I’m looking forward to seeing Blade Runner 2049 this weekend, but I’m also more haunted than ever by longing for the gone world of 1982 in which I saw the original. It’s not that the film blew my mind, exactly, but simply that it entered my mind, my life, and stayed there. It was an ever-present part of my youth.
I remember being intrigued by the trailers, but I think it was my dad who rounded us up to see the film, shortly after it came out. His New Yorker friends were in town, and I suppose he was under some pressure to show that we too had good movies despite living in provincial Baltimore. I had just gotten my learner’s permit, and so I drove everyone, in my mom’s Buick Century station wagon, to Timonium (now there’s a name with a lot of associations), where I had a little trouble parking, despite the four adults’ helpful assistance, rendered all at once. I actually don’t remember the impression the film made on me, but I was conscious that it gave the grownups something to talk about, in the Chinese restaurant to which we repaired after the film. The New Yorkers could tell right away that the voice-over didn’t really belong and must have been added in some kind of acrimonious editorial and marketing dispute.
I saw the film at least twice more during its first run, and its style, if not its substance, began to grow on me. Soon, I had selected a favorite line, the ridiculous “It’s too bright in here.” My friend George’s favorite line was “I don’t know much about bio-mechanics, Roy; I wish I did,” and actually it was George who began taking Blade Runner rather seriously. He started coming to school dressed as Deckard, with mismatching plaid shirts and ties, under a grey raincoat. When I asked him why he chose such a wardrobe, he said, “Because the word is as dark and messed up as it is in the film.” I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I had to have an opinion. Blade Runner had become such an important part of our adolescent culture that our reactions to it said a lot about our crystalizing personalities. Largely on the strength of his remark, I decided that I could not match George for pessimism, and we began drifting apart.
My relationship with Blade Runner was more intellectual than psychological. Through the Eighties, it was often shown at the Charles, invariably in a double feature with Road Warrior, and I enjoyed wondering why. Perhaps both films premised the same present from which could spring two alternate futures: one in which today’s world hardens into a dystopia (Blade Runner) or one in which it collapses into anarchy (Road Warrior). The Eighties was also the age of the VCR, and I watched Blade Runner on the little screen countless times, enough to spot details like Pris’s incept date, which was a pastime.
Then I went to Taiwan for four years, and Blade Runner stayed mostly in my mind, but it was also a point of reference for what I saw every day with my own eyes on the streets of Taipei: rainy, neon, teeming, urban labyrinths. I speculated with another American, also named George, as to how Taiwanese people would view Blade Runner. Would it look only like a day in the life of Taipei? “They can’t appreciate that the film is supposed to be a nightmare,” George said.
Back in the States, with youthful enthusiasm displaced, with a belated vengeance, by a crate-load of adult cares, I saw the 1992 director’s cut at the Uptown in DC, with friends who were four years ahead of me in their careers. I realized for the first time how beautiful the film was. The Coke commercial on the skyscraper made me cry, as did the shot of three police spinners flying abreast. Was I crying for the images or for my lost youth?
Of course by now, poised to take in the sequel, which may or may not appeal to millennials in their culture, the question is closed. I am a jowly gray-haired man.
Or maybe I just think I’m a jowly gray-haired man. What if, instead of waking up this morning, I was booted up, and all my memories of the Timonium, the New Yorkers, George, the Charles, the VCR, the Eighties, Taiwan, George, the Uptown, and my wife, children, and career are just implants, not my memories, somebody else’s?
It doesn’t matter. Either way, Blade Runner is the movie of my life. When I get to the ticket counter for the sequel, I know just what I’ll say to the poor millennial working there: “I. Want. More. Life.… Fucker.”