AFI 100 greatest films of all time. Beloved by fans. Hailed by critics. The defining cult classic and neo-noir. However, with all the alternate cuts and updated effects, something is amiss. Yes, believe it or not, there is a dent in this film’s shining armor. Nearly all the praise for this movie is for its tone and visual effects. So much so that critics and fans alike have overlooked one of the most important factors in storytelling: an interesting protagonist.
The Plot in a Nutshell (spoilers!)
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a police officer who specializes in hunting down androids, is hired by the Tyrell Corporation to hunt down four murderous androids. He disposes of two of them with the help of Rachael (Sean Young), another android who works for Tyrell. Meanwhile, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), the android leader, kills his creator and owner of the Tyrell Coporation. After Deckard kills Pris (Daryl Hannah), it’s a one-on-one between Roy and Deckard. Roy, aware of his short life expectancy as an android, spares Deckard before shutting down. In an ambiguous ending, Deckard and Rachael run off together.
Visually stunning. Cutting edge sound and music. A style that has inspired countless films since. However, little praise for its story and characters. Why? Simple: Deckard is an uninteresting protagonist. He has no personal stake in the story nor growth as a character. Why does he even take the mission? Because his old boss says, “If you’re not cop, you’re little people”? Many speculate on its meaning but with hardly any hints to what drives Deckard, he has nothing to lose or gain nor any emotional connection to the audience.
Deckard is more of an antagonist. He hunts androids who are slaves that yearn for freedom. Roy, with his Frankenstein complex, has more of a story than Deckard because he’s on a personal journey. Deckard is just a gun for hire and we learn nothing about him.
Give Deckard a personal struggle in eliminating the androids. It’s briefly mentioned in the movie but what if Deckard did terminate a human once? Or maybe he accidentally let an android escaped and it later killed a human. The assignment would be his road to redemption. It would give him a hatred for androids and a strong will to protect humans. In the end, when Roy saves him and displays humanity, it tarnishes Deckard’s view of androids, spiraling him into a personal dilemma.
Cut out the unicorn and instead have visions of the android Deckard let escape or the human he mistakenly terminated. It could destroy his psyche, causing him to lose control which would show a strong contrast between androids and humans. It would raise the emotional stakes.
Imagine if Roy captured Deckard in the end and tried the Blade Runner test on him. A reversal of roles; a game of wits between the two to see who breaks first. With Deckard suffering under the same conditions as his targets, there would be an understanding between Roy and Deckard. What if it revealed Deckard to have been an android all along? Imagine the twist: Deckard has been hunting his own the entire time, a slave that kills others slaves. After Roy shuts down, Deckard would try to live his own path on behalf of all androids. He would go from being their persecutor to being their savior.
In conclusion, Blade Runner is an excellently executed film on every technical level. But it lacks emotion. It lacks character. By simply giving our protagonist an emotional struggle, a void to fill in pursing his mission, the movie is given an even deeper theme that questions the very aspect of what it means to be human. We would be much more than just visually stunned, we would be emotionally enthralled.
Thank you all for reading and I look forward to re-imagining another movie with you next week.