Blade Runner: A Future That Never Was
Blade Runner is a term that should be recognisable to any sci-fi fan. In 1982, we were first introduced to Ridley Scott’s vision of the future. The year setting was 2019. The month was November. Plumes of fire punctuated the night sky as flying vehicles drifted by. Los Angeles never looked so bleak, and yet, shone in such a mesmerising way.
Blade Runner has enjoyed a long tenure, over the course of 30 years, as a cult classic. While never a box-office darling, the image that it promoted was one that never quite faded from public consciousness. The message of a future woven with uncertainty. An uncertainty in suggesting that the progress we seek may hinder us more than develop us as a society. This theme carries throughout the universe as we explore it through the eyes of Deckard, a man with conflicting emotions about what constitutes a living being.
Rich in its fascinating ideals is this sci-fi masterpiece from Ridley Scott. The technology and the themes introduced parallel our own present in many ways. Today, we will be putting the world to the test for how it links up with modern society.
The Reality of Replicants
To start, we will explore the most obvious technological achievement in Blade Runner: the creation of androids for labour and personal proclivities. Our narrator speaks directly to the audience, informing them that androids (replicants) have developed to a degree that they are difficult to spot via natural means. Many have evolved beyond their function and can actively hide in open sight to avoid execution (retirement); this suggests a grand understanding of human capabilities and an awareness of their anatomy, including the advantages they hold over us.
Comparatively, modern androids of 2019 haven’t reached the heights of these technological advancements, but they are not as far off as one would initially think. Artificial intelligence is an ever-expanding experiment that continues to grow with the advent of the internet. Androids, programmed with commands, their function in our current world for basic communication in the form of cleaning and vendor services. Primarily, these are based in Japan. The aforementioned A.I. comes into play when we consider coded algorithms that respond to human interaction. We already have computers that learn from directly interacting with humanity. The case in point for this: bots created to filter comments and generate realistic responses. This is in use online for recreation as well as in robotic hotels that have cropped up in Japan.
Realistic human-passing androids have already been created, visually; the main point is the Alan Turing test that evaluates if a computer has the capacity for human intelligence. To date, none have passed the test. However, this future might not be too far off, considering the above factors.
A City of Marvels
Switching gears to the incredible beauty of Scott’s Los Angeles, we are treated to a visually harsh, but enticing cityscape. Glimpses of innovation can be seen in each street vendor and each holographic image that greets an onlooker. Noticeably, commercialism has reached an apex in the form of obnoxious skyscraper advertisements constantly playing. Holographic beings address each individual in a personal way to target their specific needs. The consistently changing environment in the film illustrates that there is a distinct class divide in certain districts. The brighter the advertisements, the poorer the area.
Heavy inspiration from the past invokes the idea that the advancements of the world are mostly enjoyed by the rich. Los Angeles has visible slums where the desperate seek any means of survival, while the richer residents spend money on frivolity like light-up umbrellas. This non-polished version of the city is what really brings the film to life.
The Truth of the Matter
To contrast it with the reality of 2019, it is a bit more garish than our current world, but the principle of the idea is more true now than it would have been in the 1980s. Corporations use our personal data to target advertisements towards us. Noticeable class divides are present, with the wealthy creating bottlenecks that prevent progression for smaller businesses. Struggle is ever-present in our world and those who enjoy privilege are not always willing to help. The bleakness of Blade Runner in this sense may be overblown, as we haven’t reached a mass level of over-promotion, but there is certainly a track record that dictates that is potentially where we are going. For an example of constant advertisements playing in succession, simply look at Time Square; this is likely to become a more commonplace idea in cities, the further we move forward.
A positive in this worldview is that, according to Ridley Scott, we will eventually be living in giant space pyramids, have flying cars, and will have scopes on different planets. Sadly, these ones might be a tad too ambitious, unless Elon Musk is to be believed.
Lastly, the most thought-provoking topic. The people of Blade Runner versus the people that we are today. We know of the approach that Blade Runners take towards those they deem as not human. We see the snippets of an emotionally repressed life lead by our main character, Deckard. Ridley’s presentation is that of a noir science fiction tale, meaning the tropes of this period are alive in the characters present. They live in a heavily business-oriented world, where you work to keep living and then work some more. There are limited recreational activities, from what we are given to digest. The people, typically even those in wealthy positions, are unhappy and constantly wanting more.
People are discouraged from expression of identity. We see this in certain cues in the film. A word in jest about being a lesbian, a perception of those that enjoy odd things like toys being inherently strange and an undercurrent of masculine culture punctuate the lifestyles of the citizens of Los Angeles 2019. Dynamic colours worn by the rich in the streets are the only true vibrancy we see of the citizens, who, in general, seem to be clinging to material validation. Humanity is still present within the shell of the city, but it buried beneath layers and hard to find.
If we factor this against the true centre of our own culture, we are in a much stronger position. Identity in 2019 is not anything to be ashamed of; there is a general embrace of however someone wishes to identify. Sexuality is fluid to a massive degree. Our expressions of our weird hobbies are mainstream now, with a bright colour palette to match. The world is certainly a lot brighter than the one Ridley Scott brought to our screens in 1982. This is a positive we can cherish and one that we can be proud of. Pushback is common in every walk of life and there is still an undercurrent of the masculine-led world that Blade Runner presents. Thankfully, we are in a much better position to counteract it.
Thanks for taking the time to read this piece, if you haven’t seen Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner before, do yourself a favour and enjoy this cult classic in the very month of its setting.