The man comes home after a hard day’s work and begins talking to his better half. He showers and pours them both a drink. Then he enters the living room of the apartment and downs both drinks, giving us pause. A moment or two later, the man’s life partner enters the frame – only she’s not real. She’s a hologram, a kind of strictly visual and audio replica of an actual human being. The man, who happens to merely be a more complete replica of an actual human being himself, lives alone, with only this (literally) transparent companion to share his life with. Even if this person, named Officer K, and Joi, his hologram companion, are fully realized individuals, it’s clear to us that they can never truly be together. It’s all very sad – and all very in line with the universe of the Blade Runner films.
In fact, this particular scene – from this autumn’s Blade Runner 2049 – harkens back to a brief scene in 1982’s original Blade Runner, where Harrison Ford’s Deckard stands alone on his apartment balcony looking out at a vast city before him, entirely isolated in the midst of a metropolis. Like Deckard, Ryan Gosling’s Officer K is essentially isolated, too, which leads us to a large, vastly overlooked aspect of the Blade Runner universe…the fact that both the original film and its current sequel are absolutely awash in themes of loneliness. The stunningly impressive look of the first Blade Runner, with its wet, teeming streets and oversized ads accomplished the same goal the sequel’s sets and images do – they alienate the main characters of both movies. All other impressive qualities aside – Blade Runner represents the Cinema of Loneliness.
Neither Deckard or Officer K look, or feel, like they belong in the loud, overwhelming, thoroughly sleazy Los Angeles of the Blade Runner films. Sure enough, they don’t look like they belong in the other futuristic cities the sequel takes us to, either – San Diego (a trash heap) and Las Vegas (an abandoned temple to degeneracy worthy of the imagination of Shelley). Why is this? Because we, the viewers don’t belong in such places ourselves. Sure, they might be a fun stop on a studio set tour, but these locations absolutely, positively, do not represent welcoming communities. They may contain living, breathing humans who look just like us, but they’re not just like us. Not when we really think about it. They’re colder, more immersed in their surroundings, more adept at dealing with the glistening decay of the human experience about them. Like Deckard and Officer K, we feel like outsiders, like people terminally outside of the community before us.
Perhaps this is why neither the original Blade Runner nor its sequel made waves at the box office. The first Blade Runner came and went during the summer of E.T while Blade Runner 2049 tanked its opening weekend and never came up for air. People might not like the starkness of the imagery. They may not like the violence or the nudity (which, for the record, comes across as a bit exploitative after a point). They may not even like the fact that the Blade Runner universe poses big questions about humanity, hubris and who gets to decide who is and isn’t a real person. Perhaps, though, just perhaps, people are turned off by the genuine study of loneliness these films offer – not the occasional feeling of loneliness – the entire experience of living a thoroughly lonely life. That’s a lot to swallow, especially for someone who hasn’t been afflicted with loneliness for any profound length of time and who just wants to throw down some cash and have fun at the movies.
Those who understand loneliness, however, those who have lived with it – or continue to do so – are perhaps better quipped to “get” the Blade Runnerfilms. You don’t have to be a replicant – the name given to the “inauthentic” humans in both movies – to be truly lonely, after all, but you may need to understand loneliness to be willing to hang out with replicants for hours on end. Otherwise some of the stronger thematic elements of these films may seem as foreign as the strange locations they’re played out in.
Sean Crose teaches Creative Writing at Post University. He’s also a columnist for Boxing Insider and has been a finalist for the McFarland Screenwriting Fellowship. Sean lives in Connecticut with his wife, Jennifer, and Cody, the World’s Greatest Cat. His fiction has appeared in numerous publications.