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Blade Runner: Noir in Juxtaposition

Blade Runner is an interesting mix of science fiction and noir. It is set in Los Angeles in 2019 (so basically any day now they should be creating flying cars), and the design element of space plays an integral role in setting up the noir feel of the movie. There is a juxtaposition between the ground view of LA and the view from the sky. When the cars fly over the city it is dark and covered with skyscrapers, but it is also kind of peaceful. On the ground there are people everywhere from all corners of the world and there are always extra noises and buildings that make the city loud and crowded. While you can escape the hustle and bustle when you are flying in a car, there is no escape for ordinary people down below. This difference is furthered with the added rain that always seems to be pouring from the sky. Shots from above the city never show rain (which doesn’t make sense from a meteorological point of view), but whenever they show the streets, it is always raining. The things that connect these two worlds are the skyscrapers themselves and the giant billboard signs that bring the constant noise and activity up to a higher level (in altitude). The difference between the sky view and street view sets up the noir theme because the hero has to operate on the ground level where there is limited space and small rooms in buildings. The high and mighty researchers live in big open houses (with lots of space) at higher altitudes and can therefore get away from the dirty city streets (and the rain) until their creations come to get them.

While the altitude of flying cars versus everyday life on the streets is something specific to this futuristic time period, there are important elements that are universal in noir. The crowded streets of the city are universal because they lend an air of desperation to the situation of the hero, who walks along the streets as an ordinary person tasked with a dirty job. In this way, smaller or crowded spaces are a design element rampant in noir that transcends time (and to some extent place). The never ending rain is also a design element of noir that exists out of time and place (although if you set a noir film in New Mexico I don’t know how well rain would work). There are many scenes at night or in the darkness when there are plenty of shadows. The shadows also help create this feeling of the whole world closing in on you and makes spaces seem smaller even though its just a shadow. Of course, shadows are nonspecific to time period or place, but with time of the day and lighting. The design element of space is affected by these things: crowds of people or background noise, rain, and shadows. They all make spaces seem smaller which creates the noir mood of desperation. The Blade Runner simply takes these universal elements and juxtaposes them with the open spaces above the city to accentuate the differences between the view from outside and from inside the daily city life (and to show how cool it would be to have flying cars).

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