The Link Between Music And Narrations In The Blade Runner And Solaris

Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” and Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” are two important science fiction films, one of which was released in 1972 and the other in 1982. Solaris takes place in a future where people are able to explore other planets in other solar systems. Blade Runner, on the other hand, is set in Los Angeles, 2019, where the most depraved of the human race live in constant darkness. In terms of their settings, plots, use of music and visuals, these two films differ from each other majorly, but both films appear to be exploring the answer to the same philosophical question, that is, what it is to be human? The characters in both films, either real humans or replicants, seek the purpose of their existence and almost all of them somehow find themselves thrown into some kind of emotional turmoil. Although Tarkovsky and Scott approach this shared theme in a very different way, the use of music allows them to direct the turbulent emotional journey of the audience, as well as the characters. This paper will analyze how the music codifies the narrations of these films with the help of the visual effects and quotations, while examining their standpoint regarding the shared question they ask: what is it to be human?

In order to understand what kind of impact the music has over the narrations of the films, it is important to get a grasp of their storylines. In Solaris, we first meet Kris Kelvin, a cosmonaut psychologist, visiting his father the day before his trip to Solaris, which is a planet covered by a vast ocean that can read human minds and bring their memories into life in materialized human figures. A short time after Kris arrives on the space station, Solaris sends him his wife Hari, who died a long time ago. Throughout the film, the audience witnesses Kris’s personal suffering, as apparently he is the reason that Hari killed herself. Thus, Kris feels guilty and regretful. At this point, it is fair to say that Solaris presents a love story in which Kris constantly questions the mistakes he has done in the past, his relationship with his family and his wife, Hari, both when she was alive on Earth and now as a presentation on the planet, his existence as a human being, his identity and so forth. The movie becomes Kris’s journey to understanding his own consciousness and through him the audience takes a similar journey to Kris’s.

In Solaris, sounds and music appear to be in harmony with the visuals. For example, in the beginning of the film, when Kris visits his father’s house in the countryside, the sounds that emerge are mostly natural sounds, such as birds, flies and flowing water. These sounds are also heard during Kris’s contemplation of his past while he was on Solaris. Thus, these natural sounds seem to be representing the Earth, and through it, humanity. The representation of the planet Solaris begins with the image of the stars and with this image, a gong sound is heard, as if it is the preview of a world other than the Earth. The majority of the sounds in the episodes that take place in Solaris are rather disturbing cosmic sounds represented by electronic music that makes the audience anxious and unstable.

What is noticeable apart from these natural and technical sounds is the matching of Bach’s prelude “Ich ruff's Dir, Herr Jesu Christ” with the visuals. It is first heard in the opening scene with the running titles. Knowing that this is supposed to be a science fiction film, Bach’s piece may be a little confusing for the audience as to the relation between the subject of the movie and the religious theme of this musical composition. The music is next heard when Kris and Hari are watching an old recording that shows Kris as a child and then as a young boy, along with his father and mother, and Hari. Emotionally, Bach’s music takes the audience back to the Earth and its memories together with Kris and Hari. It is almost like we feel their longing for the Earth and mourn for the desperate situation they are in.

Bach’s prelude appears one more time in the library scene where Dr. Sartorius, one of the scientists on the planet, tells Hari that she is not a real person but a manufactured thing. Hari, learning more about herself and her surroundings every time she comes back to the planet as part of Kevin’s memory, seems to be more of a person than Sartorius. Shortly after this insult of Hari, we see her looking at Bruegel’s painting “The Hunters in the Snow”. During this scene, fragmented parts of the picture correlate with the sounds that are relevant to the parts of the picture. For example, with the church image, the church bells and with the dogs and hunters’ image, dogs and human voices are heard. These sound effects draw the audience in the images more and therefore an effort is established in order to understand what goes in Hari’s mind. Following this, their levitation is complimented with Bach’s prelude, which is stopped suddenly with the sound of a breaking bottle that implies and later shows Hari’s attempted suicide.

