Friday, March 15, 2013

Blade Runner dysmorphia

The term "dysmorphia" is otherwise classified as "body dysmoprhic disorder," and it has to do with the psychological condition in which a person obsessively focuses on a perceived flaw in his or her body.

So it's not exactly the right word for the condition I experience related to Blade Runner, but it's in the neighborhood, so I'm going to co-opt it for this purpose. (Besides, "dysmorphia" seems like the kind of word that should go with a science fiction movie about androids.)

The flaw I perceive in Blade Runner is that I can no longer recognize it as a single movie with a single, certain storyline.

It's a disorder because it's seriously affecting how great I consider the film to be, which is pretty darn great under ordinary circumstances.

But when I watched it again for the first time in years this past Saturday night, the viewing was accompanied by a certain amount of trepidation. I felt I could no longer be certain what Blade Runner I was going to see, what was different from other versions I'd seen, and which one was truly the superior version. It has essentially become a foreign body that's unrecognizable to me.

It's a disorder because it's probably all in my mind.

See, this whole (very mild) anxiety was kicked off by the fact that it was the director's cut of Blade Runner we were ready to watch. I couldn't tell you for sure, but I don't think I've seen the director's cut before. The reason I was fairly certain I hadn't seen it ended up being spurious, because as it turns out, this is not the version where the end of the movie reveals that Deckard is a replicant. The fact that such a version of this movie does exist, yet this is not it, only adds to my Blade Runner dysmorphia. (Incidentally, I just looked up other terms, and "body integrity identity disorder" sounds on the surface more like what I'm trying to describe here -- except that this particular disorder involves a desire to amputate one's arms or legs.)

Getting to the end of the movie only slightly alleviated my concerns. See, as it ended up, there was only one thing I could be sure was different from the original theatrical version that I'm sure I know, which is that the movie ended slightly earlier, with Rachael and Deckard getting on the elevator in her building, not driving off into the countryside. That doesn't change the essential story, unlike the Deckard replicant version. I later learned that Ridley Scott's cut also excised Deckard's voiceover, which I remembered that I knew, but didn't notice one way or the other when I was watching. (There was also an added dream sequence involving a unicorn, which did strike me as strange at the time, but I thought maybe it was just something I didn't remember.)

So I decided to go to the interwebs to sort this whole thing out, and I discovered that of course, wikipedia has a page devoted to this in-depth. I won't bore you with all the details, but here's a link to the page: And if you don't choose to follow that link, I'll just tell you that there are seven versions listed.


Blade Runner is not unique in having a half-dozen versions of itself, and in fact, many of the other movies that have done this have done it for far less defensible reasons, most of them motivated specifically by profit. With Blade Runner, you get the sense it's one of those cases were the movie is so rich and so beloved by its fans, that it was for purely artistic reasons that all these other cuts of the film have been unearthed/made available/discussed in hushed tones of awe.

But in the cases of some of those other films, like the original Star Wars trilogy, at least many of the new additions have been done for the purposes of digital masturbation. "I've got new technology now and I want to use it to make the original movie look like it was made today instead of in 1977." While this is a much-reviled approach to the movie, at least it doesn't change anything essential about its plot. Star Wars doesn't now end with the Death Star not blowing up. It's got an extra shockwave ring encircling the explosion, but there's still an explosion. And because everything that's important is the same -- yes, I know, Greedo shooting first is important -- I don't suffer from a bad case of Star Wars dysmorphia. (I may have a mild case, though.)

So after I've written all this and bemoaned the many versions of Blade Runner that have blurred my sense of it and made me more hesitant to watch it over and over again, there's one final joke here:

There is no version where Deckard is a replicant.

Of those seven versions of the film wikipedia talks about, none of them ends with the grand ironic revelation that Harrison Ford's character is no more human than the perps he's chasing.

So how the hell did I get this idea?

It turns out it all comes from an earlier version of the script by Hampton Fancher, before it was reluctantly handed off to David Peoples for fine-tuning and revisions. In at least one and possibly several versions of the script, the movie ends with a voiceover in which Deckard says that he and Roy Batty were "brothers" and "similar models." As far as I can tell, this was not actually shot, and the only reason I thought it existed was that it must have been news sometime in the last 15 years that the movie was originally intended to end with Deckard as a replicant.

Because my Blade Runner dysmorphia was already in full swing at the time I heard this, I assumed that the replicant version did actually exist on film.

So how does one avoid movie dysmorphia? Well, we ourselves can't do anything to avoid it, as we are just the passive recipients of the creative decisions of others. The responsibility lies with those others. And my standard line of discussion on this topic goes something like this: Da Vinci didn't go back and keep tweaking the Mona Lisa. He just finished it and released it to the public. That's how movies should be. Once the art exists in the world, LEAVE IT. That's it. You're done.

At least this post has helped put me on the road to recovery from my Blade Runner dysmorphia. As usual, the first step in the cure is to recognize -- and subsequently research -- the problem.


Travis McClain said...

At first I was like, "Thanks for spoiling that ending from a version I haven't seen" and then I was like, "Ha! You imagined the whole thing."

Then I remembered that I've been adamant I once saw Return of the Jedi on TV and it included some extra dialog between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo that was never in the film. I think it was in the comic book adaptation and/or the novel, and I conjured a film version that included it.

Both your incident and mine center on Harrison Ford, which I'm pretty sure proves that he's at the center of a space/time continuum rift of some sort.

Vancetastic said...

But I didn't *just* imagine it, as there did exist a version of the script that ended that way. What I need to figure out was whether other people also thought there was a filmed version of this or not. And since the revelation was mostly taken care of in voiceover, it wouldn't have required any additional shooting. I gather you were not one of those people, though.