Dealing with Identity
How was Blade Runner used as an inspiration for Christopher Nolan's Batman series?
I was asked to answer this question byon Quora. What struck me was that Trey could not have known about Nolan being my favorite filmmaker of the present; his invite to answer this question made me aware of the fact, that almost all feature film DVDs that I bought within the last five years were directed by Nolan. So obviously there has to be something about his work that appeals to me personally, and I think I figured out what it is:
It is a common theme that runs like a golden thread through Nolan's entire work … and is also predominant in Blade Runner:
In all facets.
The lack of it, the loss of it, the acceptance of it.
The need, the desire or external force to adopt another one.
Knowing, not knowing and desperately trying to find out who someone really is.
So more precisely, it should read:
The Illusion of Identity.
Let me start with Nolan (warning – spoilers included!):
- Memento is about a man who at any given time cannot remember more than the most recent 15 Minutes of his life. He has no idea who he really is and will never have it. To compensate for that, he tiles his world with clues that help him recall what he believes to be, but he is very much mistaken. His identity is an illusion. Together with him we struggle to find out who he is, and we sincerely hope, that there is an answer out there.
- The Prestige is about a rivalry between two men that try to be the best magicians. Now magic by itself is all about illusion anyway, but the two contenders are an illusion by themselves (as regards their identity): One has an identical twin, the other finds a device to create unlimited identical twins of himself. Both accept the price of either not having a specific identity or sharing it with someone else or changing it whenever the task demands it – be it by crippling oneself, sacrificing the own life for the brother or constantly committing suicide by drowning the own existence again and again.
- Inception on the surface is about the creation of multi-level illusions inside the human brain for the sake of extracting information; beyond it, a man tries to cope with a personal loss by creating an illusion to himself in which things take a different turn. He wishes so strongly not to be the man that he was forced to be (with the fate that he was forced to have) that he is willing – if not desiring – to get lost in this parallel world for good.
- Batman is about a rich man who adopts a second skin because he learns, that his native identity is unsuitable to change the world for good; only an icon can achieve to create an illusion of fear, strong enough to make Gotham's underworld shiver. Before he does that, he needs to go on a journey in order to strip off his old identity. From now on he bravely accepts to lead a double life but deeply inside he hopes, that this is a temporal price to pay. When he finds a replacement (Dent), he is more than happy to bury his second skin forever. But not only Batman has a double identity – everyone around him does too! Any villain has travelled exactly the same road like Wayne and came to the same conclusion, either willingly or unwillingly. And even Commissioner Gordon is torn apart between two identities: in The Dark Night he accepts the temporal identity of being dead.
- Insomnia shows two men that hate who or where they are, and that seek to be released of their burden by the other one.
Now, that's pretty vague and only a scratch of the surface of the numerous Nolanverses, I know, and far from a complete psychological analysis, too, but I think the point is clear: Nolan's protagonists seek for an end of what they are or feel forced to be. They seek to rest and become a full human being without any missing pieces.
That is the theme of Blade Runner, too. Replicants do not even have an identity in the first place, their whole existence is an illusion. All they desire is to be full human beings, without an expiration date – that is what drives them. To have a life. And a future. Deckard hopes with every cell of his body that Rachel is not, what he fears, that they have a chance for a future together. All that everyone is basically asking for, is to get the three fundamental questions answered that form a human existence:
Who am I?
Where did I come from?
Where will I go?
So here is the bottomline: I dare say, that Blade Runner did not only inspire Nolan on Batman, but is actually the source of power behind his entire filmwork.
But in Batman, he saw the great opportunity to really follow the visual style of that one film that initially sent him on his personal artistic quest for the first time – a chance, he would not let go by any means.
It's only a guess, I know, but I cannot help feeling that the conflict brought up by Blade Runner is essentially Nolan's eternal theme. The desire to find answers to those three questions before the lights go out.
It is my personal desire, too – that is why I believe I feel that attracted to Nolan's work. And why I spent so many lines on the prologue.