Blade Runner (1982)

Directed by Ridley Scott

In the smog-choked dystopian Los Angeles of 2019, blade runner Rick Deckard is called out of retirement to terminate a quartet of replicants who have escaped to Earth seeking their creator for a way to extend their short life spans.

I didn't know if I could play [the piano]. I remember lessons. I don't know if it's me, or Tyrell's niece."

Thus 1982's Blade Runner anticipates all of the questions being raised ad nauseum in 2023 about the spiritual implications of AI art. And this film, set forty years hence (but made in the noir style of forty years before the 1980s), provides the answer that it somehow doesn't matter: "You play beautifully."

All of the questions about whether Deckard is a replicant actually obscure some of the more interesting questions raised by the film. Why does Deckard remain on Earth? Surely he can leave, especially as he is given free will? And why does Roy kill his Creator? And did you notice that this film is so infused with elements from noir that even the baddies exhibit Nazi tropes?

ps. The sheet music on the piano is Vivaldi's guitar concerto in D, RV 93.


Scott and his collaborators render their dystopia as dreamworld. The movie has a hypnotic pace, an elegiac tone. Its narrative is subordinate to the mise-en-scène—which is not to say the story is unimportant, only that the movie’s aesthetic experience is emotional in itself. Blade Runner is a Romantic work of art, in other words, or “Dark Romantic,” in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe and noir. As poet April Bernard said, “Noir is romanticism embittered. The life of feeling that has been betrayed leads to the attitude and genre of noir. No one who loves noir is a cynic. Cynics never believed in anything in the first place. People who love noir are disillusioned romantics.” Blade Runner makes beautiful the tragedy of its future, and that beauty invites the viewer. It creates an ideal container for escapist fantasies about the metropolis.

— Evan Puschak: Escape Into Meaning: Essays on Superman, Public Benches, and Other Obsessions (2022)


[Ridley] Scott was a terrible student, but by the age of nine he’d discovered two passions: smoking and painting. At seventeen, having flunked all his exams except art, he decided to enlist in the National Service; his older brother, Frank, had joined the British Merchant Navy. “You’ve got nothing to learn from the Army,” Ridley’s father advised him. “You should go to art school.” He enrolled in a local program, in West Hartlepool, an industrial seaside town. He’d walk the beaches by the steelworks, watching “towers belching filth and junk,” he said. “It’s a wonder I’ve still got a pair of lungs.” Years later, he drew on those polluted skies while envisioning the dystopian Los Angeles of Blade Runner.

Michael Schulman (The New Yorker)