Thursday, January 2, 2014

Blade Runnings

This year, we melded my Chinese-and-a-movie tradition with my boyfriend's Blade Runner-is-the-first-movie-of-the-year tradition and hosted a small gathering of dumpling/cybernoir aficionados. It was a total hoot: pancakes rolled with beef and green onions; meaty, savory mushrooms paired with chewy udon noodles; baskets of sticky steamed dumplings; platefuls of slippery, oily pan-friend morsels. We followed that with a brisk walk home in the minus-twenty-eight degree weather, and a screening of the Harrison Ford's classic. Some folks had never seen it ("Isn't Wesley Snipes in this movie?), while some people had seen it well over three dozen times. It was cozy: a chance to hunker down, a post-New Year's bash among friends.

It's amazing that Blade Runner is over 30 years old. Set in 2019, it's the story of a detective's attempt to track down four ultra-lifelike robots who are have escaped their slavery off-world are are trying fit in on earth. These aren't your regular-issue car-makin' robots: they're strong, smart, attractive, and fast. They also have a built-in expiry date of four years. Our foursome might only be a few months away from a hard crash, and their leader, Roy, is looking for his maker. Roy wants to figure out a way to extend his life. Harrison Ford wants to figure out a way to stop him.

I can understand why critics were initially "meh" about the movie: it takes odd side jaunts, it's moodily shot and woodenly performed (looking at you, Harrison!), and the story is slow. But over the last three decades, Blade Runner has become more than the sum of its part: it's a love letter to the seedy underbelly that writhes below the surface. Our society has become both seedier and more superficial, to the point where I'm half-expecting Miley Cyrus to show up in a outfit made exclusively of sequins and snake (except that Britney totally beat her to it).

We're so now technologically advanced that we usually don't understand how our machines work or what they're capable of; we just have to trust that it's good. As Wired touts wearable technology, as the NSA spies on its own citizens indiscriminately, even as we substitue TEDTalks for books and apps for maps, Blade Runner's questions about where humans end and machines begin—and what makes a human or a machine good—are still very relevant. The replicant Roy Batty is smarter than the man who made him, and also psychotically handsome, to boot. If he wasn't destined to live only four years, there's no telling what he might be capable of.

For me, Blade Runner is all about the look. It just looks cool. The world Ridley Scott builds in Blade Runner is exceptional: it's all enormous fur coats, 1940s-inspired hairdos, pouring rain, and huge golden buildings. Ford is fantastically blank as Detective Deckard, but Ford's woodenness against all the lushness is a place for the audience to hang our hats, especially against Rutget Hauer's operatic villainy and Daryl Hannah's sex-poppet gymnastics. Every piece of set dressing, every flying car and crashed-through window, every artificial snake and mechanical owl, is sumptuously, perfectly fake. It's glorious.

Since I first saw it over a decade ago, the aesthetics of Blade Runner have certainly influence my look. Cyberpunk, cybernoir, whatever it's called: I love the juxtaposition of the extremely sleek and extremely tactile. Perfectly shiny leather next to coarsely woven wool, huge fur coats next to spandex leotards, the absolute heaviest of eye makeup and the whitest of platinum hair. It's a limited colour palette—blacks and browns, rich reds and brocade golds—and a wild assortment of silhouettes: Renaissance meets colonial Africa meets 1940s noir meets insane Apple commercials. And I'm not the only one: Blade Runner-influenced looks have been around for almost as long as the movie itself. It's easy to dress like Zhora, Rachel, Roy and Deckard at pretty much every price point. The best thing about the future is that it looks an awful lot like the past, only done in crazier fabrics and with bigger hair. Who can't love that?

Maybe next year I'll snuggle into my boyfriend wearing an all-black bodysuit or a snap-on backless bra; maybe next year I'll cozy up in a huge fur coat and perfect ruby lips. Who knows? I can tell you for sure that, next year, we'll slurp noodles in a Chinatown restaurant and then retire to watch Harrison Ford for one more year: the future is always coming.