As I read of Rutger Hauer’s recent death, I was transported to a rain-soaked rooftop and an unforgettable scene
of sci-fi dystopia in "Blade Runner" (1982).
Hauer, the Dutch star, had a wide-ranging television and film career, but it is his role as the villain Roy Batty and especially his last encounter with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) that will secure his legacy.
For both Hauer and director Ridley Scott, this was no stock villain without relatable or attractive qualities. Instead we see a troubled bad guy who evokes sympathy.
But how and why? Because in the hands of artists, the dark night of the soul is made real, thereby making even the most dastardly villain at least partly understandable. Aristotle’s "Poetics" explains how even the most immoral character can garner empathy if their crisis results from great suffering.
Consider other movie arch villains: Colonel Kurtz from "Apocalypse Now" (1979) and Batman’s nemesis, the Joker, in "The Dark Knight" (2008). Both are touched by madness, but their maladies stem from the paradoxes inherent in day-to-day life. They are highly intelligent characters whose knowledge creates the echo chamber for their self-loathing.
Kurtz is witness to a pile of Vietnamese babies whose arms have been severed as a defiant gesture aimed at U.S. military aid, and yet he cannot bring himself to utter swear words because he is an officer. The Joker is a crime world mastermind in the mocking wardrobe and makeup of a clown with a painted-on smile. In a disturbing underworld of goons, he is Pagliacci-like, forced to witness the smiling politicians who, just as corrupt, hide behind a mask of good will, mirroring our own experiences.
And then, of course, there is Batty, made out to be a soldier-killer, also in the spectral, smeared makeup of a clown, grasping the hero Deckard’s life in his hands as rain, like tears, courses down. In the film’s final scene, Batty’s complexity, his hint of humanity, his poetry are suddenly thrown into stark relief. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. . . .”
We witness the cleansing rain wash away the replicant’s mask. He knows fear, anger, love, along with human contradiction. Facing death, he recognizes the source of his madness; knowing how to handle it is what separates this villain from the stereotypes, the cynical from the optimistic, faith from dismay. Batty is our modern Hamlet coming to terms with whether to be or not to be.
We accept that "Hamlet" is a work of richness and depth, yet "Blade Runner’s" success is often seen solely in its status as a stylistic Hollywood film. Yet, it asks questions common to any great epic or play, becoming what might be called a Theo Drama. Without a father (God), how will these prodigal (replicant) children find real purpose? Will they discover meaning? Or will they remain only fragments? It’s the same dilemma found in the lost souls of Beckett’s "Waiting for Godot" and Pirandello’s "Six Characters in Search of an Author."
Batty, as played by Hauer, was outspoken, brutal, a cyber punk rocker, like Billy Idol on an off-world colony, and he was the oldest child of the cast, the leader. But he also carried the greatest burden. He was made a superior being, now abandoned by a world he had left behind. He wanted the cup to be removed, to have more life, not the four-year lifespan promised by his technocratic father, Tyrell.
He faced the postmodern world’s crisis. All the virtual memories in the world created by the Tyrell Corporation could not capture the miracle they find in the hopeful eyes of a genuine human, an intangible essence, something more than a synthetic, material soul. Herein lies the tragedy.
Clowns like Kurtz, the Joker, and Batty are the symbols of our eternal mystery, a divine tragicomedy. It’s why their face paint does not always represent what is truly underneath; similarly, for the rest of us, our expressions don’t always convey our innermost thoughts. At some point, all of us will come to the edge of our lifespan, with only one question remaining: How do I want to die? Will we, like Batty, in the end love life more than anything, even revenge? Will we embrace the tragic sense as merely part of the human journey?
Even during that final scene, wherein Batty gives his final monologue, we are thrust into Deckard’s shoes, literally viewing Batty’s speech through Deckard’s eyes via the power of cinema. Batty breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to us, as we join Deckard in wondering what the replicant’s speech means for the human journey.
As Batty releases the dove, he relinquishes inner spirits to those higher mysteries.
Batty’s words still resonate: “Time to die.”
Good night, sweet Prince.
Robert Orlando is a filmmaker, an author, an entrepreneur and a scholar. As an entrepreneur, he founded Nexus Media. As a scholar, he has in-depth knowledge of ancient and modern history and politics. As an award-winning writer/director, his latest films are the thought-provoking documentaries "Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe," "Silence Patton," and the new release, "The Divine Plan: Reagan, John Paul II and the Dramatic End of the Cold War." His books include "Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe" and, as co-author, "The Divine Plan." His work was published in "Writing Short Scripts" and he has written numerous articles on a wide range of topics for HuffPost, Patheos, and Daily Caller. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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