Talk Therapy: Blade Runner
Talk therapy is an irregular, occasional exploration in which fans with cult-like admiration for a particular piece of artwork can read, relate, and hopefully, find some solace. We're in it together, people.
This week, Blade Runner 2049.
There’s no going back now.
It has been over 30 years since Blade Runner unceremoniously dropped in theatres. In it’s first run, it was unseen, unheard, and unappreciated. Just over ten years later, as its cult following had reached a critical mass of sorts, director Ridley Scott released a ‘Director’s Cut’ which was a supreme version of the film compared to what those poor souls paid for in 1982.
Since then, Blade Runner has been a standard-bearer for science fiction films (which, ironically, virtually every blockbuster movie falls under - just not the kind Blade Runner inspired). Its stunning visuals have seen decades of copycats try to replicate it. Blade Runner's distinctive synth sound, composed by a before-his-time (in style and monicker) Vangelis, has found many composers seeking to emulate (most especially in the the last half-decade). More than anything, Blade Runner's "mythology" or it's "world building" was so far ahead of its time, we didn't even have a term for it yet. Thankfully, unlike today, this mythology wasn't build to foster sequels. Until now.
We find ourselves in 2049, er, 2017 and the film that set the standard is back. This time, it most assuredly won’t be unseen, unheard, and unappreciated. Well, as to that last part, we have yet to know.
Blade Runner is my favorite film. I first watched it on a bootlegged, VHS-recorded tape provided by my friend. It was a Saturday night in high school spent in the basement of my parent’s house. The house was empty and I was all alone. My date was Rick Deckard.
I tell you what - I hated it. I handed it back to my buddy and told him what a waste of time it was. Fifteen years later, he wishes that was the last I had to say about it.
The short story is that at some point, I revisited the film and, perhaps a few years of being exposed to the right kind of films made me appreciate it more. Strangely, as assuredly as I had written it off at first pass, upon a second watch I was as assuredly captivated. For me, and for many film fans, these kinds of experiences are rare. It's rare enough to watch a film a twice, but to watch a film you detested and then return to it and find an entirely new experience, that is akin to enlightenment.
Which is a small reason why a sequel has me so conflicted, on edge, and uncertain. Imagine for a moment (and I beg, refrain from eye rolling just yet) that Da Vinci looked at the Mona Lisa twenty years after painting it and said, "You know, it really does bother me that she's looking at you no matter where you stand in the room." A few touch ups and all of a sudden Lisa Gherardini is staring dead-eyed straight. She loses some of that thing you cannot measure. What the French call a certain je ne se quois.
I fear that will happen to Blade Runner. I fear it's "je ne se quois" will be rendered "comme si comme ca".
The things that made Blade Runner a landmark could be paved over to put up a damned parking lot. Blade Runner, as an example, is a textbook example of genre styles rhythmically bouncing off each other to make an entirely different kind of music. Genre is an element very sacred to the original film. It brought together elements of film noir, western, and science fiction films in their most distinct characteristics. Will the sequel do the same? Or will it do what many modern sequels have done play itself as a genre unto itself?
The idea of legacy is crucial as it relates to works of art. To Blade Runner 2049, how can it possibly stand up to its predecessor? How can the sequel to a groundbreaking, benchmark film update it within the context of a modern cinema so heavily influenced by its source material? It would be as if The Rolling Stones chose to re-record Sticky Fingers with all their modern pomp and new age technology.
Above all other things, the great paradox of Blade Runner 2049 is in the essence of the original. How it feels to watch Blade Runner. Blade Runner was as much like reading a philosophy textbook as it was a science fiction film (one could argue all great science fiction works are philosophy). What then is a sequel going to say with 30 years of philosophical rumination having taken hold? In much the same way Prometheus re-wrote the thematic aspects of the Alien series - for better or worse - Blade Runner 2049 could do the same. It is a sequel that could entirely stamp out the very philosophical and thematic endurance of the original.
For example, the most prevailing theory in Blade Runner circles is whether Deckard is a replicant himself. There are swaths of of evidence to suggest this is true in the film such as the red eyes, the Unicorn dreams, and so on) as well as public admissions by Scott and Ford, and the source material doing this exactly thing.
Many of these theories are tied into the thematic power of Blade Runner. It isn’t the same film without these suggestions. For a film that is, for lack of a more nuanced explanation, ‘what it means to be human’ the idea of its main player being a replicant is central to the thematic underpinnings. If Deckard is a replicant, then his retiring of other replicants makes him a murderer and not only human but no better than the worst aspects of humanity.
Perhaps the sequel recognizes this and will play with it. Or perhaps it will wipe all this away, similarly to how Prometheus did. This movie may just run with the idea that Deckard is a robot, making the idea concrete and no longer just theory or philosophy. What power is their in answers? That's not what philosophy is meant to do. Blade Runner asked questions and left us to find the answers. Blade Runner 2049 could now choose to retcon the entire essence of the original, almost like a work of fan fiction.
Like the Mona Lisa, Blade Runner has inspired artists in its field for years. Art has been created using elements and techniques from the Mona Lisa, some art satirizes it, some art caricatures it - but few have matched it. In the end, the Mona Lisa stands the test of time as a singular, distinct work. Blade Runner will, too, but we may have to wait another 100 years before anyone forgets it had a second chapter.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys has worked six years in the public relations industry rubbing shoulders with movie stars (who ignored him) to athletes (who tolerated him). He likes tiki-taka football, jelly beans, and arguing with Bruce about everything.