Mind Blowing Movies: Blade Runner (1982), by Gareth Branwyn

Mm200This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. -- Mark

Like Tears in the Rain, by Gareth Branwyn

[Video Link] In 1982, my wife and I had just moved from a rural commune in Virginia to Washington, DC. We moved to the city so that she could pursue her music career (among other reasons). We were still country mice, easily awoken in the morning by street traffic, bothered by the air quality, and longing for the open skies of the country -- where, at night, you could see the stardust of the Milky Way clear as day.

Every year my wife would go to Nantucket to perform at a restaurant called The Brotherhood of Thieves -- a place that wouldn't look at all out of place in Treasure Island. It was dark, brick-walled, candle and lantern-lit, with big oak-slab tables and wooden ass-numbing chairs. In 1982, she was performing a duo act with well-known New England folkie Linda Worster, with whom she frequently played on the island.

Seeing them perform every night was a joy, but some nights I'd want to drift onto the streets of Nantucket, get swept up into the tide of pink and Nantucket-red golf clothes and flouncy summer dresses, and see where the night might wash me up.

On this night, a somewhat cold and cloudy one, I ended up under the marquee of Nantucket's Dreamland Theater, a giant, creaking, wooden ship of a building that smelled of mold, popcorn grease, and sunscreen.

Blade Runner, it read. I knew nothing about the film, but it was sci-fi and had Harrison Ford in it, so I figured it'd at least be the perfect way to kill a couple of hours before the ladies' last set. Little did I know that I was stepping into a portal and would emerge a different person, on a different life trajectory than the person who was stumbling down the shabby carpet in the dark, looking for a seat.

I can't really say what made such a fundamental impact on me. The dark noir mood of the film, certainly, and the questions it raises about the nature of life, memory, what constitutes humanity, and whether "androids dream of electric sheep..." What I didn't know I was looking at was a cyberpunk aesthetic that I would soon become completely immersed in, through the work of William Gibson, John Shirley, and others -- dystopian worlds, fifteen minutes into the future, where mega-corporations run the show, where personal and planetary technologies permeate society, and where the street finds its own uses for things.

I found the brutality of the film, the violence of the film's rogue replicants towards humans, and their "retirement" at the hands of police special agent Rick Deckard (Ford) shocking to my country hippie sensibilities. But all of those shocks only made the final scene of replicant Roy Batty's (perfectly cast in Rutger Hauer) "natural" death all the more effective and moving. At the time, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and ate up Hauer's (allegedly ad libbed) Tannhaeuser Gate/tears in the rain soliloquy.

It was in that moment that the mood of the film throughly soaked into me. I felt as though I were in it. It ended and I unceremoniously swam back out into the boisterous, drunken nightlife of downtown Nantucket, which didn't feel at all like Nantucket anymore. Fittingly, it had started to drizzle and a fog had crept up Broad Street from Straight Wharf -- Blade Runner's perpetual rain had descended upon Nantucket.

I made my way back to The Brotherhood. I stood outside the window right next to where Pammy and Linda performed and peered in. I don't know what song it was, but they were in the middle of some energetic, smilie-faced, folk number. As I stood in the chilly rain, now getting seriously wet, Pam sensed I was there and turned to me as she sang. Her face dropped as she saw the faraway look on mine. I faked a smile back. She smiled, satisfied, and turned back into the music. I was a universe away. I was peering into that antique-glass window from the future.

I didn't go into the restaurant that night, one of the rare occasions I didn't at least catch one set. I went upstairs to the "Ent Room" (Entertainer's Room) where we stayed and I cried. I cried a lot. Again, I'm not really sure why. It is one of my few "molting moments" (as Cocteau called them) where I can't tell you what gears got turned, what wires in my nervous system got spliced. But I had changed, and I cried for the loss of something. Humanity, perhaps. I knew, without knowing it, that post-humanity had just dawned on me. Long live the new flesh. I would quickly travel from this moment into cyberpunk sci-fi, industrial/electronic music, bOING bOING, Mondo 2000, Beyond Cyberpunk!, and Wired. I cried for the death of the country hippie. And like Batty, in that moment, I could feel the full weight of my life, the amazing adventures I'd already been on, full of "things you people wouldn't believe," and somehow, sense wondrous adventures to come, And like Batty, I was sad to think that all of this, all of this accumulation of experience and knowledge, all of my memories, would vanish when I died.

