Anyone who is a fan of original the Blade Runner is familiar with its history: It was box office flop when it was released in 1982 and got a second life when it was released on video—one of the first movies to do so. But there’s another story in the Blade Runner’s canon that is rarely discussed, and that is its popularity with the gay men in the eighties and nineties.
For most people, Blade Runner is a cool noir movie set in the future. But for gay men of a certain age, Blade Runner is also a parable about the AIDS crisis.
The most obvious comparison between the four replicants who escape to earth to confront their maker and AIDS patients from the eighties, is their quest for more time.
In the film, replicants are “born” with Methuselah Syndrome, a gene that limits their life span to four years, preventing them from developing emotions and rising up against their masters. At the time the film was released, the majority of AIDS patients were predominantly young gay men (as well as women and haemophiliacs). If anyone wanted more time, it was these men whom, like the replicants, were in the prime of their lives. It’s a theme that was echoed in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America ten years later.
When Roy, the replicant leader finally meets his maker, Dr. Tyrell, he’s told there is no cure for the gene that will cut his life short. Tyrell explains he tried everything to reverse the effects of the gene but the virus is too resilient. Roy bargains with Tyrell, he proposes different possibilities for a cure, and Tyrell tells him why they don’t work.
Roy is skeptical of Tyrell’s dedication to a cure, just as AIDS activists questioned pharmaceutical company’s commitment to finding an effective and affordable treatment, not to mention that lack of support from the so-called leader of the Free World, Ronald Reagan. Whether it was increasing funding to find a cure or promote awareness, every solution proposed to prevent the virus from spreading was met with excuses.
“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long,” Dr. Tyrell tells Roy right before Roy kills him. Up until AIDS began its Sherman’s march across the queer community, gay men had never known so many freedoms, especially in San Francisco and New York. The flame that was gay liberation that shone so bright in the seventies, was quickly being extinguished in the early eighties. And like the replicants, it was Conservatives’ only method of keeping gay men enslaved and preventing the uprising that was to come in the form of ACT-UP.
Like the Nexus 6 model Replicants of 2041, gay men of the eighties were a rare breed on the verge of extinction. If they didn’t take matters into their own hands, they would be doomed.
There are other, more subtle comparisons between the queer community in the eighties and the Los Angles of Blade Runner. The movie’s costumes screamed of the club scene post Studio 54; the refusal to recognize that replicants and gay men were sentient beings who could experience love; and of course that feeling of hiding in plain site from the authorities. I don’t think a sentence better describes trying to pass as straight in the eighties than Tyrell Corp’s motto “More human than human.”
Not only did the themes of Blade Runner resonate with gay men, but so did the original soundtrack by Vangelis.
Before Blade Runner, Vangelis introduced mainstream pop audiences to electronica with his Academy Award winning score for Chariots of Fire. The album was a blend of classical and electronic music that went well at dinner parties and in elevators.
With Blade Runner, Vangelis took it up a notch and created a score that could have come out of the gay bathhouses and sex clubs of the eighties. The album has a feeling of catharsis to it that goes well with two men fucking. Many of the gay porn videos would incorporate the heavy beats and electronic chimes from the soundtrack into the music that played over the moans and groans of men getting it on. There is no doubt in my mind there is a direct link between Vangelis’ score and Moby, whose albums would define the gay party scene in the nineties.
Now that I’ve seen Blade Runner 2049, I can say that it is a film for our time as Blade Runner was for its time. The moral and military control corporations have over our daily lives; how we negotiate our virtual relationships, not to mention technology’s relationship with the natural world resonated with me. There are still tendrils of connections between the old film’s themes and production design and the new one, but you would have to know they were there to appreciate them.
Blade Runner 2049 may attempt to define to what it means to be human in 2017, (and if its first weekend’s box office gross is any indication, the film’s position in pop culture as well), but in my humble opinion,the original has way more soul.