Rutger Hauer, whose death last week from a long illness was reported this morning, made over 100 movies in a career that spanned over 50 years, but it’s not difficult to predict the one he’ll be best remembered for. His performance as the replicant Roy Batty in 1982’s Blade Runner is the kind for which the word iconic was coined, a genre-exploding embodiment to which every subsequent depiction of artificial life owes some kind of debt. Roy isn’t just superhuman in the sense that he’s stronger and faster than the people trying to hunt him down; he sees more than them, and, more importantly, seems to feel more, too. It’s as if, within a replicant’s limited life span, he’s lived everything we do in decades in the space of a few years, and it’s all happening at once.
When I interviewed Hauer in 2011, he told me director Ridley Scott told him he wanted Roy to be “everything and more” than a human was, to which the actor responded, “Can I do a sense of poetry, and maybe a sense of beauty, and can I have a soul, or sense of humor, or be a 7-year-old? Can I love my sister? Can I be sexless but sexy at the same time? Can I be wicked?” He could, and he did.
Those apparently contradictory qualities all come together in Roy’s final monologue, which he delivers to the bounty hunter Deckard (Harrison Ford) after he corners him on a rooftop. Deckard seems just seconds from his death, but Roy is also literally about to expire, and rather than have his last act be a destructive one, Roy decides to pass on what he knows, albeit to an audience who’s only partly capable of understanding it.
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe,” he tells Deckard, his body slowing down as water pours off his synthetically perfected brow. “Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
(If you accept the reading that Deckard is himself a replicant, underlined if not quite confirmed by the 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049, then Roy’s speech has a different but equally poignant meaning: He’s telling Deckard how much potential he has, and how much it’s been reined in by the humans who’ve programmed him to hunt his own kind.)
The speech’s most enduring line came not from screenwriters Hampton Fancher or David Peoples but Hauer himself, who, by his own account, “took a knife to” a much lengthier soliloquy in the script. The sci-fi references to Orion and C-beams were from the text, but “tears in rain” was Hauer’s, and that, along with the dying light in Roy’s eyes, is what will endure.