From its origins in the 40’s and 50’s, film noir was not considered a genre, but a style. It was a cryptic approach to the film and its subject matter; it kept its characters at a distance, hidden behind walls of smoke and dark, dismal surroundings. Just as the French had their New Wave (influenced by film noir) and the Germans had their Expressionism (influenced film noir, itself), postwar America had its film noir. After its ten-year lifespan, the style slowly died out. It was not until years later, that noir had a sudden resurgence with films like Polanski’s Chinatown and in this case, Blade Runner. These homages to the newly realized greatness of film noir establish the stylistic approach as a genre with its thematic material and character morality.
Blade Runner bleeds film noir in all aspects, not just in its technicalities. Lighting, contrast, smoke, darkness, and water are all present. But it is its plot and protagonist that are perhaps ever more crucial to the homage. Stripping away the story’s sci-fi elements, Blade Runner is a story of a bounty hunter: a good man, but a bounty hunter nonetheless. He seeks and kills the androids as prey. His quest is a self-destructive one—Deckard, as a film noir protagonist, never thinks twice about walking into a room where someone could very well have a gun on him. Deckard’s obsession goes beyond his police duties; it is one that is all of his own: the same obsessions that drive characters in classic film noir such Kiss Me Deadly, Chinatown, and even the French Le Samurai. Additionally, Deckard’s interests are all focused on the present, a key factor in film noir pointed out in the article. He never thinks about anything other than the assignment at hand, except in his romantic interest in Rachael, which is a hopeless, blind goal in and of itself, (considering her short life span).
Ridley Scott’s themes in Blade Runner are perhaps the greatest mode of noir since the sci-fi element works to enhance them. Death is probably the most common theme here, and, as with any film noir (Consider the bleak deaths and pitiful endings of the films referred to previously), it is handled in a meaningless way. The sci-fi element in Blade Runner establishes characters with life spans of four years. Despite being androids, their human-like qualities satirize the vanity of death. In the end, the characters, including the protagonist realize how worthless their lives are. It speaks for why everyone ends up on a path of self-destruction. These postmodernist themes are at the center of Blade Runner that all work to set the mood—a bleak, miserable aura that defines film noir.