The British Film Institute's little book about the Blade Runner, which was first published in 1997 and written by the cultural theorist Scott Bukatman, makes the point that an important part of the film's magic (or stimmung) is that so much in it (even with the much-panned VO) is left unexplained. What exactly is a blade runner? Why is a person who kills replicants called that? And what are "Off-Worlds"? How far are they from earth? Are they near the moon? Or the limits of the solar system? Or do they orbit another star? And if in another solar system, how do humans travel to them? And how long is the journey? And who goes there? And why are replicants there? And why do they have to be "more human than human"? And why are they so hard to detect? And what is all this about "attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion"? And "C-beams"? They glitter? Near "Tannhäuser Gate"?
Blade Runner is a rare work of science-fiction cinema in the sense that it's a machine that generates questions, not answers. And this is important for two reasons: one, it of course enstranges the world (to use a neologism that translates the Russian formalist word ostranenie). The Los Angeles of 2019 must look and feel different from the Los Angeles of the time the film was made, the early 1980s. These future humans live in a city that has over 100 million people (this is learned from the trailer, not the film, which says nothing about the population of LA in 2019). More is different, wrote the physicist P. W. Anderson. This difference is captured in words and expressions that are unfamiliar—the definition of poetry for the Russian formalists. Some time between 1982 and 2019, LA's population really exploded and the job of killing robots appeared and somehow came to be called blade runner. The movie offers no other information than blade runners exist. Everyone in that world sees the occupation as a given. No need to explain it. And isn't that exactly how language works in any present? We all know what LOL means. It's nothing but a waste of time to tell the whole story of LOL.
The absence of key explanations make Blade Runner's world more poetic ("C-beams glitter in the dark..."), but also more real. And this constitutes the second advantage of generating questions (rather than answers) in a work of science fiction. In the real world, one is always already in the world, in a reality that's already established, in a language system that's already up and running. That LA 2019 is weird and poetic to us is because we are new to its world, but those in it already know what a "skin job" is, in the way we know what LOL means.
Also, what is true of words and expressions in the future is true of words and expressions in the past. In Jack Black's 1926 memoir You Can't Win, you will find the word "bindlestiff." It's as strange to the ears of today as to the words "blade runner" were to the ears of 1982, the year the movie was released. (I must point out that there is a secret connection between the memoir and the movie.) A bindlestiff is "a tramp or a hobo, especially one carrying a bundle containing a bedroll and other gear." Some words in the past have died; and some words in the future are not yet born. The only words and worlds that exist are in the now.
That said, Denis Villeneuve, the director of Blade Runner 2049, commissioned three short films that provide answers for certain developments between 2019 and 2049. The main question that's answered concerns the planet-wide black out. How did it happen? And why did it bankrupt Tyrell Corporation? This is explained in the first short "Black Out 2022" by animator Shinichiro Watanabe. It's visually stunning. It features beats by the LA genius Flying Lotus. And like the other shorts in the series, which are collected here, and Villeneuve's feature, it's a machine that generates answers, not questions. For reasons I just explained, the worlds of answering machines always feel and sound less real than the worlds of machines that explain little or nothing.