Blade Runner is one of the most intriguing examples of neo-noir film. The movie blends science fiction into the noir atmosphere of a future dystopian Los Angeles.
In this vision of Earth’s future, humanity has created genetically engineered replicants that look just like humans, but are used (essentially) as slave labor. They are banned from Earth and any renegade replicants who dare return to terran soil are hunted and killed (or, as they say, “retired”) by special ops police called Blade Runners. In the movie, Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) is a Blade Runner on the verge of calling it quits, but agrees to take a last assignment to retire (or “terminate with extreme prejudice”) a group of escaped replicants hiding in LA.
Things get interesting when Deckard investigates the Tyrell Corporation (the replicant manufacturer) and learns that head honcho Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) has an assistant Rachael (played with robotic charm by Sean Young) who is a replicant who thinks she’s human, because of false memories implanted in her brain to provide her an “emotional cushion” or some such nonsense.
In any case, the race is on between the replicants searching for Tyrell in order to force him to lengthen their lives versus Deckard, who seeks to hasten their expiration date. And to accomplish this, Deckard must navigate the oversized neon ads of Japanese women, as well as the strip clubs and mean streets of LA.
Blade Runner clearly owes a debt to the film noir genre. The dark, shadowy cinematography, the protagonist’s narration, his moral ambiguity, and the femme fatale (fake memories, notwithstanding) are all earmarks of the film noir style.
As science fiction, it explores the implications of technology on the environment and society. The clash between society’s “haves” and “have nots” is also explored in the contrast between the technical perfection of the false humans, the glittery ads, and so on versus the clamor among those living in the shadowy streets, who all look like they could use a bath.
Themes like corporate power, an all-seeing police presence, and extreme paranoia pervade the film. There is even ambiguity as to whether Deckard himself is a replicant. On the whole, the movie presents a nightmare scenario of a future that could be. In a sense, it is the ultimate noir.
Well, at least the film doesn’t end with Deckard waking up in a “normal” world and saying, “So, it was all just a really bad dream.”
The movie, based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, has become a cult favorite. It is a magnificent example of neo-noir and sci-fi blended to perfection. As such it richly deserves two thumbs up!