Rutger Hauer: The Nostradamus of Cyberpunk Cinema

Rutger Hauer started his acting career as “the Dutch Robert Redford.” He was a leading man but lurking beneath the surface was a limitless reservoir of talent and an uncanny ability to tap into the darker side of human nature. Behind those crystal clear, penetrating cerulean eyes was a keen intelligence and an empath who could intuitively read into his characters and embody them with traits that weren’t necessarily on the written pages of a script. 

It was interesting to watch him evolve from his earlier efforts like Paul Verhoeven’s Turkish Delight which could easily be dismissed as soft-core porn. But, in reality it was a very touching treatise about star-crossed young lovers that was compared to Erich Segal’s cry fest, Love Story. By the time he got to Ridley Scott’s brilliant view into the future, Blade Runner, a switch had flipped and he was ready to step into a new genre and reinvent himself for American audiences. This is where we see him start down his path as a Cyberpunk prophet. 

Blade Runner: What It Means to Be Human

When I first got a glimpse of Scott’s world of the future, a melting pot of cultures, mass consumerism and neon, it seemed bleak. But looking back, it was rather prescient. 1982 wasn’t full of that gloomy, wet dystopian landscape but seeing it fresh from the standpoint of the 21st century, it is as if Scott had a Nostradamus-like vision of our current world. Of course, we aren’t that advanced yet with travel to other galaxies and androids, but the overcrowding and the idea of creating robotic beings to assist us is all too real. The Los Angeles depicted in Scott’s masterpiece is overrun with prejudices as well. This time it is focused on the “Replicants.” Created by the Tyrell Corporation to work in tandem with humans, these A.I. look so much like us that it is hard to comprehend that they don’t have a soul. 

However, what started out as a way to assist mankind, has now turned into a dangerous threat to the safety of the planet. When a rogue bunch of Replicants led by Hauer’s Roy Batty comes back to Earth from a stint on a desolate mining planet, a retired bounty hunter of sorts, or “blade runner,” named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is summoned back to duty to eliminate Batty and his crew. Apparently, they killed people on that off world outpost and now they must be brought to justice or eliminated. It is clear that Replicants are now marked entities and their time of usefulness is up. 

The big question is why are they coming back to earth? What answers are they seeking from the company that gave them life? Basically, they were given a death sentence when they were shipped off to work on other planets in conditions that no human would be fit for. Society’s skewered view of them practically drips with distaste as they are referred to as “skin jobs.” 

Hauer’s Batty is so much more than that. He has a soul, he wants answers to questions specifically surrounding his limited lifespan and yes, he is afraid to die. These are all human traits. Tyrell made them in our mirror image. When Deckard chases him at the end of the film and almost falls to his death, Batty saves him. He could have let him plummet but yet, he did the right thing. When Hauer gives that penultimate speech that became a shining moment in his career, it hits us in the solar plexus. This skin job, this machine, has memories and dignity. Batty knows that all of who he is will be lost, “like tears in rain.” 

Thirty-eight years later, Blade Runner resonates in our current world. The intolerance toward anyone with an opposing viewpoint or a lifestyle that isn’t like ours is ever present, just like the Los Angeles of Scott’s sci-fi opus. Somehow, Rutger Hauer intuitively tapped into those blemishes and mirrored them back to us. 

Split Second: Psychic Savior

A decade after Blade Runner, Hauer turned to sci-fi once again. This time playing a haunted detective, Harley Stone. Set in yet another dystopian world, the 2008 London of Split Second is looking very grim. Pollution is killing the planet; it rains constantly and flooding is an everyday occurrence. His Stone is a loner and an outsider in his precinct. Suspended for not following the rules, his skills quickly become invaluable when the serial killer that murdered his partner reappears after an absence. 

Ever since that fateful day, Harley has been a marked man. He can hear the psychopath’s heartbeat so he can determine where he will strike. Of course, this psychic ability leads his superiors and colleagues to think that he might be the one perpetrating the crimes. Tortured thoughts and lack of sleep are enough to do anyone in, and Stone has seen better days. When his girlfriend, Michelle (Kim Cattrall) re-enters his life, he begins to find his sense of purpose again. Unfortunately, he is saddled with a partner not of his choosing who is his exact opposite. 

While this good-natured, fun film is essentially a buddy sci-fi/horror/comedy, Hauer never phones in his performance. He imbues Harley with an internal life. Stone is a complicated man but perhaps a lonely one despite his outward behavior and appearance. With Michelle, he immediately softens, and with her, he lets his guard down and is able to fall asleep. Rutger was at his best when playing flawed characters and questionable saviors. Yet, it is that hidden reserve, that innate goodness that Stone possesses which makes him the undeniable choice to rid the world of this alien menace that is killing people one by one. 

