Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Midterm (really) Rough Draft

Thesis: Death is a major theme in both Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Blade Runner. Each version uses death in its own distinct way. These distinctions can be characterized and explained by the type of story being told, the medium through which it’s told and the backgrounds of the story tellers.

In the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, death can be viewed as ever present, but never directly in focus. In contrast to this the Blade Runner universe is dark and full of life and the death’s that occur are drawn out and detailed. These contrasting styles can be attributed to many factors. The most important of these factors being the story.

Although the movie is based on the novel there are important details that are changed to create a whole new story. Many of these changes are related to how death is portrayed and the role it takes in the story. In DADoES death can be viewed as ever present. The story takes place in a world trying to survive in the wake of “World War Terminus”. Suburbs are almost completely empty, “the watchful owners had either died or migrated to a colony world. Mostly the former.” (Dick 12) This contrasts with the setting of Blade Runner. The streets are crowded and busy. There is no mention of any war. Compared to the world of DADoES, the setting of Blade Runner is not that of a dying desperate world. This is the case in DADoES. There are constant mentions of radioactive dust slowly killing everyone. As Deckard exits his home at the beginning of the book he describes the air, “The morning air, spilling over with radioactive motes…haunting his nose; he sniffed involuntarily the taint of death.” (Dick 5) Right from the beginning the novel sets an atmosphere of death. It’s literally and metaphorically in the air degenerating and killing those who remain on Earth. In Blade Runner the setting is urban and industrial, but the idea that the human race is struggling to survive is not present.

The setting is not the only thing that can be connected to these contrasting themes of death. Another strongly contrasting story element is the androids themselves both in their behavior and their deaths. In both the book and the movie there are times when the androids are portrayed as both good and bad. In DADoES there is roughly an equal amount of good and bad shown in the androids. Rachael and Luba Loft are both shown as more human. Rachael in how she helps Deckard and Luba for her artistic abilities. The Batys and Pris are portrayed as slightly darker characters with Pris pulling of the legs of the spider just to see what happens. In Blade Runner the androids are shown to be much more violent and murderous. Each of the four androids that that Deckard is after try to kill him. Additionally Roy Batty himself kills Chew (the eyeball man), J.F. Sebastian and Tyrell (the Rosen of the Movie). In DADoES the fact that the androids had killed people to escape is only mentioned in passing. They are never described killing anyone in the novel. This goes along with how death is generally portrayed in the novel, it’s there, but it’s more or less in the background and smoothed over. Whereas in Blade Runner the deaths are often shown in graphic detail and the androids always fighting back.

The manner in which the androids die and how they are described further supports each versions theme of death. When looking at both versions an obvious difference that can be observed is how much detail is put into the deaths of the androids. In Blade Runner, when Deckard kills his first android Zhora (the stripper), there is a five minute chase scene followed by a slow motion scene where Deckard shoots her twice as she crashes through multiple glass windows. Compare this to any of the androids deaths and you can see the difference. None of the androids deaths are described with more than a sentence or two. The difference is most obvious in the death of the final android Roy Batty. In the movie there is a long drawn out scene, nearly 20minutes long, of Deckard running from and fighting Roy. One could say that the drawn out deaths and action scenes in Blade Runner were simply made that way in order to conform to a more Hollywood style. I do not disagree with this, but I believe this is only part of the explanation. I believe that these scenes were made to intentionally highlight the theme of death that Ridley Scott was trying to portray. Everyone one of the androids in the movie is trying to fight Deckard. They are attempting to fight death. In fact this is the androids goal throughout the movie, to find a way around their four year lifespan. The androids are aware of their inevitable deaths and are fighting and killing to survive. “I want more life, Father” says Roy Batty to Tyrell, but Tyrell informs him that this is impossible. It’s at this point that Roy then kills both Tyrell and J.F. Sebastian.

In the book the androids behave much differently. Only Polokov and Roy really make any attempts to fight back. Luba Loft does not fight and when Deckard threatens Rachael she gives up and accepts it. Deckard himself says “I can’t stand the way you androids give up.” (Dick 176) This implies that this behavior is common among the androids. Also compared to the movie the android’s deaths are not described in nearly the same detail. Deckard kills both Irmgard Baty and Roy Baty in less than two paragraphs. Even though they do put up a small fight it is nothing compared to how the androids fought in Blade Runner. In this way their deaths blend in with the rest of the story; they remain out of focus. This is consistent with how death is portrayed in the novel. As stated before even though death is always present in the novel, it is smoothed over.

It is my opinion that a book is much better at describing details than a movie, so I believe that these deaths were intentionally not described in much detail. I believe that Philip Dick does this because the deaths of the androids are not as important to the overall story for him. Dick does not attempt to highlight any of the deaths as being that important. This continues the novel’s trend of never really putting any death into focus. The book takes a more detached approach to death compared to the movie. This is further exemplified by how the death of Polokov is described. “…Rick fired his regulation issue old-style pistol from its shoulder holster; the .38 magnum slug struck the android in the head and its brain box burst.” (Dick 82) By describing the android’s brain/head, which is entirely organic, as a “brain box” Dick effectively distances the reader from the fact that Deckard just blew Polokov’s brains out.

Now that we know how death is portrayed in the novel and the movie, the more difficult question is “Why?” I believe that this question is best answered by looking at the story tellers themselves.

Need a conclusion here!


Kevin said...

The last sentence is a topic sentence for the next paragraph.

Adam Johns said...

I have two main comments at this point.

First, while I think you're reasonably convincing in general that death is a very different thing in the book and movie (although important in their own ways in each one), you'd be more convincing with more careful attention to details. For instance, while the city isn't empty in the movie, it's perfectly clear that something terrible happened - people are emigrating (with strong encouragement for government and the Tyrell corporation), and a "real snake" is unimaginably expensive - so the them of mass extinction is still there. So spend some time working on details like this - avoid generalizations, and try to back up your claims more using the text of the book & movie.

Second thought: let me turn your ending thought on its head.

"Now that we know how death is portrayed in the novel and the movie, the more difficult question is “Why?” I believe that this question is best answered by looking at the story tellers themselves."

It's obviously a good question - but to me, while it's interesting to ask "why" it's even more interesting to ask why it matters. Exploring Ridley Scott and PKD as a way of answering "why" is a good start, but at the end you also need to clarify to us why we care: once we understand how death works in the book and movie, what should we take away? How should we understand both of them differently?

Show why the question matters, in other words.

Kevin said...

Yeah... I may have conveniently looked over a few minor details that didn't exactly agree with the overall idea of my paper. Glad you noticed...