The actor Rutger Hauer has died. He elevated his most iconic performance by saying less than was in the script.
Towards the end of the science fiction epic Blade Runner, the two main characters confront one another.
Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, has been tracking down an escaped replicant — a genetically engineered artificial person. His job is to kill the guy.
Rutger Hauer plays the replicant, Roy Batty. Replicants are engineered to have a life span of just a few years, and Batty is nearing the end of his time . . . and he knows it.
After a violent, dramatic, and rain-soaked battle in a rotted out apartment building, director Ridley Scott’s baroque sets and dark vision combine with Vangelis’ fraught score to lead us to an emotional moment. Batty, having just saved Deckard from falling to his death, spends his last moments musing about the end of his own existence.
In an early draft of David Peoples’ screenplay, Batty’s soliloquy reads like this:
I’ve known adventures, seen places you people will never see, I’ve been Offworld and back… frontiers! I’ve stood on the back deck of a blinker bound for the Plutition Camps with sweat in my eyes watching stars fight on the shoulder of Orion… I’ve felt wind in my hair, riding test boats off the black galaxies and seen an attack fleet burn like a match and disappear. I’ve seen it, felt it…!
A bit overdone. The final draft of the script has this shorter version:
“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.”
To be clear, none of this stuff has anything to do with the rest of the movie. There’s no mention of Orion and no discussion of what c-beams are — who knows? — or what the Tannhäuser gate might be.
Scott gave Hauer the freedom to improvise with this dialogue. Hauer later described it as “opera talk ” and decided to “put a knife in it.” Last words by characters that know they are dying always seem contrived, but this character isn’t just dying, he’s expiring; his time is literally up. In theory, the speech could be as long as Hauer wanted. But he chose to squeeze the speech down to its essence and imbue every word with as much pathos as possible. Here’s the final version, as one anyone who has seen the movie will remember:
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.
This is stripped down. There’s no time to wonder why the attack ships are on fire or what C-beams are. Instead, we are left with the evocative “tears in rain” — Hauer’s ad-lib — and “Time to die.”
Why “tears in rain” and not “tears in the rain?” It makes all the difference. “The” makes “rain” seem like a weather report rather than the human condition, especially in Scott’s dreary vision of the future. “Tears in the rain” is almost cliche, while “tears in rain” makes you stop and think for just a second about what is about to be lost. And while you are thinking and vulnerable, Hauer pierces your heart with “Time to die.” And dies.
There are no exclamation points in this version of the dialogue, none are needed.
Our instinct as writers is always to say more. Instead, try to say more with less. It makes a difference.