The movies that Hauer chose to make sometimes reflected the worst of our planet whether we want to believe it or not. His stoic presence, the rebellious roles that he inhabited, forced change in a society that didn’t want to accept it or even acknowledge that it was desperately needed. One could almost infer that he saved us from damage to ourselves. 

Sin City: Cardinal Roark, Deliver Us from Us

Cardinal Patrick Henry Roark of Sin City didn’t start out to betray his faith. Quite the contrary, this character served in the medical corps for two wars. He saw the ugly side of life and instead of becoming broken, dedicated himself to the service of others. A man of the cloth, he took a vow to abstain from earthly pleasures to help us attain a closer relationship with our Creator. But somewhere along the way, his intentions strayed, and the power that he was acquiring went to his head, clouding and blurring his moral center. Fraternizing with questionable politicians and other types helped his brother ascend to being a Senator, but it also gave the Cardinal a false sense of infallibility. 

Perhaps when he came upon lost soul Kevin (Elijah Wood), he meant well and wanted to help rehabilitate the young man. One could see from a religious standpoint that saving the soul of a cannibal and a serial killer might have an appeal. Instead, in his zeal to do what is right, he becomes seduced by the very thing that goes against his ethical code and his vows as a priest under the mistaken guise that Kevin has somehow spoken to God. A false prophet that does him in and gets him to indulge in a heinous taboo. 

While allowing Kevin to take refuge at his family farm, he enables and shelters him so that he can continue to claim victims. When he acts as death and claims souls by partaking in their flesh, Roark is seduced by that ultimate power. His God complex reaches its apex by allowing him to believe that he isn’t doing anything wrong. All of this seems like a metaphor and a commentary on world affairs. In retrospect, Hauer’s role could even reflect present day circumstances where the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. The idea of influencers dictating what we should believe and how we should feel on certain subjects is overindulging egos much like Roark thinking that he can do no wrong. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” is something that Hauer’s character seems to ignore. Unfortunately, every time we go on social media, we see examples of this on every platform and on various posts about current events. The parallels between Roark and people in positions of “power” is astounding, and ahead of its time. 

Hobo with a Shotgun: Mad as Hell and Not Going to Take It Anymore

Once again, Rutger Hauer is that mirror and somehow prophetic voice as a wandering indigent in Hobo with a Shotgun. When viewing this work, purely on the surface level, it is a brilliant blood-soaked homage to those vigilante films of the ’70s like Deathwish and Taxi Driver. One could even look at the late Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down and see the parallels. When his character rides the rails to Hopetown, looking for a new life and a lawn mower to start his own business, his quest is immediately going to take a backseat to the corruption and devaluing of human life that he sees as he walks the filthy streets of what used to be a family friendly burg. 

Surrounding him immediately is unmitigated chaos where one dictator, Drake, is the emperor of this hell hole. On a daily basis panhandling, bum fights, decapitations via manhole covers, eviscerations with razor-covered baseball bats, and fear mongering are some of the highlights of existing in “Scumtown,” or “Fucktown,” as the corrupt Chief of Police likes to call it. What makes this film so poignant is that viewing it in 2020 is almost like seeing the nightly news or reading a news outlet on the internet. Every day features a new calamity as ugliness and total disregard for our fellow humans reaches new heights. 

Hauer’s Hobo has seen enough. He may only be one man but he is going to ensure that his voice will be heard. Arming himself with a shotgun bought at a pawn shop, he embarks on a “clean up this town” tour that inspires the tormented and downtrodden citizens to rise up and overthrow their sadistic overlord and his demented henchmen who just happen to be the fruit of his loins. While Hobo is disenfranchised, he isn’t without a moral compass. He knows right from wrong and is willing to stand alone in his beliefs. There is something almost martyr-like in his fate. Hobo gives up his existence so that others can be free. Several times throughout this film, Hauer has some powerful moments. One in particular, is heart-wrenching. 

When he stands outside the maternity ward in the hospital and speaks to all the newborns, cautioning them against the reality of the world they will be growing up in, the dialogue could easily be spoken today. Hobo is a perfect reflection of how pent up hostilities and swallowing rage can result in drastic measures. Of course, it is over the top because it is meant to entertain, but on a realistic level, it speaks volumes. Channel that anger at the injustices that are taking place into a venue for change. Go out and vote, speak out against poor treatment of others and create a world that you want to inhabit. 

Unfortunately, Rutger Hauer left this mortal coil a year ago this month. It is amazing how many of his roles in genre films were prophetic. His films are a reminder that we are responsible for our fates. We only have this world; it is up to us to ensure its wellbeing and the wellbeing of those that inhabit it.