Aesthetics & Identity in Blade Runner

PrefaceThe 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 RunnerRestoration • Conclusion • Works Cited


Yours truly is well aware that she has adopted and been applying the structural values of life and death, human and inhuman, in this essay. Is there no escape from the labyrinth of language and artificial distinctions?

‘If only you could see what I‘ve seen with your eyes’, says Roy to the eyeball designer, implying that, while his makers have the upper hand, while he is constructed, they cannot define and control him altogether. That there is something that is entirely his own.

Perhaps the only source of knowledge available to us is the aesthetic sense. Being uniquely subjective, the aesthetic experience of the sublime potentially provides us with the only reliable way by which to gain a sense of self in a world of flowing and fragmented information and dispersing identity and a knowledge uncontaminated by cultural constructs.
Maria Beville calls terror an experience ‘in which a narrowed focus allows us to absorb fundamental aspects of our being; those which are arguably unknowable in our ordinary subjective frames of reference’ (24), and which enables the possibility of the ‘reception of unlearned realities’ (27).

To answer the question I posed earlier, why are we attracted to the Gothic? The answer is terror, that which makes the disintegration of realities and cultural structures possible, but simultaneously enables us to construct new realities and acquire a unique knowledge about ourselves and in relation to the world. We crave ‘terror for its realising capabilities’ (30). We need the effect of terror to explore and appreciate our subjectivity (41). As I read Radcliffe, while terror affects us with melancholy, we also feel more alive, more inquisitive, more in touch with ourselves, while under its prolonged spell. It activates the differences which expand both existence and perception.

Is Deckard a replicant? The ending is open. Whether he is human or replicant, either way it leads to a multitude of additional conjectures. That question, now, is no longer a source of terror. Having gone through the process of writing this essay, I feel restored. Not in my identity or humanity, but because of the possibilities implied in the film. The differences are still there to activate and embrace. The statement “Anything is possible” is not a source of terror, but a consolation.

Blade Runner combines science fiction, the Gothic and the postmodern in a tale which poses relevant ontological and epistemological questions. It challenges us to address our concepts of knowledge, reality, and identity. It makes a stand for the imaginary and the symbolic. It presents that the unpresentable exists. It asserts the value of terror. It allows for the creation of alternate realities and perspectives. It is inventive in its aesthetic effects, simultaneously playing on Gothic conventions and evolving their application. Play, invention, and evolution are after all what yours truly feels is the spirit of the postmodern.

As Roy puts it, ‘Unless you‘re alive, you can‘t play. And if you can‘t play …‘

© 2010, 2011, 2012, 2019 Kirstin Sørensen

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