Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is a film that explores contemporary theories of the postmodern. The film explores, through the detective figure Deckard, questions of authenticity. An aspect of postmodernity is the loss of faith in traditional meta-narratives [meta-narratives are the overarching stories that explains and legitimises knowledge or belief. Some traditional meta-narratives are Christianity, Communism and Scientific progress]. Questioning or losing faith in these narratives means that the individual inquires about their own subjectivity; and is left with no system of authentication. History, or how we have become to be, is a meta-narrative that is questioned explicitly in Blade Runner. History is a narrative which tends to explain events as linear, every event has its cause and affect; eras come one after another in dialectical progress. Even though in reality the change of era and cause of events are not easily understood the narrative of History constructs and validates a reality of existence which is understandable and rational.1
Blade Runner subverts our sense of history through the technique of mise-en-scene. In Blade Runner, Rachel, dressed as the archetypical femme fatal of film noir, goes to Deckard’s apartment with the intention of questioning him about the results of a ‘Voight-Kampff’. The scene moves smoothly into the new space of Deckard’s apartment with the traditional establishing shot, the framing of the important scene adheres to the Classic Hollywood continuity editing system. The use of the establishing shot gives the viewer time to process the alien-like mise-en-scene. The mise-en-scene combines the common domestic with the bizarre and unrecognisable, imbuing the scene with an eerie sense of the familiar, which raises questions about a disconnected sense of heritage. Although the domestic aspects are familiar with our own, the kitchen sink and cupboards, we are unable to relate the aesthetic and technological advances to our contemporary life. The mise-en-scene is important as it reveals that underneath all of the questions about Rachel’s authenticity there is a lack of rational connection with our society to the society shown. The structures that surround the characters are disconnected from any logical progression in fashion and science.
Ridley Scott raises problems concerning the conception of history as dialectical progress, cause and affect, in Blade Runner. Earlier in the film, during the opening scenes, we see that the future Los Angeles is a vision of an alien future disconnected from the present day geographic entity. Los Angeles had been transformed into a city splintering upwards with harsh vertical lines, dark shadows and bright lights; Los Angeles has been transformed into a city more reminiscent of New York.2 The philosopher Derrida once declared that nothing is outside the text; the use of continuity editing could itself be seen as an ironic example of this.3 The classical Hollywood system of narrative is itself an organizing system which explains and legitimises knowledge, and like the historical meta-narrative it orders events into cause and effect. Blade Runner critiques the use of meta-narratives to explain and rationalize while functioning from within one, therefore is a representation of postmodernity.
1R, Appignanesi & C, Garratt. Postmodernism for Beginners, Cambridge: Icon Books Ltd, (1995), p. 82.
2Scott Bukatman, Blade Runner BFI Classics, London: BFI (1997), p. 61.
3R, Appignanesi & C, Garratt. Postmodernism for Beginners, p. 79.
13 thoughts on “Blade Runner and the Postmodern use of Mise-en-scene”
I’ll have to watch the movie again, this time with new eyes.
Voight-Kampff, not ‘void comp’. It was named after the purported designers.
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