Watching ‘Blade Runner’ again this afternoon, with no intention of seeing it all the way through, I got as far as the ‘retirement’ of Zhora, which must rank as one of the most incredible screen killings ever filmed. As with other replicants, her life is imbued with a kind of poetic tragedy which, in her case, is only created during her dying moments. It would have been far more obvious to simply prove Deckard’s ability but instead Scott opts to draw out her demise in a sequence accompanied by music designed to encourage sympathy as she crashes through several panes of glass, falling once before rising again and finally landing amid a shower of broken glass.Our feelings regarding the plight of the dangerous replicants mirror the question of Rachael’s true nature and her response to the dilemma. What is she supposed to feel about having feelings?
Advanced replicants may develop emotions; therefore we in turn can feel for them. Scott cleverly elicits compassion when really there should be none for killing machines.
Sean Young as Rachael is beautiful and plays distant-but-vulnerable brilliantly. In this respect she could be a model for every Hollywood idol who has ever seduced us before being exposed as human by real life tragedy or misdemeanours. The reverse is true for Rachael, but we care about something that has only been granted human characteristics by design, don’t we? The sight of a teardrop slowly trickling down that immaculate cheek is enough to rouse empathy in us.
As with most sci-fi films, despite being set in the future they cannot help but reflect the time they were made in certain ways. In 1982, I suppose it did not seem possible that smoking would eventually be banned in enclosed public places. Ironically, LA, where the film is set, would be amongst the first cities to ban the weed in 1998.
Yet Rachael swathed in smoke as she is first interviewed by Deckard is more in tune with Scott’s neo-noir vision, of course, because everyone smoked in film noir. The shoulders of her otherwise immaculately styled suit still has a hint of the shoulder pad, whilst her hair and make-up refer back to the film’s visual roots (as far as lighting is concerned) in the 50s. Perhaps those shoulder pads have put me off all these years because they suggest power dressing Thatcherites back in the 80s. Crazy, I know, to resist the allure of Young because of that. But I feel the same way about most supposed beauties of 80s cinema, which is surely excusable because they do illustrate an era of sartorial catastrophe.
Hollywood is all about artifice masquerading as reality. Actors only replicate human emotion, don’t they? ‘Blade Runner’ could, perhaps, be as much about the nature of acting as it is about advanced science in relation to intelligence and emotion.