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Lighting in Blade Runner

Page history last edited by Sean Desilets 10 years, 9 months ago

Dark City, Dark People, Dark Times

From the first scenes in Blade Runner, the viewer can see that the film is dark, with very few bright or high lit shots. There are stark contrasts between the neon lights and bright signs scattered through the futuristic L.A. setting and the darkened city streets, alleys, and buildings. The low lighting of this futuristic L.A. also makes the city feel dangerous. This visual dynamic of the film helps relate the dark nature of the film itself. There are themes and characters with dark and mysterious roots woven throughout Blade Runner and the incredibly low key lighting seen throughout the film helps project this to viewers.


Film Noir Connection

The film is rooted in a futuristic version of the film noir style. Film noir is traditionally shot with a low key lighting approach to play up the mystery and suspense of the film. The lighting scheme in Blade Runner helps achieve this same mysterious and suspenseful feeling. Looking and feeling like a film noir piece assists Blade Runner’s story be conveyed to the viewer. We accept and understand the “femme fatale” character of Rachael and start to make assumptions or predictions of the nature of her character based on what is normally associated with a femme fatale-mysterious, seductive, dangerous, etc. This same type of film noir view of characters and actions taking place in the film can be seen based in the low key lighting and dark appearance of the film.


Lighting Interpretation

One scene in which lighting can be interpreted is below. When we are shown Deckard’s apartment in other scenes, the details of the space are barely distinguishable. The apartment is incredibly dark and void of visible details. This is a parallel to the character of Deckard himself. Deckard comes across as keeping all emotion within and not being very expressive. This is in the nature of his profession and he is therefore sometimes seen as cold or emotionless. This character attribute changes when it comes to his relationship with Rachael. In the scene below the apartment is lit far more than normal. The viewer is now able to see details about the space. It is later in this scene that the true feelings of Deckard are seen when Rachael tries to leave the apartment and Deckard proceeds to block the door, throw Rachael against a window, and kiss her. Deckard opens up and shows true emotion, just as the space of his apartment opens and we are shown more detail than ever before. 





Lighting “Mood”

The clip below shows how the lighting reflects Deckard's feelings, but the lighting is also working in a way to set the mood of his apartment for the film viewer. As introduced at first, his apartment is dark and void of much detail because Deckard's character is one that, externally, doesn't require much detail. As the light gradually increases in the scene, it comes with Rachael's increasing appearance in the film, ending with her face fully lit at the piano. Racheal lightens the mood, as evidenced by the increase of lighting, for the audience and for Deckard as well, revealing the many layers of his character by the lightened mood.

The lighting is in constant motion whenever the scenes are taking place inside. This gives the indoor scenes just as much unease as the outdoor scenes because the lighting follows the characters inside. Low key lighting along with lighting effects, and lighting motion creates a light scheme that feels like the outside world in finding its way back inside. The community, the outdoor world can not ever be escaped. So, where we might see Deckard's apartment as a fairly normal place, the bizarre things shown in the streets of LA are able to have a grander effect on the more intimate scenes like the ones inside the apartment. Outside was filled with flashing advertisments and lights from restaurants and cars, and that strange futuristic vision imposes itself on the seemingly oridnary apartment by glaring its strange lighting into the scene.


Light and Day?

Because of the extreme amount of light (and lack thereof in some situations) it becomes very difficult to tell what time of day the scenes are taking place in. In most of the shots they were all done at night, but in the film’s reality you cant ever tell what time it is. The streets are lit so much by neon and street lights that it is possible that it could be dark and night outside the city, but inside on the ground level the city provides its own daylight, eternal light. This contributes to the question of artificiality in the future that Blade Runner concerns itself with. While up front, the film casts replicants against humans and questions where the line of humanity exists, the lighting backs up that sense throughout the entire movie. Constantly shifting, constantly referring to the futuristic street setting we see early in the film, it's clear that the only lighting in the film is artificial. Beyond that, as we pan in on the city at the very beginning of the film, all we can see are artificial lights blinking in the distances, never a direct shot of the sun. Removing that natural aspect from the lighting is an important aesthetic choice made by Scott to portray the future in a way that removes a natural humanness to the world we occupy and crams it into an entirely industrialized dystopia.


Comments (1)

Sean Desilets said

at 3:59 pm on Nov 18, 2009

* I wonder whether we could find a way to link the low-key section of the lighting page. Also, there should be a film noir page to link to soon.
* Though I agree that more light may signify a lightening of mood, I think we could use a more detailed analysis on how light works in this scene or some scene. Since the page mentions low-key lighting so much, I think it would be good to speak to how that works in some imagine or sequence.
* One of the interesting things about lighting in the film is that it sometimes makes it difficult whether it's supposed to be night or day.

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