Tag Archives: Blade Runner

The Solitude of the Long Distance Blade Runner

It’s rare that a movie diverges from a good book in some significant ways and still finds its way to greatness. That is what happened here though.

Let’s begin with the book. Its backbone is relationships, social acceptance, and need. Our character of focus in both the book at the movie, Deckard, struggles immediately with the real, the not real, and the state of the human condition when presented with these alternatives. We are introduced to the Penfield mood organ, the first piece of technology that complicates the relationship between the human and itself and others, and calls into question what is real, what is simulated/stimulated, and what realities those simulations draw a sharp contrast against. In the book, the state of the world is much more explicit as well. These simulations and the impulse, for instance, to own a live animal (or pretend w/ the purchase of an electric one), or to protect one’s reproductive abilities with a codpiece describe the circumstances that these technological interventions are offered in.

The book also offers a more isolating view of our (semi/anti)-hero. The discussions between Deckard and his wife, the romantic interactions with one of his targets, and especially toward the end of the story where he flies out into the vast wastelands with suicidal undertones, only to return with false hope. All of these paint a much more tragic picture of individual life in decaying world than the rugged character we see in the movie. The book’s picture of Deckard is largely pathetic and despondent, as we watch him fail in arguments with his wife, desperately attempt to upgrade his social status, and be tricked by people more powerful than him.


Howard Pyle illustration of pirate marooned, from Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates.

One of the most fascinating explorations is the nuanced interplay between what is real consciousness / real life, and where the line is drawn between the increasingly blurring line between real and artificial beings and experiences. Deckard’s struggle with his sympathies for the plight of the androids (or at least one, which is enough) and the cognitive dissonance that results from this struggle is at the center of this exploration. The desperate design to own a real live animal instead of a convincing electronic replica is another theme that runs along this duality. The mood organ plays along these lines as well. These technologies all raise questions about the reality of the solution that technology has provided. When it has invaded so completely the aspects of life that govern our emotions, the impact of these technologies becomes much more important.

The film doesn’t touch nearly as much on Deckard’s personal struggle in these ways, and we aren’t given nearly as much explicit information about the state of the planet as in the book, but it offers much more in the scale and mood of life in this “evolved” world. The tone of the scenes, the darkness and brooding that the set design and rain-drenched cityscapes say as much about what the characters’ lives are like as the descriptions in the book, using different media. Much more is said without words, but with long slow pans, and silent stares between the characters. The tension in the dialog also speaks loudly in the film. This rush and anxiety is not quite as palpable in the book.

In the end, both the book and the film have a lot to offer. They both do fascinating things in exploring the gamut of living to non-living, and how we interact with intelligences at points along it.


Where did the mega-towers go ?

This post is comparative take on the way the cityscape is visualized in both the movie and the book. Urban environments in most of the dystopian scifi setups are visualized a a semi retro , grungy , skyscraper and mega-structure ridden cities . In particular Syd Mead’s and his production team’ vision of ‘retrofitting’ (the notion of adding layers of futuristic elements on historic built environments instead of creating environments that are completely alien and removed form the past) has been extremely influential on the genre and may have some connections with the dominant postmodern discourse during the period when the movie was conceived. Much of the vision has been said to be inspired by the earlier Metropolis . It is interesting that a number of futuristic architects and their sketches have also been attributed as being inspiration for the cityscape. It makes me wonder as well if Ridley Scott was aware of the visions of future cities that were being proposed by British paper architects (Archigram /Price et al) during that period in his homeland.

Anyway my point is that the vision is very different from what we see of our cities today. Why is it that so many scifi visionaries and futurists completely missed the point on how cities will evolve in the future (in comparison with other objects / technologies that they did predict correctly) ? To begin with the scifi fantasy of cities homogeneously populated with mega structures and gigantic towerscapes was never realized. Infact Tokyo inspired neon lit cityscapes are increasingly being outmoded as a result of the global consciousness developed around energy issues. Similarly cities around the world have proven to be much more heterogeneous in their character and the allure of the tall towers faded with respect to the pragmatic concerns of real estate and city services. What most of the scifi visionaries could not predict was the ubiquitous technological presence that our cities of today are witnessing . Most of the technological intelligence and in the cities is cleverly normalized and hidden and seldom outlandish. And a lot of it is being accessed by your friendly neighborhood superhero – the smart phone.