December 7, 2008

College Papers: The Narrative Function of Mise-en-scene in Blade Runner

This is a paper I wrote in April 2000 for the class Communication Arts 350 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

Ridley Scott’s 1982 futuristic science-fiction film Blade Runner tackles numerous issues concerning human behavior and emotions. In the film, the viewers follow the life of Rick Deckard, a detective in 2019 whose main job is to track down illegal replicants on earth. These replicants are nearly identical to humans in genetic makeup and appearance, yet differ from real humans due to their apparent lack of emotions and limited life span. Throughout the movie, the viewers are challenged by the overall question: Who is truly human? Is it the sometimes-heartless detective Deckard, hunting down the replicants? Or is it Roy Batty and the other replicants, whose main objective is to increase their longevity? In this paper, I will argue that the film’s usage of mise-en-scene helps the viewer understand Rick Deckard’s personal journey from a cold, emotionless detective into a complex and cunning individual. Therefore, mise-en-scene, as a narrative function, serves to help the audience understand Deckard’s character and the changes he endures throughout the film.

First, the settings in which Deckard interacts with transform drastically from the beginning of the film to the end. In the beginning of the film, Deckard is shown working mainly indoors, inside manmade buildings with sharp angles and dark, bare walls. This is most evident when Deckard is brought into the Police Station to see if he’ll come back as a Blade Runner. The Police Station is shown as a place of work, a place where protecting the city and its streets are the only tasks at hand. Deckard’s character acts similar to his environment around him in the beginning. He is very business-like in his approach to work. An example of this would be when he administers the Vought-Kampf test to Rachel at the Tyrell Corporation. Deckard answers Rachel’s questions with short answers and abrupt responses. Deckard seems to have very little emotional ties to his job and seems almost indifferent to finding the replicants.

As the film moves on, Deckard’s interactions with the environment around him start to change. Rather than working inside manmade buildings, he takes to the streets of Los Angeles to find the replicants. The streets of Los Angeles are lined with thousands of shops, bars, clubs, and hangouts, all packed with an enormous amount of people. Deckard must interact with the public in ways that he didn’t have to at the start of the movie. A prime illustration of this would be when Deckard is searching for the creator of the artificial snake in order to find Zhora. Rather than sticking to business-like answers and responses, Deckard must use his creativity and acting ability to ultimately find the replicant. This involved pretending he was from a department of “moral abuses” in order to enter into Zhora’s dressing room. Deckard changed his mode of operation to fit his environment and it ultimately paid off when he later killed Zhora on the streets.

At the end of the movie, Deckard changes his ways once again due to his surroundings. During the chase scene between Deckard and Roy Batty in J.F. Sebastian’s apartment building, Deckard must adapt to being the one sought after, rather than the one doing the seeking. He must rely on his animal instincts and physical ability when running and hiding from Roy, rather than depending on his experience and charm like earlier in the film. He can no longer rely on high tech gadgetry like the picture magnifying device or Vought-Kampf test to accomplish his goals. And unlike the cold Police Station of the beginning, Deckard must endure the harsh elements outside in order to retire Roy. Ultimately, we see Deckard triumph in the end, adapting to the different settings throughout in order to accomplish his mission of retiring the rogue replicants.

Just as the setting helped the viewer realize the change in Deckard’s character, figure expression and movement also add to Deckard’s personal transformation throughout the film. At the start of the film, Deckard is summoned to the Police Station while having dinner in an oriental restaurant. After receiving the news from Gaff, Deckard seems uninterested, concentrating on the plate of noodles and sushi in front of him. He is crouched over his plate and only makes occasional impolite eye contact with Gaff. This behavior gives the viewer some key character traits of Deckard in the beginning. He seems self-absorbed and only does things that will benefit him overall in the long run. Deckard obviously holds some knowledge of replicants, otherwise the police would not be asking for his assistance. Despite his stubbornness, he eventually goes into the Police Station and agrees to help them with their cause. Yet, through Deckard’s body language, you can see that he is neither overly enthusiastic nor excited about retiring the replicants.

As the film progresses, the figure behavior of Deckard changes as well. Once Deckard begins his search for the replicants, his overall demeanor is more positive then when he was approached in the beginning in the restaurant. Deckard, like any normal person, became engulfed in his work once he realized he could accomplish his goals. For example, when Deckard was examining the picture in the magnifying device, his behavior changed quite drastically when he began to find clues. He started giving quicker, more intense verbal instructions to the device and he also got up on the edge of his seat in anticipation of the final result. From Deckard’s body language, the viewer can see that he is now truly dedicated to finding and retiring the replicants and he is not simply going through the motions.

Similarly, Deckard has an obvious attitude change when the character of Rachel is introduced. Initially, when Rachel comes to Deckard’s house to ask if she’s a replicant, Deckard tries to play it cool by telling her a story. His body language is very relaxed as he lounges in his chair and tells Rachel her imprinted memories from Dr. Tyrell. Yet, when Rachel becomes disturbed over the news that she is indeed a replicant, Deckard quickly tries to console her by telling her it was a joke. Obviously, he is interested in Rachel, either sexually or in a non-sexual manner. If he were not interested, he would not have cared about harming her with the truth and went on with his life as usual. This type of behavior from Deckard clashes with his personality from the beginning, when he cared only about himself and only watched out for himself.

Towards the end of the film, Deckard’s figure behavior once again helps the viewer understand his overall transformation. As Roy is chasing Deckard around J.F. Sebastian’s apartment building, the viewer can visually see that Deckard is distressed. Unlike other parts of the movie, Deckard is breathing hard and his eyes are tense with fear. This is especially evident, rightfully so, when Deckard is hanging from the side of the building with only a couple of fingers. The cockiness and smooth behavior of the earlier Deckard is replaced with the scared Deckard of the present.

As Deckard is hanging from the building, a wide range of emotions are displayed when Roy suddenly grabs on to the slipping Deckard to pull him up to safety. The smooth and cocky Blade Runner had been rescued by the supposedly emotionless replicant. Deckard’s figure behavior was one of shock and disbelief, wondering how a replicant could save a human life. As Roy spoke his final speech on the apartment rooftop, Deckard sat still and motionless in the rain, unable to comprehend the interaction that had just occurred between Roy and him. The silence was only broken when Gaff came and spoke. This type of outpouring of emotions is almost unfathomable when you look at the figure behavior of the cocky Deckard in the beginning of the film. Yet, this display of emotions shows the true changes that Deckard’s character goes through in the film.

Obviously, through the usage of mise-en-scene, viewers of Blade Runner can see the true transformation of Rick Deckard’s character. In the beginning, Deckard is portrayed as an apathetic, listless detective who doesn’t care about anything but getting his job done. Yet, through different settings and figure behaviors, the viewers can see that the beginning assumption of Deckard’s personality was indeed incorrect. Deckard, while not being the most lovable person, goes through a major character transformation that in the end shows off his true versatility. Without the film’s usage of mise-en-scene, this versatility would have been lost, leaving Deckard as cold and lethargic as when we first met him in the oriental restaurant on the streets of Los Angeles.

1 comment:

College Research Paper said...

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