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Blade Runner 2049: Tears in Rain

Blade Runner 2049: Tears in Rain

©AmandaCarden/Shutterstock

Over his long career, Ridley Scott has directed movies in many genres—historical and science-fiction pictures predominating. At times, he has adhered strictly to genre conventions. He’s also radically subverted them (eg, Thelma and Louise’s [1991] tragi-comic feminist critique of the macho buddy road movie).

Alien (1979) was Scott’s first genre-blender, melding tropes of horror and science-fiction. But audiences came in droves to see it—and to watch it again. The return phenomenon, so dear to Tinseltown’s machers and shakers, was caused by Alien’s formidable cinematic power and its gruesome chest burster sequence. Viewers eager for an even bloodier Alien sequel were disappointed and puzzled by Scott’s next film, Blade Runner (1982), based on Philip K. Dick’s short story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Most critics were also displeased.

I have elsewhere described 2 types of dystopian sci-fi figures. Squeaky-clean dystopias have eliminated poverty, disease, and war. But the reign of plenty conceals a cruel dictatorship, rule of a manipulative elite (eg, Rollerball [1975], and THX 1138 [1971]). Trashed out dystopias subdivide into despoiled rural and urban societies. The former are situated on the frontier, desert, or underground, cobbled together after an all-out nuclear war. Survivors live in raggedy filth on the edge of starvation, exploited by a barbarous warlord or a no less cruel elite cartel (eg, Mad Max: Road Warrior [1981]; The Blood of Heroes [1989]).

Urban trashed-out societies usually don’t arise from the ashes of nuclear war, but catastrophic environmental degradation. Their progenitor is Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), in which the upper classes live in luxury leagues above the proles toiling in squalor for the high and mighty.

Blade Runner pays Metropolis due honor, but chiefly references 1940s hard-boiled detective film noirs. In classics like The Maltese Falcon (1941), a dysthymic, disaffected cop or shamus searches out corruption in the halls of power to his extreme peril.

The original Blade Runner is set in the devastated, yet still functioning Los Angeles of 2018. Dank rain drizzles incessantly from a blemished sky; the opalescent air is breathable, but permanently polluted. The rusted-out mechanisms of this dominion of detritus are not replaced, but “retrofitted,” like the water lines snaking up building exteriors. The entire mise-en-scene has a distinctive “retro” look, conflated with Japanese and—curiously—vaguely Mayan architecture and interiors.

The wealthy live in totemic skyscrapers. Packed grotty streets are reminiscent of an older Tokyo or an Istanbul grand bazaar. Street-people hustle whatever trinkets or grub they can; speak an incomprehensible argot of Japanese, English, whatever. The swirling crowds comprise an omnium-gatherum of races and faces. Clothing comprises a dizzying assortment of high fashionista gear and Salvation Army cast-offs.

Febrile consumerism is ubiquitous in this mercantile dystopia, where global corporations, many Japanese, vie for power (possibly alluding to the escalating economic sway of Japan in the real 1980s). Stupendous fluorescent Coca-Cola signs blaze across building facades. Gaudy blimps hawk the pleasures of life on the “off-world colonies,” where every whim is gratified by obedient androids.

“Replicants”—servants, soldiers, whores—have been genetically engineered by genius entrepreneur, Dr. Eldon Tyrell. Despite an adult appearance, the early models were immature; potentially unstable. So Tyrell provided them with a 4-year life span.

Tyrell’s latest “Nexus” models match or surpass human capabilities. But their dawning sentience is sowing seeds of revolt. Replicants are sporadically killing their masters. A special LA police “Blade Runner” squad has been formed to “retire” them.

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a disillusioned ex-Blade Runner, is unwillingly re-enlisted to execute a particularly vicious replicant hit-squad, led by a super-Nexus warrior, Roy Batty. Deckard is summoned to Tyrell’s corporate flagship to test “a human subject,” his niece Rachel (Sean Young), a ruby-lipped beauty in iconic 1940 Vogue apparel.

Tyrell later reveals to Deckard that, unbeknownst to her, Rachel is actually an “experimental” Nexus, with memory implants to provide “a cushion” against incipient rebellion. Suspecting her true identity, she flees Tyrell’s dubious protection.

Deckard is immediately drawn to her, and dismayed by Tyrell’s latest callous manipulation—“You’re talking about memories!!!” he protests. He goes on to kill Batty’s crew—but only when each attacks him. After Tyrell tells Batty that he cannot give him more life—the hope of that spurred the replicants’ return, Batty crushes his skull like an eggshell, then hunts down the hunter, Deckard.

The chase ends as Batty dangles Deckard over an urban abyss. Suddenly he hauls Deckard to safety, and quietly dies. “I never knew why he saved my life. . . I guess he loved life. . . any life. . . my life,” muses the amazed Deckard. Later, he discovers Rachel has returned to his apartment. The 2 renegades depart, their fate obscure.

(The studio imposed a happy ending: Deckard tells Rachel that Tyrell had revealed she had no termination date, and the 2 are last seen flying over a verdant landscape. Scott was later able to eliminate the saccharine conclusion. The couple simply walk from Deckard’s door, and the credits roll.)

The film’s acting is uniformly superb: Ford’s quotidian, ironic woodenness makes him a perfect Deckard. The script—by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples—is terse, mysteriously hieratic, dense with occulted meaning. Thus, Deckard’s furious superior officer: “Stop right there! You know how it is, Dec, you’re either cop or little people!” Batty, pursuing Deckard: “Come on, come on—aren’t you the good... MAN????

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