Blade Runner | Ridley Scott | 1982 | USA | 1h 57min | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Blade Runner has nothing to do with Los Angeles. It is a vision of vertical expansion, high-rise buildings lost in smog, and anthills of shuffling pedestrians composing an urban pageantry of dystopia. Thom Andersen, in his magisterial film-essay Los Angeles Plays Itself, muses that Blade Runner, for all its oppressive and overpopulated decadence, actually projects an improvement for a city, and a county, historically tormented by empty sidewalks and sprawl: here, instead, there’s a dynamic city center and thronging rows of pedestrians. Which is why Ridley Scott’s best film always reminded me rather of New York, or shanghai. Science-fiction is not about prediction. It doesn’t matter that Blade Runner ring untrue for Los Angeles, just like it doesn’t matter that 2001: A Space Odyssey is not an accurate portrait of the early 21st Century. What matters, for science-fiction, is that it serve as a conceptual territory, an idea. The characters in this film are lonely. There is no political engagement in the world of Blade Runner. Citizens are isolated in cavernous apartments, and as detective Rick Deckard perches over a balcony, the hundred lights blinking into the vanishing point of a street evoke hundreds of likewise isolated souls, hopeless to connect with each other. A flying car whooshes into the distance and sad electronic music plays like a jazzy, futuristic dirge. No evidence of Government makes itself seen. No democratic process joins people together. There is not even a dictatorship or a bullying Big Brother, nothing to focus our attention as the reservoir of symbolic power, nothing to fight for or against. Power is diffuse, unattainable, unreachable, scattered – presumably – throughout disconnected multinational companies.
What path to individual progress might someone take in this maze? How to elevate one’s social status in this fragmented topography? A new medievalism emerges, where people are born to and remain in their powerless lots, uninvolved in the direction of their country. Everyone has the freedom to worry only for themselves. This is what Deckard learns to unlearn, as he regains his lost sense of social responsibility, realizing that executing the half-human slave replicants might, perhaps, be morally reproachable. But, in the end, he’s still a lonely man, albeit accompanied by another, a lonely woman. “Negative utopia” novels like 1984 and Brave New World also portray the final powerlessness of protagonists unable to change the power structures of their societies, but, in both cases, before their pessimistic conclusions, there is at least a glimmer of hope, even if this hope is ultimately deferred. There is never any such hope in Blade Runner. The only hope Deckard has is to change himself, his own point of view. Unlike medieval times, there is neither a crown nor a castle. The world is disordered, nebulous, too noir to make out. It’s the nightmare at the heart of noir, really, where the city no longer seems to be run by anything or anyone, except its own hidden logic of selfish, self-sustaining individuals, eking out another day of life in the chaotic urban wilderness.