Corrierino Consensus Project: Blade Runner

21 12 2012

The users of The Corrierino forums have recently compiled a consensus list of the best films ever made. Once the votes were tallied, calls for write-ups began and I signed up to pen a few. I will post my entries here as they’re revealed in the relevant thread

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Blade Runner has nothing to do with Los Angeles. It is a vision of vertical expansion, high-rise buildings lost in smog, and anthills of shuffling pedestrians composing an urban pageantry of dystopia. Thom Andersen, in his magisterial film-essay Los Angeles Plays Itself, muses that Blade Runner, for all its oppressive and overpopulated decadence, actually projects an improvement for a city infamously characterized by sprawl: here, instead, there’s a dynamic city center and thronging rows of pedestrians. Which is why Ridley Scott’s best film always reminds me rather of New York, Shanghai, or Buenos Aires, where I live. Science-fiction is not about prediction. It doesn’t matter that Blade Runner rings untrue for Los Angeles, just like it doesn’t matter that 2001: A Space Odyssey is not an accurate portrait of the early 21st Century. What matters, for science-fiction, is that it serve as a conceptual territory, as an idea. The characters in this film are lonely. There is no political engagement in the world of Blade Runner. Citizens are isolated in cavernous apartments, and as detective Rick Deckard perches over a balcony, the hundred lights blinking into the vanishing point of a street evoke hundreds of likewise isolated souls, hopeless to connect with each other. A flying car whooshes into the distance and sad electronic music plays like a jazzy, futuristic dirge. There is little evidence of a strong, central government or leadership. We see no democratic process joining people together. There is not even a visible dictatorship or bullying Big Brother, no specific reservoir of symbolic power, nothing to fight for or against. Power is diffuse, unattainable, unreachable, scattered – presumably – throughout disconnected multinational companies.

People are born to and remain in their powerless lots, uninvolved in the direction of their country. Everyone has the freedom to worry only for themselves. This is what Deckard learns to unlearn, as he regains his lost sense of social responsibility, finally realizing that executing the slave “replicants” he was hired to destroy is perhaps morally reproachable. In the end, though, he’s still lonely, albeit accompanied by another, a lonely replicant woman. “Negative utopia” novels like 1984 and Brave New World similarly portray the powerlessness of their protagonists, who fail to change the hierarchical designs of their respective societies. In both cases, however, there remains until the very end a faint hope of social change. Nothing of the sort is true for Blade Runner. Deckard can only change himself, not the world around him, which is too disordered and nebulous, too noir to make out. It’s the nightmare at the heart of noir, where the city no longer seems to be run by anything or anyone, except its own hidden logic of selfish, self-sustaining individuals, eking out another day of life in the chaotic urban wilderness.

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