Comparing Perception in Blade Runner, Memento, Three Kings and American Beauty
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Throughout this course, we have seen a number of films that are quite different. These films are diverse in their subject matter ranging from the drama of American Beauty, the political and action based nature of Three Kings, the science fictional social statements on technology presented by Blade Runner, to the fragmented and contemporary techniques of experimental Memento. However, I would argue that all of the above mentioned have been linked by an unsuspecting thread, and I am going to demonstrate what that thread is here. These films have been tied together by a theme, of which I have written in past analyses of some of these films, and I choose to bring that theme forward again. I do so because I believe that this particular notion is at the bottom and the most imperative in all of these stories. The notion, which I am referring to, is that the world is what we make of it; that bad things, and good things alike, happen to us, but our ultimate view of the world as a good or bad place is determined by our choice to perceive it as one or the other.
Blade Runner portrays this ideology in the main representation of the replicants. When Deckard first meets Rachel, he says to Tyrell "She's a replicant, isn't she?" Tyrell responds by pointing out that "Rachel is an experiment. Nothing more." This makes us aware that Rachel is a replicant with memories and emotional response and is not aware of her true identity as a replicant but believes herself to be human. Her memories are implanted memories of Tyrell's niece. So Rachel believes her reality to be different from that of what Tyrell and Deckard know to be reality. Whether their reality is truer than Rachel's reality is a point of debate. This relative reality changes for Deckard as he becomes emotionally attached to Rachel and then romantically involved with her. Towards the end, Deckard does not see Rachel as a replicant any longer, even after she learns the truth.
More generally, however, Blade Runner presents a world of deterioration. It is a time when most of humanity has left the earth in order to colonize other planets, and all natural life is virtually extinct. It is a world plagued by acid rain, genetically engineered plants, animals, and replicants of course.
This world is dark and menacing with a technologically dominated culture, and the only ones left are those who did not qualify for leaving to other worlds. Such a place may certainly be seen as negative in every aspect of its being. However, that is not inevitably necessary. An alternative is presented when Deckard and Rachel become aware of the possibility of a live together, a human and a replicant. Thus it is conceivable that in this tumultuous chaos of organic and mechanic refuse, happiness can be found after all; that the best of the situation can be made into a life that does not see the world as the last place anyone would want to be, but a place where life can be a good life.
Another film which portrays this ideology is Three Kings. The character of the film find themselves in the midst of a political situation which does not make sense. When living in America, the country never does wrong, and is always fighting the good fight. In fact, the common people here would not argue with the fact that the government is trying to do the right thing. The soldiers of Three Kings, however, find that what goes on behind enemy lines is a different story all together. They are fighting a fight that has long ended, and is questionable whether it should have begun in the first place. When Mark Wahlberg’s character, Troy Barlow, is captured, the interrogator asks him, “What is the problem with Michael Jackson?” He further goes to question why a black man would make his skin white. This is in direct correlation to perceiving the American society as good, then changing one’s perception based on such a revelation that a society could make a black man hate himself so much that he would change himself to be white.
Throughout Three Kings, the soldiers are made aware of the actions of the US military as being unjustified and unnecessary in a number of instances, not the least of which being the detention of the lead characters at the end of the film when they are trying to safely get the refugees across the border. The chief support towards that concept is the soldiers’ witness to the suffering of the common people in the area all due to political pride and the nations territorial greed.
In addition, the fact that the world may be perceived differently and not be any less true for the perceiver is further supported in the film American Beauty. This film puts this concept more directly into perspective with the correlations of perceiving the world and perceiving beauty. The entire film is representing the ideal perfection of the American dream as media conceptualizes it. The world of American Beauty is one of superficial superfluousness and affluence. This is demonstrated with the character of Angela and her belief that “At least [she’s] not ordinary.” Angela thinks that there is nothing worse than being ordinary, and that she herself is superbly extraordinary in every way. However, the comment made by Ricky in response to Angela’s ego trip when he says that she in fact is ordinary “and you’re boring. And you know it.”
Ricky is the counterbalance to the superficiality of American Beauty’s society. He sees beauty not in the model-like face of Angela or the perfect houses all along the street, but in a white pigeon lying dead and a plastic bag flying in the wind. His perception of beauty is yet another example that reality is dependent on the way the perceiver perceives it; that the world is what we make of it.
The final film that I use as a support for the subjectivity of reality is Memento. This film shows more directly this concept than any of the others, and it does so with the memory of Leonard. Leonard spends the entire movie searching for that which harmed him and his wife. However, at the end of the film it appears that he has been searching, and finding, for some time now, but cannot get himself to remember that it’s over. Leonard’s sole drive in life is his search for the killer of his wife, and when he finds him, he lets himself forget and starts from the beginning. Leonard needs to search, and his so called acquaintance Teddy says that “we tell ourselves what we need to know.”
Nevertheless, all of what is believed to be true of Memento is purely circumstantial as nothing of the plot of this film can be known with certainty due to its highly relative nature itself. However, based on my interpretation of the film, the one conclusive truth I can draw is that the events are relative to what the character of Leonard makes of them. Regardless of what may truly have happened to him, the reality is in Leonard’s present state of mind, and what happens outside his scope of desired perception is essentially not real.
So, in retrospect, all four of these films have been tied together by the concept that life is what we perceive it to be. All these films accomplish this demonstration in different ways, some of which are more subtle as in Blade Runner. Other are quite more direct and obvious with Memento leaning most in that direction. Thus, as Three Kings and American Beauty fit in between those two on the spectrum of analyzing all four in terms of direct revelation of the concept, they certainly do get the point across.