I just saw an article on the BBC news site:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/entertainment/newsid_825000/825641.stm

Although I've never debated the topic with anyone, I did buy the directors cut of Bladerunner a while back, and I did ask myself the question, "is Deckard a replicant?"

I guess the simple answer is yes, Ridley Scott says he is, so he is, right? I've got to admit, after watching the directors cut, I personally thought he was too. As the article says, the odd imagery we see in Deckard's 'imagination' certainly seem to suggest he has implanted memories.

Oddly, the article mentions that one reason for suspecting Deckard was a replicant was that the movie mentions an escape by six replicants, and yet only five are dealt with, leaving the question, "who's the sixth?".

But if Deckard had past experience of 'retiring' replicants then surely he couldn't have been one of the escapees? Or am I missing something blindingly obvious?

Ho hum. It's only a film after all. I don't normally give much consideration to such things, but this time a director has actually answered one of the ambiguous elements in their film, rather than let it hang as a topic for future discussion. Seemed a little odd, that's all.
Warning: Possible spoilers galore. You'll really like to experience this film without prior knowledge of the matters discussed here. But you've already seen it a hundred times, right?

The "FOR" case

  • Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford have stated that Deckard was meant to be a replicant. In Details magazine (US) October 1992 Ford says:
    "Blade Runner was not one of my favorite films. I tangled with Ridley. The biggest problem was that at the end, he wanted the audience to find out that Deckard was a replicant. I fought that because I felt the audience needed somebody to cheer for."
  • The shooting script had a voice-over where Deckard says, "I knew it on the roof that night. We were brothers, Roy Batty and I!"
  • Gaff knew that Deckard dreamt of a unicorn, therefore Gaff knew what dreams that Deckard had been implanted with. (BRDC only)
  • Replicants have a penchant for photographs, because it gives them a tie to their non-existent past. Deckard's flat is packed with photos, and none of them are recent or in color. Despite her memories, Rachel needed a photo as an emotional cushion. Likewise, Deckard would need photos, despite his memory implants. Rachel plays the piano, and Deckard has a piano in his flat.
  • Gaff tells him "You've done a man's job, sir!". Early drafts of the script have him then add: "But are you sure you are man? It's hard to be sure who's who around here."
  • Only a replicant could survive the beatings that Deckard takes, and then struggle up the side of a building with two dislocated fingers.
  • Bryant's threat "If you're not a cop, you're little people" might be an allusion to Deckard being created solely for police work.
  • Deckard's eyes glow (yellow-orange) when he tells Rachel that he wouldn't go after her, "but someone would". Deckard is standing behind Rachael, and he's out of focus.
  • Roy knew Deckard's name, yet he was never told it. Some speculate that Deckard might have been part of Roy's off-world rebellion, but was captured by the police and used to hunt down the others. In that case, Bryant is including Deckard among the five escaped replicants.
  • The police would not risk a human to hunt four powerful replicants, particularly since replicants were designed for such dangerous work. Of course Deckard would have to think he was human or he might not be willing to hunt down other replicants.
  • Gaff seems to follow Deckard everywhere - he is at the scene of all the Replicant retirings almost immediately. Gaff is always with Deckard when the chief is around. This suggests that Gaff is the real Bladerunner, and that Deckard is only a tool Gaff uses for the dirty work.

The "AGAINST" case

  • A major point of the film was to show Deckard (The Common Man) the value of life. "What's it like to live in fear?" If all the main characters are replicants, the contrast between humans and replicants is lost.
  • Rachel had an implanted unicorn dream and Deckard's reverie in BRDC was a result of having seen her implants. Gaff may have seen Rachael's implants at the same time Deckard did, perhaps while they were at Tyrell's.
  • Could you trust a replicant to kill other replicants? Why did the police trust Deckard?
  • Having Deckard as a replicant implies a conspiracy between the police and Tyrell.
  • Replicants were outlawed on Earth and it seems unlikely that a replicant would have an ex-wife.
  • If Deckard was a replicant designed to be a Blade Runner, why would they give him bad memories of the police force? Wouldn't it be more effective if he were loyal and happy about his work?
  • Deckard was not a replicant in DADoES, although he has another Blade Runner test him at one point just to be sure.

Mercilessly copied from the Bladerunner FAQ; http://www.faqs.org/faqs/movies/bladerunner-faq/

I take serious issue with this pronouncement by the director. For starters this kind of thing tramples on people's ability to form their own interpretations of a work.

