Screens in Blade Runner; for a movie that’s always been billed as a key cyberpunk progenitor, they are – for the most part – remarkably large, and remarkably one way. A core essence of cyberpunk is the hackable system, the two way engagement with the data stream, but there’s precious little of that in this film. Visuals float above Los Angeles, words booming down on its denizens, showing them worlds they can watch but never – it seems – interact with, or enter.
For me, those screens have more to do with the cinematic than the cyber. A cinema audience sits in darkness, visions washing over them; watching worlds they can imagine but never reach or participate in. The screens in Blade Runner make their audience potential migrants – ‘A new life awaits you in the off world colonies… a chance to begin again in a golden world of opportunity and adventure’ – but we know that only the most uncommon will ever really leave the dark city.
It’s the same with so many movies; sitting in the dark, watching people ‘begin again’ (how common a trope is that? The life restarted, the ordinary world left behind) in ‘a golden world of opportunity and adventure’. We too, as audience, become non-migrating migrants; enough of an urge to move on to make us unhappy with our lot, to make us want this kind of escapism, this promise that there could be somewhere else, that we could all be someone else; enough of a sense of stasis to keep us in our seats, to keep us in our lives, unchanged after all.
And yet, there can be glimpses; the other can break through. Roy Batty makes it to earth, and teaches Rick Deckard how to be human. Deckard’s flight is Batty’s in reverse; more tactful in his movements, needing to be less revolutionary, his leap out of the city will (we feel) be sustained, tacitly supported by his colleagues. He can take Rachael, and step out of the picture; away from the great floating dreams and – ironically – away from the screen we’ve been passively watching him on. To enter fulfilment is to leave narrative behind, to leave the sense of absence it’s founded on.
But there is a screen in Blade Runner that does foreshadow the cyber; the esper. Deckard uses it to burrow into the Replicant’s lives, revealing the social connections between them, understanding them as a social process, a network. He explores the room they’re in as he were almost there himself; able to watch, but not to touch. A lovely image of the working of the net, both in its interactivity and its subtle emphasis on emotional inter-relationship. But by the end of the film, that’s a screen he can step away from, too; he no longer needs to dissect the relationships of others, because he has one of his own, and will live it for himself.