The Mystery Makes the Hero Choose
Let’s stay with Blade Runner in this post, but let’s go back to the 1982 original starring Harrison Ford and Sean Young and directed by Ridley Scott (screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples.)
If indeed, as we’ve been positing in previous posts,
The female carries the mystery
The male’s role is to uncover the mystery,
then what happens when he (remember, the “male” can be a female too, as long as she acts in the archetypal rational/assertive/aggressive style of a male) does uncover the mystery?
Answer: he is thrust into a moral crisis.
He is forced to choose.
In the 1982 Blade Runner, the mystery is carried by the character of Rachael (Sean Young.)
The male hero is Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). His profession is to hunt down and “retire,” i.e. kill, the artificial humans called replicants. In one of the movie’s opening scenes Deckard is sent to the Tyrell Corporation, manufacturer of the new Nexus 6 series of replicants, to test one of these new models on a “Voight Kampf machine.” The machine can tell if a subject is a real human or a replicant.
The founder of the corporation, Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), has other ideas however. He wants Deckard to use the machine on a real human first.
I want to see a negative before I provide you with a positive.
He summons Rachael (Sean Young), introducing her as his assistant. Deckard runs the test. Sure enough, the machine says Rachael is a replicant.
Though Deckard ends the test without comment, Rachael reads this in his eyes.
Up to that moment, Rachael had no clue that she was artificial. She thought she was a human.
See how she’s “carrying the mystery?”
The movie’s “A” story is already rolling. Deckard has been ordered to track down a team of rebel replicants including Roy (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Daryl Hannah) who have highjacked an Off-World shuttle and come to Earth with designs of mayhem.
Deckard plunges in to tracking them down.
There’s only one problem.
He has fallen in love with Rachael.
At the same time, Rachael is reeling emotionally from the discovery of her true identity. If she is artificial, what is she? Does she have a soul? Is she human? She has completely convincing memories from childhood. Where did they come from? Implanted by the Tyrell Corporation? Then who or what is she?
Remember too that Deckard’s job is to kill replicants.
Does that mean he must kill Rachael? Yes, says his cop boss Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh).
To make the moral choice even harder for Deckard, in one shoot-out on the street, Rachael saves his life by killing a replicant who’s about to murder Deckard. Now he owes her.
Then there’s the ultimate kicker:
That Voight-Kampf test of yours. Did you ever take it yourself?
By this point in the story, Deckard’s entire world has been turned on its head. He has become 100% emotionally involved in Rachael’s dilemma. He loves her. Her pain has become his pain. But if he doesn’t do what his role as a blade runner commands him to, the consequences for him are as fatal as they are for Rachael.
What is he going to do about this?
In other words,
when the “male” uncovers the mystery carried by the “female,” he is forced to make a moral choice.
A choice that constitutes the theme and soul of the story.
In Casablanca, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), encountering the mystery embodied by Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), must make a choice.
In Chinatown, Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), coming face to face with the mystery embodied by Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), must make a choice.
In Blade Runner 2049, K (Ryan Gosling) confronting the mystery carried by Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), must make a choice.
If you haven’t seen the 1982 Blade Runner, I won’t spoil the ending for you. Suffice it to say, Deckard does what a hero is supposed to do.
Confronting the mystery, he makes a choice.
This weekly brain food from Steve has been mind blowing and pleasantly provocative. It’s led to some interesting conversation with my wife, who informed me she’s carrying a mystery, and it’s led me to want to uncover the mystery of my own dismissal from a corporate job. It’s helping me to understand, uncover, and, better, write about it. To be provocative, why were there several females, mostly in quality and compliance functions, who were so willing to invalidate me and sabotage my career? No, not a #metoo case, it was product quality and I was the only one willing to say “stop”. Blocking for males of greater power in order to gain/hold power?
I never thought that Deckard is a replicant. Every time he’s head-to-head with one, he gets the crap beat out of him, as any human would. You have to do some mental gyrations in order to reconcile that with him being a replicant.
A pleasant surprise: My male character is faced with a moral decision when the girl plays on his guilt. Nice to know I’ve done it right.
Delightful. Of course, every woman carries a mystery … even if she is not pregnant. This simple profundity implied in your post leaves me speechless in contemplation.
I learn something new every week. Thank you, Mr. Pressfield!
Has anyone ever mentioned you would make a great philosophy and/or religious studies professor? You always deliver the most interesting and thought-provoking posts.
I’ve not seen Blade Runner. I have always thought What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? that both women carried the mystery. And they did it well.
I’m thinking about film noir which Blade Runner 1982 certainly was. On TCM Eddie Muller has been vamping on women in film noir as the hope for the future —they stimulate moral choices here.
I was writing in my blog this week about (1949) A Letter to Three Wives. The character Addie Ross has a note delivered to three wives saying she will take one of their husbands that night. Throughout the day each of them has time to reflect on her marriage and realises she is uncertain.
It is a good look at marriage and human weaknesses. When only women are in the mystery they also make moral decisions. The marital status requires human empathy and strength.
“Confronting the mystery…” Mystery lives within each of us. Assimilating the combination of events that made us that mystery, is a lifelong journey. (Some think themselves fortunate in declaring they’ve uncovered that mystery at an early age) … After entering those statements, it reads like I’m repeating back to the teacher what I’ve learned – a teacher wants to know that his efforts of imparting knowledge have hit their mark. I learn a new way of looking at my work – published and yet to be – when reading your weekly thoughts. Gathering every morsel of imparted knowledge on the board is an effort that keeps me growing in my own mystery.
He loves her and her pain has become his pain.
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