When the movie Blade Runner first came out in 1982, I was initially reluctant to go and see it because I thought it was just another movie based on special effects. This was after the great Star Wars blitz and it seemed to be just the latest in the Sci Fi shoot-em-up genre. Since then, however, it has become one of my favourite movies, mainly because it doesn’t rely on special effects but has a deeper theme than first appearances would lead you to believe.
The plot, in fact, is relatively simple. Set in 2019 (which seemed much further away then) bio-engineered humans called replicants are used as slave labour on off-world colonies, but are banned on Earth. A group hijack a ship to return to Earth and are hunted down one by one by Deckard, a cop designated as a Blade Runner, whose job it is to identify and kill replicants illegally on Earth.
There are a number of plot holes, but it is the underlying theme that makes it so compelling, and it has since become a cult classic. The replicants have come to Earth seeking longer life. They have been created with only a three-year life span and they are trying to find a way to get their creator, Dr Eldon Tyrell, to override their genetic time-clock.
The movie is sprinkled with references to memories. Leon, one of the replicants, has a trove of treasured photos, while Rachael, the next generation replicant, is embedded with memories to see if that makes them more emotionally stable. Deckard’s piano is covered in photographs, and in an effort to prove she is human, Rachael produces a photo of herself as a child with her mother.
Eventually, Deckard succeeds in killing all of the replicants except one, their leader Roy Batty, who stalks Deckard through an abandoned building, but then saves him from falling to his death.
The two sit facing each other in the rain, as Batty accepts his fate but laments that all that he is will be lost. It is a compelling scene and has been cited as one on the best cinemtatic moments in movies.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tan Hauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.”
An essay I read elsewhere, linked the theme of memory, the quest for life’s meaning and the desire for life in Blade Runner to Paul Gauguin’s three questions inscribed in one of his best paintings.
Gauguin was obviously pondering life’s meaning at the time, as he promptly tried to kill himself after completing the painting, but survived the attempt. But his questions are fundamental to us all as we try to fathom what this world is about, and create meaning from our experiences as we travel through it. No matter how much wealth we make, or don’t, our successes or failures, and the relationships we form or leave, those three questions seem to underlie most of what we do.
How often do we we look back over out lives, and wonder if anyone will recall those moments in time that we created, or changed, or shared with others. What do they mean and how do we preserve them?
Perhaps Danish author Isak Dinesen, sums it up best in her book Out of Africa – this need to be interwoven into the fabric of life and our fear of being forgotten.
“If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa have a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagle of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”