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Research Proposal Commentary
‘Blade Runner 1982 – Ridley Scott’
Postmodernism, after the modernist movement, is a term now almost as ‘ubiquitous, disliked and misunderstood as its parent, the modern’ (Jencks, C, p.14). It is a reaction to modernism, an aesthetic, to try and describe changes to conditions and institutions by the drawing of ‘attention to conventions’ (Oxford, 2009). Throughout this commentary I will explain how my chosen film of discussion ‘Blade Runner’ 1982, directed by Ridley Scott, is relevant to the postmodern era.
I have chosen Blade Runner as the object for study as it is one of my favourite films; I feel it engages artistically and complexly with the issue of postmodernism. It is around the theme of identity I consider the film best represents not only its understanding of postmodernity but also its connection with postmodernism, ‘as the structure of feeling of late capitalism’ (McGuigan, 1992, p.221).
The city of Blade Runner is relevant to the postmodern era, as it highlights the representation of post-industrial decay; it is not the ultra-modern but rather the postmodern city. The city represents an aesthetic of decay, revealing the process of ‘disintegration’ – what could be seen as the ‘dark side of technology’ (Giuliana, B). Recycling, erosion and the explosion of boundaries help reinforce this postmodern aesthetic in Blade Runner. ‘Post-industrialism’, ‘spatial relations’, ‘urban decay’, ‘pastiche consumption’ and ‘time consumption’ are five recognised postmodern issues I find to be represented within Blade Runner.
Post-industrialism is clearly embodied in Blade Runners Tyrell Corporation (the main business company within the film). The film references changes in the dominant mode of production and the organisation of business, which could be called ‘advanced corporate capitalism’ (Davis, 1992). 1.Harvey 1989 states how ‘flexible accumulation’ creates the postmodern economic actuality of ‘overwhelming corporate power’: Blade Runner is inundated with advanced technology, from hover cars, large electronic advertisements on blimps to videophones, the driving force behind the post-industrial society creating this power.
In terms of spatial relations, postmodernity is characterised by class polarisation, with the wealthy and the poor becoming progressively more socially isolated from each other. This relationship makes itself evident in the ‘concrete’ spatial relations of postmodern cities, like Los Angeles (2.Harvey, 1989). This is made apparent with the architectural mise-en-scene in Blade Runner, particularly with the monolithic ivory tower of Tyrell, dominating the urban landscape of the poor, portraying a hierarchical class division.
One of the most clearly presented conditions of postmodernity in Blade Runner is time compression, the outcome of increased consumption and exchange on the experience of time. Bringing with it an emphasis of unpredictability and ‘volatility’ (2.Harvey, 1989), the postmodern society is required to become accustomed to the demands of flexible accumulation. This is relevant with the replicant characters in Blade Runner, who are forced to live in ‘disconnected temporality’ (Bruno, G 1990). It is this lack of safe ‘temporal continuity’ represented within Blade Runner (Jameson, 1985) from neurotic preoccupation of its characters with individual pasts to ageing diseases that makes the film postmodern.
Another issue represented within Blade Runner, which is considered another postmodern concern, is urban decay. Bruno states the speed and growth of development brings its own rapid ineluctable death and decay. Blade Runner portrays a post-industrial decaying future of Los Angeles, opposed to the familiar perception of ultra-modernity (shown within sci-fi films in the 1950’s). It emphasises the effect of de-concentration with the result of immigration known as ‘geographical displacements and condensations’ (Bruno, 1990). As the upper class individuals vacate vast areas of the city, the poor and immigrants then can use these areas. Blade Runners ‘Off World colonies’ could be a symbolic extension in the trend to vacate a city in support of the commuter land of home-based work, as a blimp advertises “A chance to begin again!”
As well as the issue of urban decay being a postmodern issue within Blade Runner, there is also pastiche consumption. This is where the postmodernist culture and postmodern socio-economics links start to be revealed as ‘difficult and uneven’ (Connor, 1989). In the film, the use of pastiche images and past/present styles is portrayed particularly in the mixture of architectural designs within the urban landscape, as Bruno states it is a ‘pastiche city’. An example of this pastiche in Blade Runner is where Rachael played by actress Sean Young is dressed in 1940’s utility clothing blending the space age of the 1960’s. An architectural example is the style of the ‘retro’ bar where Deckard (Harrison Ford) finds Zhora (Joanna Cassidy).
These points I have outlined reveal how Blade Runner is considered to be relevant to the postmodern era, using postmodern theoretical references. However, they are not the only reference points between Blade Runner and postmodernism. The Film also portrays elements of ‘hyperreality’ and ‘simulacra’, which I will discuss within the essay.
- Jencks, C. (1996). “What is Postmodernism?”. Published by Academy Press; 4 edition (June 13, 1996)
- Oxford Dictionary. (2009). “Postmodernism”. Available at: http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/postmodernism?view=uk [Accessed 28/10/09]
- McGuigan, J. (1992). ‘Anomie of the people’. In Cultural Populism. London: Routledge.
- Giuliana, B. (1987). ‘Ramble City: Postmodernism and Blade Runner’. Available at: http://www.stanford.edu/dept/HPS/Bruno/bladerunner.html [Accessed 28/10/09]
- Davis, M. (1992). ‘City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles’. London: Vintage.
- Harvey, D. (1989). ‘Flexible accumulation through urbanization: reflections on “Post-Modernism” in the American city’. In The Urban Experience. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
- Harvey, D. (1989a). ‘Time-space compression and the postmodern condition. In The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change’. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
- Bruno, G. (1990). ‘Ramble city: postmodernism and Blade Runner’. In A. Kuhn (ed.), Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema. London: Verso.
- Jameson, F. (1985). ‘Postmodernism and consumer society’. In H. Foster (ed.), Postmodern Culture. London: Pluto Press.
- Connor, S. (1989). ‘Postmodernities. In Postmodernist Culture: An Introduction to Theories of the Contemporary’. Oxford: Blackwell.
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