When I was ten, my dad would bring me dinner on his way home from work, pick a movie for me to watch from their towering VHS collection… and then leave with my mom for a night out.
I had recently seen the Fifth Element in the theater and adored it. Having drawn visual similarities between the two, my dad decided to show me Blade Runner. One night, he put the tape on our big screen, brought me Chinese takeout and was gone for hours. Alone, I sat on the floor and paid careful attention to the film… but before long, fell asleep.
Admittedly, the story drags somewhat in the middle, and it would take me another four or so attempts that week until I finally finished the whole movie from start to finish.
Until then, four times I went on the journey to the smoggy marketplace, into that little neon refrigerator with the Chinese scientist, and then up to Tyrell’s antiquated perch where he’d be slaughtered in the most uncomfortable, jarring way by a white-haired character that was the embodiment of many qualities I didn’t like at that age.
Finally, on that fourth trip through the carefully sculpted dystopia, I found myself on the roof in the rain watching the villain sit in ribbons of his own blood as he uttered some gorgeous nonsense and then died with this unforgettable smirk on his face.
At that moment something happened in my mind that either broke me, or opened me. I didn’t understand it. I was ten… and I was perhaps a tad embarrassed to feel something that strongly. But that feeling lead me to make any excuse to watch the movie again and again for several months.
In spite of this feeling’s power, I didn’t try to understand it… A year later I was sitting with my dad in the living room, and we happen to stumble across the end of the movie on TV. Again, Roy died… and the same wave came and crushed me with overwhelming emotions. After it was over this time I went into my room and started writing (a story I’ve been working on for years called Zoness).
With a couple of decades behind me to meditate on the film, I’ve now seen many iterations several hundred times and I can say exactly what it is I love about it.
First however, I want to state that it isn’t just one aspect that causes me to declare this movie my all time favorite. There are several dozen qualities that I could gush about, like cinematography, soundtrack, special effects, costumes, setting, delivery, script, symbolism, or character development to name a few… but they aren’t what I wish to focus on. This little article is about Roy.
For most other people, what the movie does is question your notion of humanity by slowly shifting your perspective. At the beginning, you’re completely content with the idea that the replicants must die for being soul-less pigfarts, and that the lamenting and vacant protagonist has every right to just get the chore of killing them over-with, so he can go back to his depleted existence.
By the end of the movie, you perhaps empathize with the replicants a little more than you’d expected… which makes their deaths feel progressively more tragic. After all, they are being hunted when they’re going to die anyway.
For me, the kicker was the smirking white-haired villain, Roy. There was something about him I related to when I was ten, but couldn’t put my finger on.
My whole life I’ve had this nagging need for the preservation of my ideas. This urge is literally what drives everything I do. It got me to begin writing my thoughts down as a kid and is why I’m an illustrator and artist now. I can’t stand the fact that one day, in spite of the universe that’s confined in my head… I’ll decay and all that I am will be gone.
In the movie, Roy confronts and murders his maker, risking his life in other acts of bloody brutality… so that he might find a way to live a little longer. But it’s not just the fact that Roy wants to live to save his experiences that I relate to him so much. Roy also knows he is capable of great things. He was made to be more than everyone and everything else. I would think to myself how terrible it would feel to knowingly have such potential, and be doomed to die aware of the life you might have had.
By the end… the half-naked animal running around in the rain became me. By this, I don’t mean I think I’m better than everybody, just that I understood Roy’s awareness of his own capacity to do things. This capacity being the motive for his survival.
This character I didn’t like very much grew into something I empathized with completely and in a sense, fell in love with.
The journey from one end of the “feels” spectrum to the other jogged everything I thought I knew and understood about myself (at the age of ten). It’s like someone grabbed the table-cloth of my being and yanked it out from all the things stacked on top of it. Once it all came crashing down, I was a completely different person.
Bottom line, the movie very effectively made me see myself in something that I otherwise would never have considered. That’s a pretty powerful transformation to go through… and perhaps that “change of heart” is the emotional journey I relive each time I watch the film.
Sure, it’s a beautifully shot movie. It’s cyber-punk. It’s a rainy-wet garbage pile wrapped in smoke and neon… and everyone adores it for being such a sensual setting. For me though, it’s about ending up on that roof and sitting with Roy as we come to terms with our mortality.
Blade Runner is the reason I tend to fall for everything I presume to hate.