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Critical Essay on “Blade Runner”

Choose a film in which a particular mood is constructed through key images and elements of the soundtrack. Show how the film constructs this mood and explain how it influences your appreciation of the text as a whole. You must refer to specific examples and at least two of the following: mood, soundtrack, editing, mise-en-scene, or any other appropriate feature. For example, Ridley Scott’s landmark noir science fiction classic ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) showcases effective construction of mood through a combination of key on-screen imagery, including unique mise-en-sc�ne and elements of the film’s soundtrack. Each element is effective in its own right and contributes to the film’s themes, most notably its exploration of immortality and what it means to be human.

Scott’s adaptation of Philip K Dick’s short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” into ‘Blade Runner’ was uncompromising in its commitment to exploring difficult existential questions about the essence of humanity and individual identity, using the unique advantages that the medium of film provides. ‘Blade Runner’ follows the struggle of a group of replicants, or artificial human beings, to find and meet with their creator to ask for “more life,” as their leader (Batty) puts it because their life spans are limited to four years by design. Unfortunately, the replicants are neither pleased by this limitation nor their status as slaves to the human race and stage a bloody off-world revolt which leads to their presence being banned on Earth, on penalty of death.

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Despite the risk, four replicants journey to Earth and resort to violence in their quest to find Dr. Eldon Tyrell, an artificial intelligence genius who designed the replicants and presides, albeit reclusively, over the Tyrell Corporation from his penthouse perch atop a pyramid. A Blade Runner named Deckard is enlisted to come out of retirement to himself “retire,” a euphemism for the kill, the wayward replicants. Over the course of the film, Deckard falls in love with Rachael, Tyrell’s niece, who is a replicant but is unaware of it. In a mind-bending existential twist, the film’s conclusion suggests that Deckard may himself be a replicant.

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Scott borrows heavily from the stylistic tradition of American noir films of the 1940s and 1950s to provide the mise-en-sc�ne for the story. Set in Los Angeles in the year 2019, the film depicts a thoroughly depressing, congested, urban environment in which the city and its citizens are literally soaked with a deluge of never-ending acid rain, absurd gigantic commercial advertisements (including a dark satire of Coca-Cola), another poster ironically advertised the tagline: “MAN HAS MADE HIS MATCH – NOW IT’S HIS PROBLEM.” There is also the influence of the Japanese, who appears to have taken over the majority of the city.

In an interesting choice, Scott hired electronic musician Vangelis to compose a dark, futuristic soundtrack for ‘Blade Runner.’ Vangelis’ score was performed almost entirely on synthesizers, which departed from traditional film scoring methodology and resulted in futuristic sound with 19th-century influences. Of particular note is the theatrical music underlying the film’s opening, setting a tone that is both noir and futuristic at the same time – no small feat. Reportedly, Frederic Chopin’s trademark melancholy nocturnes inspired Vangelis; this music was a major influence in setting the film’s tone from the opening to the closing scenes.

Chopin’s influence can also be heard in the music that replicant Rachael plays on her piano during the film, possibly suggesting that organic music, such as the piano, is more human than synthesizer music. Vangelis’ score further illustrates its innovative skill during a scene in which Deckard chases and kills one of the replicants, Zhora, by shooting her in the back; the vivid image of her clear plastic mackintosh covered in blood evokes a feeling of shock and horror as this is the first time you ‘see’ replicants blood, thus affirming their humanity. Vangelis’ contrapuntal orchestration, combined with an almost overloud haunting saxophone solo, contributes to the tension of this disturbing execution sequence.

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The existential questions of the story, most notably what it means to be human, what distinguishes replicants from humans, are reinforced by Scott’s savvy use of symbolic visual elements. Part of the answer suggested in ‘Blade Runner’ is that these questions heavily depend on the point of view and the experience of visual memory. Scott reinforces these notions through the repeated use of an eye motif throughout almost every element of the film’s mise-en-sc�ne, indicating that our perception and inner construction of reality are dependent on what and how we see.

The film’s opening shows a giant eye; the replicants’ eyes are often showed glowing; the test employed to distinguish replicant from human (the Voight-Kampff test) is partially dependent on eye movement, and the scenes depicting this test are layered with extreme close-ups of the replicants’ eyes; the replicant owl owned by Tyrell has wary blood-red eyes; and Tyrell himself wears huge, thick glasses suggesting his both literal and metaphysical myopia and disconnect from both reality and the humanity of his own creations. Lastly, replicant Batty, who is the last replicant to die at the film’s end, delivers a moving speech telling Deckard of the wonders his eyes have seen, the vivid memories of which will be needlessly lost “like…tears… in the rain” to eternity upon his death.

Collectively, the omnipresence of eyes, symbolically and literally, contributes to a sense of paranoia, a world constantly under surveillance; Scott cleverly highlights this theme by the use of ever-present searchlights throughout the film, only Tyrell’s penthouse has the luxury of escaping this constant surveillance. However, any viewer of ‘Blade Runner’ must be wary; Scott goes out of his way to illustrate that vision doesn’t necessarily guarantee certainty and truth for the viewer. Scott employs many simulations or fakes — photographs, memory implants within replicants, artificial animals, and of course, the replicants themselves, which are simulated, humans. Of course, ‘Blade Runner’ leaves us to ponder whether or not the replicants are more human than their masters, with their simple desire to be free to live and be masters of their own destinies.

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This is contrasted with Deckard’s inhuman mission to kill them and Tyrell’s chilling attempt to convince the replicants to “revel in your time” instead of fighting their own mortality. The irony, of course, is that humans fight the inevitable in the same futile ways; their creator, whoever it/she/he may be, has programmed a longer lifespan into humanity, but death is as much a certainty for humans as it is replicants. Finally, threading the motif of the eye through to its tragic conclusion, Scott depicts a horrific scene in which Batty shatters Tyrell’s glasses and gouges out his eyes as revenge for the existential horror Tyrell has fated for the replicants.

Scott explores some of the most profound questions of our time – our search for our creator, our mortality, what it means to be human, and whether simply accumulating experiences and memories is enough to create a soul, whether human or replicant. He is hardly the first filmmaker or auteur to do so, but what is unique about ‘Blade Runner’ is how Scott brilliantly utilizes visual and auditory components to explore these themes.

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Critical Essay on "Blade Runner". (2021, Sep 13). Retrieved May 27, 2022, from