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Essay: Exploring Marxism in Blade Runner: How Social Classes are Showcased in Ridley Scott's Classic Film

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The Marxist Views of Blade Runner

Dylan Caudill

Blade runner, Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, is an often misunderstood piece.  I will be diving into the films roots, focusing on the Marxist views that underlie this intricate plot full of murder and suspense. Blade Runner is a well-directed film with several subliminal hints hidden throughout, showing the film's Marxist view points of the established society in 2019. I will focus on revealing these hints that the normal viewer wouldn't catch in order to support my statement above. Film technique will also be critical in my analysis. Things like cinematography, music, and editing will all be examined. I hope to bring to bring about a new view point to the film Blade Runner.

A blend of science fiction and noir detective fiction, Blade Runner (1982) was a box office and critical bust upon its initial exhibition, but its unique postmodern production design became hugely influential within the sci-fi genre, and the film gained a significant cult following that increased its stature (www.rottentomatoes.com). Harrison Ford stars as retired policeman Rick Deckard. The year is 2019, in the city of Los Angeles. The world has been transformed into a pollution filled, technology dependent mess. Human-like Android technology called replicants have taken hold of most of the world’s population. Even though these replicants have become the norm, they sometimes go rogue and end up on killing sprees, or create large chains of crime. A blade runner, is in charge of hunting down these rogues, ending them before their havoc spreads too far. Harrison’s character, Rick,  has to come out of retirement to stop a group of replicants who have escaped and found their way to earth, fueling a killing spree.

When looking deeply into the film, the society is divided into social classes. This is highlighted well when the headquarter building is shown. The first several times seeing the film, the fact that the building itself is a pyramid didn’t correlate to anything. Pyramids are used throughout history to signify wealth, strength, and power. When looking deeper into the scene, the elevator begins in the bottom, working class level, and rises through the clouds to reveal a golden tinted top, where the ruling class headquarters are held (Stephan). This image signifies that the ruling class holds the power over other divisions of society, and are the “shining light” of social classes. The use of great camera angles and editing in this portion of the scene allow the director to capture the significance of the light shining from the top of the pyramid. This was an excellent use of these two aspects of the film to ensure the significance of such a small, yet extremely important shot.

Small details such as classical music, constant intellectually challenging games like chess, and major life decisions being made from bed, all illustrate that the ruling class also serves as the thinkers, or brains of society (Stephan). This imagery matches Marxist views on social class, leveling from the bottom, Peasantry and farmers, to the top with the Bourgeoisie (Regina). The laid back, relaxed attitude of the top versus the uptight, panic of the bottom, reinforce the imagery and truly add to the argument of traces of Marxism being found in the film.

Music plays a very big part in this scene. While traveling up the elevator, the viewer hears a change from funky electronic music at the bottom, transitioning into the soft, smooth sounds of classical genres on the upper floor. The bold, sharp beats at the bottom represent the rough way of life for those at the bottom, while the soothing sounds of classical music set a very relaxed, sophisticated tone for life at the top. The musical choices are one decision by the director that helped to exemplify the different levels of society, referring back to Karl Marx’s social classes.

Lastly, weather and lighting both play a supporting role in my argument. When at the bottom of the pyramid, the weather is dark, and rainy. This undesirable weather represents the gloom and depression of the impoverished working class. However, rising up from the dark bottom levels, the elevator comes through the clouds into a golden room full of bright lights and a warm glow. This transition from dark to light highlights the upper class as a happy, and secure place. When contrasting the two levels that can be viewed in this scene, it is very easy to see the extreme difference, even though the shot only rises up. The cinematographers really outdid themselves on this shot. Creating weather changes in any film is always challenging. When this is combined with a total interior design change and the use of lighting to back support, the art behind shooting for this scene is truly something to be applauded.

When looking into Karl Marx’s theories, one of his main points was that there are divisions in social classes. The bottom of the social ladder are peasantry and farmers. This group is disorganized, dispersed, and incapable of change (Regina). Traveling up the ladder, wealth increases and so do organization and power. Reaching the top rung, the Bourgeoisie, or capitalists, are active in using their wealth to make their life easier through employment and the exploitation of labor (Regina). The ruling class is extremely wealthy. They make live lavishly and it is all due to their use of power. Those who control means of production and labor will gain wealth and power (Johnson). Since the ruling class is able to do this, it means that they essentially control those classes below them. Their wealth and control is overpowering to the lower and even some middle classes. This is all represented by the superstructure, or pyramid seen in this scene of Blade Runner. Using Karl Marx’s basis for social class and class structure, we are able to reinforce the argument in saying that blade runner showcases Marxism throughout the film.

In all, when the viewer combines the many aspects of this scene, he or she is able to see how the techniques used highlight the social classes of the pyramid. Marxism is very evident in this scene, and is made more obvious as the film continues. It amazes me how the film makers and director use these aspects to create the separation of social class, without mentioning Marxism or the division at all. Marxism has a very large impact on the movie and its integration into specific scenes of the film helps to determine almost every aspect of the way these scenes are films. Everything from editing and sound, to cinematography is used to subliminally create and highlight this view. When the viewer is able to recognize these critical aspects and interpret what they help display, they are able to conclude that Blade Runner, does indeed take a Marxist standpoint in this scene of the movie.


Johnson, Bethany. https://study.com/academy/lesson/karl-marxs-theories-class-differentiation-and-revolution-socialism-capitalism.html n.d. 27 november 2018.

Regina, University of. "Introduction to Social Theory." University of Regina, 28 september 1999. Class Notes.

Stephan. "A Marxist Analysis on the movie Blade Runner." 11 december 2009. https://sfesel.wordpress.com/author/sfesel/ 27 november 2018.

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/blade_runner/. n.d. 25 november 2018.

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