What is Dystopia?
First to define dystopia, you need to know what is utopia. In 1551 Thomas More published the first English description of a fiction based on the ideal society with economic stability and harmonious political system. More’s Utopia was that of a society where no one owned property citizens simply had the right to move wherever they wanted, everyone was to wear the same clothes there was no jealousy or envy of one’s social status or wealth. No one lived in poverty, there was no hunger or violence to More and many it was the ideal world. The word Utopia comes from the Greek meaning ‘no place’ and ‘good place’ in Latin. Interestingly More’s utopia had slaved labour along with intense social control limiting freedom for individuals.
So, what is dystopia and dystopian fiction?
Dystopias are the complete opposite of utopia, with societies living imperfect, with extreme surveillance, social control, propaganda and paranoia. The term dystopia first came around in the nineteenth century by English philosopher John Stewart Mill in 1868. But it wasn’t until the twentieth century and after world war two that the term became popular in novels and films. Dystopian fiction focuses on political and cultural issues George Orwell’s 1984 one of the most iconic dystopian novels write after world war two in 1949. This was a time of a totalitarian society such as the Nazi Germany and Soviet Union, Orwell implemented the thought police and big brother gaining complete control over citizens and their thoughts. The frightening element of dystopias is they are almost always relevant to current world affairs highlighting the dangers of what could happen given the circumstances. Dystopian fiction always portrays cultural and political sources such as; totalitarian, growing awareness of environmental damage, technology rapidly enhancing, surveillance, television, human engineering.
Blade Runner (1982)
The highly influential bleak dystopian view on the future the film Blade Runner was realised in 1982 it became one of the most popular dystopian science fiction films, it is based on a 1968 science fiction novel ‘Do Androids dream of electric sheep?’ by Phillip K. Dick. Blade Runner displays a post-apocalyptic setting after a nuclear war with its focus on the dystopian urban environment. Blade Runner is interlinked with cyberpunk, displaying environmental collapse and technological evolution. The feel is claustrophobic throughout the film its enclosed dark, rainy and gloomy, the multicultural streets are heavily dominated by the Asian culture portraying a scene underclass. Everyone who could afford to the rich have gone to live off world with the rest left to get by economically less fortunate. Most of the films animals are extinct or endangered due to radiation, only the rich can afford to have animals. The plot focuses on the protagonist Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter with the task of eliminating six nexus androids, the androids Rick has to dismiss are almost identical to humans. It is considered to be a neo-noir film with its use of Deckard being antihero, the crime setting and also Rachel the femme fatale. The future of Los Angeles scene of decay and decline, the coming to the end of humanity with synthetic people that feel human striving for an extension to their lifespan. The film also includes aspects of modern urbanisation, globalisation and bio-engineering.
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Blade Runner didn’t do particularly well at the box office on its first release in 1982, but has since become a huge critical success as a classic dystopian science fiction. There is a range of literature on Blade Runner in books and on websites, it is often highlighted as a postmodern film. In the Original Blade Runner, the director realised the film with a noir voice-over with futuristic, dystopian images where is time manipulated as a 1950’s film displaced into the future although the shadows and constant rain fit in with the film-noir style. Blade Runner wants the audience to believe it is set in 2019, although evidence suggests it’s in the past,Â with eighties clothes, music and haircuts.
The questions the film asks is what is the meaning of humanity in the postmodern age, when the distinction between human and machine is unclear. Can emotions be programmed or humanity manufactured, these are the same questions postmodern philosophers ask; how we come to terms with the world when the image overrides the individual. Blade Runners Los Angeles has been compared to a postmodern city with its huge advertising promoting off world colony with the idea that the rich have fled to a better equivalent.
Postmodernism is a period in cultural history, just as romanticism was. Modern culture, modernism in the early twentieth century this was a very powerful movement, before the first world war there was the idea that technology was bringing a better future after the first world war this idea collapsed technology made weapons for war especially during the holocaust the idea was that technology is not the best way to the perfect world. Postmodern culture is typically defined by characteristics; Technology, In particular technological development in relation to genetics, nuclear power and all aspects of information technology.
Post modernism is associated with dominant emotions in postmodern cinema, literature and art, there are certain recurrent emotions such as paranoia. There is a sense of disorientation, alienation, disconnect a sense of being in outer space. Characters are emotional cripples, with no authentic emotions, no real feeling, artificial, fake postmodern culture explores the idea of artificial human engineering as more desirable than the real natural being.
