Rutger Hauer died last Friday at the age of 75, which means he enjoyed a life more than seven decades longer than that of Roy Batty, the character he played in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. As a replicant, an artificial human being engineered to perform intense physical labor, Batty has immense strength but an existence deliberately limited to a few years. Seeking an escape from his imminent demise, he and a group of his fellow replicants escape from their off-world mining colony to Earth, specifically Los Angeles, where they intend to seek out their creator and demand an extension of their lives. And so it falls to Harrison Ford’s detective Rick Deckard, trained as a replicant-hunting “Blade Runner,” to hunt them all down.
Hauer’s performance is arguably the film’s most memorable, not least because of the manner in which Batty finally accepts his own death even after sparing the life of the man tasked with terminating him. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe,” Batty says. “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. Time to die.”
Hauer, as Indiewire’s Zack Sharf noted in a remembrance, rewrote that short monologue himself, having “believed the original speech was written in a way that was too operatic, a tone he felt a replicant would never use.” He kept the script’s “attack ships” and “C-beams,” sensing in them a kind of techno-poetry, and added the tears in the rain, an image visually resonant with the scene in which he delivers it.
“It didn’t come from me,” Hauer says of the “tears in the rain” line in the interview clip above. “It came from the poet in me, and there was a poet in Roy.” In using those words “to conclude Roy’s quest,” he says, “I was also anchoring myself, as an actor, in my own insecure way. And for an audience to carry that for 30 years was such love.” That audience, he acknowledges, kept Blade Runner alive even after its failure to perform back in 1982: “When the film came out, it was out of the cinema, I think, in a week,” and some critics dismissed it as a waste of time. But Hauer understood its appeal as “a really sexy, erotic, cartoon-opera interesting movie, but it was ahead of its time.”
Blade Runner has long since taken its place in the pantheon of science fiction cinema, but Hauer’s filmography contains pictures of every other sort of reputation as well. A prolific performer given to unconventional choices and distinctive turns of phrase, he was remembered on Twitter by producer Jonathan Sothcott as “one of those great actors who made rubbish watchable.” Though Hauer’s turns in pictures a varied as Ladyhawke, Blind Fury, The Hitcher (in which horror-mode Hauer, writes Stephen King, “will never be topped”), Sin City, and Hobo with a Shotgun won’t soon be forgotten, it will be as Roy Batty — the replicant he has described as wanting to “make his mark on existence” — that he’ll be remembered. “At the same time I was doing this film, I saw the future,” he says of Blade Runner. And he lived to 2019, the once-distant year in which Blade Runner is set, to see that future in real life.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.