Blade Runner

Blade Runner

In Paul Lester’s textbook Visual Communications: Images With Messages, he discusses the ways that visual imagery impacts the memories of individuals. During this discussion, he mentions Ridley Scott’s classic science fiction film Blade Runner (1982), because that film’s climactic final scene deals with the fragility of memories and the importance they hold to living things. Based on a story by renowned science fiction author Phillip K. Dick, Blade Runner is set in the future and depicts a dystopian Los Angeles in which Replicants; genetically engineered cyborgs that appear human but in fact possess artificial intelligence, are a reality. After a replicant uprising led to violence against humans, they became illegal on Earth, only to be used for dangerous or menial work off-world. Harrison Ford plays the “Blade Runner” Rick Deckard, a detective whose job it is to hunt down and retire fugitive replicants, and the plot of the film follows his attempts to track a cunning and ruthless group of replicants led by the dangerous Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer. All replicants are designed to expire four years after the day they’re manufactured, and with his time running out, Batty’s goal is to gain an extension through terrorism and threats against the corporation that designed him.

​In the final climactic scene that Lester recounts, Deckard has successfully retired Batty’s team and his plans at gaining more life prove impossible. Deckard’s pursuit of Batty takes him to the rain-drenched rooftops of Los Angeles where he’s left dangling for his life at the mercy of Batty. Rather than kill his would-be assassin, however, Batty unexpectedly spares Deckard’s life and chooses to share with him his memories before he’s to expire. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” After speaking these words, Batty expires.

​This is one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever seen in the cinema, and many viewers often wonder why Batty appeared to have a change of heart and spared Deckard. Although some have speculated this, I personally do not think Batty saved Deckard out of charity or a newfound respect for his life. Rather, I think he did it out of his fear of death and his desire to ensure his memories would survive beyond his time. As Batty was facing death, as all living beings must, and knowing he had precious little time left, he wanted the one thing all people want; for their life to be remembered after they’re gone. Batty saved Deckard so that he could have someone, anyone, as a living witness to his final moments, and he shared his most cherished of memories out of the hopes that they could perhaps in some way endure, even if Batty himself could not.

​It is very telling that Paul Lester would cite this moment when discussing the relationship between visual imagery and human memory. The memories that Batty shares are visual descriptions of awe-inspiring sights complete with psychedelic imagery that evokes equal measures wonder and mystery. Human memories are fragile and eventually fade away, no matter how beautiful or vivid they may be. Watching this scene I reflect on my own life and my own memories, and in doing so I feel both incredibly empowered and humbled by the humanity I’ve shared with others and the moments I hold most dear. Though that same joy then gives way to a faint sadness; a fatalistic tug of the heart strings as I begin to realize that all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

R.I.P Rutger Haurer