Notes: Warner Brothers. 117 minutes.
Based on “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Phillip K. Dick
Directed: Ridley Scott
Producer: Michael Deeley
Screenplay: Hampton Francher and David Peoples
Art Director: David Snyder
Production Designer: Lawrence G. Paul
Special Effects: Douglas Trumbull
Cinematographer: Jordan Cronenweth
Deckard: Harrison Ford
Roy: Rutger Hauer
Rachel: Sean Young
Chris: Daryl Hannah
Also starring Edward James Olmas, William Sanderson, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy
Summary: We see a stormy, dark, thoroughly non-organic cityscape. “In 2019 Los Angeles, Nature has gone berserk, deluging the teeming city with an almost constant downpour. Smoke, fog, and steam add to the fumigated congestion. It is a city of dreadful night, punctuated by neon signs in day-glo colors, cheap Orientalized billboards, and a profusion of advertising come-ons. Hunks of long-discarded machinery litter the landscape. The soundtrack throbs with eerie sounds, echoes, pounding pistons, and the noises of flying vehicles shuttling through the poisonous atmosphere. It is a city choking on its own technology.”
A nervous man, Leon, is being tested with questions such as whether he would help a tortoise on its back in the desert. When asked about his mother, he rises and shoots the tester.
Ex-cop and detective Deckard eats Chinese food as ads announce the possibility of a new life and new wife in the off-world colonies. Hostile harassment has him meeting an old acquaintance and police chief Brian, who claims to have “four skin-jobs walkin the streets” meaning artificial, genetically engineered humans called “replicants,” created as off-world slave labor originally. They are now forbidden on Earth because of mutinies, but six of them, three male and three female, killed 23 humans of a shuttle crew and most of these made their way back and are seeking the Tyrell Corporation where they were created. Deckard claims, “I dont work here anymore.” And the previous man on the case is now on life support. But he is given no choice.
Replicants have a four-year life span built in, but the question arises about the possibility of them developing their own emotions. Deckard visits Tyrell and sees an artificial owl. He speaks with Rachel about machines being benefits or hazards. She asks if he has ever “retired” a human by mistake that is, killed. He hasnt. He is invited to test Rachel and asks her about her birthday, a calfskin wallet, a boys butterfly collection, having a wasp on her arm. She claims shed “report” most of this, and kill the wasp. Suppose her husband hangs a nude photo of a woman on the wall? She wouldnt let him, but is he testing to find out if shes a replicant or a lesbian? He asks about a stage play involving a banquet of oysters and boiled dog. In the end he declares shes a replicant. It usually takes him 20-30 questions. Rachel is an experiment she herself doesnt know that she is one.
We are invited to “Enjoy Coca-Cola” as Deckard begins his investigation. He sees photos but we distrust all evidence of humanity now. Meanwhile, the head replicant-rebel, Roy, asks Leon about the photos, but someone was there, a policeman. These two replicants visit a Japanese man who works in eyeballs, who claims to know only about eyes, nothing more about Tyrell who designed their brains, but a certain Sebastian would take them there.
Rachel insists to Deckard that shes human, producing a picture of herself as a child with her mother. He asks her questions and insists her memories have been implanted and are actually those of Tyrells niece.
Another replicant, Chris, meets genetic designer J.F. Sebastian as if by chance and, seeming homeless and scared, gets invited into his lab where he creates robots: “I make friends.” Deckard meanwhile examines photos close up and tracks the origin of an artifical snake scale through Chinatown to a sleazy bar where an exotic dancer with her stage prop fake snake asks him, “Are you for real?” He poses as a dorky morals investigator to examine her dressing room, but she beats him up, tries to kill him, and runs. He races after her past an Atari ad and shoots her down in front of a Budweiser sign. Brian is there soon and says there are four, not three, to go, since Rachel has disappeared. Then Leon grabs Deckard and beats him up until Rachel shoots him down. Back at his place she asks if he would come after her if she went north and disappeared. He says he wouldnt: “I owe you one.” She wonders if he ever took that test himself. She looks at his pictures. They have a weird love scene.
Chris spraypaints her eyes into a kind of raccoon mask. Sebastian has a glandular problem that gives him rapidly aging syndrome, so he couldnt pass the medical to get off-world. Roy shows up and kisses Chris. Sebastian makes breakfast and recognizes the replicants as part of the Nexus 6 line — theyre perfect. “Theres some of me in you.” Chris reaches into boiling water and can do flips. The replicants also have accelerated decrepitude, but Sebastian doesnt know biomechanics. Instead, he gets Roy in to see Tyrell, using a long-standing chess match as his excuse for contact. Roy meets his maker and wants modification: “I want more life.” Tyrell cant help; theyve tried everything, but viruses keep arising. He advises Roy to enjoy his time. Roy crushes his makers skull. Sebastian runs away.
Deckard hears that there has been this murder at the Bradbury Apartments and heads to Sebastians where Chris emerges from other robots and beats him up. Mid-flip, she is shot down by Deckard and goes into frenzied spasms. Roy appears, kisses her, and evades Deckards shots. “Cmon, Deckard, show me what youre made of.” Roy bursts through a wall to grab Deckards hand, which he pulls through and breaks two fingers in honor of the memory of his “retired” friends. Roy returns to Chris and howls. He begins to deteriorate. He puts a nail in his own hand and his head through a wall as Deckard alternately batters him, which he enjoys (“Thats the spirit!”), and tries to escape, climbing the outside of the building in the rain. Roy appears on the roof with Deckard precariously hanging off the ledge. “Quite an experience to live in fear, isnt it? Thats what it is to be a slave.” Roy rescues Deckard from falling. They sit down. He has seen much, and those moments will be “lost in time like tears in the rain. Time to die.” A pigeon flies off as Roy expires.
Deckard asks Rachel if she loves and trusts him, and helps her escape from his apartment, but we have a final indication that hes being tailed.
Commentary: The film is highly regarded as a hybrid of science-fiction, film noir, detective thriller, bounty-hunter western, and love story, with an eclectic visual style. Two additional aspects are successful. One is the frequent use of common innocuous phrases that take on new meaning in the context of a world in which human identity is always in question. Thus, lines such as “I make friends,” “show me what youre made of,” and “Are you for real?” are atypically intriguing.
The other accomplishment is the way the film has us questioning not just others reality but our own assumptions as well. If memories can be implanted such that one is convinced one is human, then the final frontier has been reached and sleazy product placement seems charmingly old-fashioned comparatively.
“Blade Runner has virtually dictated the look of all subsequent SF film, as its highly technologized, retrofitted, and ‘used up’ future has itself been replicated in film after film” (Landon 122).
The Roy/Tyrell scene is useful for teaching Frankenstein.