Film noir has a very strong influenced throughout the film, the constant rain, darkness, shadows and crime that being said the film also interoperates textual varieties a mixture of genres; science fiction, bioengineering, cyber-punk fiction and 1940’s noir. Time travel is a big characteristic, travelling back and forwards in time and memory distortion. Post humanism the idea that human beings are technological enhanced and improved these characteristics can be found in Blade Runner. One of the defining movements of post modernism is the hope for a better future, a utopia, that fails and leaves you with a deep sense of pessimism of disorientation, a sense of deep uncertainty.
Critics argue whether Blade Runner is a prime example of a postmodern film, Baudrillard states that “Another film often cited as ‘postmodern’ is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), in which science, technology and progress are all questioned and shown in some way to have ‘failed’. The world in Blade Runner is polluted by industry and overcrowding: only the rich escape to the ‘off-worlds’. One of the key themes of the film is the ‘blurring’ of the differences between the real and the artificial, between the humans and the replicants. Increasingly it is no longer possible to be clear about what it means to be human”.
Nick Lacey, argues that Blade Runner isn’t in fact postmodern and that director Ridley Scott shied away from the postmodern view of the world.Â “Blade Runner a production of mainstream cinema only films with an independent sensibility are able to fully represent the disturbing post human this is because the ideals of romantic love are central to patriarchal society’s needs”. (Lacey 2005)
Lacey believes Blade Runner fails to portray a postmodern view of the human condition with the films scenes of the Tyrell buildings then shots of filthy streets below, it exposes the anger towards the upper class the better off citizens able to live off world.
With Blade Runner being set in 2019, but strong evidence of the past is typical of postmodern films warning the audience the dangers of the future. Blade Runner explores future ideas where the fake becomes real, cars fly, scientists plant memories into machines etc. the examples of the fake becoming real and dangerous replicants escaping to earth portray post modernism into the future.
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Some themes in Blade Runner adhere to the orthodox dystopian cinema genre, the representation of romance conforms to gender stereotypes. Blade Runner uses the symbol of an owl as women, the role of women in the film are played by three lead females. The women are exposed as being products that can be sold or bought, a product, model of pleasure. Douglass E. Williams notes how the noir film elements in Blade Runner follow the same gender hierarchies of the 1940’s distinguishing females into two categories, “one sexual and treacherous, the other chaste and good.” (Williams, 1988 pg390) it’s an example of modernity transferred into post modernity on the description of women.
Blade Runner highlights a message that the future is hopeless. Marking a new age showing its dystopian end postmodernism flows throughout the film the gloomy dark rain and moody atmosphere. Rapidly enhanced technology but appears outdated. The film projects what chaos can be instilled when people reject the modern period. It displays the future as well as holding onto the past creating post industrialism.
Begley Varun, wrote an academic journal on Blade Runner as a postmodern, Varun writes of evident criticism in “Blade Runner, particularly its problematic encounter with postmodernism. In hindsight, this encounter testifies to fundamental ambiguities in the postmodern enterprise, ambiguities with significant social and political implications. I will argue that postmodern accounts of Blade Runner depend on a series of strategic exclusions. Such accounts effectively displace not only modernist readings of the film, but also questions of narration, genre, popularity, and the specificity of the film medium. Lost amid the theoretical battlefield of the modern and postmodern are the films material and ideological contexts; Blade Runner’s cultural intelligibility is blurred by the modern/ postmodern exchange. This critical impasse underscores the troubled politics of postmodernism as if confronts commercial narrative and other forms of popular culture”.
“Roughly speaking, critical responses to Blade Runner fall on either side of a modern/postmodern line. Postmodernist accounts diametrically oppose reading strategies dependant on conventional aesthetic notions (narrative, character, structure, reference, metaphor, symbol, etc.) that collectively we might term modernist. These two approaches entail radically different positions on the nature and function of interpretation. Modernist readings presuppose this films structural and semiotic depth, in stark contrast to the postmodernist emphasis on its surfaces. Some modernist interpretations discern utopian fantasies of redemption and transcendence embedded in the films apocalyptic veneer, A postmodernist approach, by contrast, emphasises the films resistance to the interpretive impulse, its voiding of symbolic, utopian and narrative meaning. The depthless postmodern surface incorporates fragments of once-meaningful codes and conventions that are now blankly cited without context or referent. The result is not a coherent aesthetic structure but an opaque and resistant pastiche”. (B. Varun 2004)
In Blade Runner, the postmodern aesthetic in the plots set design, effects, dialogue and language have been explored by many theorists.
Begley,V (2004) Academic Journal Article Literature/Film Quarterly Blade Runner and the Postmodern: A Reconsideration https://www.questia.com/libary/journal/1p3-699892921/blade-runner-and-the-postmodern-a-reconsideration
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