Issue 208 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 1997 Copyright Socialist Review

The big picture

Blade Runner

Los Angeles 2019 is a world where the vast multi-global Tyrrel corporation dominates. It is a world of ecological disaster devoid of animal life with constant acid rain.

The masses live in ghettoised conditions whilst Eldon Tyrrel lives in palatial splendour.

This portrayal of the distinction between the lives of the masses and Tyrrel was a deliberate comment on the era of Reaganomics into which the film was released and the divide that had opened up between rich and poor as a result.

The immediate plot of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner concerns the mutiny of a group of six replicants (genetically engineered androids which have been manufactured by Tyrrel and are virtually identical to human beings) from an 'off-world' colony where they are used as slave labour. Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a cynical sci-fi private eye, the film's eponymous 'Blade Runner', who is coerced reluctantly into a chase to eliminate them.

The original novel upon which the screenplay is based, Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, was first published in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War. The author was around the anti-war movement and states that 'I was enough of a revolutionary to recognise that the enemy was as much at home as anywhere else.' So in the film parallels are drawn between the brutalising experience of soldiers in Vietnam and the way in which the replicants are exploited as slave labour and combat units in the war for colonisation.

The replicants finally return to earth where they are deemed illegal under penalty of execution. Here they organise to take control of their lives, rebelling against the corporation that manufactured them in an attempt to extend the four year lifespan imposed on them by the state.

Batty (Rutger Hauer), the replicants' leader, returns to confront Tyrrel with the demand, 'I want more life f***er!' (edited poignantly to 'father' in the television version. This portrays the view of a gravedigger's return to bury the person who created it).

The cold and mechanical Tyrrel, completely lacking compassion, is contrasted to the replicants who share a degree of solidarity in their common experience. Deckard's pursuit of the replicants brings him to question what it is to be human in a society of such inhumanity. 'How can it not know what it is?' he asks Rachael (Sean Young) who, due to memory implants, is unaware she is a replicant. This, admits Tyrrel, makes it easier for them to be controlled. This concept of memory implants is further explored in another of Dick's novels, We'll Remember it for You Wholesale, which 20 years later was to become the film Total Recall.

Blade Runner is a visually stunning film. It took a seven year fight to get it to the screen with a further eight years until the release of the intended director's cut. The Hollywood backers made a number of interventions, including the demand that there be a love scene between Deckard and Rachael. The response was the portrayal of what was more of a brutal confrontation than a romantic liaison.

Similarly, when obvious allusions to the film noir period appeared, with Deckard as a futuristic Philip Marlowe, the backers insisted on the introduction of a crass Chandleresque narration for fear that nobody would understand the film. They argued that without it they risked a box office flop with loss of international syndication and revenue. This is the Hollywood that sees Harrison Ford in bankable terms as the star of Star Wars or Indiana Jones and Ridley Scott as hot property as the director of the multi-million dollar grossing Alien.

Blade Runner ends with a gripping climax in which Deckard and Batty are pitted against each other in a fight for survival, which initially concluded with an ending imposed by the money moguls. The subsequent director's cut restores the original finish, which I will not spoil.

The film has been described as future noir and it certainly is a dark view of the potential world of the 21st century, yet amidst this there is a fightback.

Steve Wiles


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