If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes

If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes from Jim Groom on Vimeo.

For my video essay assignment I finally completed my long overdue video discussion of the motif of eyes in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). I love how visually lush Blade Runner is when it comes to themes, motifs, and larger ethical questions about the human condition. Where Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was a sterile vision of the future punctuated by a monolithic jump in universal consciousness—Blade Runner is a gritty, retro-fitted struggle over creation. The realities of exploited bodies, exploited labor, and the exploited environment takes on new dimensions when the underlying sanctity of humanity is problematized—and contains the time-honored themes that made the HBO series The Wire so compelling: how our culture has dehumanized the people within it. The film marks the moment of the commerce of the human soul on an industrial scale, one wherein humanity itself is purely a product. And for that reason alone there are few more horrific visions of the future than Blade Runner, but all the while it is laced with poetry and a sense of hope, however meager. Signs of the highest achievement in my mind.

Anyway, I really wanted to keep this video essay short and somewhat conversational. I noticed I pause a lot when talking, and I had to do a bit of editing to work that dead air out. This commentary was a first pass, and it’s really focused on the motif of the eyes. I wasn’t really able to expand out about the replicants as labor, exploitation of the environment, a corporatized future, etc. Nonetheless, I do enjoy how focused this essay can be, and hopefully it brings out how rich film can be when an extended visual metaphor is handled with such subtle brilliance and care throughout the film. The themes in  many ways take over the film through the camera, rather than the narrative or plot. Once you start thinking about the motif of eyes in Blade Runner it is kind of hard to stop, and for me that says something powerful, or does it show something powerful? 🙂

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5 Responses to If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes

  1. Tyler says:

    That was really cool Jim. Did you notice this eye motif from the very first time you saw the movie or was it more subtle than your clips suggested and you slowly realized it?

  2. peter naegele says:

    This is great, Rev! A friend used to have a band named “Chew’s Eye Shop”…..directing him here….

  3. Matt says:

    Love it, Jim. This is the kind of thing I dreamed of when I first started reviewing movies so many years ago. But you’ve taken it to another level — this really is a great example of video essay as exegesis, a walk through the film where your analysis and your editing of the film clarify patterns in the film and lay them bare. Brilliant work!

  4. Reverend says:

    @Tyler,
    Interesting story, when I was a student at UCLA I worked for Audio Visual squad and sat in on lecture by an Australian professor abotu Blade Runner, he traced the power of the eye motif in that film, and I could never see the film in the same way—I basically reproduced his talk here.. That is how powerful it was for me, I tried looking for him almost twenty years later, but can’t find him or the essay/talk. A shame.

    @Peter,
    “Chew’s Eye Shop” is brilliant band name, wonder what he thinks of this one.

    @Matt,
    Yeah, I think I would do this as a fulltime job if someone paid me, it is so much fun. And it just consumer me, time disappears, I just get into the rhythm. I love it! Thanks [blush]

  5. paul says:

    Even though I have something of an ocular fixation, I never picked up on the eye motif, at least not consciously. I sometimes wonder what things like that really do for the viewer. Several years ago I read an article in NYT discussing all the foreshadowing that Polanski does in Chinatown – the cracked eyeglasses, the car with only one working headlight and such – that builds up to the final scene. Does that impact someone watching the film for the first time, or does it just make the director look clever in hindsight? But after watching the analysis of the spatial distortions in The Shining, I recall how the movie was disorienting, and now realize how Kubrick accomplished that. Your essay shows how Ridley Scott focuses us on the eyes. I think we identify with that, and think about it in some subconscious way. Maybe it isn’t telling the viewer something so much as it is trying to bring something out of the viewer.
    I probably shouldn’t read/view film essays: they just make me want to watch the films all over again, when I have other things to do.

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