Pammy is gone, eight years now, by her own hand, and I think of that "scene" from our life together frequently, that frozen moment at the window. It has become a scene in Blade Runner itself. I can't think of one without the other. I hold these and other memories in a precious kind of stasis 'cause I know that "all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."


  1. Wow, another of my all-time favorites. So heartbreaking, especially when you consider the director’s cut where the last thing we see is the elevator door closing on Deckard and Rachel with no hint of a happy ending or how long either of them will live. And no coddling voice over explanations. Just like life.

    Thank you, Mr. Branwyn, for sharing your own heartbreaking story to go with it.

  2. That was beautiful.  I like “molting moment” – thanks for introducing me to the phrase.

  3. Thank you, Gareth.  For the future and for keeping the past alive.
    That movie shocked me like a live wire to the back of the neck.  It showed what humanity can become because of what humanity is.  The gritty, worn and cluttered look symbolizes our culture to me; hacked together on the fly by accident and contingency.

  4. Excellent stuff. I also really appreciate this series since it does shed profound light on movies that might be mainstream or “old hat” to some, but have endured for a good reason.

  5. I remember watching this film as a kid and not really understanding it. A year or two ago I watched it with my Father, and we all got really silent towards the end.

  6. Making praise of Bladerunner new and beautiful for this readership is impressive in ways that shake my understanding of what it means to write.

  7. This is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing that moment with us. I suspect I’ll think of you, and her, the next time I watch the film, and the next time after that, and the next time after that.

  8. Bravo!  You express clearly something I felt when I saw this movie as a young twenty-something but could not ever put into adequate words.  Bravo!

  9. I’ve been dreading “Blade Runner” coming up as part of this series of pieces because so much has been written, so much has been read but nothing can add or detract to my sense of wonder at the film or my memories about how I felt at the time.  Most essays about “Blade Runner” feel to me like throwing meringues into a black hole – leaving the universe essentially unchanged – but this was beautiful.  Thanks Gareth.

    1. My thoughts exactly. Thank you so much Gareth for showing me yet another –and far more touching– layer of the movie. I too will think of you and Pam when I watch it again and wish you well from my side of the world.

    2.  Yes.  Since the “Mind Blowing Movies” series began, I was braced to roll my eyes at whatever poor sap tried to put into words (yet again) what is so mind blowing about this movie.  Thank you, Gareth, for putting me in my place, with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.

  10. I was working in the kitchen of the ‘Hood that summer (and had for many summers).  Very fond memories of Linda & Pam including Linda playing at a rainy wedding on the beach of two fellow ‘Hood employees.  I’m sorry to hear about Pam, strange kismet because I have just left 28 years of the film biz to work at a suicide prevention center.  Thanks for your lovely post (I’m sure we met once or twice since I used to live over the Brotherhood when I worked there).

  11. My favorite movie. Not sure I could even tell you why, but any time someone asks, it’s the first one that comes to mind.

    Beautiful story. It’s become a corny phrase, but I am sorry for your loss. Thank you.

  12. This describes poignant …thank you. Pammy was wonderful (as are you). The “Tears in the Rain” moment is huge. I can understand how it became something of a crossroad for you. Planned obsolescence– is that it? (That was part of my thinking during my last birthday.) It is hoped, that it is not just an epitaph; “tears in the rain” also represents a treasured moment.

  13. heartbreakingly beautiful. both the film and your telling of this story. thank you, gareth.

  14. I saw this film for the first time on PBS late at night. I was too young for such a film and it did indeed blow my mind. I loved it. It holds a special spot in my heart that is eclipsed only by Star Wars. IIRC, it was the first DVD I owned. 

  15. A moving review in so many ways. I cannot believe it has been 30 years since this movie premiered. I saw this with my film buff buddy with eclectic taste. He always introduced me to films and music I might oherwise not have been exposed to. I was 20 and he 21. Sadly he passed away of AIDS in the early 90’s so I understand a little how you feel Gareth. “Blade Runner” alo made me a lifelong Ridley Scott fan. Thank you for this

  16. Blade Runner certainly influenced music videos for a decade, so it looks almost cliched because the look has been used so often. 

    wikipedia says this about the Bradbury building


    “……Most notably, the building is the setting for both the climactic rooftop scene of the 1982 cult classic Blade Runner, as well as the set of the character J. F. Sebastian’s apartment in which much of the film’s story unfolds.”

