“Like Tears in Rain”

Several weeks ago, actor Rutger Hauer passed away at the age of 75. He was known for a number of stand-out roles, but the most famous was his portrayal of replicant Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. His performance as Batty is extraordinary – a dynamic and truly visceral depiction of an extremely dangerous, unpredictable, and intelligent “person.”

And the highlight of his performance, and of Blade Runner in its entirety, is Hauer’s “Tears in Rain” monologue, given by a dying Batty at the end of the film. Some consider the scene one of the greatest in science fiction film history, if not in film at large.

It’s difficult to write something new about this monologue, since it’s been addressed, discussed, and analyzed ad infinitum since Blade Runner’s release in 1982. Hell, it even has its own Wikipedia entry. But at the risk of repeating what others have (likely more eloquently) said before, I’ll say my piece on it too. The more the merrier.

I’m assuming that most people reading this have already seen Blade Runner. If you haven’t, though, I strongly suggest you watch it before reading further. (The short story it’s based on, Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is worth a read, too.) Or maybe this brief essay will serve as a modest introduction to its power. Either way, here’s some context, either as an introduction or as a refresher, before looking at the monologue:

The year is 2019. Earth is almost completely industrialized, and the Tyrell Corporation has made a fortune creating “replicants”: synthetic humans used as slave labor on off-world colonies. They are virtually indistinguishable from “real” humans, save for a slight glow in the eyes when viewed from a certain angle, or when subjected to the “Voight-Kampff Test” – a series of questions asked in order to assess emotional response.

Replicants are, for all practical purposes, perfect; the Tyrell Corporation’s motto is “More Human Than Human.” Because some are therefore stronger and more intelligent than most humans, a “fail safe” has been built into their genetics in case a replicant goes rogue: their lifespan is only four years long.

Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, is a retired, Los Angeles-based blade runner – a police officer whose specialty is hunting down and “retiring” (killing) rogue replicants. He is called back to active duty when his former supervisor informs him that four replicants – Roy Batty, Leon, Zhora, and Pris – have successfully (and violently) escaped the off-world colonies and made their way to Los Angeles. Roy Batty in particular is a profound threat, since he is a “Level 4” replicant: highly intelligent, adaptable, and possessing super-human strength. Deckard’s job is to track them down and “retire” them before they disappear…or kill again.

And that’s exactly what Deckard does throughout the course of the film. He dispatches Zhora, Leon, and Pris, which leaves only Roy Batty. Batty’s goal was to confront Tyrell, his creator, with the hope of finding the key to a longer lifespan. After Tyrell tells him this isn’t possible, Batty kills him. This failure, coupled with Deckard’s execution of Pris – Batty’s partner – seems to leave Batty resigned to his fast-approaching death…but he still has one final goal: killing Deckard.

Thanks to Hauer’s brilliant performance, Batty is a fascinating character. He is charismatic, violent, inquisitive, intelligent…but also, at times, child-like. Nowhere is this more apparent than when he finally speaks with Tyrell, his “father,” and admits he has done “questionable things.” He is furious, desperate, sad, and ashamed, both due to his violent acts, and the circumstances that he feels forced him to commit them. His emotions, just like those of a child, are almost beyond his ability to control. When he learns that gaining more life is impossible, he kisses Tyrell on the mouth…then gouges out his eyes with his thumbs, killing him. He is a grown man who is quite literally four years old…and about to die.

So when Batty goes after Deckard following the death of Pris, what follows is an almost surreal cat-and-mouse chase through a derelict high-rise. Deckard is hopelessly outmaneuvered by Batty, whose emotions run wild. He taunts him, toys with him, pulls his arm through a wall and breaks two of his fingers, releases him, howls like a wolf, slams his own head through a wall to taunt him again…and continues the hunt.

It is during this chase that Batty’s body, having reached its four year limit, begins to shut down. The muscles in his hand seize up, but muttering “Not yet,” he pulls a nail out of the floor and forces it through his palm and out the other side, shocking his system and allowing the muscles and tendons to function again.

