Postmodernism in film proposes new theories about what a world after the epoch of modernity encompasses. Films with postmodern themes often have images of a dystopian future—one that has the full wrath of capitalism on display. Although the definition for what fits into the category of postmodernism differs for many, there are some unique characteristics to it. Postmodernism films operate in a society that takes place after the period of modernity—which is where a lot of the debate about postmodernism comes from. The period after modernity brings debate about existentialism as well as debate that surrounds the goals of future society
Postmodernism film techniques use one that features the director making the viewer aware of the fact that they are watching a movie–essentially breaking the wall between the viewer and the screen and revealing itself as something manufactured and constructed like the world around us. Lastly, postmodernism deals with concepts that are linked directly to pop-culture and a society that has essentially been mass-produced. The film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, has been able to capture the essence of the postmodernist film movement, in particular with its cinematography and plot.
The first scene where postmodernism’s full character is on display is when Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Deckard, is first shown. It is a long shot that slowly zooms in on Deckard who is standing underneath a patio protecting himself from the rain. In this scene, the camera shows umbrellas with light-up stems—objects that are unnecessary in a city with street lights, thus highlighting the pervasive role of capitalism. Neon lights and televisions light up the streets, showcasing a society in excess. The audience is shown a society that is multicultural and inclusive, which plays off of the role that modernity helped to establish–one that stated each person should be respected and accepted in society, usually as long as they have money. Later in this scene as the flying car, an obvious product of postmodernity, ascends into the sky, the camera shows giant video billboards lighting up the sides of buildings. The buildings themselves offer a suggested theme of postmodernism, as they seem to stretch as far as the camera can portray.
In another scene where we see Deckard chase Zhora and ultimately kill her, the audience is shown a few different types of outfits that helped to define the “cyberpunk” style of the intended future. Zhora is wearing a clear plastic jacket that shows her wearing what appears to be some sort of swimsuit underneath. As she is running away and being at shot by Deckard, Zhora crashes through a variety of outfits dressed up on mannequins that seem to put fashion and showiness ahead of functionality; because in a postmodern world humans will have little to worry about in regard to the elements. This scene also helps the audience become aware of the fact that they are watching a film. This shot has the camera positioned in a way that it is catching reflections and lights in a manner that seems unnatural to the human eye. One that has reflections casting in a number of ways.
This scene also shows people walking past Zhora’s dead body, one that has been shot by without giving it much attention. This could only happen in a world that is beyond modernity. It can only happen in a world that has been able to normalize the sight of a dead body and the nonchalant use of firearms.
One of the last scenes of the film shows a dialogue between Deckard and the antagonist Roy. This scene helps to exemplify how the plot determines what is considered postmodern. In this scene, the audience is shown the compassion of the antagonist. Roy, a creature of human design, sheds the stereotype that has been cast upon him and saves Deckard. Throughout the film the audience is grappling with trying to understand what makes the replicants different from their human creators. This is important to highlight because when dealing with the ideas of postmodernism, one must consider the changing acceptance of norms and morals. This scene helps to beg the question of ‘what does it mean to be human’ and ‘why is that reasoning solely applied to humans?’
This scene also shows a background that contains flashing neon signs, suggesting that even though we can struggle with the identity of being human, capitalism and advertisements are still lingering around us; demanding our attention and making us aware of the fact that capitalism is what dictates the avenues of life.
Blade Runner touches on many deep issues. Ridley Scott made sure to include the role of advertising, capitalism and even trash in his postmodernist masterpiece. The cinematography of this film captures images and scenes that suggest what a future could look like. Although it seems radical with its flying cars and replicant humans, the themes that are projected in Blade Runner help to explain what a society looks like if its morals are corrupted. Scott captured the essence of postmodernism by dealing with existential life issues and debates about shifting morals. He also shows the role of capitalism in a dystopian future and how pop-culture and fashion will play a role in a postmodern society.
Although this film came out in 1982, its themes have very real modern day applications. Major corporation dictate the lives of the resident of Los Angeles in the film. Scott was correct in showing a West Coast in the film as one that is emblematic of the future. Los Angeles in our modern time is home to nearly 59,000 people experiencing homelessness; an obvious effect from barely regulated capitalism. Solutions to the issues surrounding homelessness are often put off by NIMBY tactics and local officials fold to the demands. In the film and real life both are homes to trash and inequality. Both are features of what happens when corporations seek to take charge of society and decide to operate it in a way that benefits their bottom dollar and not the lives of the city’s residents. Bladerunner, although widely considered science fiction, is mirror to what a society looks like when morals are corrupted, corporations run daily life and violence is normalized–something that is not necessarily out of touch for us today.