Slightly less importantly, I think that this takes something away from the film. One of the fantastic themes of this film was how the replicants were more human than the humans. I mean it really shows the inhumanity of humans. To make Deckard a replicant means that you lose that contrast between humans and replicants.

Several noders have asked how Deckard can possibly be a replicant if he has memories, photographs and an ex-wife. Yet isn't one of the prime plot developments in the film the revelation that Dr. Tyrell has started implanting some prototype androids with false memories and manufactured histories? After all, that's what happened to his "niece". I see no reason why the same shouldn't have happened to Deckard.

If you are interested in this debate I highly recommend reading Future Noir: The making of Blade Runner. It's a wonderfully detailed book about everything Blade Runner.

As far as Deckard being a Replicant, I always thought we was. There are many clues in the film:

- His collection of photographs

-At one point in the film his eyes glow

-After his final fight with Roy, there was a planned scene of Deckard in an Ambulance having his fingers set and his wounds attended to. On one of the displays behind him flashes "Replicant"

-How does Gaff know what Deckard is dreaming about?

There are others, but they are already mentioned in this node anyway.

Perhaps more interesting is the question, why did Ridley Scott give away the answer?

After all, the point of these things is the ambiguity - that these stories, like poetry, say more in saying less. We learn more, experience more, by wondering ourselves if he is human. The defining elements of humanity were of concern to Philip K. Dick: what makes us human? Why do we have no good, definitive answers to that question? Why do we often not meet our own standards for humanity? - and he spent much of his writing career preoccupied with those and similar issues. The formats for these explorations were very imaginitive, but the important unifying element was the matter of doubt - which can move a story along with the paranoia and xenophobia that is inherent in our culture, but also forces us to tackle the question in a meaningful way, to really confront the issues.

If it were meant to be so black and white, he would just have written an essay.

So, why spoil the fun? And why now, after decades have passed? There are a few theories:

  • Scott wanted to settle a longstanding grudge with Ford over the issue. (During the making of the movie, Ford pushed hard for Deckard to be more human, or at least to obscure the evidence - this was arguably good drama, but at the time it could have been seen as egotistical on his part.)
  • He was having a bad day/hung over/was annoyed with the reporter, and did it on a whim.
  • He did it to intentionally mock the people who've been obsessing over and debating the question all these years - whose often terminal pedantry would have remained comfortably hidden from him, but for the wonders of the internet.
The answer, at least for me, lies in the way the film was marketed. Harrison Ford was not the only one pushing for Deckard to be more human, and to be a hero of sorts, despite the depressing scenery. So did the initial test audiences, who reacted strongly, not only to the confusing storyline (IMHO, I'm putting that one down to low intelligence in the audience, who were probably expecting a "wham-bang let's kill some fucking androids" movie), but to the whole idea that the hero they'd been cheering for all along was really one of the "enemy". A replicant.

They were treated to what is now known as the Director's Cut of the film. After the intensely poor reactions of the audience (whom I'd still like to hunt down with something sharp and deadly), the studio forced Ridley Scott to cut out the scenes that would imply Deckard's mechanical nature, and tack on a "happy ending". Also, to alleviate the problems of slow audiences not keeping up with the plot, explanatory voice overs were added (by an extremely non-enthusiastic Ford, who - in a flash of common sense - deemed this particular addition idiotic).

One of the principal scenes cut was the (in)famous unicorn scene. At some point during the movie, Deckard dreams of a unicorn. At the end, Gaff leaves an origami unicorn in front of Deckard's apartment, just as he is about to run away with Rachael. (Deckard never told Gaff about his dreams, and yet he knows anyway - because Gaff knew from the start about Deck's true identity.)

The unicorn, to me, is what gives it all away. This is also why the Theatrical Version and the Director's Cut are a gnats wing from being two completely different movies. The Theatrical feature is the story of a simple good-versus-evil battle, where the hero wins, gets the girl, and all ends well. The Director's Cut movie, however, stays more true to the original premise of raindrenched depression and the question of identity - only to find out, at the end, that our hero is not what he seems to be at all, and that he'll be dead in less than four years.

Interestingly enough, the computer game based on the movie deals with the issue in a rather novel way. Upon starting the game, it randomly chooses whether or not the protagonist will turn out to be a replicant (as well as several other important characters in the game). Thusly, to see all the endings, you'd have to start over completely from scratch at least once.

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