The central theme of Bladerunner is the relationship between humanity and nature. More specifically it has a purpose in showing how science can negatively influence this fragile relationship. Set in Los Angeles of 2019 we see the decadence of western society into an inhumane harsh impersonal, technology-dominated realm. The inhabitants who fight for their daily survival are in desperate want for nature, contact with which is denied to them by the unrestricted scientific progress and the consequent exploitation of the natural world conducted for the sole purpose of profit. Humanity is also losing touch with its own nature.
The compassion, the empathy, the love and the emotion are all rare or absent. This ailing relationship between humanity and nature is conveyed through the means of scene setting, dialogue, plot, camera techniques and other film features. All these elements of cinematography synthesise to create an effective portrayal of the unifying theme.
In Bladerunner the most prominent element of cinematography is mise en scne. It generates a context for the film and therefore makes the plot and themes acceptable. To set an appropriate scene different variables need to be controlled.
These variables include location, props, lighting and colour. In general the location of the plot is in the vast urban canyons of 2019 LA. The imposing dark buildings, the dirty fog, perpetual rain and the crowded dark streets devoid of vegetation make up the backdrop of most scenes. All this is filmed in dark lighting, which complements the effect produced by the fog in obscuring the living details. From this the responder acknowledges the deterioration of society, the harsh conditions that the humans are subjected to and the way the human spirit itself is progressively destroyed under such conditions.
Filming such a location at night provides the director with the opportunity to use chiaroscuro (a technique of strong contrast) to further convey the dominance of technology over humanity.
For example in outdoor scenes the garish flickering neons are obtrusively visible but they fail to illuminate the obscure, dark, fogged surroundings, including the multitudes of faceless people. The prominent visibility of artificial things over human presence together with the qualities of the location indicates the degradation of human life under the rule of science.
The clothing worn by characters is an important choice made as part of setting the scene. Most of the street people wear hooded dark clothing covering their whole body. This is possibly to protect them from the rain but it also hides their faces and their eyes from the camera and from us, creating an impersonal atmosphere in conjunction with the harshness of the surroundings. We get a feeling that everyone hides from everyone else and human interpersonal interaction is limited to the bare necessity.
Sometimes the style of clothing worn by characters tells us something about the characters themselves. For example the trenchcoat style garments worn by Deckard are a throwback to the 20s and 30s detective genre in film, and the responder instantly sees Deckard as such. There are times when the clothing worn gives us an insight into the themes of the film. When we first see meet Racheal (and we think she is a human), her outfit with geometric power dressing shape, the black hues and the perfect hair create an impression of power and efficiency, qualities that are valued in androids. The next time we meet her we see her in a fur coat and underneath, a soft white blouse. Then when she lets her hair down the transformation is complete.
By now we know that she is a replicant and for a replicant to be so human is ironic when the real humans dont show such qualities. This irony elucidates the deteriorated nature of humanity very effectively.
The film is not only able to show the way humanity has lost contact with nature but also how much they appreciate and want it back in their society. The unicorn dream-scene conveys this effectively. The soft back lighting, the low tonal contrast, the colour and the lush vegetation create a setting that is very different to the usual scenes. It is contrasted with real world to further reinforce the lack of nature in society.
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