I've recently had the opportunity to watch a famous cult classic film entitled Blade Runner for one of my classes. I was pleasantly taken aback by the great costumes designed for the film. My favorite character was Rachael who was played by Sean Young before her days of boozing rants. I had to do a small presentation based on Sean Young's (Rachael's) appearance in this movie, so for those of you who are either familiar with the film or have read the book, here it is:
Blade Runner is a science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott based on Philip K, Dick’s novel entitled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The movie as the book can be read as a critique on contemporary society. This critique displays the future direction human society could take due to corporate dominance, disregard for environment, and lack of empathy for humanity. The film was released in over one thousand theatres in 1982; however, the opening was quite disappointing. The critics were at odds regarding their opinions upon the film’s release claiming that it was a rather slow and cliché adventure film; but others predicted that it would stand the test of time because of its complexity, and multi-layered meaning. While the film was not initially a success with North American audiences, it became popular internationally and subsequently a cult classic. The film’s dark futuristic film noir style has influenced many science fiction films and to this day and still continues to influence modern trends.
The synopsis of the story is about a group of four replicants or “androids” who escape from Mars in order to find a solution to prolonging their four year life span. Tyrell is the genetic genius and the head of a giant corporation who designed these replicants. He had given them a short life span as a fail-save device that serves as protection against their increasing desire for developing human emotions. Replicants are forbidden to be on earth because of their potential of becoming too human thus a special unit force also known as Blade Runners is established to hunt down replicant renegades. Blade Runners use the Voight-Kampf test to distinguish replicants from the rest of the human population by checking if they can pass an empathy test. The most experienced Blade Runner, Deckard, played by Harrison Ford is hired to investigate and kill (or retire) the four escaped replicants. During his investigation at the Tyrell Corporation, he conducts a Vogt-Kampff test on an experimental replicant model named Rachael, who not only does not know she’s a replicant, but has also been programmed with memories from a non-existent childhood. After discovering the truth about her true identity, Rachael flees the Tyrell Corporation and begins a romantic relationship with Deckard. Rachael’s discovery that she is a replicant paradoxically inspires her transformation from Tyrell’s robotic ‘human’ niece to a more liberated and even humane character. Her transformation can be charted through her appearance in different scenes. I will analyse the changes in her wardrobe and make-up and argue that they reflect Rachael’s increasing self-awareness about her true identity.
In the beginning of the movie Rachael is introduced to us as the niece of one of the richest men responsible for manufacturing replicants. Being involved in her uncle’s company she is aware that replicants are products and objects. However, once she starts to suspect she is not a human as she previously thought, but a replicant, her identity slowly starts to change.
Rachael is presented to us as a mysterious and a seductive woman. She walks towards Deckard in a calculated stiffness, with her hand in her pocket, she introduces herself, sits down, and lights up a cigarette. In this particular moment she is very reminiscent of a stereotypical femme fatale type of character. As she holds the cigarette in between her long immaculately well polished fingers she transforms into a popular film noir actress. What is important to note in this image is how assuredly and gently she smiles at Deckard before she takes the test.
She is presented as a cliché 1940’s movie star rather than someone with a unique identity which can be analysed though her appearance. Her hair is carefully styled and pinned up similar to that of a film noir actress. Her make-up, including her lipstick is meticulously and perfectly applied. She is dressed in a two piece black suite: a tight black pencil skirt and a well-tailored buttoned up jacket with high shoulder pads. She presents herself in rather formal and stiff attire which is accentuated by the small tie on her neck.
As Rachael’s suspicion about her identity progresses she decides to escape and go against her creator Tyrell, going as far as shooting another replicant to save Deckard’s life. She is in a state of uncertainty about her future and seems distraught. It is quite evident that Rachael is no longer the perfect specimen we encountered in the first scene. She is taking on traits that are more human because she is becoming less perfect in her appearance as opposed to well composed and formally attired. In this scene she is still wearing the pencil skirt and the well-tailored buttoned up suit jacket; however, now we notice that the small tie around her neck has all of a sudden become loose and her eye make-up is running down her face. The colour of her suit is different in this scene - now it is grey instead of black. The lighter colour may suggest a progression to a more informal state. She is no longer the formal well-composed Rachael we first encountered as her appearance is slowly starting to change.
Eventually Rachael’s appearance takes a dramatic turn. She is not longer wearing the high powered formal suit jacket as in the last two scenes. Here, she is in light loose -fitting unbuttoned silk shirt playing the piano. The colour of her wardrobe has now changed to white. She methodically puts down her hair in an awkward gesture. Her trademark scarlet red lipstick is gone and her smudged eyeliner disappears. She seems to be more natural in her appearance. This scene ironically suggests that when she comes to fully accept that she is a replicant she becomes more human and less perfect. She finally accepts who she is and she seems to be more vulnerable and scared. Her face is more child-like as opposed to the femme fatale which was presented to us in the first scene.
The theme of the film is based on the nature of humanity and what it means to be a human. It is therefore important to note in the film the change which occurs within Rachael. By closely analysing her shift in style and aesthetic appearance it is quite evident that her physical appearance changes in parallel with her change in her self-awareness. In the beginning when she identifies herself as a human her attire and gestures are stiff and calculated, almost reminiscent of a robot. However, as she learns that she is no longer a human but a replicant she in turn becomes more humane and falls in love with Deckard. Ridley Scott was able to establish a certain sense of irony whereby replicants upon their discovery of their android identity, became more human. Perhaps he wanted to reflect the way current society has become desensitized within the corporate establishment. The presentation of human beings in the movie suggests that they lack empathy. Their drive for destruction and corporate monopoly ultimately creates a society that is caught in a polluted and depressing environment as opposed to the replicants who desire to live and love.