Glittering in the Darkness

I took a couple hours out of my mad scramble to keep up with revisions on Predestination to sit and watch through my dearest Christmas gift. Somebody got me Blade Runner: The Final Cut.

This is supposed to be my professional blog, not so much a place for me to do art criticism, and I really should be working, but what the hell.

As a person moves through life, one encounters a handful of artworks that stand out. You can come back to them time and again and never exhaust them. I don’t mean things like The Princess Bride or Star Wars – fun movies that wear exceptionally well, that you can play with and play along with and feel like a kid again. I mean more the adult artworks that serve as symbolic wells and sources of contemplation – they hold up a mirror to the audience, sometimes a social one, sometimes a personal one, sometimes a spiritual or philosophical one, and every time you see something different. These are the kinds of stories, poems, or images that Tolkien was talking about when he said “Like a child’s clothes, books should leave room for growth. Unlike clothes, they should encourage it.”

Blade Runner is one of those artworks that has cropped up again and again over the course of my life. And why not? It has everything – it’s a noir detective story set in a dystopic future, so for a kid who grew up on Humphrey Bogart films and Star Wars, what wasn’t to like? I loved it as a teenager, then in college as I started learning about how symbolism – often subconscious – works and connect to philosophy and cultural memory. It made for great material writing theses in school, and when I went on years later to learn filmmaking I studied the process that led to the creation of Blade Runner extensively – not to copy the aesthetic (which everyone has done since MTV started), but because Blade Runner was released remarkably unfinished. By any standards, it was a half finished film, full of flaws, but it still worked. The writing was layered and thoughtful, and it was one of the few films of its era to get away with being an “ideas” film because it did what good art – and particularly good science fiction – is supposed to do. It raised issues, it asked questions, and it always resisted the temptation to offer easy answers and easy ways out, and a lot of the issues it raises are either timeless questions about humanity and related to the human condition or are very prescient issues about bioethics like we’re dealing with today with the advent of stem cells and actual honest-to-godlessness cloning.

And, of course, it’s gloriously ambiguous. It’s a two hour ride through unanswered questions – it is a Nietzsche-esque story a bout the death of God and the apotheosis of Man? Is it a Gnostic story about the redeemed redeemer, as The Matrix would later attempt to be with far less subtlety? Is it a cautionary tale about big-brotherism disguised as commerce?

It’s all of these things, of course, depending on the angle you approach the film from, and you see different pieces of it at different places in life.

So, is a lifelong love of this film enough to make The Final Cut worth buying? Particularly when most fans have copies of various versions of the film already? For my money, it’s a resounding yes. The Final Cut version finishes a film that never got finished. It’s shorter, tighter, more brutal and upsetting, it’s truer to the spirit of Philip K. Dick, the man who wrote the book upon which the film is based, and its relative brevity make the film a lot more powerful. I’ve seen the other cuts of the film totaling over thirty times, and the Final Cut is by far and away the best for a lot of very subtle reasons. If you’re studying film, or into making films, the collection of all the different versions together is a must have. If you’re interested in food for thought, a meditation, Blade Runner is a film that bears close scrutiny.

I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

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