The Tyranny Of Perception
Praise for Ridley Scott's Blade Runner
Filed Under: Cinema
A leight-motif of eyes.
The Curious Case of the Voigt-Kampff Machine.
Welcome to Eye World.
In this emotional and powerful sequence, Roy Batty is shown affection by Pris, and he is transformed through a dissolve into a glass beaker filled with boiling eggs (eyes).
Nabokov once said that he preferred not to speak ill of his living colleagues so as not to damage their means of living. For similar reasons I am reluctant to extend my praise, given the nature of its source. Me.
But I believe my subject's means are safe from my praise.
So, dear reader, allow me to proclaim that Ridley Scott is a director on par with Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Sam Peckinpah, Orson Welles and all of my other dead cinematic idols. Plus, he's still alive. And given that his new film "Robin Hood" is due out soon, I suppose now is as good a time as any to consider him.
Certainly he's made his clunkers. So what? His cinematic ancestors had their clunkers too.
Moving on, let's consider his masterpiece Blade Runner. I'm not going to do a detailed deconstruction; save it for the academics, who have done more than their fair share of going through its pieces. Just a note on its primary leight-motif that I hope will give you a road-map to its inner workings, if you haven't seen the film yet.
This is a film shot through and through with the leitmotif of eyes. It is a feast of eyes.
"If only you could see, what I've seen, with your eyes."
There is a Voigt-Kampff machine depicted within the film, which is used by the police of the future to detect the difference between a "replicant" (android) and a human. It works by staring into the subject's eyes, but how it operates is a sublime example of contradiction. Supposedly, "replicants" are given a four-year life span in order to prevent the blossoming of emotions within them; and yet, when a replicant is detected by the Voigt-Kampff machine, it does so by noting that the irises in their eyes expand.
This is a sign of emotion. Which doesn't make sense. Aren't replicants not supposed to have emotion? Would this be considered that most idiotic of movie-fandom phrases, a continuity error?
No. Unless you are interested in trying to accurately depict future technologies (what I call Asimovian science fiction). But this is not Blade Runner, which is instead trying to make great art; and at the core of any great art lies a mystery that refuses to be solved completely no matter how long one stares at it. Such a core exists within Blade Runner, and you can find it within the eyes and all of the imagery that alludes to them: boiling eggs, blinking lights, lens flares, holes, circles, spheres, fans, etc.
Blade Runner is to eyes what Melville's encyclopedic work is to the whale.
Some filmmakers think it is enough to give their movies "style." Throw a bunch of lens flares in there. Let's make it look "like Blade Runner." Wiggle the camera around. Play some opera-style music. This way leads to culturally illiterate disasters like the recent Star Trek.
But even though Blade Runner looks like Blade Runner, it does not present this style merely for its own sake. It is an exploration into the nature of vision, not just of light striking the cones and rods, but how corruption of vision leads to slavery. It is cinema's most poetic treatise on perception: the means to it, the loss of it, the confusion of it, and the tyranny of it.
This, all of this, is what's missing from those I dislike in the cinema. This, all of this, is what makes me so grateful to one of our current masters of the cinema, Ridley Scott.
If you still have not seen this film, please do so, for the eyes have it.
Special thanks to Tom Whalen, master eye-trainer.
contact ladd @ filmladd dot com