Representations of Dystopia in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (part 1)

Science fiction continues to be a fascinating narrative genre due to its continuously proliferating subgenres and the devotion of its passionate fan community. Christine Cornea says:

‘Science fiction is caught between that which exists outside of the laws of a known world and that which might be read as a logical extension of the known world’.

This enables it to be a creative outlet that persistently produces highly imaginative and original works of film, fiction and television.[1] Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is one such piece of cinema that has gained cult status due to its depiction of a postmodern dystopian future. By detailing the social context of its 1982 release, I will go on to examine how these themes are presented in Scott’s dystopia. This will be characterized by analysis of the cityscape, technology and gender, whilst also exploring how the film compares and contrasts with other science fiction texts.

Blade Runner was released in 1982, five years after Star Wars and the same year as E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. Such films had renewed an interest in science fiction as well as reaping the benefits of a new found summer audience that was initially targeted by Jaws in 1975. These years were a time of social anxiety, as America felt threatened by communism in the Soviet Union and the increasing technological advancement of Japan. Greedy multinational corporations were expanding and there was a new awareness of environmental issues such as pollution. These new blockbusters provided escapism from these aspects of everyday life. Lincoln Geraghty and Rebecca Janicker say:

The look and feel of these new movies were a change from the bleak futuristic worlds in the previous period…and they suggested that the social problems of the decade could be solved. Many conveyed a vision of hope, in which — with a little help from our extra-terrestrial friends — the future might become a technological paradise complete with world peace.[2]

The feel good factors of these films were a stark contrast to the doom and gloom of Blade Runner. Although the film was originally released in 1982, there have been many different versions produced since then. This essay will focus on 2007’s Blade Runner: The Final Cut, however may at times make reference to other versions. Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Scott’s film stars Harrison Ford as Deckard, a retired cop who is hired as a ‘blade runner’ to track down and kill a group of ‘replicants’ which have escaped from the off-world colonies and are living on earth illegally. Replicants are synthetic people created to serve humans, and will be discussed further later on in relation to technology. To begin with, in Part 2, I shall look at the Los Angeles setting and how it helps to create the film’s dystopia.

[1] Christine Cornea, Science Fiction Cinema: Between Fantasy and Reality (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), p. 4.

[2]Lincoln Geraghty and Rebecca Janicker, ‘Now That’s What I Call a Close Encounter!”: The Role of the Alien in Science Fiction Film, 1977-2001’,  Scope: an online journal of film & TV studies, November 2004 (2004) <; [accessed 21March 2012] (para. 5 of 32).


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