  17. Gareth, you and a cadre of other hybrid mutant AIs from the future have made a profound impact on my own awareness of our place in a unique slice of timespace. Thank you for both being a guide, and for being moved in much the way I have been. It’s nice to see that we’re all in it together.

  18. And now I am also crying.  Sorry for your loss.  Thank you for this touching piece.

  19. As someone who lives his life on the edge, half in the physical, half in the digital, half country, half city, half art and half technology, this essay fit right into that divide. I honestly do not remember the first time I saw Blade Runner – it has been such a part of my aesthetic and worldview that it seems eternal.

    It is a signpost in time – without it, the world would be a much different place. And a poorer one, I think. It is the beginning of the end of the optimistic future, where we finally realized that everything would not be good forever. And for those of us who were children of those times, that is our expectation – of decay, and of failure, and of faded grandeur caked with grime.

    Although we are not there yet, we may soon be. And without films like this, we would have rushed headlong into that dystopia.

    It is also the reason you’ll likely see a lot of film noir over the next decade, as people of my generation finally get to start making their own movies.

  20. Thankyou for having the guts to pick a movie that you know will be top of the list for many readers, the skill to draw your experience so vividly that it feels fresh and raw, and the candor to share all that tradgedy tied together so neatly.

    It is quite perfect, and deeply moving.

  21. Yeah and they couldn’t get the funding together until they came to Shaw’s Studios in Hong Kong and our Chairman, Sir Run Run Shaw agreed to kick in (he has an up-front producer credit).

    Subject to a few “suggestions” (read conditions) – like major advertisers will PAY to have a neon sign in the movie, etc., etc.


    Ex CFO, Shaw’s Studios

  22. I avoided watching Bladerunner for many months after its release because of the mediocre reviews. Really, the reviewers of the day simply weren’t able to wrap there heads around it.

    Having been deep-fried in SF since elementary school I understood it immediately, and felt dumb for having held out.

    Now the film is acknowledged as a classic. Victory.

  23. I first knew you guys as country mice, and had wondered what engendered the change – didn’t know it was Blade Runner. Highly influential for me, too, but it made me try that much harder to create the anti-dystopian alternative. We know whose vision prevailed, though… Wachando, ese!

  24. Can I just give a big thumbs up for the Vangelis soundtrack which added so much to effect of this film. Coincidentally, I was actually listening to the soundtrack album on the boat home when I read this article. Coincidence 2: Harrison Ford has a home on Waiheke Island where I live. I wanna bump into him some day…

    1. Word on the streets is that he’s not too keen on discussing Blade Runner, or Star Wars, or… being bumped into, generally.

  25. What a beautiful piece of writing. Thank-you Gareth Branwyn for not holding back with your honesty. I had a similiar experience with the book version of Blade Runner when I was thirteen, but I doubt I could have writen it down with the same moving eloquence as you have done in this post. Thank you.

  26. Blade Runner was my first real film epiphany.

    I was a film nut from the moment we got a Betamax at 9 or so, but when I watched Blade Runner on TV at age 13, it was like a dormant part of my brain had been activated and started seeing the beauty in darkness, decay and random accretion. I saw it on TV and unfortunately didn’t record it (and being in Africa, pre-internet, it wasn’t available anywhere), but then 2 years later the director’s cut came out and I got to see it on the big screen, which made me realise just how important higher definition widescreen and decent sound were.  A local university theatre, who had a tiny cinema in a converted storage room, played it at a discount every week for ages, and I think I saw it nearly every time.

    I can’t watch it too often now, because life has got somewhat bleaker in outlook with age and these days I need more lighter-toned escapism, but it’s still my favourite film and the Blu-ray was the first I ever bought.

  27. Great movie, great monolog.  I actually enjoy the version with the narration at times and this was one instance where I missed what Ford said.  But movies and music can just be so powerful when they match the resonance of what is going on in your life at that moment.  There are a number of songs that so jived with the moment the whole scene just rushes back to me when I hear them.  Sorry for your loss.  Enjoy the moments.

