By Chris Wallace
Great lines tend to be short. As I once said to a friend with prolix tendencies: “Give me the guts, not War and Peace!”
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Eight words.
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” Seven words.
“Go ahead, make my day.” Five words.
“Play it again, Sam.” Four words.
Few enough words to count on the fingers of two hands seems to be the rule and the fewer the better.
Rain provides a great compare and contrast opportunity. At one extreme there’s wordy “Eric Olthwaite” from Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns series, a man obsessed with precipitation patterns in Yorkshire. “It were hard to accept I were boring,” says Eric, “especially with my interest in rainfall.” On the other there’s the immortal phrase uttered by “Roy Batty” in Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, “like tears in rain” – one of the most beautiful moments in film, not even a whole sentence yet unforgettable.
“Like tears in rain” has been on my mind all week as life in Canberra is accompanied by the same soundtrack as Bladerunner’s: the beat of pouring rain. I remember weeping as “Roy Batty” (Rutger Hauer) died at the end of the brief soliloquy which included the phrase, but nothing of the surrounding detail, so I looked it up on YouTube. Quite a few others have relived the moment – the clip I watched has already been viewed more than a million times.
Replicant “Roy Batty” and blade runner “Rick Deckard” (Harrison Ford) are engaged in a fight to the death which Deckard looks like losing. Battered and bloody from the fight, and drenched by rain, Deckard jumps from one rooftop to another, doesn’t quite make it and hangs from a wet pylon, hands slippery with rain and blood. Roy, in pursuit, pauses to catch a white dove and, holding it gently, effortlessly does what Deckard, a mere human, hasn’t quite pulled off. Roy stands on the pylon, looks down at the apparently doomed Deckard and says: “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it. That’s what it is to be a slave.”
One of Deckard’s hands slips from the pylon, then the other. Unexpectedly, Roy grabs the falling man by one wrist and slowly, majestically, lifts him on to the rooftop, flinging him casually to one side. Deckard is paralysed with fear. Replicant Roy is in complete control. But instead of finishing Deckard off, Roy sits down and speaks:
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 Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
Roy’s head slumps, the dove flies free, the replicant has expired, all the while beaten by the ceaseless rain.
In this fight to the death we need the hero, Deckard, to prevail. But Roy’s death is ineffably sad. The replicants are slaves – human clones with limited lifespans, created by Tyrell Corporation for use in space colonies. Roy is one of a group that has broken free. They’re being hunted by Deckard as the penalty for escaping and turning up in Los Angeles. The film is set in 2019, folks – not far away!
Roy’s soliloquy shows that replicants have feelings too. Roy appreciates beauty. He’s violent toward the blade runner but gentle with the dove. He has memories. He evokes the poignancy of them being on the point of erasure, “like tears in rain”.
All in all, Roy the replicant is a lot more human than the bloke I saw at Griffith Shops last weekend abusing his partner for forgetting to buy his cigarettes in the supermarket. His verbal attack was horrific. She sat impassively in the passenger seat of the car. He stood outside and spewed bile at her through the window. I wondered whether to intervene and would have had I thought it would help, but I didn’t, calculating it was more likely to wind him up and leave her in a worse situation than she was already in.
Roy Batty’s words as he stands over a vulnerable Deckard, hanging on to that wet pylon by his fingernails, come to mind: “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it. That’s what it is to be a slave.” I hope that abused woman at Griffith Shops survived. I hope that some time she gives her abusive partner the shortest line of all: “Goodbye.” Probably safest to deliver it via a note on the kitchen table rather than in person.
This first appeared in the Canberra Times on 3 March, 2012