Abrupt Romance

No one had touched her for three years.  She had not wanted anyone to touch her…  Obsidian could not know how attractive he was to her- young, probably younger than she was, clean, asking for what he wanted rather than demanding it (100).

Within the context of a dystopia, a romance tends to provide some level of hope; the idea that human beings are still capable of loving one another, even in spite of whatever trials and tribulations they may be facing, is a tantalizing comfort.  Blade Runner and Speech Sounds both use this tactic, though the effects of the ways in which these relationships are started are incredibly different.  Whereas the quick coupling of Obsidian and Rye is described quite clearly as being consensual, as demonstrated by the scene in Obsidian’s car, the romance–if it could be described as such–between Rachael and Deckard is rather uncomfortable to watch.  The manner in which he forces her to kiss him is jarring, to say the least, and is so drastically different from Obsidian “asking…rather than demanding”.  Both relationships are abrupt in their inception, bringing about the sense that these people are desperate for the comfort that a romance can bring within their respective circumstances and settings.  However, Speech Sounds uses the quick creation and destruction of its romance to engender a sense of uncertainty–regarding in particular the ephemeral nature of happiness and security in Rye’s world–while Blade Runner uses Rachael and Deckard’s relationship to further blur the definition of what makes a human a human (for is it not inhuman, animalistic, to force oneself onto another person, or even an android?) and add to the sinister, gritty tone of the film.

Singular Hopeful Incidents

“‘I’m Valrie Rye’ she said, savoring the words. ‘It’s all right for you to talk to me'” (Butler 108).

The last line of “Speech Sounds” and the ending of Bladerunner (1982) are quite similar in their hope for an optimistic future. Rye met two children who can speak and so can she which creates the feeling that things will get better (at least for her). In Bladerunner, Roy’s character is able to relay his message Deckard which suggests Roy was able to at least change one mind (hopefully) about the treatment of androids. They are both singular incidents that look towards an optimistic future. The only catch is that the person whose influenced in the end is left with an undetermined future that hinders on what they will do with new found information.

Visuals Create Tension

In the film, Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scottthe scene where Rick Deckard first meets Rachael Rosen (16:57) is one the of the few scenes taken directly from the book. Set design plays a key role in this film, the stark contrast between Dr. Eldon Tyrell’s opulent pyramid-like home with the gritty city showcases the extreme difference in class in Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  However, Scott’s use of the two-shot creates more of a tension in the film between Rachael and Rick than Dick creates with words. The fast cuts back and forth create a sense that Rachael is completely sure of herself staring Deckard down and having a response to each question, all the while acting very stiff and robotic. A cigarette cloud forms in front of her face (20:37) which creates the sense that Rachael is beginning to doubt herself and needs to hide her reaction from Deckard. Also, the use of an interposed dissolve into an establishing long shot (20:41) accompanied by Deckard and Rachael’s echoing voices creates a feeling of a long passage of time whereas in contrast to the novel which seems to move at a much faster pace during this point of the story. The visuals allow the audience to see how an android would supposedly act in such a setting when with words there can be several interpretations depending on the reader.

Photographs versus Visual Art

In order to articulate the problem of differentiating humans from androids, Blade Runner employs photographs to stand in for the memories that are implanted into the latest model of replicas. Photographs work well as a filmic device to represent memory, as they are meant to accurately portray an interior identity in an exterior and collective manner. However, considering that this film is filled with doctored photos, they are also an attempt to show the trouble of representing interior states and, in turn, the difficulty of retaining one’s interiority as a subject–whether human or android. For instance, Deckard is able to access Raechel’s interiority because her memories are actually just implanted ones from Tyrell’s human niece. He recites her own incredibly private memories, which reminds us that not only is Rachael denied a private self, but so was Tyrell’s niece, as her interiority is corporate property, liable to being implanted into androids (32:37). Thus, by using a motif as alterable and inconsistent as doctored photographs to stand in for memory, the film represents a very flimsy and easily compromised view of interiority and selfhood for both humans and androids.

