Bladerunner (1982)

Bladerunner is a marvelous interpretation of the future-as-dystopia: a multi-tribal city looking like a cross between Tokyo, Hongkong, and that part of Woodside, Queens, below the elevated line. Its citizens are reminiscent of Casablanca‘s: generally harmless persons of ill repute waiting for their first opportunity to jump ship and go somewhere better. The other-worldiness of ziggurats, flying cars, and large neon signs are mixed in comfortably with the this-worldliness of newspapers, asian-style noodle soup, video pay phones, and that most timeless of things, Love.

There is a class of “futuristic” films which capture my imagination, not because of the things the filmmakers imagine about the future, but because of the things of the present that they keep. Some particles of contemporary life seem to defy time because they are perfectly-designed: they have become the best they can be and a hundred years will not change them. In Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046, it is trains, love letters, trees, and love. In Godard’s Alphaville it is mid-century modern interiors (still a standard-bearer for “futuristic”), and love. In Woody Allen’s Sleeper, it’s black turtlenecks, tortoiseshell glasses, teacups and clarinets. In Bladerunner it was (to my delight): newspapers, Johnny Walker Black, cigarettes, and Harrison Ford’s entire wardrobe. In short, the mix of the present and the future ensures timelessness.

There is also a satisfying timelessness to Harrison Ford’s lone ranger character, in this and in other films. His Rick Decker – surly, scarred and methodical – keeps the film firmly grounded in the present/reality. Even when he is sitting in a flying car, giving instructions to a photography scanning machine, or conducting the ultimate of lie-detector tests, he maintains a certain gravity and earthiness that makes the future seem more plausible and closer to us.

In English and in Cityspeak.

Playing soon at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on December 15th.

Bladerunner. Dir. by Ridley Scott. Warner Bros. et al., 1982.