Aesthetics & Identity in Blade Runner

PrefaceThe Gothic : IntroductionGothic Aesthetic TechniquesTransgression and AbjectionTerror, Horror and the SublimeThe Gothic and the Postmodern • Blade Runner : IntroductionPower in Blade RunnerReality in Blade Runner • Death in Blade Runner • Identity in Blade RunnerRestorationConclusionWorks Cited


Death in Blade Runner

Death is the ultimate unknown, the “king of terrors”. A valuable motif in the Gothic tradition, being both conducive to terror and beyond reasonable objective knowledge, and therefore also valuable in a postmodern context, it has extensive and haunting applications.

Death and the onslaught of time and decay are ever present in Blade Runner, embedded in its themes, the dying city, and in its characters. Deckard with his ‘faintly zombie-like quality’ (Williams 389) is the walking dead in that he has attempted “retirement”, i.e. symbolic death, and that he exhibits no appreciation of life. One wonders how his inner monologue sounds; not the film-noir voice-over of the first cinematic version, but perhaps a Beckett drone, overwhelmed by the lack of meaning and purpose in his life and the death-in-life that has infected all, longing for release. The irony of his character is that he is a blade runner, a dealer of the killing blow, but what he wants most is is his own death. In contrast, the replicants burn brightly, desirous of life, but they too are the walking dead, programmed to “retire” after four years of activity. Time is ticking. ‘Not yet, not yet’ is Roy‘s constant plea. ‘Still time’, he consoles himself. Still time to achieve what he has come to Earth for: ‘more life’. He is playing into the system by accepting its values. The Tyrell Pyramids, symbolic of the system, come into their own as monuments to power and death, by being the authority on Death, and, therefore, on everything else.

Bryant and Deckard muse curiously over the rogue replicants’ choice of destination, Earth. This means death for any replicant. Why would they seek out their death? It is most perplexing. It enhances the deviancy of the rogue replicants.

While the replicants fail in their objective, they succeed in offering resistance to the system in that they assume a role in deciding the manner of their death, rather than accepting the death that the system has ordained and simply de-activate. They are willing to interact with Death, willing to gamble what currency of life they have left. Baudrillard tell us that ‘as long as the exploited retain the choice of life and death through this small resistance … they win on their own, symbolic, ground’ (Symbolic 180).

Pris is a pleasure model. She plays half-heartedly with a dismembered Barbie doll, perhaps reflecting on her constructed role as a toy and stylised human replica, stereotype of a stereotype. She knows Death when she sees it; she feels a kinship with Sebastian, the designer suffering from Methuselah syndrome, which has decayed his 25-year old body to such a degree that he has aged twice his age. Both suffer from ‘accelerated decrepitude’, their lives infected with advancing death, marked by the non-status that that infers.

Symbolically, she wears a veil, like a bride, when Deckard comes to kill her. She is staging her swansong. Her violence is shocking and, yet, one cannot help but wonder, does she really mean to kill him? Expression seems more important than function. She is aestheticising the event; an act which speaks of both resignation and defiance. We cannot tell if it is fury or mechanical malfunction or both which convulses her at the very end. She carries the transgression that she embodies into death. Ghostly, indeterminate and dangerous, yet sympathetic, she is a Gothic postmodern monster.

Finding her broken body, Roy actively mourns her, interacting with death, tasting and symbolically marking himself with her. Her death is given meaning and a value that goes beyond the value of her parts and function. She transcends her limitations and enters the symbolic.

When Roy enters the holy of holies, the Tyrell Pyramid, he confronts his maker. Tyrell welcomes him like the father of a prodigal son, revelling in Roy‘s beauty and fire. Roy is not interested in reconciliation; he will have ‘more life’. Roy is explained ‘the facts of life’ and the inevitability of Death by his father-God. God disappoints; he cannot (or will not) make the necessary modifications. Tyrell is as much a slave to the system as Roy; he cannot transcend its limitations. In Oedipal reversal, Roy blinds and kills his father, and, in addition, his adopted father, Sebastian. If Roy cannot extract life from his father, he will extract death. He shows he can manipulate life into death just as easily, if less subtly, as his father. Yet the patricide also signifies that he has abandoned his quest for more life and accepted his own oncoming death. There is no return from here.

In his descent from the tower, Roy glows with a strange mixture of satisfaction, resignation and abject horror, like a fallen angel, descending into Hell. One feels the wings of fate, remembering how Roy inverted William Blake‘s ‘America : A Prophecy’: ‘fiery the angels fell’. Such a brief scene, yet it must be brief, for the horror and abjection of the moment is excruciating. ‘It‘s not an easy thing to meet your maker’ – to kill God is no easy thing either; it signifies a complete deconstruction and refusal of the world order, the ultimate transgression. Anything is possible now.


© 2010, 2011, 2012, 2019 Kirstin Sørensen

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