English Extension 1 – Blade Runner Essay

Whilst Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut (1992) makes use of genre conventions, his delivery of such conventions is designed primarily to challenge dominant themes and accepted norms. Although science fiction is a dominant genre, film noir is less prominent and is rather integrated into the hybrid nature of the film. This hybridity not only allows for the juxtaposing of divergent genres but encourages a form of cinema which reflects a subversion of the distinctions between genre and genre. This enables Scott to project a postmodern world where hybridity, the old and the new, and what it means to be human are re-examined in light of a constantly changing world.

The mixing of visual and narrative conventions from science fiction and film noir reflects a postmodern ethos. Thematically, film noir expresses “a passion for the past and present” but also an overriding “fear of the future” (Schrader, P.). As Blade Runner combines this paradox with science fiction, a genre fascinated with futurism and modernism, it not only challenges the limitations of genre conventions, but it also reflects on the nature of distinctions and delineations. Los Angeles 2019 is “not the ultramodern, but the postmodern city” (Bruno, G.) through its low-tech noir-ish aesthetics, the ‘police-detective’ story, and the pastiche of Mayan and Egyptian architecture. This architectural pastiche not only creates a mise-en-scene of decline, but also an excess of scenography. Bruno goes on to write that these “relations in the narrative space [produce] an exhibitionism rather than an aesthetics of the visual”. Thus, Scott makes use of ‘retrofitting’. This patchwork-like design process imitates film noir techniques which emphasise “nostalgia, lack of clear priorities, insecurity; then submerge these self-doubts in mannerism and style” (Schrader, P.), and science fiction cinema which tends to focus on spectacle. In this way, Scott appears to challenge genre archetypes. The film’s “aesthetic of decay [exposes] the dark side of technology, the process of disintegration” (Bruno, G.). It is this aesthetic, rendered by the amalgamation of science fiction and film noir conventions, that permeates all areas of life in the film until the nature of reality, and what it means to be human, becomes blurred.

Science fiction and film noir genre conventions serve more than a simply formal function in Blade Runner as the film brings them together to ideological effect, challenging the narratives that underscore ideology. The film’s hybridity conceals the technical base and the film produces “a knowledge effect, as actualisation of the work process, as denunciation of ideology, and as a critique of idealism” (Baudry, J.). It questions how human constructs and values shape society by asserting that reality is, fundamentally, mentally constructed or otherwise immaterial. Whilst the creation of genre conventions is successfully undermined by Blade Runner’s genre hybridity, it is important to note that hybridity is common in many Hollywood films. The popularity of mixing genres together may be attributed to Star Wars (1977) as it draws on “the western and the war film . . . George Lucas pioneered the genre pastiche” (Hoberman, J.). Nick Lacey also argues that Blade Runner only engages with postmodernism at an aesthetic level as the film ‘fails’ to not only “fully represent the postmodern view of the human condition” (Lacey, N.), but also to follow postmodernism’s implications through to more fundamental and political level. However, Blade Runner blurs the conventions of science fiction and film noir to give texture to its meditation on the nature of human existence, and on the postmodern condition.

By employing elements from different genres, the film represents the conditions of postmodernity. In its form, content, and ideological centre Blade Runner explores and utilises the strategies of quotation and pastiche to echo society’s ‘historical schizophrenia’. The film quotes from different film genres and historical periods to give material presence to the non-linear and repetitive nature of history. The pastiche nature of the city’s architecture renders Los Angeles with “no geographical centre and no ‘original’ past to refer to, no secure history to be bound to” (Redmond, S.). The city’s schizophrenic state reflects the film’s overall postmodern identity crisis. Scott uses intertextual references to historical texts and periods to acknowledge the unreliability of human constructs. The film makes cinematic parallels to the German Expressionist film, Metropolis (1927) as it presents a dystopian city which perpetuates elements of corporate capitalism; and to film noir, in its visual and narrative aesthetics which are drawn from the film, Mildred Pierce (1945). It is this mixing and allusion to films from different genres which not only shifts Blade Runner from the clear-cut dichotomies of genre conventions, but it also represents the conditions of postmodernity. The ironic nature of Blade Runner’s biblical allusions, particularly in J.F. Sebastian’s ‘Methuselah syndrome’, draws attention to the fact that the world has become desensitised to the referent. In a postmodern world, names and concepts that once held meaning are distorted and subverted, and a loss of meaning is created. The replicant, Pris, quotes Descartes when she says, “I think . . . therefore I am” and, thus, Descartes’ concept of consciousness is ironically applied to the overall idea of what it means to be human. The idea of replicants being semi-conscious androids goes beyond the science fiction trope of artificial intelligence. The fusion of man and machine not only encourages a reconsideration of one’s perception of human ontology but also, a re-evaluation of science fiction’s definition of what it means to be human. Whilst Scott’s quotation of Descartes is humorous, he projects humour to present how, in the postmodern, human constructs and conventions are created. Blade Runner’s intertextual references to different historical texts not only challenges the limitations of genre conventions but also highlights the sustained nature of humanity’s fears.

Blade Runner’s makes use of genre conventions to fundamentally subvert and challenge the limiting nature of archetypes and human constructs. The film’s postmodern aesthetic “confuses history, mixes up traditions, collapses the differences between the real and the mediated” (Redmond, S.). The film not only challenges the notion of genre conventions, but it also reflects on society’s historical schizophrenia and the conditions of postmodernity.