Right off the bat, I must give fair warning regarding this post. This will be a total geek-out fest. That’s right, no two ways about it. Not only am I about to discuss a Sci-Fi movie from the 1980s, one that happens to be on the list of greatest ever made for a number of people, but I am about to consider implications of the plot of said movie, across FIVE different versions of the film.
For those who are uninitiated, let me briefly give you the run down. Blade Runner was released in the U.S theatrically in 1982. It starred Harrison Ford and Sean Young and was directed by Ridley Scott. The story was based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick. The movie is set in near future, featuring a grim, dystopian Los Angeles. Harrison Ford stars as Deckard, a “blade runner,” which is a term for a police officer whose job entails hunting down “replicants” and “retiring” them. “Replicants” are androids that appear human, but lack certain emotional capacities. They were created for the purpose of manual labor, but now some may be getting out of control. “Retiring” is a fancy word for killing.
At this stage in the article, I must put the reader on notice. Everything beyond this paragraph contains spoilers to the film and assumes the reader possesses a basic knowledge of the movie. Of course if you have not seen the movie yet but still wish to read, by all means please do. With that in mind, let us turn to the discussion at hand.
Beyond its amazing visual effects, dark and nightmarish mood, and overall subtly, the big issue surrounding Blade Runner is the question of whether or not Deckard himself is a replicant. So many people, from film critics to the actors and Ridley Scott himself, have chimed in on this issue, with varying evidence and degrees of opinion. Before I put in my two cents worth, allow me a second to discuss the implications of this notion of Deckard as replicant.
The overarching theme of Blade Runner is the question of what it means to be human. The Nexus 6 replicants of the movie look indistinguishable from humans, they are intelligent, and some possess strength far beyond human standards. With a limited life span, memories are artificially implanted, thus giving the replicant the illusion of a full, human life. The perfect example is Sean Young’s character Rachael, who is unaware she is a replicant and not human. A powerful scene comes early in the movie, when Deckard points this out to Rachael, emotionally devastating her. As the film progresses and Deckard retires more replicants, he becomes disgusted with himself and certainly feels conflicted, all culminating in the final scene in which he is saved by the main antagonistic replicant.
But what of Deckard himself? To me, enough evidence exists that one could argue either way as to whether he is a human or a replicant. Although the endeavor of arguing Deckard’s human status is enjoyable, albeit very nerdy, the more important question is what implications his status as human or replicant has for the story.
If one views Deckard as a replicant, then the story takes on a darker tone. His mission throughout is to “retire” the renegade replicants, and as he progresses, he continuously questions his own humanity and what defines a person. If in the end he himself is a replicant, then Deckard too is caught up in the emotional turmoil. He must either view himself and the others as human, though artificial, or the question becomes moot because his conflict was not a “genuine” human emotion from the start.
Conversely, if Deckard truly is human, then he as a character completes an arc through the story. He learns that perhaps being “artificial” does not automatically denote “non-human.” This is obvious with his love relationship with Rachael and the mercy demonstrated by Batty in the film’s climatic scene. While his emotional distance throughout the film could point to Deckard as replicant, it is possible to assume he is disillusioned with his life as a Blade Runner.
So is Deckard a replicant? In my opinion, it depends on the version of the film. There are 5 versions available to the public: Theatrical, International, Director’s Cut, Work Print, and the Final Cut. I obviously do not want to go through all five versions and look at every scene that points to whether Deckard may be a replicant
The biggest piece of evidence pointing to Deckard as replicant (in my opinion) comes from a scene that was added into the 2007 Final Cut and the Director’s Cut. To refresh everyone’s memory, Deckard is sitting at his piano and day dreams of a unicorn running through a forest. At the end of the film, Gaff leaves a small origami unicorn for Deckard. This is significant because 1) How could Gaff know about the unicorn vision unless he knew about the memories implanted in Deckard and 2) He has left origami figures at the locations of various other replicants throughout the film, thus suggesting Deckard is the final replicant. This evidence, along with a change in the final scene between the Director’s Cut and the Final Cut, alters the mood of the end of the film. Instead of the happy ending of the Theatrical version, with Rachel and Deckard escaping and looking forward to a long life, now we must ponder that they will both be hunted by the police to be retired.
A small piece of evidence occurs during a conversation between Deckard and Rachel. For a brief moment, Deckard moves out of focus and we notice an orange glow in his eyes, the same glow that we see in the eyes of the other replicants. In an interview with the film makers, it turns out that this was a mistake as Harrison Ford stepped into the light of Sean Young, thus causing his eyes to glow. The mistake was purposefully left in the film. Is this simply a light trick, or clear evidence that Deckard is a replicant?
Another small piece of evidence derives from Deckard’s seeming obsession with photographs. Photographs are given to replicants to simulate memories, therefore one could argue that the line is blurred between the notion of Deckard being human and recalling his past, or relying on the photographs to provide memories that are absent because he is not human.
Number of replicants
The final piece of evidence I want to use occurs early in the film, when Deckard is speaking with the police captain Bryant. Again, depending on which version of the film you watch, this scene plays out differently. In the original theatrical version, Bryant informs Deckard that SIX replicants escaped from the outworld, ONE was fried trying to escape, and the rest made it to Earth. The problem is that we have four replicants in the film: Roy, Leon, Zhora, Pris. This leaves the inevitable question of who is this fifth replicant? The theory involving Deckard obviously means he is the final one, who was somehow programmed to track and retire the others. The answer from behind the scenes footage states that the unknown replicant was a leftover from a previous version of the script. The line by Bryant was not changed, thus leaving the discrepancy. Interestingly enough, with the Final Cut’s push towards more overt clues as to Deckard’s humanity status, the line has been altered to state something to the effect that six escaped the outworld, and two were fried, therefore leaving the four we see in the film.
First let me say, I am sure there is some pieces of evidence that I am missing. In fact, I may be incorrect on some of my facts above because I am writing this without the benefit of the movie in front of me, but what can you do? Regardless, here is my observation.
The Final and Director’s Cut of Blade Runner certainly suggest Deckard is a replicant, and I think the story works on many levels if that is the case. This notion is much less apparent in the theatrical cut. If we accept Deckard as a replicant, then what does that say about human nature? If he is an imitation of a human, does his very human journey carry less significance? Or does it simply prove how advance and “human” the next generation of replicants can be.
If he is still a human, then the impact of the question of what it means to be human is obvious and powerful. This is especially true with the fact that Deckard falls in love with a replicant, indicating that the line between artificial and real is blurred, if not completely absent. Either way, thank you for reading and I hope that this post inspires you to see Blade Runner. As a film, it certainly holds up to its age, and the recent Blu-Ray release (pictured below) is certainly a bargain with all the versions of the film plus the extras. Please sound off below with your comments, and as always, thank you for reading.