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Allusions in Blade Runner

Page history last edited by Air Dupaix 10 years, 10 months ago

Blade Runner is very much a film borne out of a post-modernist society, a key indicator of which is the myriad of allusions that compile the film. Postmodernism's focus on mixing previous ideas and arts to create something new clearly guides this film in its tendencies to reference, quote, and sometimes symbolize various historical works of arts, but these allusions also enforce an overall reading of the film as presenting a possible future involving mankind's disconnect from humanness and an inability to recognize a difference between the natural and the artificial. These allusions can be blatant or subtle, and this page aims to discuss some of the prominent allusions used in Blade Runner.


Filmic Allusions 

Stylistically, Blade Runner borrows from previous films and film movements to set specific moods and allow audiences to analyze connections between other films and the ideas portrayed in them. The entire film is heavily influenced by the film noir movement of the 1940s and '50s, much of the scenes cast in dark shadows with importance placed on lighting to embody the darkness of spirit or humanness in many of the characters, as seen in Deckard's shadowy apartment or the sequence of Leon's interrogation. The replicant Rachael can be seen wearing clothing and hair styles reminiscent of the film noir style. This idea of the film expressing what the characters are feeling or thinking comes from the German Expressionists of the '20s and 30's who used elaborate sets and played with the concept of mise-en-scene in order to show the emotions of characters through other elements of the film. The bright pyramid/temple of the Tyrell Corporation elevates the company's superior status, casting it in a completely contrasting manner to much of the rest of the film and placing it looming over a decimated Los Angeles. Many of these allusions, as well as others with many different interpretations, can be seen from the very first few shots of Blade Runner:




From this establishing shot, much can be discerned about the film because of its allusion to several past films. As the camera pans across a futuristic Los Angeles, the oppressive cityscape is reminiscent of Fritz Lang's iconic Metropolis, where the ubiquitous technological city is as much a machine as the people in it. This is enforced as the camera moves towards the Tyrell Corp's headquarter pyramid, similar to some of the buildings of importance in Metropolis. Much of this futuristic mise-en-scene has been paralleled with Metropolis, but another interesting connection to be made is that between Racheal, the fabricated woman of importance to the main character Deckard, and the object of Rotwang's desire in Metropolis, Hel. Both are machines but look and act like humans, fooling many other characters in their respective movies into thinking that they are in fact human. The other prominent aspect of this opening sequence is the extreme close-up of an eye reflecting the fiery landscape. This shot has many interpretations from being an allusion to 2001: A Space Odyssey, enforcing the unnatural and technical possibilities for the film, to a reference to the "all-seeing" eye, or Eye of Providence [2], asking the audience to think objectively about the ideas conveyed through the film. I liken the allusion to 2001, solidifying Blade Runner's status as a science fiction film and giving some connotations that are connected with that. This ambiguous eye is eerily reminiscent of HAL's mechanical and ubiquitous red eye which gives creedence to both of these interpretations. But the connection of this possibly human eye in the beginning of Blade Runner to that of the totally unhuman eye of HAL references an important theme in the film of the indistinguishable boundary between the natural and the unnatural, the human and the non-human. This sequence has also been read as the introduction to the many religious allusions in Blade Runner.


Paradise Lost/Biblical Allusions 

David undefinedDesser argues in several essays that Blade Runner is a story paralleling John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost which tells the story of the Fall of man, casting Lucifer, some say, as a hero. The list of connections between these two works is extensive, but the Replicant Batty's overall quest is perhaps the best example of it. As Desser put it: "Satan engaged 'in dubious Battel on the Plains of Heav'n' (I: 104). Batty negotiates his way through hell before rising to Heaven's penthouse to confront his maker and kill him" [1]. Blade Runner also tends to sympathize with Batty throughout the film in much the same way that Paradise Lost sympathized with Lucifer, persuading the audience to like a character who seems inherently evil. This paradox adds to the film's overall questioning of the understanding of humanness through a very clear religious example. The extent to which Blade Runner follows this storyline, as well as the many other allusions seen, also runs the theme of questionable humanness strongly during the course of the film. To create a story by way of melding past stories calls into question the originality of art and, through that as a catalyst, the originality of humans. The replicants themselves are the obvious physical manifestation of this question in the film, but instances such as Batty's quotation of William Blake show how originality is called into question by the entire movie; this imitation human quoting an old English poem cheapens the quality of that poem as a great work of man's art by flattening it out with an inhuman character.



Near the end of the fim, Batty goes through a sort of redemption process and, through several allusions, becomes a Christ-like figure, adding to the paradoxical view of liking a seemingly evil character. The stills above of Batty's nail-pierced hand acting as the savior for Deckard and the dove which flies away from Batty after his sacrifice are both allusions to Jesus' crucifixion and the soul leaving the body upon death.






Works Cited 

[1] Page 54. Kerman, Judith. (1991) Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" and Philip K. Dick's "Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep?" "The New Eve". 53-64. David Desser. 

[2] "Themes in Blade Runner" Wikipedia.  18 November 2009. Web. 17 November 2009.

Comments (1)

Sean Desilets said

at 9:16 pm on Nov 18, 2009

* Really great use of images
* Some sense of what all this allusiveness *as a whole* tells us about the film might be interesting. It seems to reject "originality" in certain ways
* It seems as though the constructed beautiful woman may also be a _Metropolis_ allusion

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