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Running the Blade: Examining the Imagery of a Hollywood Cult Film By Thomas O. Meehan. Photographs by Ryan GallagherGo Back to the Table of Contents
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The only evidence of non-corporate life in this world is a sinister police force which operates much like a 21st Century version of modern Third World police departments; gendarmes for the “little people,” death squads for the powerful. The replicants are called “skin jobs” by the police who harbor an almost inhuman disdain for them. The existential anti-hero trails the replicants, eliminating them one by one, just as they, the replicants, stalk, and finally kill, their creator.
Near the conclusion of the film, the last replicant and the hero do battle. The replicant wins, but in a surprising reversal, saves the life of his adversary, just before the dying of his genetic programming. This is not the first time during the course of the film that the replicants show more humanity than their human creators. Of course the corporate tycoons, who have created this future-hell, remain the embodiment of the evil we have all come to expect from film land capitalists. The hero comes to empathize with the replicants and escapes 21st Century Los Angeles with a replicant sweetheart in tow.

This film, like most American films, confronts the reality of social, economic, and ethnic differences as a function of mere misunderstanding rather than as a set of real, possibly insoluble, conflicts. In the worldview of American film, social conflict emerges out of overt manipulation of the individual by sinister forces, rather than any indigenous factors inherent in situations themselves. You can always tell who these sinister forces are: they live in skyscrapers. This American delineation of virtue as the inverse of altitude is a superannuated theme and the concept of the corporate officer as the embodiment of cosmic evil is a common Hollywood archetype. Perhaps this reflects the reality of the human condition within the film community. I suspect that it does. Judging by the representation of corporate culture in the 21st Century, however, the corporate executive of the future is more like the 19th Century robber baron than anyone answerable to a Board of Directors, or to stockholders. I suspect that this depiction of a totally autonomous, totally evil, corporate exec’ is a reflection of the congruence of economic illiteracy between those who watch such movies and the truly little people who write them.

So why is this film a cult classic and why is it worth examining? One reason may be that the incidentals of the film tell us a lot about what filmmakers, and maybe the rest of us, expect the future to look like.

If the response to this film is indicative of such expectations, then many Americans believe that corporations are destined to swallow up the authority of government and dominate people’s lives in an almost feudal fashion. There is no post office or school board in the world of the future. Most of us may see this future as illustrating a certain sense of powerlessness. Clearly, people feel that somewhere mysterious forces intrigue and ordinary people are helpless to defend themselves against such schemes. It would seem that the image of a future where this state of affairs is carried to the nth degree is eminently believable to those who relate to Bladerunner. There is a sense of Schadenfreude against such dominion when the executive villain, Tyrell is killed. It was Tyrell’s vision that not only created the replicants, but also created the secular a-moral chaos, and this is symbolized by Tyrell’s poor eyesight. The exec’ wears thick glasses. He has compensated for his handicap by genetically creating an artificial owl that peers hauntingly into the camera-even as Tyrell’s replicant son crushes Tyrell’s eyes into his head.

Yet despite such violent scenes, there is in this film a sense of sheer physical beauty. The director communicates with a visual language rich in symbols. The eeriness of this moving array of symbology is, I think, calculated. The symbols are universal and serve a universal theme: the need to invest life with meaning in the face of inevitable mortality.

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