Rutger Hauer’s career peak in America was relatively brief, but my, did it ever burn bright. The strapping, remarkably handsome Dutchman with tiny blue crystalline lakes for eyes first came to fame way back in 1973 in Paul Verhoeven’s erotic psychodrama, Turkish Delight. Verhoeven and Hauer (a match made somewhere fantastic, but surely south of heaven) would reteam twice more before both came to America in the great WW2 drama, Soldier of Orange from 1977, and Spetters in 1979. The Verhoeven/Hauer trilogy is a landmark of Dutch cinema and established Hauer as an international star.
Hauer had a small part in the largely forgotten Apartheid drama, The Wilby Conspiracy, starring Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine in 1975. But is wasn’t until 1981’s Nighthawks (the best Sylvester Stallone film most people have never seen) that Hauer made a strong impression in an American production. As a terrifying German terrorist with the wonderfully improbable name of “Wulfgar,” Hauer stole the film right out from under Sly’s feet. His wicked grin and casually menacing gaze (seriously, few actors could go from devilish charm to steely menace with such alacrity) announced him to American audiences as not only a great talent, but also a very particular one. Perhaps too particular, as the latter portion of Hauer’s career might attest. He seldom found films up to his skill level in his later years.
Hauer’s quintessential role came the very next year, in Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking sci-fi drama, Blade Runner. Once again, Hauer played across an iconic leading man (this time Harrison Ford), and once again he robbed every scene like a cinematic cat burglar. As Roy Batty (again, what a name!), an escaped replicant being tracked down by Ford’s police officer, Rick Deckard – with the intention of being “retired” – Hauer’s presence towers over the film even when he’s not onscreen. His final scene – sculpted and shirtless in a raging downpour – is one of the most memorable in science fiction history.
As Deckard and Batty face off in what seems to be a duel to the death, Batty commits a surprising act of mercy and delivers one of the most memorable “final” speeches of any character ever seen onscreen. Just when Batty has the upper hand and could easily dispose of Deckard, he lifts him up. Places him on the side of the tall building they had been quarreling on.
In the face of his imminent mortality, he turns to Deckard while holding the whitest dove I have ever seen, and with the most eccentric and perfectly placed dramatic pauses, he says,
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.
And then he slumps forward, the dove escapes his palm and flies up into the storm as the rain beats down upon Hauer’s shock of white blonde hair. And then he is gone.
It was the single greatest moment of Hauer’s career. Truth is, it would have been just about anyone’s mountain top. What many people don’t know is Hauer himself rewrote and edited the original monologue.
Hauer scored a few more roles of note after Blade Runner. I know from running a video store back in the day that his fantasy film with Matthew Broderick and Michelle Pfeiffer from 1985, Ladyhawke, is a much-loved entry in the genre. That same year Hauer worked with Verhoeven one final time in the lascivious medieval drama Flesh + Blood with a very young Jennifer Jason-Leigh. The next year found him elevating an otherwise standard issue horror film to heights it probably didn’t deserve as the serial killer in The Hitcher. He was also quite excellent in 1987 in the fact-based WW2 drama, Escape from Sobibor, as the leader of a Jewish uprising in a concentration camp – earning him a Golden Globe for best actor in a TV movie.
The remainder of his career was unfortunately made up of so-so roles in films that didn’t deserve him. Occasionally, he’d pop up in a small part in a grade A project such as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Sin City, and Batman Begins. A quick scan of his CV will reveal far too many titles that you won’t remember and aren’t worth seeking out.
But when he was onscreen, and the film was up to his considerable measure, he was almost always a first among equals – no matter how sterling the talent surrounding him.
And in one rain-drenched scene from a film now nearly 40 years old, Rutger Hauer became a legend when he spoke 42 words as Harrison Ford looked on in awe.
Just like the rest of us.
Rutger Hauer died today. he was 75 years old.