I’ve only got a single paper copy of my dissertation, and it is fading badly. I typed it originally on a machine that used diskettes for storage and I used a borrowed disk, so that it went back to the computer’s owner when I had finished the work. In those days, I thought of computers as posh typewriters: the output was a physical product, and the data was simply means to producing that object.
I’ve been meaning to type it up into a digital copy, and tidy up some of the spelling and punctuation for some years, and I have finally done it. I’m not entirely sure of the copyright status of dissertations: I have an idea that the university has some claim over it. Anyway, I thought I would post a copy, in case anyone might find it interesting. It’s pretty adolescent, as you’d expect, but I stand by the overall gist.
It’s a measure of how busy I have been over the last few months, and how my media consumption has been restricted, that I hadn’t known that Hollywood has made a Bladerunner sequel. I only discovered it from reading my parents’ Telegraph last Saturday, when I was visiting: my father has been ill again, and I took a train trip up to Suffolk to see them. I dislike the Telegraph’s politics, but the review is a fine piece of writing.
I have a very deep love of the original film. Its soundtrack, in both versions, has been a constant presence on my mp3 player/ipod/phone over a couple of decades and the film was my route to reading Philip K. Dick, who was the subject of my dissertation. I bought one of the updated DVDs a year or so back and was happily surprised by how well the film had aged; how it had retained its power and clarity.
In fact, I have issues with Bladerunner, despite loving it. I think Scott often presents a quite right-wing vision of life. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a book about the terror of life without a soul, without empathy. Dick’s primary concern in all his writing was the importance of the soul – the core of the intelligent existence that is not, ultimately, a material quality. Dick had a pessimistic view of the universe, believing that entropy indicated hopelessness, but consistently wrote about characters who, through empathy, love, optimism, or other spiritual qualities, overcame despair. He had, also, as Brian Aldiss put it, “…unwavering…moral sensibility. He recognizes and portrays the actuality of evil: a kind of being, lacking in empathy, sympathy or any sense of common humanity – be that being android, psychotic, junkie, autistic, paranoid or fascist…Though Dick works hard to make us understand them, he spares little sympathy for them.”* The replicants’ tragedy and suffering in Do Androids Dream… does not redeem them. They are evil. The fear that the human characters may also be artificial, but just better made, is a deeper level of the book, but we know them by their works: it is their qualities, not their authenticity, that define them.
For Scott, the wounded soldier is deep enough and, by tying the plight of the soldier to the plight of the slave, he redeems and dignifies the replicants in a way that is absent in the book. The poor, misunderstood psychopath carries the film and the idea that he is a truer expression of humanity than the human is quite enough around which to build a masterful film. This is partly a result of difference of media: Scott is a true film-maker and a master of telling a story visually, and that will shape the stories he tells. It is also a difference of time: the sense of wonder and possibility of sixties drug-inspired spiritual searching that Dick darkly satirised but also lived, had been co-opted into consumerism by the eighties, and the dark narrowing of human future no longer seemed like a distant vision. Also, on a deeply troubled production, Rutger Hauer saved the film, giving it the quotable summary that gave a real power to the gutted story Scott had filmed.
That said, while I admire Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep more than the film for being, in my view, truer to the world than Bladerunner, I love the film. If I had not seen the reviews, I would be approaching this sequel with trepidation, but I have read them, and they are all superb, and I am looking forward to tonight with huge excitement. I haven’t even watched the trailer, although I have embedded it here, for future reference.
Please, God: let it be good. I need it to be really, really good.
*Brian Aldiss With David Wingrove; The Trillion Year Spree, Paladin, London, 1986, p417