Los Angeles 2019

Blade Runner. Why’d it have to be Blade Runner?

(I’m mix-and-matching my Harrison Ford references; so sorry.)

I had cause to recently discuss with an old friend (François; yo, mon ami) that i still haven’t bothered to watch Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner — The Final Cut Till I Need More Cash version of the film (i’m sure that was the title…) because i really don’t care that much. And though you don’t know it, this is surprising information, because as François did and still does, i loved Blade Runner once upon a time. But when i loved it, back in the day of the film’s original release, it was widely known that the studio had taken the film out of Ridley Scott’s hands at the eleventh hour (adding the horrendous voice-over among other things). And so it was easy to gaze upon this flawed masterpiece and assume that all the many, many, many, many, many, many mistakes present in the film (the miscounted replicants, the horrible dubbing in the snake bazaar, the stray hand on Batty’s shoulder when he first appears, the sudden blue sky over the dove when it flies away, et al) were the result of ham-fisted studio edits that broke the delicate perfection of Scott’s vision.

Except then in 1992, Scott released the director’s cut of the film, which François and i both went to see on opening day with great anticipation, knowing that finally we would experience the film as the auteur had intended it. Only the director’s cut still had all the many, many, many, many, many, many mistakes present in the theatrical release, as well as a fucking unicorn. And i decided as i left the theater that if it that was the film Ridley Scott actually envisioned, then Ridley Scott should go fuck himself.

I know, i know, i know that the things that bothered me about Blade Runner were nothing more than minor technical annoyances, taken objectively. And to reiterate, back in the day, i loved the film as much as anyone ever did or could. However, one of the things that can turn a minor annoyance into an aggravation is the intent. If someone accidentally hits you in the back of the head, it’s annoying but you’ll probably forgive them for it. But if they do it on purpose, it’s a different story. In the same vein, if you assume that someone hit you in the back of the head by accident, then discover that they did it on purpose, your attitude toward them is liable to change. That’s my thing with Ridley Scott. The director’s cut of Blade Runner was him saying “All those mistakes you thought of as accidents were really me not giving a shit, as demonstrated by the fact that adding a fucking unicorn was more important to me than fixing the mistakes the second time around”. And as a result, i chose to be unforgiving.

But then in 2007, it was revealed that the 1992 director’s cut wasn’t actually a director’s cut, just kidding, ha ha. The 25th-anniversary final cut edition would be the definitive actual version of the film as Scott intended, sorry about the eight bucks i wasted in ’92, no hard feelings. And i’ve spent some time reading up on the not insignificant changes to the final cut, which, to be fair, finally do address the vast majority of the stupid mistakes that shouldn’t have been in the film in the first place, and kudos to Scott for taking the time and all that. But two things about the final cut still galvanize my dispassion for this film, in the way that one feels a cold hate for an ex-girlfriend who you were nuts about at the time but realized only years later was truly nothing like the person you thought she was through the haze of young love:

Still got the fucking unicorn; and Ridley Scott is still talking about how Deckard is a replicant.

Strictly speaking, those are actually the same point, as the only reason that Scott sliced in that Legend out-take  in the first place is to “prove” that Deckard was a replicant because that proves that Gaff knew what he was dreaming blah bah fucking blah. I personally think that Scott is flat-out lying when he says that the unicorn is something he meant to do in the first cut (it’s known that it didn’t appear in the infamous pre-original workprint version of the film), just as he was flat-out lying when he called the first director’s cut the director’s cut, before later backpedaling and saying “Oh, i was really busy then and couldn’t do what i wanted to do.”

And no, you can’t argue that without the unicorn dream sequence, the origami unicorn at the end doesn’t make sense. The unicorn at the end was perfect the first time out in the original film with no dream, and remains so. Each of Gaff’s origami represent what he’s thinking (not the horseshit about him knowing what Deckard is thinking) at different points in the story. The first two are a challenge to Deckard — the chicken, calling out his fear of coming back to the life he walked away from; the matchstick man with an erection, calling out the fact that the reason Deckard quit was that he had developed feelings for replicants, the one thing a blade runner can’t ever do. The final one isn’t a challenge, however, but an admission that Gaff understands what Deckard has come to understand. Look at Harrison Ford’s face when he picks it up and looks at it, and you can fucking well see that understanding. He’s scared at first, thinking it’s a threat. Then he realizes that it’s something else.

The unicorn is a universal symbol of purity and innocence. In mythology, unicorns could only be ridden by virgins of exceptional moral character. It’s a kind of inversion of the obvious phallic symbology of the beast itself.  To quote the old voiceover: “He’d been there, and let her live.” Gaff’s final message to Deckard was that he understood that Rachel was innocent — and that as such, she didn’t deserve to die.

But much, much more importantly — if Deckard is a replicant, it’s more than just a stupid twist ending strapped on by a director whose sense of story isn’t all that sharp. (Ridley: love the visual style, but don’t ever work without a writer on set.) It completely negates the worth of the story the film is telling.

When Philip K. Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, his whole thing — which was the thing in so many of his novels — was to look at the schism between what it means to be human and what it means to only appear to be human. Deckard is human by birth and biology — but in his actions and his ability to murder for the sake of blindly following orders, he reveals himself to be something less than human. The longer he hunts the replicants, the less human Deckard becomes. Batty is a replicant by design and decree — but in his actions and his hunger for survival, he reveals himself to be truly human. The more desperately he tries to cling to life as he feels the weight of his mortality and the the loss of his friends, the more human Batty becomes. And so the ultimate conflict of the film is between a human being who becomes a machine by his own choice, and a machine who becomes a human being because the brief life he’s tasted leaves him desperate for more.

Now that’s a fucking movie. That’s the story that needs to exist at the heart of Blade Runner for the film to work on any level. Here’s Ridley Scott’s version by comparison:

Deckard is a replicant who doesn’t know it, Batty is a replicant who does know it, and this is a film about two androids trying to kill each other.

As with all the little mistakes still wending their way through the director’s cut, Scott saying in his many interviews that he thinks Deckard was a replicant and that’s why he put the unicorn sequence in is tantamount to him saying he doesn’t give a shit. Deckard being a replicant doesn’t make the world of the story any less interesting, but it destroys the story that world is supporting. By his saying so, Scott is saying that he doesn’t understand or care about his own film. And so until the final final unicorn-free cut, i’m more than comfortable not caring, either.