Aside from forwarding a particular argument in the film itself, this device emphasizes a theme in Dick’s novel that I did not previously think too much about: visual art. Munch’s paintings, like Rachael’s doctored photographs, are another version of the attempt to represent interior states externally. (In fact, one could go ahead and define all art in this way.) Indeed, the comparison between photographs as memory and Luba Luft’s inexplicable attraction to Munch’s painting “Puberty,” one could conclude that Luba is drawn to the painting because it represents a memory that she was not granted, but one that she desires and identifies with nonetheless. Thus, the similar treatment of art and photographs begs the question of whether there is much to differentiate between the collective, shared experience of art and the highly individualized, singular experience of looking at family photographs when determining what makes someone “human” or what gives them an identity.

Deckard’s Moral Questioning

1:27:45 – Deckard being apprehended by another policeman just after being told to go to The Bradbury.

Police: “This sector is closed to ground traffic. What are you doing here?”
Deckard: “I’m working, what are you doing?”
P: “Arresting you.”
D: “I’m Blade Runner…I’m filed and monitored.”
P: …”Okay, checked and cleared.”

This scene caught me a little off-guard as I was fully expecting something akin to when Deckard is apprehended by Officer Crams in Do Androids Dream in chapter 9. Though in different contexts, this scene in the film could have been a gateway to the moment where Deckard is taken to the parallel San Francisco police department run by androids. While this scene in the novel is more or less available to provide a way to introduce Phil Resch into the story (who is not introduced in the movie), it is also important in the development of Deckard’s moral questioning. The scene in the novel encouraged a lot of questioning and speculation regarding the differences between “humans” and androids (especially pertaining to false memories) and set the tone for much of the moral questioning for the rest of the novel. The film focused this issue of morality more onto Rachael’s character than on Deckard’s, which caused a difference in motivation. With this questioning now focused on a love interest, rather than on himself, Deckard’s character doesn’t undergo this questioning that is so embedded into the novel’s design.

Roy Baty’s Rage

1:26:20: This scene depicts Roy Baty’s murder of Tyrell, with heavy emphasis on the bloody gouging out of Tyrell’s eyes and the complicated emotions which cross Baty’s face during the killing.

Why does Roy Baty express so much rage and perhaps grief in the killing of Tyrell? Why the deliberate mutilation? Isn’t this an expression of emotion? Watching this scene, I felt a confirmation of both Roy’s villainy and his definite interiority and perhaps even empathy. The murder of a person described as one’s ‘father’ in such a deliberate and torturous way carries enormous emotional resonance and seems unlikely for an android. If androids have the capacity to kill easily, isn’t it because they do not view it as hugely significant or in relation to themselves? The murder of Tyrell to represent the death of the father or creator – particularly as Roy has knowledge of his own impending death – seems to point conclusively to androids as having ‘real’ emotions. As these emotions pass across Roy’s face, the viewer has the ability to attempt to empathically connect, to put themselves in his position and try to guess his range of emotions. Yet this ability to connect seems out of the grasp of androids…the whole scene is very confusing and provocative but (as in other parts of the movie) lacks certain subtleties of the book. It seems too obvious that androids really CAN develop ‘real’ feelings, in contrast with the strange, eerie ambiguity with which Dick ends his novel.

Elevation in Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Though I began to analyze particular differences from Dick’s book to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, one quality shared by the book and the film was a somewhat fascination with heights and an aerial perspective. One scene in particular from the film is when Rick is traveling via aircraft to the Tyrell Corporation building within the city itself (about 11-12 minutes in.) Even in the first image of the film (immediately following the logo) is an aerial view of Los Angeles- something that even reminded me of the cover of my copy of We by Zamyatin. In the book, the animals reside on the rooftops- something that didn’t provoke my interest until the aerial shots of the film, and this scene in particular as Rick takes in the sights of the sight along with us. This concept of seeing things from a birds-eye view, both through the images in the film as well as the concept of having the animals above everything else in the novel, elicits a particular capitalization on subjectivity and objectivity, something that I feel is among some of the main dilemmas within this narrative in particular. From this view, is one able to see things as they are, just as when encountering someone and not knowing the truth of their identity? Or perhaps it serves many purposes, all having to do with authenticity, perspective, and awareness.