk about so much?
- This time I was actually able to see how the ‘unicorn scene’ where Deckard briefly dreams of a unicorn implies Deckard is a Replicant at least. I think when that was pointed out to me, I couldn’t remember the film well enough to understand.
- Whether or not Deckard is a Replicant, most of the themes are the same. If Deckard is a replicant, it adds another layer of tragedy/grimness: this whole system of violence is just people created to kill each other; but at the cost of the aspects of Deckard’s character that come from his ‘humanness’ in relating to (stomping on) the Replicants, especially with this idea of cold and impersonal oppressor class and Replicants forming relationships in the shadows. I think it’s good that it’s ambiguous ultimately?
I’m curious as to see how they handle Deckard in the new film. I’m rather concerned he’s going to be a straightforwardly redeemed/heroic character? In the original, he’s… like he’s just gruff and businesslike, doesn’t say a lot except to Rachel, there’s no sense he hates replicants or revels in his power over them or use slurs like ‘skinjob’, but he’s willing (with a little pressure from the police chief) to hunt down (with some guile) and shoot on the street all the Replicants, even those who’ve found like, precarious but harmless employment such as Zhora. He decides to save Rachel out of some sort of pity, but he also rapes her so like… yeah.
I also watched the three short films created to bridge the gap between the two movies. One of them is an anime film dir. Shinichrio Watanabe, director of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, so that’s cool. I enjoyed this! The action was… pretty over the top compared to the original (though Pris’s acrobatics give it some precedent), but displaying all the fight choreography skills of Watanabe. The ‘Tyrell goes out of business and Wallace corp creates replicants now’ plotline seems kind of weird, but it was sweet to see that little robot revolution play out, even if it’s rather a change of pace. CW for imagery of street violence and lynching.
The second one is a short film with Jared Leto, who I hate for the obvious reasons, but fortunately he’s the vile bad guy who has created a Replicant that he can order to kill himself so we’re supposed to hate him? Hopefully he’s not in the new film, since this is a younger version like 20 years before the new film.
The third one, set right before the new film, is cool? They’re definitely taking a bit of a different angle on the ‘humanlike robots as oppression metaphor’ thing - Replicants are now widely known, seemingly Good At Fighting always, and equally widely reviled. While in the first film, Replicants must hide who they are to avoid being hunted down and shot by a Blade Runner, now Replicants must hide from everyone - kind of a closet metaphor except instead of being gay you’re secretly a super robot idk.
I find this a little bit more palatable than ‘wizards as oppressed class’ narrative: the Replicants are never presented as anything other than a kind of human in a horrible situation, created as slave labour and not intrinsically super violent or anything. I simultaneously would like the metaphor to be matched by literal representation of gay or trans people and not like, as ~weird future~ background colour, but conversely don’t trust Hollywood to portray us with any degree of competence.
The critics are all really excited about the new film. I enjoyed the slow and thoughtful pace of Blade Runner, and was a bit concerned about the emphasis in action in the trailer for the new one, but I’m willing to give it a chance.