The place I experience majesty and mystery and healing is not physical. It's a place of the mind and heart and yet so much bigger.
Last night, Kay and I watched the "final cut" version of 1982's Blade Runner. It was the first time I'd seen the movie in maybe 30 years, and today, it's haunting me.
In this film is what the Japanese call the sadness of being human: Mono no Aware.
But also forgiveness.
And redemption at the moment of death.
The human-like replicant (a robot that's identical to humans, except when its non-human status is revealed by an empathy test) known as Roy Batty is at the end of his life.
A compatriot of his, another replicant, said, "Time to die" when he was about to deliver a killing blow to the hero. He was stopped, but that phrase is a chilling statement that we will find later on echoes in this story.
Roy fights against his scheduled demise, going so far as to seek out and murder his maker. Finally, he hunts the man, Deckard, whose duty it is to kill replicants who somehow manage to infiltrate human society again. Roy's constant weapons are his hands, and several times throughout the movie, we see him flexing his right hand, this great weapon, the way a baseball player might swing a bat in preparation for the bases-clearing home run. He uses these weapons of his to break some of the fingers of Deckard's right hand as part of a deadly game of hide and seek.
When Roy is seeking, he howls like a wolf. His voice echoes in the building and out into the rain. But he is nearing the end of his life -- he's programmed to die after 4 years -- and he does something unexpected. He pierces his own right hand with a nail he's pried out from a beam. Does he do this to even the playing field with the mere human? We're not yet sure.
Finally, Deckard, wounded and exhausted, is literally hanging onto life with his fingertips.
"Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave," Roy says to Deckard.
But at the moment Deckard loses his grip and begins to fall toward certain death, Roy grabs his wrist. With that pierced hand.
With nothing left, Deckard is now completely at Roy's mercy. Roy sits down and looks at his foe.
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain." His eyes shift to Deckard, and he says with a hint of an ironic smile, "Time to die."
Roy's head drops forward, and we realize that time is his, not Deckard's.
There is, if I can invent a word, christographic imagery in the last moments of this film. The pierced hand. The white dove Roy was holding flying away toward the heavens. This story turns what it means to be human back upon itself. A replicant -- a robot who's not supposed to be able to develop empathy -- delivers the lawful killer from death. And, in accepting his fate, including the death of his precious imagination, he gives himself back to a grim, rainy world.
This is how artists -- in this case, two writers, a director, and an actor who altered his own script -- speak truth: reaching and preserving a great mystery of life while suggesting what it means to be human.
This is why art (in the larger sense, including drawing and writing and acting and teaching) is my sanctuary. My temple. Its roof is the universe, its doctrine understood only by using the mind, the heart, and the great gift of imagination together.
The awe-full beauty of that film slays the man in me who worries about reputation and legacy and wounds suffered. That man is the one Paul mentions in Colossians 3, calling him "the old man."
The mystery and beauty of art nudges me to a place at which I say to that old man, "Time to die."
© 2020 by Stephen D. Wedan