Anyone who knows me at all knows that I like science fiction. And anybody knows me well knows that I believe Blade Runner to be the best science fiction film ever made and that if you believe otherwise you’re exposing your own mental, moral and genetic shortcomings.
I first saw it at the cinema when I was young, mostly because Harrison Ford was in it. I mean, he was Han Solo in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and he was Indiana Jones. Couldn’t be all that bad, huh?
I was luke warm on it when I first saw it, and I put this down to the fact I was a young immature 13 year old at the time and wasn’t able to fully appreciate the story or the characters. Like any young teen, I liked explosions, car chases and the occasional boobies. But I do distinctly remember at the time thinking to myself that there was probably more to this movie than I understood, and I wanted to know more. Remember, this was in the days before the Interwebs and before the VHS/Beta wars had been fought so the only information around was in dodgy pulp sci-fi fan mags.
It wasn’t until a few years later when I was able to hire and buy a VHS copy of it that I could fully comprehend the depth and the sheer genius of this movie.
Blade Runner explores a number of themes, the foremost being “What does it mean to be human?”. I’m not going to go into the awesome set designs, the brilliant special effects and the soul stirring music. I just want to touch on two things which touched me the most as I watched Blade Runner.
Eyes. The eyes are the window to the soul. The first scene past the opening crawl introducing the storyline is a giant, all seeing eye. It is reflecting the hellish scene of 2019 Los Angeles. You can’t escape the gaze of this eye and it makes you feel naked and uneasy. If the eye belongs to Roy Batty, is he observing and even examining humanity? The fiery reflections could be external explosions of fire in the landscape, or an internal conflict Roy feels about returning home. More on Roy later.
Roy and Leon visits Chew’s Eye World. It doesn’t take long for it to dawn on Chew who they actually are, and he takes credit for designing Roy’s eyes. “If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes”. This still sends shivers down my spine when I watch it today.
At JF Sebastian’s apartment, Pris and Roy reveal to him their identities. Roy breaks the tension by using some prop eyes on himself, manipulating the simple JF into getting him in to “meet his maker”. Before the fight scene, Pris paints her eyes racoon-style, disguising herself as a toy. Which she actually is, being your ”basic pleasure model”.
Roy takes JF’s code to enter the Tyrell building and confront Tyrell, showing his brilliant analytic and strategic powers by completing the chess game, and check mating Tyrell in more ways than one. After Tyrell explains that he cannot give Roy more life, Roy kisses him. Is this an assertion of power? Or a fond farewell to his creator? He crushes Tyrell’s skull, sticking his thumbs through his eyes taking first his power of sight and ultimately his life.
In the final scene, Roy declares he has “seen things you people wouldn’t believe”, with emphasis on “seen”. His eyes are his power, his link to his humanity, the source of his experience… but ultimately this power, experience and humanity are borrowed and are ending.
Roy Batty. He’s one of my all time favourite characters of any genre. He has superhuman strength, genius-level intellect and is the natural leader of the renegade Nexus 6′s who’ve made their way back to earth. But beyond that, Roy is a most complex character and can be interpreted many ways: hero or villain, mindless killing machine or compassionate humanitarian, perpetrator or victim. Batty is flawed. Right up to the end he is full of surprises, showing compassion and saving the one sent to kill him.
I love Roy because he is perfect. Indeed, JF Sebastian can’t stop staring at he and Pris because they’re “So different. So perfect”. When Roy confronts his maker, Tyrell declares, “You were made as well as we could make you”.
“But not to last”, is Roy’s response. His perfection is flawed. He knows it, and wants more life, as anyone of us would. Nobody wants to die. In a moment of reflection while being comforted by Tyrell, he becomes resigned to the fact that there is no hope for him and confesses to Tyrell, “I’ve done…. questionable things”. He’s at his lowest point. All hope is gone, and he’s returned to his father asking forgiveness.
Indeed, Tyrell’s next lines of comfort are explicitly describing him as the Prodigal Son. “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very very brightly Roy. Look at you. You’re the prodigal son. You’re quite a prize”
It’s at this point that we see that Roy has progressed outside the parameters of the emotional conditions imposed upon him at creation and is learning from his mistakes and forming his own morality. He realises Tyrell is not the loving father he’d hoped for but is instead a greedy mad scientist willing to use any excuse to avoid responsibility for the pain he has inflicted on others. Roy crushes his skull and leaves. In the elevator ride on the way down and out of the building the stars are falling upwards, providing a metaphor for Roy “falling” as the archangel in Paradise Lost.
Roy confronts Deckard, playing a cat and mouse game. He shows his superior physical abilities by dodging bullets, running through walls. He taunts Deckard and corners him on top of the building, dangling precariously above the street hanging only by his fingers. In todays common language, he PWNS him.
But instead of letting Deckard fall to his death, he saves Deckard’s life as the last act of his own. The voiceover explains, “Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life. Anybody’s life. My life”. This is a fair, but Hollywood-style analysis. I’d like to think that in his death, Roy had finally become what he’d been designed to be: perfect. He’d overcome his hatred, found fogiveness and compassion, and saved the life of a man sent to kill him when he could have done nothing and let him die. He needed to witness to Deckard that his makers need to not make them at all or deal with them as Human Beings. Finally it’s, “Time to die”.
A lot can be learned from Roy.
Now that I think about it, a lot of my favourite characters are not humans, wanting to attain or regain humanity. I’ll have to reflect on this and find out why:
Another time, perhaps.