Aesthetics & Identity in Blade Runner

Preface • The Gothic : IntroductionGothic Aesthetic TechniquesTransgression and AbjectionTerror, Horror and the SublimeThe Gothic and the PostmodernBlade Runner : IntroductionPower in Blade RunnerReality in Blade RunnerDeath in Blade RunnerIdentity in Blade RunnerRestorationConclusionWorks Cited


We are well versed in the motifs and imaginary paraphernalia of the Gothic. It has been with us for a long time, moving in the shadows of the cultural and literary imagination. The Gothic landscape, the haunted castle, and the many other conventions of the Gothic have been assimilated into popular culture. While some would claim that the Gothic is dead, lost its bite and edge, others will claim that this is far from the truth, that it remains potent and, indeed, that we have never needed it more than now.

In Blade Runner, we encounter a number of Gothic motifs; forbidden love, a God-like, controlling patriarch, the fall, the graveyard, secrets, claustrophobia and entrapment, death and the dead, and the Gothic landscape in the form of a dilapidating, fragmented city. Fred Botting identifies a number of characteristics of the Gothic, such as ‘mysterious incidents, horrible images and life-threatening pursuits’ (2), ‘illegitimate power and violence’ (4), ‘usurpation, intrigue, betrayal and murder’ (6), and ‘a threatening external world’ (58). Blade Runner is no exception. Aside from the obvious detail that it is generally considered a work of science fiction.

While, indeed, placeable within the science fiction tradition, it is also postmodern, and Gothic. Cyberpunk has become the epithet to describe the genre that has arisen from the interplay and dialogue between these three modes of expression. It is my distinct sense of Blade Runner, however, that the Gothic and the postmodern provide the central discourse of the film, as well as the prevailing aesthetic experience; an experience which haunts and unsettles and which demands the audience to address (and revise) their concepts of knowledge, identity and reality.

Maria Beville calls the Gothic ‘the clearest mode of expression in literature for voicing the terrors of postmodernity’ (8). In her definition of the literary genre of Gothic-postmodernism, she identifies the Gothic as the ‘expression of the darkness of postmodernity, while postmodernist aspects operate to establish ontological and epistemological standpoints that query accepted ethical and moral “realities”’ (16). In particular, Beville recognises the terrors involved with the fragmentation or death of the subject and the revolutionary spirit of Gothic postmodern texts.

While I am not seeking to place Blade Runner within Gothic-postmodernism, my interest in Blade Runner are inspired by Beville‘s ideas. Thus, the intention of this essay is to discuss the Gothic aesthetics and the postmodern discourse of identity in Blade Runner.

The version of Blade Runner that I will be treating is The Final Cut from 2007.

© 2010, 2011, 2012, 2019 Kirstin Sørensen

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