The central theme of Bladerunner is the relationship between humanity and nature. More specifically it has a purpose in showing how science can negatively influence this fragile relationship. Set in Los Angeles of 2019 we see the decadence of western society into an inhumane harsh impersonal, technology-dominated realm. The inhabitants who fight for their daily survival are in desperate want for nature, contact with which is denied to them by the unrestricted scientific progress and the consequent exploitation of the natural world conducted for the sole purpose of profit. Humanity is also losing touch with it’s own nature.
The compassion, the empathy, the love and the emotion are all rare or absent. This ailing relationship between humanity and nature is conveyed through the means of scene setting, dialogue, plot, camera techniques and other film features. All these elements of cinematography synthesise to create an effective portrayal of the unifying theme. In Bladerunner the most prominent element of cinematography is mise en scene. It generates a context for the film and therefore makes the plot and themes acceptable. To set an appropriate scene different variables need to be controlled.
These variables include location, props, lighting and colour. In general the location of the plot is in the vast urban canyons of 2019 LA. The imposing dark buildings, the dirty fog, perpetual rain and the crowded dark streets devoid of vegetation make up the backdrop of most scenes. All this is filmed in dark lighting, which complements the effect produced by the fog in obscuring the living details. From this the responder acknowledges the deterioration of society, the harsh conditions that the humans are subjected to and the way the human spirit itself is progressively destroyed under such conditions.
Filming such a location at night provides the director with the opportunity to use chiaroscuro (a technique of strong contrast) to further convey the dominance of technology over humanity. For example in outdoor scenes the garish flickering neons are obtrusively visible but they fail to illuminate the obscure, dark, fogged surroundings, including the multitudes of faceless people. The prominent visibility of artificial things over human presence together with the qualities of the location indicates the degradation of human life under the rule of science.
The clothing worn by characters is an important choice made as part of setting the scene. Most of the street people wear hooded dark clothing covering their whole body. This is possibly to protect them from the rain but it also hides their faces and their eyes from the camera and from us, creating an impersonal atmosphere in conjunction with the harshness of the surroundings. We get a feeling that everyone hides from everyone else and human interpersonal interaction is limited to the bare necessity. Sometimes the style of clothing worn by characters tells us something about the characters themselves.
For example the trenchcoat style garments worn by Deckard are a throwback to the ? 20s and ? 30s detective genre in film, and the responder instantly sees Deckard as such. There are times when the clothing worn gives us an insight into the themes of the film. When we first see meet Racheal (and we think she is a human), her outfit with geometric “power dressing” shape, the black hues and the perfect hair create an impression of power and efficiency, qualities that are valued in androids. The next time we meet her we see her in a fur coat and underneath, a soft white blouse.
Then when she lets her hair down the transformation is complete. By now we know that she is a replicant and for a replicant to be so human is ironic when the ? real’ humans don’t show such qualities. This irony elucidates the deteriorated nature of humanity very effectively. The film is not only able to show the way humanity has lost contact with nature but also how much they appreciate and want it back in their society. The unicorn dream-scene conveys this effectively. The soft back lighting, the low tonal contrast, the colour and the lush vegetation create a setting that is very different to the usual scenes.
It is contrasted with real world to further reinforce the lack of nature in society. The short length of the scene, and the fact that the scene is only Deckard’s dream, conveys the elusiveness of nature and shows us that humans still ? dream’ of having the presence of nature back in their world-weary lives. Another method used by the cinematographers to show the want for nature is through the presence of artificial animals. While the artificiality of the animals shows the destruction of nature the way humans still keep them as pets conveys their yearning to bring back nature.
The decay of human spirit is also shown through the dialogue. In Bladerunner the scarcity of the dialogue itself potrays the lack of human interaction and consequently the lack of empathy or emotion. Characters only speak when it is necessary for their own survival and comfort but not for the sake of emotional involvement. However, the replicant slaves, who supposedly feel no emotion, interact more sensitively with each other. This irony again has the effect of showing the dehumanisation suffered by this society. The absence of nature and the way society deals with this is revealed through the way they refer to nature.
For example at Tyrell’s office Decker asks Racheal if the owl is artificial, to which she replies “of course it is. ” A similar conversation that occurs later between Salome (Zhora) and Decker about artificial snakes, further reinforcing the sad truth. Another common literary language feature that is used in Bladerunner is symbolism. The film is filled with visual symbolic codes. The unicorn, a mythical creature, which, according to myth, is a fragile and elusive being of beauty known for its rarity. In the film it symbolises the rarity of nature and it’s beauty and fragility.
