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Postmodernism in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner

Postmodernism in Ridley Scott’s ‘’Blade Runner’’
Ridley Scott’s ‘’Blade Runner’’ is the story of a bounty hunter, Rick Deckard who is sent to ‘’retire’’
(to kill) four replicants which escaped from an Off-world. The story of Blade Runner is based on a
science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick entitled Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?. The film is
set in a dystopian future in Los Angeles, in the year 2019.
‘’Dystopias are negative utopias, negative images of future worlds. Instead of being places where
people might dream of living because everything is so perfect there, dystopias represent places from
which, given a chance, people would prefer to flee because everything is so imperfect.’’[1]
The Earth is polluted and overcrowded and only the rich can escape to ‘’off-worlds’’ where they are
served by replicants which are fictional bioengineered androids.
The main question the film poses is the distinction between human and artificial, the meaning of
humanity in the postmodern age, an identity crisis. The boundaries between humans and replicants
are blurred since the only differences are the replicants lifespan (four years) and their reaction to a
test called Voight-Kampff which measures bodily functions such as respiration, heart rate,blushing
and eye movement in response to emotionally provocative questions. In one of the scenes Pris, utters
Rene Decartes’ famous ‘’ I think, therefore I am’’, which is a kind of definition for being human.
Tyrell, the owner of the company that produces these replicants, says in one of the scenes that their
motto is ‘’ More human than human’’.[2]
The aesthetic of the film is a postmodern one because it makes reference to different film genres and
film periods as well as other historical periods. The film makes allusions through its images of the
city to ‘’Metropolis’’, a 1927 film which is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and through its female
main character Rachel to the 1945 film noir ‘’Mildred Pierce’’.
In fact ‘’Blade Runner’’ is a neo-noir. It is made in the tradition of noir films. The term film noir
which was made popular by two French critics, namely, Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton, in
1955,[3] was applied to crime movies of the 1940s and 1950s. The characteristics of noir films are
dark settings, deep focus, use of night time shooting, presence of guns, presence of a femme fatale,
etc. As a neologism, neo-noir is defined by Mark Conard as "defining any film coming after the
classic noir period that contains noir themes and noir sensibility". [4]
Other connections that can be made are to Mary Shelley’s ‘’Frankenstein’’. J. F. Sebastian, the
genetic engineer who works with Tyrell, is a sort of postmodern Dr.Victor Frankenstein. He has a
house full of strange human-like creatures who welcome him and keep him company.
Chew can also be seen as a Frankenstein figure. He creates the eyes of the replicants. He has a
laboratory full of cryogenic eyes.
There are also references to metanarratives like the Bible: Roy the replicant is called the ‘’prodigal
son’’and another replicant Zhora takes the scene name Miss Salome, she works with a snake and the
presenter says, when she enters the stage of the club where she works ‘’ Watch her take the pleasures
from the serpent that once corrupted the man’’.[5]
There is also a reference to Blake’s ’’America: A Prophecy’’. When they go to Chew’s laboratory
Roy Batty misquotes from this poem:
"Fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rolled around their shores; burning with the fires of Orc"
This line was adapted, the original one being:
"Fiery the angels rose, and as they rose deep thunder roll'd. Around their shores: indignant burning
with the fires of Orc." [6]
In the film also appear symbolic creatures like the ‘’unicorn’’ symbol of purity and grace. A unicorn
appears in Deckard’s daydreaming and in the final scene of the film when he finds an origami
unicorn on the floor of his apartment. A voice says ‘’Too bad she won’t live, but then again who
does!’’[7] refering to Rachel. This makes us think she is the one who is seen as a pure and graceful
creature. She is a replicant too, but she is one of a kind because she is an experimental Nexus7 Replicant created by Eldon Tyrell who can procreate. She initially believed she was human, having
possessed implanted memories belonging to Tyrell's niece.
Another symbol is the white dove. In the scene where Roy, the replicant dies after having saved
Deckard, a white dove flies from his arms towards the sky and since the white dove symbolizes the
Holy Spirit, it is maybe an allusion to the fact the replicants are no different from real people, the
only thing they want is to live longer and to protect each other. That is why they rebelled.
One of the symbols that are recurrent in the film is ‘’the eye’’. The film begins with a human eye that
fills the screen and in which is reflected the whole landscape below. It can be seen as the all seeing
eye of God, looking upon his creatures on Earth.
