Blade runner set me up...

NOTE:  This is a random series of posts about post-apocalyptic movies/shows (PA) that I love. I don't know how long I'll be on this jab - probably for a week or so - then I'll be on to something else.  Just so that you know...

Blade Runner set me up for what has become a deep interest in PA movies:  the visuals were haunting, the action arresting, the moral ambiguity profoundly attractive and the challenge of wounded souls seeking the common good in a broken realm gave shape and form to my existential theology.  Think about 1982, the year it was released:

+ Popular culture was obsessed with ET (still a whole lotta fun) and Michael Jackson's Thriller.  Cheers was riding high, Gandhi hit the big screen along with Tootsie, too.

+ Anti-war politics hit the mainstream with a massive rally in NYC that included 750,000 citizens in Central Park.

+ Cold warrior supreme, Ronald Reagan, not only took on the Soviet Union in a new arms race, but funded the contras in Nicaragua and cut deals with those who would later fly planes into the Twin Towers and Pentagon.

+ The Falkland War began, Canada became fully independent from the UK and the war in Lebanon exploded full scale.
It may have looked like springtime in America on the surface, but Ridley Scott, director of Blade Runner, saw something  underneath that looked more like Los Angeles had become "Hong Kong on a bad day when everything had gone wrong!"  Like Springsteen once said of Jackson Browne, "If the Beach Boys sang about the American dream in all its beauty and promise, Jackson sang about what was becoming the American nightmare in all the shadows and doubt." 

Ridley Scott wanted to express what author Philip K. Dick saw as some of the consequences of environmental pollution; no matter what the pro-growth, bottom line advocates of consumption were saying, "Something (terrible) is going on all round you and you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?" Take a look at the Edward James Olmos character in the movie who identifies himself as one experiencing the "industrial disease" to paraphrase the Dire Straights song released the same year.

Scott also wanted to evoke the fear and confusion of a world run by hubris gone wild:  the replicants of Blade Runner - android grunts designed by the Tyrell Corporation for menial jobs, pleasure and work too dangerous for humans - have been banned from use on planet Earth.  Should they defy the ban and return, they were to be hunted down and destroyed by a special task force of operatives known as blade runners.  The creators have now become destroyers, those in control are being driven insane by the chaos of their own invention and what was once seen as a blessing has become a curse.  Hmmm... it seems as if the doctrine of unintended consequences is never fully internalized. 

And he wanted to expose the cruel irony of utilitarian morality where everything is evaluated according to the bottom line.  Replicants - like human slaves of a former time - not only do all of society's hard work, but are often more compassionate and alive than their owners.  To test whether a suspect is an android or not, for example,  blade runners ask a simple question about violence to animals:  time and again, the replicants express true concern for the helpless victims while the humans seem incapable of empathy. In a cold and dark world where everyone is out for him/her self - and the robots are more compassionate than God's own creation - what does it mean to be human?

In a later post, I'll consider the theological themes more intentionally.  For now, let's just say that the PA aesthetic of Blade Runner deepens these ideas emotionally and visually.  Ridley creates a new-noir groove that gives shape and form to his political and ethical questions.  And it is that total package - the aesthetics married to the action and thoughts - that makes this genre so compelling for me.  Like the film noir of old, the movement of light and dark often foreshadows and amplifies the action.  The moral ambiguity of both heroes and villains speaks to me, too of the shades of grey I find in most of life.  And often it is unclear whether anything but the present moment matters, yes? Certainly the conclusion of Blade Runner suggests more questions than resolutions. (Even the theme song by Vangelis was intentionally neo-noir, don't you think?)

Two closing thoughts about why the visuals of PA movies grab me have become clear:

+ First, they are genre-bending and I love what happens when distinct sounds, images and philosophies are blended in new and creative ways.  I love it in music - I am driven towards it in visual art and dance - and it seems that the "retro-fitting" visuals of PA movies are very much a part of the same thing, too.  Part of it is the old embracing the new, part of it is the startling way these blendings highlight the origins of each element and part of it is the way the new synthesis feels natural to the young but disorienting to the old.  I realize that I need to be disoriented from time to time - shaken awake - and these visuals challenge me to pay attention on many levels. 

+ Second, there is a haunting sensuality going on in these filmes that I find attractive. These stories speak of lives lived hard in a harsh world - the heart of humanity is being destroyed and the exterior world is going to hell, too - and at the same time many of the PA characters find ways to express a real inner beauty.  Sometimes exaggerated - Daryl Hannah's character is over the top in Blade Runner - but that's what lovers do in a dangerous time, yes?  How did the Goo Goo Dolls put it in the song Iris?  "Yeah you bleed just to know you're alive?"  I see this confusing quest for beauty and intimacy in many of the PA characters:  they bring a little leather and lace, a little glitter and grime, too along with a whole lotta soul as an antidote to a cruel and empty existence. In that they are more Camus than Satre, yes?

Well, that's enough for now.  I'm learning somethings and hope you are having as much fun as me.  Until later...

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