There are other symbols that signify the elusive presence of nature in human life. One is the unnaturally weak and indistinct sun. The sun is the source of all life on earth and nature’s sustaining energy. The weakened presence of the sun is possibly due to the fog but the importance lies not in the cause of the weakness. The dim sun is an indication that nature is being destroyed or is already destroyed. Another symbol is the motif of the human eye. Close to the beginning of the film we are presented with an ECU of Holden’s eye reflecting bursts of flame.
The fiery human spirit. The motif carries on throughout the film, the close up of eyes during the Voigt-Kampff tests, Mr Chew’s eye shop, the glowing eyes of the owl and the gruesome death of Tyrell. In many cases we encounter human figures whose eyes are hidden. The important example is Tyrell whose eyes are hidden by the thick glasses, but this is also true for the “little people” or the street people. If the eyes symbolise the human spirit then it is also true that the concealment of the eyes represent the destruction of this spirit.
The characters and the way they respond to events in the plot is the most significant way through which the creators of the film express their concerns about the relationship between humanity and nature. It is through the characters and the way they are influenced by the society in which they live that the audience are able to receive the majority of information about that society. To make up a character the director (Ridley Scott) has to synthesis the acting, the physical qualities of the actors, the costume, the lighting and the camera work.
Harrison Ford plays Deckard; a Detective who is forced to put up in insensitive wall around him so as to carry out his job properly, but with the help of Racheal and Batty his soul comes through. The seriousness, the no-nonsense speech and the mechanical execution of his tasks all contribute to this image of a tough guy cop. It is also sad to see that he is forces hide his emotions and sentiments for the sake of survival in this harsh world. By the end of the film we sense that if Batty and Racheal had not saved him his spirit would have been lost under the pressure.
Rutger Hauer has possibly the most appropriate natural qualities to play Roy Batty (robot? ). The ? Aryan look’, a western cultural assumption of superiority and the Swedish accent with the concise overtones which is particularly effective in a quiet voice make him the perfect super/sub-human replicant. To enhance the effect the hair is died white, his body and face is always lit up to prominence, and almost always the image is shot from underneath making him look surrealistically handsome and at the same time imposing.
However the way he responds to the events in the plot show that he has more ? humanity’ in him that the people who consider themselves human. The most memorable instance is they way he moaned for the death of Pris. He is not ashamed to return to the most basic instinct of openly showing emotion. This beautiful scene along with other such human responses from a replicant serves to convey the suppression of human nature in the society. Rachael is played by Sean Young as the replicant who doesn’t know she is an android. The character’s function is similar to that of Batty.
To show the deterioration of everything ? human’ in the world of 2019. Her transformation itself carries the message. When she thought she was a human her conduct was much like a robot; the emotionless soulless state of mind everyone is in. But once she begins to realise that she is replicant her appearance becomes increasingly ? human’. This humanisation is portrayed through the use of costumes, the use of varying light and the use of ECU. Tyrell is the other character who has an important function in conveying the themes.
Genuinely lacking emotions or empathy, his main objective is the profit margin. He is part of the corporate dictatorship that has suppressed the spirit of the people and destroyed the natural world. His character is the total antitheses of Batty. The overconfidence in his intelligence, the impersonal way in which he addresses other characters, the opulent surrounding in which he lives show him as powerful tyrant. The irony is that he holds the status of God when he is not even fit to be a human.
Thus through the development of characters and their response to the events of the plot, Ridley Scott and the actors communicate the way relationship between humanity and nature has evolved (deteriorated) into the world of 2019 LA. In effect all the techniques mentioned above portray a society of individuals who are weary of the world they live in. They are rejects who lead a pitiful existence in a wasteland called earth because they are not fit enough to go the out-world colonies. Suppressing their own natural instincts for the sake of physically surviving they really the walking dead.
Scientific progress conducted not for the best interests of humanity but for the best interests of business has effectively brought about the progressive degradation of society. By exploiting and destroying the natural world human can no more find solace or beauty so as to recuperate their weary minds and rekindle their dying spirits. In summary the techniques that are unique to film such as camera, lighting, costuming, colour and location works in conjunction with common literary techniques such as visual symbolism, irony and characterisation to effectively convey the relationship between humanity and nature.
Courtney from Study Moose
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