Later in the movie Roy goes to Chew, a genetic designer of eyes, who created the eyes of the Nexus6. When told by Chew that he is the creator of these eyes, Roy answers "Chew, if only you could see
what I've seen with your eyes" [8] thus emphasizing the fact that through sight we learn and we form
The Voight-Kampff test that determines if you are human measures the emotions, specifically
empathy through various biological responses such as ‘’fluctuation of the pupil, involuntary dilation
of the iris’’ [9] (as pointed out by Dr. Tyrell).
Another issue that pervades into the film is that of the role of the woman. All the women in the film
are replicants, which gives a new meaning to the term ‘’objectifying women’’, they are objects
because they are actually made by men.
They are all objects of desire: we are told that Pris is a "basic pleasure model"[10], Zhora is an erotic
dancer dancing with a snake and Rachel is part-secretary, part femme-fatale. One of the questions in
her Voight-Kampff test seems to question her sexuality. Deckard says ‘’You’re reading a magazine,
you come across a full page nude photo of a girl’’[11] and she answers "Is this testing whether I'm a
replicant or lesbian Mr. Deckard?"[12]
Pris and Zhora who are strong and independent women are killed, whereas Rachael who is the
opposite lives.
The setting of the film is a mixture of high and low art. The city of Los Angeles in 2019 is a mix of
Roman and Greek columns, neon lit Chinese street signs, Chinatown, Egyptian and Mayan pyramids
and palaces. It is Scott’s vision of a postmodern city full of pop culture references. There are ads for
Coca Cola, Bulova watches, Budweiser beer, Atari video games and for Pan Am flying company.
In fact there is a blurring of time and space. Even if Blade Runner happens in the future, a
combination of different pasts appears in the film: the 1940’s, 1970’s and 1980’s.
We can recognise the 1940’s atmosphere of noir movies, Rachel is dressed like Joan Crawford and
Deckard like Humphrey Bogart, the windows have Venetian blinds and there is always a dark
From the 1970’s we recognize the style of the ’’Streets of San Francisco’’, ’’Starsky & Hutch’’,
although Deckard is more like Peter Falk’s’’ Columbo’’ as he works on his own. There is jazz music
playing, the cop has a messy apartment, Deckard visits strip joints, in order to solve his case, as all
detectives do.
The replicants look like having come out of a Billy Idol video, like post-punk characters dressed in
synthpop costumes. This is the influence of the 1980’s in Blade Runner.
In conclusion, Blade Runner is one of the finest examples of post-modern films, which has
influenced in the following years science fiction films, video games, anime, and television series. ’’In
the year after its release, Blade Runner won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and in
1993 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of
Congress as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". A sequel, Blade Runner 2049, was
released in October 2017.’’[13]
1. Douglas Kellner, Flo Leibowitz, and Michael Ryan, Blade Runner A diagnostic critique,
Jump Cut, no. 29, February 1984, pp. 6-8
2. Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, 1982
3. Borde, Raymond; Chaumeton, Etienne A panorama of American film noir (1941-1953). San
Francisco: City Lights Books (2002).
4. Mark Conard. The Philosophy of Neo-noir. The University of Kentucky Press, 2007, p2.
5. Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, 1982
6. Blake, William, America, a prophecy, Lambeth, Printed by William Blake, 1793 [i.e. 1794?],
part of the online Library of Congress. Lessing J. Rosenwald collection, 1804, pg. 13
7. Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, 1982
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia online, article on Blade Runner
Douglas Kellner, Flo Leibowitz, and Michael Ryan, Blade Runner A diagnostic critique,
Jump Cut, no. 29, February 1984
Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, 1982
Blake, William, America, a prophecy, Lambeth, Printed by William Blake, 1793 [i.e. 1794?],
part of the online Library of Congress. Lessing J. Rosenwald collection, 1804
Borde, Raymond; Chaumeton, Etienne, A panorama of American film noir (1941-1953). San
Francisco: City Lights Books (2002).
Mark Conard, The Philosophy of Neo-noir. The University of Kentucky Press, 2007
Matthew Flisfeder, Postmodern Theory and Blade Runner, Bloomsbury Academic, 2018
Torres Crus Decio, Postmodern Metanarratives, Blade Runner and Literature in the Age,
Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2014.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia online
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