J, One of my really good friends from grad school, loved the movie Blade Runner. He was always going on and on about how great it was. It was his favorite movie. He'd seen it a gazillion times. He'd written papers on it. He knew it so well that it was hard to discover something new in it when he watched it yet again. He wished he could erase every memory he had of it, so that he could experience all over again the joy of becoming intimately familiar with its each and every frame.
I would listening attentively and then nod politely when J would tell me this, which was long about, oh, 1997. I had seen Blade Runner when it first came out in 1982. My reaction was solidly in the "Good flick--definitely worth the price of admission, but I don't need to see it again" camp. Fifteen years later, all I really remembered about it was that A) it was really dark; B) Daryl Hannah did a bunch of back flips; C) Sean Young kept going on about some photo of her and her mom; and D) Harrison Ford played the lead. I didn't want to tell J that I hadn't found the movie as meaningful as he had, but I also had no particular wish to revisit it and see if maybe I'd missed something.
And then, a few weeks ago, something brought it to my attention and I thought, "Oh, what the hell; I should watch that again, now that it's been almost 30 years (!) since I've seen it." So I ordered it from the library.
And I watched it a couple of evenings ago. And it was really good.
I could easily see why people like J in PhD programs in film studies were such fans of the movie. The plot is strong, the characters compelling and sympathetic, the performances interestingly idiosyncratic. And it's fun to watch: the cinematography is pretty damn impressive. I'm not up on all of Ridley Scott's movies, but it's pretty easy to see what BR has in common visually with Alien, the movie he made right before it. Alien was a thoroughly claustrophobic movie, and BR is too, in some interesting ways. Exterior shots often seem more claustrophobic than interiors. It's really damp, and the shots of running water are both interesting to look at and integral to the overall mood and tone of the film. The extreme chiaroscuro is straight out of Carravaggio's paintings.
But one of the very best things about the movie in my humble but correct opinion is Harrison Ford's face, and I am not referring to his rugged good looks. It's clear that as an actor, Ford is more interested in looking human and genuine than attractive. His face displays such an interesting range of expressions. Bella in Twilight is always blathering on about how weak-kneed she gets every time Edward flashes his adorable crooked smile; Robert Pattinson could learn a lot about charming crooked smiles from watching this film. Ford turns to face someone so they can see him sneer or turns away slightly so they can't see him smirk. He plumbs a bowl of noodles for all the satisfaction it can offer him, and doesn't care who sees how much he enjoys his dinner.
I also liked the way he played the end, the showdown with Roy, the strongest and cruelest of the replicants. Deckard, Ford's character, is not a brave hero looking for a clever way to turn the tables and defeat his opponent. Instead, he's a guy smart enough to be scared shitless, and all he wants is to get away from Roy, who has made it clear he relishes the idea of killing Deckard slowly and painfully, and is fully capable of doing it.
There were a couple of things I found really jarring. One was the coercive sex scene. I'm sure that the first time I saw it, I had no qualms at all about how Deckard grabbed Rachael, pushed her against a wall, and demanded that she pretend he was seducing her, telling her to say "Kiss me" and "I want you," phrases she repeats in monotone. What is there to say? I guess in rape culture, that's pretty sexy stuff.
Another was how far off the mark the 1982 vision of what 2019, the year the movie is set, is clearly going to be. There are flying cars, but not a cell phone or touch screen device in sight. Deckard makes a call on a pay phone! He can see the person he's talking to, but he can't carry his phone around in his pocket. No one has an ipod, no one rides the bus and listens to music as a way to block out everyone else on the bus. It's not like I could have done a better job of guessing what the second decade of this century would look like, but I still find it interesting that we had no clue how fast computers would evolve, how small and complex and ubiquitous they'd become.
Anyway. If you haven't seen Blade Runner in decades or at all, check it out. I don't love it as much as J does, but it's five million times better than I gave it credit for as a teenager who didn't know much about film.