  28. That same moment was deeply moving for me as well. This was one of those films that ushered me into adulthood and became increasingly important as I got older. Thank you for sharing your moment. Your memory may be washed away, but it will be harder to scrub out the imprint left here I think. 

  29. We were a hundred strong. It was a breakthrough men’s workshop in Seabek, Wa. I was documenting the event with camera and sound. Our buddy Charlie Kreiner , a very Roy-esk presence, keen insight knowing, leading, making space in our being, pushing through our pretense like decker flung to the side, aware for us, that even through the pain of fear… That the inversion of our sensibilities, even tooled confused roles like dekers conscription serving death and dominance in isolated towers found his heart leaning forward towards life, loves beauty illustrated in Rachel’s confusion, quiet, anima furred… and so eloquently delivered far above the streets, Roy’s gift, each word’s conveying moment, allowing, unfurling in gratitude from a life time’s sweet embrace, a breath, sigh… my peace birthed into you decker… At last…

    The realm has fastened facade, overburden on our hearts, minds and souls.
    My friend Mike, a nuclear engineer in a former life, hosted a lunch table opportunity in a break to share movies of influence. One after the other, boom, Our bodies shifting in nods of agreement…

    Blade runner… Tears in the rain.

    Men care deeply about everything.
    It’s not just this race we run scurrying over the tops of each other to prove we are more worthy in knot., we are blamed for our difficulties around an almost no way out solution, but we didn’t make it up… We were born into it and we mimic often hopeless, sans relief
    Sheesh it’s brutal. We’re numb in defense. Tiered in the reign of each waking day
    The elevator had one ending going down… But there was another ending up…
    I prefer the hope I felt from the cut shown at the theatre, now 30 years past.

    Into the light of the dark long night…

    Fly, mother flocker, fly

    Let doves fly and water shed down
    Care for this day here,
    knowing hope rises warm
    It’s best we share our own tears,
    in realms, coined, with re-leaf

    present time is now…

    Think better thoughts
    Drink more water.
    Breathe deeply.
    from here, beings loved
    we are there…


  30. The thing about the death of our dreams, indeed, about all of the deaths; of our dreams, expectations, ideas, is that ineffable sweetness on the other side. We don’t cry entirely out of a sense of loss, it’s also about what we’ve found. 

    What happens to us is an upwelling of raw emotion. It’s sadness at loss, anger at the feeling that we’ve been somehow betrayed, joy of discovering something priceless, it’s just raw.

    It’s the juice.

  31. At a time when most critics didn’t “get” Blade Runner and damned the film with faint praise, Joel E. Siegel, legendary critic of the Washington City Paper (NOT the mustachioed dude from Good Morning America), wrote an amazing review. He didn’t know what “it” was, but he definitely got it. http://peacelovesmusings.blogspot.com/2010/08/joel-e-siegels-1982-blade-runner-review.html

  32. You’ve captured this BF experience so succinctly and your added layer of personal loss in this reflection will reverberate with me forever now.  A real honour to read.  Thank you.

  33. How striking this essay is.  Beautiful!  I love stories about how art personally influences people in ways that the author/director/creator never intended or thought about.  It’s a humbling thing to realize that I can never quite know what will really truly matter to someone else, and sometimes not even to me.  Moments when I KNOW that something is changing my life in the same moment that it’s happening are awe-inspiring.

    Blade Runner is my mom’s favorite movie; I grew up watching it with her.  It’s part of the scenery of many many poignant places in my memory.  Thanks for sharing yours, and for refreshing mine.

  34. If  you are in New York City on a rainy night, head to the epicenter of “Korea Town” on 32nd between 6th and 7th avenues.  Staring West you get an incredible likeness of the Blade Runner cityscape and the street is capped with a rare contained pedestrian bridge between buildings.  Staring east there is a great neon sign that adds to likeness.  Businesses on the street go several flights up with American/Korean/Japanese signage that climbs the building’s walls to an abnormal height often in neon.  It always calls the movie to mind.  Have a stop-by if you live in or visit the NY area. 

    PS – the Kalbi and Bulgogi Barbecue at “Wonjo” restaurant are amazing if you want to add dinner to your visit.

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