Towards the end of the film, we learn that Hari annihilates herself to allow Kris’s return back at home. As her conscious develop, she understands more about the purpose of her existence, which, at the end, seems to be freeing Kris from this prison like space station. Kris, on the other hand, being crushed by guilt and grief over Hari, returns to his father’s country house. Bach’s music is present for the last time in this last scene of the film. It doesn’t look like Kris’s personal suffering and his feeling of shame and guilt have come to an end. If anything, he seems to be even in more pain while he’s walking towards his father’s house. As the audience, though, we get a sense of relief that he is at least back on Earth, but just then, a strange cosmic sound reappears which suggests that something is not so right. It turns out that the house and its surroundings are just a small island in the Solaris ocean, and that Kris is forever stuck in Solaris.

The story line of Scott’s “Blade Runner”, as mentioned before, is nothing like the one in Solaris. At the beginning of the film, Rick Deckard, a blade runner, meaning a special police squad, is ordered to kill four Nexus-6 replicants, which are genetically designed artificial human beings. The plot depends on the idea that the replicants must not be allowed to live longer than four years because they begin to develop emotions as time passes. During his mission, Deckard meets a replicant, called Rachel, and falls in love with her. So, like Solaris, a love story is placed at the heart of the film in Blade Runner. As the film progress, Deckard, who is in general a disconnected and emotionless guy, chooses to see these replicants not as manufactured imitations, but he sees them as if they were actual human beings. Like Kris, Deckard questions his own being and purpose of his existence in this pessimistic world that takes place in the future. Eventually, he manages to outgrow his futuristic world, which is fully equipped with technological inventions, and reestablishes his worth as a human being.

Like in Solaris, music and sounds in Blade Runner appear for polyphony with the visuals. However, Vangelis’ music score in Scott’s film is a lot more impressive than that of Artemyev’s in Solaris. The intense use of the synthesizers by Vangelis captures the finely detailed visual indications from the film and embodies them in the smoothly continuous music score. For example, when the cars are flying above the city’s panoramic landscape, there exist some elevating sounds, which then gives the music a sense of levitation. These electronic sounds and noises are heard throughout the whole film and it kind of achieves a dreamlike quality in which the audience is not so much able to identify where the music ends and the world begins. This might be one of the film’s finest qualities that creates an impact on the audience.

As to the love theme, Vangelis’ interpretation of Deckard’s and Rachel’s emotions inside Deckard’s apartment is quite unprecedented. In this scene, the harsh sounds of the electronic music changes into soft music, which can be considered in the scope of traditional music. It is interesting that non-diegetic music becomes diegetic for a short while when Rachel starts playing the piano, which then makes her emotions and fears appear more realistic as if she were a real human being with real memories. The intensity of music increases gradually as their emotions and the sexual tension between them arises. The concluding saxophone music gives a sign to the audience that this is the film’s love theme and whatever that they might be feeling toward each other is now associated with human emotions rather than a replicant’s presumed emotionlessness.

Although there are so many other scenes to analyze in terms of music and sounds, and the effect it creates on the visuals, such as Zora’s slow motion death through the glass door and Pris’s death in the hands of Deckard, the film’s finest moment is worth a close analysis. At the end of the film, Deckard, the blade runner, and Roy, the leader of replicants, both are hunters and the hunted and both appear to be in physical and emotional pain, pursue each other through a murky apartment. As Roy realizes that it is impossible to extend his four year long life span and as he knows that his time is drawing near, he saves Deckard's life. Vangelis employs a sad and sympathetic music to bring out the humanity and spiritual suffering faced by Roy, the manufactured replicant. The music in this scene is crucial as it provides the viewer with an emotional response, which would have been difficult to portray without the use of music. As Roy sets the dove free, which is shown in slow motion, the gentle music emphasises the transformation between captivity and release, and between life and death. It also shows that, at the end of his journey, Roy may have had more human traits than most actual humans. It creates a sense of hope that even the artificial can become something that is capable of reflecting emotion, and thus, become something deeper.

To conclude, it is fair to say that both Solaris and Blade Runner imply the strong interaction between the sound and visual formations. Both films draw attention to the conscience as a crucial aspect of our identities. In Solaris, shame and feelings of guilt seem to lie at the heart of who we really are, and in Blade Runner, the individual’s emptiness in the face of his/her oppressive environment is emphasized. The use of music and sounds in both films, combined with the visual effects and quotations, bring about the raw emotions that lay in the deepest parts of our consciousness. 

09 March 2021
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