Blade Runner, by Cameron J. Czaja

Imagine it, the year 2019, a year so technologically advanced that we will have flying cars and androids so life-like that the only way to recognize one without killing it is through a test. Sounds like a pretty cool, cyberpunk type of a year, right?  Unfortunately, that’s not how our real life in 2019 turned out. Director Ridley Scott, however, thought our world would be that advanced in the early 1980s when he made the future cult classic film Blade Runner (1982), which is based upon the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

For several years, I have known about Blade Runner but never sat down and watch it. That wasn’t until the sequel Blade Runner: 2049 was released in 2017, which gave me the reason to finally see the original, especially the director’s cut. Spoiler alert on my thoughts on the film: I liked it, so much so that I watched it again the following year, only it was the final cut and it was on the big screen at a local independent theater in my hometown. Needless to say, it’s a film that a lot of people like myself have enjoyed, so much so that it is currently in the American Film Institute’s (AFI) top one hundred American films of all time at ninety-seven. For those who haven’t seen Blade Runner (yet) and are curious why this is a cult classic, let alone in AFI’s top one hundred films, let’s find out why this deserves that spot on the prestigious list.

Set in an alternative 2019, Blade Runner follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a blade runner, which is a bounty hunter, that specializes in hunting down replicants. Replicants are basically androids with a lifespan of four years but, as mentioned earlier, are so life like that they have to go through a test to see whether they are human or a replicant. The purpose of a blade runner is to permanently retire replicants if they go rogue. Four replicants, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), Leon Kowalski (Brion James), Zhora Salome (Joanna Cassidy), and Pris (Daryl Hannah) are on Earth illegally, and after Leon kills a blade runner trying to run a test on him, Rick’s boss Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) orders him to track down and kill the replicants. Rick’s first stop is the chief executive officer (CEO) of the company that makes the replicants, Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), so he can test a replicant of the same model as the outlaw replicants, the Nexus-6. Rick examines Eldon’s assistant, Rachael (Sean Young), going through a more thorough test than any other replicant during the process. Eldon then explains that Rachael believes she is human due to false memories implanted in her. As such, she has no knowledge of her true nature. From there, Rick then goes deeper into investigating the other replicants whereabouts. However, the further he goes in trying to finding them, the more he increases the risk to his life as these replicants will do anything to keep living.

So, I can think of several reasons why people love Blade Runner. Whether it is the cast, the visuals, music, and/or the story itself, there’s a lot to choose from to admire. For me, however, while all of those things do contribute to love I have for the film, it is the cerebral narrative, the influence it had on pop culture, and, of course, the religious elements that make it stand out. They may not be there in an obvious way but come to the forefront as you reflect on it.

Since it’s release in 1982, Blade Runner has influenced tons of films, television shows, video games, books, etc. One key element that is relevant today is the use of artificial intelligence (AI), which has been a heavy topic because of the dangers it possesses today. Granted, it’s not close, yet, to be manifested in android form where we could potentially be exterminated, but the thought of it doesn’t sound too farfetched given how far AI has come in the past several years. Since I saw this film and having the thought of AI in the back of my mind lately, I’ve grown to appreciate this film more. This is mainly because it is a highly intelligent film that requires you use some thought processing, which is something I will automatically admire when watching any film. While it is based on a Philip K. Dick novel, it’s surprising that Hollywood was not only able to capture the philosophical aspects of his book quite well, but also make a smart blockbuster film during an era when Hollywood was trying to make every science fiction film the next Star Wars.

Aside from the philosophical aspect of Blade Runner, one other thing that I’ve grown to appreciate is the religious allegory present in the film. Many people have compared the rogue replicants to fallen angels owing to the fact that they came from the heavens (off-world). To go even further, Roy is often compared to Lucifer as he would prefer to be in hell, or Earth in this case, rather than go off-world. Towards the end, however, Roy starts becoming a Christ-like figure by sacrificing his life for Rick’s, which then enters into themes of redemptions and the need to be human. This provides a heavy pro-life message. There’s also the symbolism of a dove that harkens back to Noah and the flood, and not to give too much away of the ending, but it’s used in a way that’s profound and subtle, something I wish more blockbusters did these days.   

While it may not be my favorite science fiction film of all time, Blade Runner is definitely one that I appreciate quite a bit due to how clever it is, the influence it had on pop culture since its release, and the religious allegories in it. The jury is still out whether the sequel Blade Runner: 2049 is on par or better than Blade Runner. I would say Blade Runner is better by a mile but I saw both films for the first time close to one another, so it’s hard to tell. One thing, however, that’s for sure is that this franchise will continue to inspire storytellers and filmmakers for years to come. Honestly, I can’t wait to see what future creators will make based on the influence of this film. Let’s just hope a reboot isn’t in the works because this is the last thing this franchise needs. Hopefully it won’t come to that.


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