... like tears in rain

When he died, some obituaries said that the actor Rutger Hauer improvised his death speech in Blade Runner. It was his most famous moment in his most famous performance, but the claim that it was improvised is horseshit.

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Good writing makes good books, and Blade Runner is based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K Dick. The novel is terrific, but far more complex than the movie, with several plotlines, while the movie zooms in on just one story about a cop named Decker, who's hunting runaway androids.

(This is not a review of the book or the movie, so I'm going to toss spoilers enthusiastically. If you haven't read the book and/or seen the movie, you oughta, before reading further.)

Hauer played the renegade android Baty, and in the novel, the character dies quickly, with no particular drama and no dialogue. There's no mention of the Tannhäuser Gate. David Webb Peoples and Hampton Fancher wrote the script for Blade Runner, and in the first draft, Baty simply dies without words, similar to his death in the novel.

That was deemed not cinematically compelling, so in the final shooting script, here's what Baty says as his batteries drain and his synthetic life ends:

I've seen things... seen things you little people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion bright as magnesium... I rode on the back decks of a blinker and watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments... they'll be gone.

That's not quite what he says in the film, of course. If you've seen it, you remember the scene, and the words.

Hauer changed the dialogue, but he didn't "improvise" anything. "Improvised" means impromptu, but by all accounts Hauer worked on his monologue the night before.

Respect that writing — don't say it was "improvised."

Hauer thought Baty's soliloquy could be better than what was scripted, so he sat down with a pen and rewrote it, made it better.

He removed the insult of 'little people' and just said 'people', but delivered the line in such a way it leaves the insult intact. He shortened one of the android's three memories, and eliminated another, and tightened the next-to-last sentence. He added a final sentence that echoes earlier dialogue, when Baty had shouted "Time to die!" as a threat to Harrison Ford's character. Saying "Time to die" again explains everything that came before, in the scene and in the movie.

And then he acted the hell out of it the next day.

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 Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

It's just one little paragraph, but it's sweet perfection, a masterpiece of rewrite and editing. Impressive, not "improvised," and it's even more remarkable when you remember that English wasn't Hauer's native language.

Damned fine writing, and that's something I wish I could do myself.


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  1. Doug, you sure as hell don't need me to tell you that, at your best, you're something more than a fine writer: you use language to create art, and that's rare enough in the world of writing to celebrate.

    I don't know when you wrote "... like tears in rain" because you don't date your entries but, with the trivial exception of a missing semicolon after the word "something" in the final sentence, this piece approaches perfection, which, like the speed of light, is never at home when one rings the doorbell.

    I could dissect further, but analyzing wonderful prose is like viewing subatomic particles: the closer the look the less you see; if you wish to identify and celebrate the cause you need to turn away from it and enjoy and understand the effect. But some of the effects of this short piece are reportorial, almost prosaic. Getting the facts right is always the first goal of the word-artist's job, and facts matter (or they don't, and I have to switch political parties).

    Here, you get the facts right and then you get underneath them to find motivation and passion in the work of the actor who cares about creating art as much as you do.

    Thank you for this fine piece of writing.


    1. Jeez, man. Glad you liked it and I won't argue with whatever kind words you pelt me with like yesterday's vegetables, but I don't even like it. Most of what I write, I don't like, but I keep trying.

      It's obvious to me that you can write, Mr John, so I'll cherish your compliments.


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