This is an addition to my earlier post about a top ten screenshot-based approach to Blade Runner. I was working collaboratively with one of my students and together we came up with this personal commentary on this shot. I’ve left our notes in so you can see how we’ve moved from them to the personal commentary. The next step is to take this writing towards an exam-style paragraph – hopefully one with a personalised academic voice!
I like what this activity does for students. It gives them a step on the way towards the formal essay, one that values their voice. It gives them permission to use original thoughts and observations, humour and pop culture knowledge in exploring their texts.
I’ll attach something else, too. This is really just a revision activity, so keep it to one side for the day you know you’re going to be away. It’s match the character to the description, then make the links to Frankenstein. It can lead to interesting discussions: where is Elizabeth in Blade Runner, for example? Rachel? Zhora? Here’s this one: Blade Runner character activity
And now, the notes and commentary.
- Shows that no matter what they were made for, replicants wanted to be different – they wanted to establish their own identities away from their designation. Zhora is designated as a combat model but in this scene she is only ever the victim.
- Purity of the fake white snow and the redness of the blood
- Like any normal human, she’s trying to protect her head.
- Crashing through a glass window is a Hollywood cliché.
- Filmed at night. Neon lights dominate the background.
- “man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” (Rousseau) In this scene it is the mannequins who are ‘chained’ by the rope lights.
- The different deaths – every replicant dies in a unique way – reinforces their individual humanity.
- Zhora takes longer to die than every other replicant. She’s the only one who runs.
First Draft Commentary
‘Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.’ The mannequin on the right of the shot is chained by the rope light. Earlier in the scene, other mannequins have worn ‘slave collar’ neon chokers. It’s the filmmaker’s way of reminding us about the place of replicants in this society. They do the dirty work, they don’t get paid and they have the life expectancy of a Star Trek character in a red shirt.
Zhora takes longer to die than any of the other replicants. There is a chase scene, she crashes through two sheets of glass and she is shot three times by Deckard before she dies. It all makes us feel sympathy for Zhora, something Scott highlights further when he shows Zhora kneeling in the broken glass, her hands bleeding, shortly before this point in the film.
This is different from the deaths of other replicants. Leon dies instantly after being shot in the head. Pris is shot twice in the stomach and dies in a manic, convulsive fit. Roy ceases to be with the release of a convenient dove. It’s another way of reinforcing one of Scott’s key ideas – that the replicants are ‘more human than human’.
Crashing through a glass window is, of course, a Hollywood movie cliché. But there’s something different about this particular window, and that’s the fake snow. It’s a reminder of what is missing in this society: religious belief has atrophied and with it has gone any celebration of living. The snow is the last remnant of an absent Christmas.
Mind you, when it comes to clichés, Elizabeth’s death on her wedding night is making use of every narrative trick in the book. How much foreshadowing can one reader take? It’s Shelley’s way of building our sense of the tragedy of the death – and there’s the link with Blade Runner. For Scott, it’s film techniques: the chaos of the chase scene, the broken glass, the final close-up on the face of Zhora…
Zhora’s is a very human death. In this shot she is protecting her head, the most important part of a human body. And her death will enrage Leon and cause him to act rashly – which will lead to his death, too. In the film, it isn’t the ‘real’ humans who have meaningful relationships. It’s the replicants. Their very real deaths reinforce this point.
Here’s the whole thing as a word document, too: Fresh Approaches to Blade Runner Part 2