The first time I watched Blade Runner, sprawled across my basement couch, I was left in a permanent hypnagogia throughout the runtime, barely opening my eyes to see dirty, neon-lit streets fill and empty with characters. My knowledge of the plot ended at Harrison Ford’s existence, but I slumped towards my bed after the credits with a strange certainty that I liked it. Seeing it on the big screen, at 7:00 rather than 11:00, was a decidedly incomparable experience, though I discovered my prior passivity and aloofness to the story were purposefully shared by the director. The film is simply gorgeous, its cyberpunk vision of Los Angeles in 2019 saturated with equal parts grandeur and grime. Every available space is used for flashing advertisements or vacant skyscrapers, as empty consumption is the only possibility in this urban night. Though Ford’s Deckard has the demeanor for it, he is hardly the cool neo-noir protagonist who’s grown into fashion since Blade Runner’s release. Despite the obvious potential for the loose framework of the story to be spun into a simple detective plot, the film is conscientiously pensive: it renders Deckard’s flimsy motivation for hunting down the four escaped replicants completely lifeless while Rachael enters his apartment with, by comparison, spry, yearning exigence. His greatest occupational triumph, locating and hunting Zhora, climaxes in two slow motion shots in the back and her fleeing body smashing through glass.
Even the lighting is isolating, interiors are cold, dark, and nondescript – the most tactile shapes being the beams of light that pierce through the room from outside. The constant subversion throughout, the paradoxical law of this universe that bends the narrative into its skewed shape, is that the replicants are more human than the humans are. While the replicants fear slavery, death, and the impossibility of extending their own lives, this psychological reversal is what Deckard fears. His interactions with anyone but the replicants are at first soulless and glib, (the first few scenes with other police officers play out like an AI’s auto generated vision of a typical police procedural,) and then grow increasingly robotic as the film progresses. His fellow LAPD members materialize at the scene when his job is done, either to give him a new purpose or report completion with artificial amity. After he does nothing but survive against Roy Batty in the final action sequence of the film, he is told he’s done a “man’s job”, by simply doing what was asked of him, regardless of success. This fear that to be a man is to be more constrained than to be a replicant is what drives Deckard to try to take back control in his life through Rachael, forcing her to tell him to kiss her and say that she wants him. This sequence is controversial for good reason, and the film is completely aware of the implications of what it is showing, Vangelis’ romantic synth score grows ominous as he slams the door shut with his fist, and his face is fractured by the blinds he pushes her against. In his attempt to get her over her programming, he replaces it with his own imposed desires. Humans use replicants, as they do anyone or anything below them, to advance their own wants. It doesn’t matter what beauty the replicants can gaze upon with wonder, or what love they can have for each other: if they are under control, they must be kept that way. When Deckard returns to find her in his apartment in the final scene, she is asleep under a blanket, as if she were being preserved in anticipation of whatever he wants from her next. Though now he asks her questions rather than commanding her, whether her answers are truly her own is unknowable.
Deckard: Do you love me?
Deckard: Do you trust me?