Wrapped in rain and shade, Blade Runner bleeds style and showcases a dystopian aesthetic that’s influence is set to surpass the very future it portrays. Scott’s cyber-punk fever dream commences in true film noir fashion with disgruntled ex-Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford), being dragged away from the bottle and back into the perpetual precipitation of Los Angeles to take out a gang of rogue replicants. The film breaks new ground with the genre, however: it’s revealed that the case Deckard’s trying to crack is less damsel in distress and more trying to define what it is to be human; taking it even further by asking whether he qualifies.
Blade Runner fills out the frame of iconic eighties action film with ease, but, much like the neon light that lacerates the grand grim cityscapes, there is a current of emotional warmth coursing through the cold exterior. It harnesses a depth that’s quite unique when held up against its contemporaries. Deckard is essentially an emotionally crippled shut-in, who made a career out of gambling with others’ lives, and burying bullets in strangers on the assumption that they were inhuman automatons. Navigating a moral area as grey as the Los Angeles that’s depicted, Deckard’s arc appears to illustrate something much subtler than a gun-slinging detective trying to bring down a murderous faction of replicants. Blade Runner soon becomes a portrayal of depression and self-inflicted isolation, centred on a subject with an utter inability to engage emotionally.
The chosen sequence (see above)is a prime example of the emotional ostracism exhibited throughout the film. The frame is frequently littered with hollow husks acting as imitations of life, highlighting the fact that for Deckard, the tether that bonds form and substance has been severed. It opens with a brown owl gliding gracefully across Tyrell’s office and, unfazed by his presence, cutting straight past Deckard to descend on a nearby perch. Initially, it seems to be a rather pointless display of natural beauty, however it’s immediately revealed as the contrary – ‘it’s artificial’. The film makes a swift cut to Rachel (Sean Young) as she comes strutting into view, flanked on either side by a pair of sculpted eagles perched on pulpits, apparently equal in spirit to the gorgeous creature that previously graced the screen.
Whether it be a grinning Geisha plastered across a skyscraper or the origami figurines that sprout up throughout the film; Deckard is constantly surrounded by empty faces he’s incapable of interacting with, blurring the distinction between what is to be considered real and what not until the question loses meaning altogether. As the film progresses and the faces accumulate, Deckard’s surroundings start to shed weight and his grasp on what’s real and relevant loosens. When presented with the fact that even the presence of memory can no longer be depended on, his reliability comes into question and suddenly the chasm doesn’t just exist between Deckard and his fictional surroundings, but between him and the audience also.
‘If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes’. Eyes are apparently a window into the soul, either being ground to mulch by the thumbs of an Aryan replicant or acting as minute beacons of light in the rain, Scott did a great deal to highlight their presence. The way eyes are portrayed in the film literally acts as a barometer for the characters’ status, especially in this sequence. Rachel’s face is lined with white light and her hair’s gathered up about her head. She’s clearly not hiding; her image evokes honesty.
Droplets of light seem to sit in the centre of each pupil, illuminating her gaze and cutting straight through the smoke that pirouettes from the end of her cigarette. It’s a contradictory juxtaposition that offers her a glamorous human edge while confirming her eyes consist of some kind of artificial material, again, blurring the lines that divide man and machine. This is in stark contrast to Deckard, who hides his gaze in a cowl of shadow. Eyes are constantly presented as pools in which a character’s true nature gathers, yet here we have Deckard retreating into darkness, hiding his gaze from view and refusing to reveal himself, once again building emotional distance between him, his surroundings and – notably – the audience. Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkell) provides the cherry on top, sporting a pair of magnifying glasses as spectacles, giving him an unavoidable bug-eyed gaze. He’s the creator of these replicants and thus is the only character truly comfortable in his own skin. He has absolute confidence in himself and, as such, his eyes are completely on display. He’s almost boasting. Deckard finds himself sitting amongst two characters unabashedly bearing their souls for him and is utterly unwilling or unable to do the same.
The space and framing also illustrate Deckard’s emotional ineptitude. Often utilizing the entire width and depth of the frame Blade Runner consistently places characters amidst a field of negative space, emphasising the emotional distance while constructing the rest of the set as a series of physical obstacles between Deckard and his surroundings. Tyrell’s office is cavernous and, due to the huge glass window, opens out to a seemingly endless horizon. When the whole room is brought into frame Deckard is cut off from his counterparts by obnoxiously large tables or ornaments, while also being dwarfed by imposing architecture. Even the lighting divides Deckard. He requests more darkness in order for him to work yet poles of light still puncture the parameters, intruding on his privacy and casting even more visible division between him and the rest of the cast. Even if a more intimate frame is utilized, Deckard rarely shares it. There’s one sequence in particular in which Deckard accosts Rachel, grabbing her and forcing her to share the frame – and a kiss – with him in a desperate attempt to achieve some kind of emotional resonance, yet proving only to alienate himself further.
Harrison Ford is as much a symbol of Americana as blue jeans and Coca Cola yet in Blade Runner, he’s swallowed by the city, familiar in location but alien in culture. Cleverly playing with the trope of the stoic anti-hero, Scott creates a world in which it’s impossible to truly ascertain the nature of your own existence, taking the absence of emotional empathy to a point of dysfunction and weaving Cartesian themes as grand as what it means to be human with nuanced portrayals of isolation and depression, resulting in an irredeemably lonely hero incapable of victory.