We have grown desensitized to death in our film, television, and gaming diet. Life is often cheap in entertainment. But sometimes the creators in media find a way to make a connection that goes beyond the norm and makes us truly feel. In this column, we share the deaths that hurt the most. The ones that stick with us long after they’ve moved past our eyes.
I was a kid when Saturday and Sunday afternoon movies were still a thing. I don’t mean going to the movie theater or popping on Netflix, but when your local channels would play random movies to fill up time in otherwise blank schedules. It’s how, as an impressionable young lad, I was able to see horror/cult movies like Rawhead Rex, From Beyond, or Hellraiser; it’s also how I was able to see classic films such as Jaws, Aliens, Predator, and Robocop. Of course, these were network channels so all the movies were heavily edited; but they still made an impact even all these years later: some I still love, while others really don’t hold up as well as I remember. There were also a few that didn’t seem like much at the time but still stuck in my head; once I grew up a bit, I came to realize that they were some of the best movies I’d ever seen. Blade Runner was one such movie.
As a kid, I remember seeing it and honestly not having any idea what was happening: “why is Han Solo running around that weird city with all that weird lighting? If that blonde guy is the villain, how come he’s not really doing anything wrong? Wait, so they just drive away?!” Needless to say, most of the movie didn’t mean a whole lot to me…except that ending. “Wait…if he’s the bad guy, why is he saving Indiana Jones from falling off the building?” The concept of a redemption arc isn’t new in fiction, but here it was an eye-opening experience because it wasn’t a simple ending; at the time, the only other similar experience that I grasped and understood was Darth Vader saving Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi. I had no idea that I was witnessing one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history.
“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.”
If you haven’t watched Blade Runner (and if you haven’t, I HIGHLY recommend you watch it), the story takes place in a dystopian Los Angeles in the year 2019. It’s a grimy, overpopulated city, where corporations hold sway over all aspects of life. Humanity has finally expanded into the stars, but in order to do the mining/heavy manual labor/fighting out in space, we created Replicants: synthetic humans, indistinguishable from humans, but with augmented physical abilities and a finite lifespan. The big kicker is that Replicants are ONLY allowed in space; none of them are allowed back on Earth. If they do manage to make it back, a Blade Runner is dispatched to kill them. It’s here that we meet Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner that’s being “asked” (ordered) back for one more job: four Replicants made their way back to Earth, and they need to be “retired” as quickly as possible.
Over the course of the movie we follow both our protagonist, Deckard, as he tracks down the group; and the Replicant group themselves, led by Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty., a charismatic but slightly unhinged leader. Watching it as a kid, I could somewhat grasp what was happening, but as an adult I could now not only understand what was happening but I could empathize with them. Yes, Roy and his group killed people, but arguably out of self-defense; and their motivation is simple and pure: they want to live. They don’t want their lives to have been meaningless. They have thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams. What they seek out is a cure for their finite life. By the time they’ve arrived on Earth, they only have a few short days and they’re becoming increasingly desperate. By the end of the movie they discover the tragic truth: there is no cure. No built-in secret, no technological marvel in the wings. They will all inevitably die.
At the end, Deckard has managed to kill the other three, and he finally confronts Roy. Even with his body failing him, Roy easily overpowers Deckard and toys with him throughout the fight. The movie comes to its climax on a rain-covered roof, with Deckard hanging off the ledge and holding on for dear life. Roy has him at his mercy…and with one hand he grabs him, and lifts him back onto the roof. Both men sit facing each other, physically and mentally exhausted. And it’s here that Roy says his final words with only Deckard to hear:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears…in…rain. Time to die.”
And Roy silently lowers his head and passes away quietly. Here was a synthetic human who lived and loved, and just wanted to keep living. He was the antagonist, but a truly sympathetic one. Now all that he’s witnessed, all of his memories and experiences, are gone. Like tears in rain.