By Govindini Murty. Reports surfaced earlier this year that plans were underway for a new Blade Runner film. Blade Runner is one of our favorite films here at Libertas, so we heard the news with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. After all, like its great predecessor Metropolis (1927), Blade Runner is one of the seminal films of the modern age – a film that has literally shaped our concepts of how the future will look. It was inevitable I suppose that someone would want to turn it into a franchise. THR’s Heat Vision blog now reports that a new Blade Runner film with Ridley Scott attached is moving forward, with Alcon Entertainment producing the film and planning to release it through Warner Brothers:
“While the new movie is being described as a “follow-up” to the first film, the filmmakers have not yet disclosed whether it will function as a prequel or a sequel to the original. One thing it won’t be, though, is a re-make, Alcon co-head Andrew Kosove said. “We [sic] very fortunate that Ridley Scott has decided to come back to one of his seminal movies,” he added. “And with Ridley, I can tell you it will be fresh and original.” … Kosove declined to say what direction the project would go it, but did say he didn’t expect Harrison Ford, who starred in the original movie as a retired cop who hunts down replicants, to be involved.”
Alcon Entertainment is the company behind The Blind Side, The Book of Eli, and a number of other films with generally humanistic values. My hope is that any new Blade Runner film will espouse the life-affirming themes of the original and not be repurposed to support some contemporary political agenda (a problem that has plagued too many of Ridley Scott’s recent films). As we’ve discussed before here at Libertas, sci-fi works best when it explores timeless human questions – when it functions like a new mythology, inspiring the human mind through metaphor to explore new horizons – not when it bludgeons one over the head with a propaganda point.
The original Blade Runner (1982) was a film that worked precisely because of its sense of mystery and its resistance to easy answers. The film’s seductive blend of ’40s film noir and ’70s dystopian science-fiction captivated the imagination and lead it to a romantic engagement with the world and with human life. One can consider Blade Runner the reverse of Avatar or Planet of the Apes, two recent films that featured ‘heroic’ protagonists who reject humanity. The android replicants in Blade Runner want to experience life as human beings, but tragically, they cannot. They are like the angels who come to earth and who wish to become human in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, or like the angels who visit humanity and exclaim over the marvels of earthly life in Milton’s Paradise Lost. As the fallen angel Satan enviously describes the goodness of earthly existence in Paradise Lost:
“O earth, how like to heaven, if not preferr’d
More justly, seat worthier of gods …
Productive in herb, plant, and nobler birth
Of creatures animate with gradual life
Of growth, sense, reason, all summ’d up in man.
With what delight could I have walked thee round”
(Paradise Lost, Book IX, lines 99-100, 110-113)
The tragedy of the humanoid replicants in Blade Runner is that they wish to live longer than their allotted brief time, not realizing that their code is so engineered that it cannot be extended. The replicants are doomed to live only four short years, but they experience those years in a heightened, more vivid manner. In the pivotal scene of Blade Runner, the leader of the rebellious replicants, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) confronts Tyrell, the head of the shadowy corporation that created him, and insists that he alter his technology to extend his life. Tyrell tells him that this is impossible, and urges Batty to enjoy the time he has instead and live life to the fullest. Batty cannot accept this, but later, when he saves the life of detective Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), Batty poignantly describes to him the beauty of what he has experienced in his short life:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe: Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion; I’ve watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.”
Blade Runner’s concern with the paradoxical briefness and richness of human life reminds me of the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca’s wise essay On the Shortness of Life. Addressing his essay to his friend Paulinus, Seneca wrote:
“Most human beings, Paulinus, complain about the meanness of nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, and because this spell of time that has been given to us rushes by so swiftly and rapidly that with very few exceptions life ceases for the rest of us just when we are getting ready for it. …
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied, but wasteful of it. … ”
Because we have no control over the future and can only really take charge of what is in the present, Seneca advises that one should seize life and “live immediately.”
(Seneca, On the Shortness of Life, trans. C.D.N. Costa).
Thus, at the end of Blade Runner, Harrison Ford’s human cop Rick Deckard chooses to love the replicant Rachael, even though he knows she may have only a few short years of life. Rick and Rachael seize the time that they have and decide to live it together. It’s a heroic, intensely humanistic message. I hope the new Blade Runner film will live up to it.
Posted on August 19th, 2011 at 6:28am.