He then follows Deckard up onto the roof of the high rise. And there, in the pouring rain, Deckard realizes he is trapped. In desperation, he attempts an almost impossible jump to the roof of another building, but can’t quite make it; he’s left hanging from the edge, utterly vulnerable.

Thus begins the “Tears in Rain” sequence. Batty picks up a roosting white dove, crosses his arms, thinks a moment, then effortlessly leaps the gulf between rooftops, rising up over the prone Deckard, whose grip (with two broken fingers) is starting to give.

Batty looks at him inscrutably, almost inquisitively, then says, “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” He smiles, apparently satisfied to witness Deckard’s impending death.

But then something extraordinary happens. Deckard loses his grip and starts to fall – but Batty, using the hand through which he forced the nail, grabs him by the wrist, lifts him up, and throws him down safely on the rooftop.

Then, still holding the white dove in his other hand, Batty sits calmly down across from Deckard and delivers the famous monologue, his blood mingling with the rain. For all its power, it is surprisingly short; proof again, if any is still needed, that quality over quantity is key to just about everything in life. Here it is, in its entirety:

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.

In an instant, the killer has transformed himself into a savior. And Deckard, a hired killer, has become a witness to his savior’s last words. Roy Batty, the child-man, has realized, late but not too late, that an act of mercy through free will is the only way to prove – to himself as well as Deckard – that he has learned what it truly means to be human. Until that moment, Deckard has not. No one has. Every single “real” human being in the film walks through life under a burden of routine, of oppression, of world-weary resignation. In many ways they have become machine-like through the very society they have wrought. But Batty, out of everyone, chooses to rail against the system – and then, in the hour of his death, defies the system’s expectations and does the right and unexpected thing.

As for the monologue itself, it can’t help but fire the imagination. In the screenplay it was much longer (and far less effective), but Hauer took an editing pencil to it the night before the scene was shot, and added in the “tears in rain” line himself. We can visualize the attack ships, each of us creating them differently, yet vividly, in our mind’s eye. We have no idea what C-beams are, nor the Tannhauser Gate…but it doesn’t matter. Our imaginations vivify the words with images, with motion, with story. Epic battles. Majestic interstellar locations. The vast, sublime beauty of places we can only dream about. Roy Batty has seen them all. The memories are his.

And with his death, they will die too.

He was a witness to life, just like every other person who has ever lived. And like every other person, his death is a loss – a precious mirror of the universe covered over forever. In sharing that understanding, he expresses his self-awareness, his uniqueness, and his inherent value.

He also expresses his fragility. For life is nothing if not fragile.

The “Tears in Rain” monologue reminds me of a poem by Chidiock Tichborne, written the night before his torture and execution in 1586. Untitled, the three-stanza poem concludes with this:

I sought my death and found it in my womb,

I lookt for life and saw it was a shade,

I trode the earth and knew it was my tomb,

And now I die, and now I am but made.

The glass is full, and now the glass is run,

And now I live, and now my life is done.

“And now I live, and now my life is done.”

“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

The beauty and sorrow of life: here for an instant, then gone forever. A universal state shared by all who have ever lived. Including Batty.

I love Batty’s expression after he says “…like tears in rain.” He glances at Deckard with something approaching (perhaps self-conscious) pride. Earlier in the film he shows an interest in poetry, and now, at the time of his death, he creates several lines of his own to stand as his requiem.

And then he dies, and the white dove — the soul he was told he did not possess — flies off into the sky and is gone.

*

Two final things:

I never had the opportunity to meet Rutger Hauer. He had been scheduled to appear at two upcoming conventions this month, in Boston and Toronto, and I was seriously considering making the drive up to Toronto in order to rectify that. Alas, it was not to be. But several years ago he made an appearance at a convention in the UK, and I mailed this in for a friend to get signed for me. I’m looking at it now as I write this. I keep it framed on my wall:

Rutger Hauer 11x14

And finally, as I recently read online:

In 1982, Rutger Hauer played Roy Batty, who passed away in 2019.

37 years later, Rutger Hauer himself passed away. In 2019.

Bittersweet, but also somehow perfect.

Just like this scene:

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