by Walton Ward
Essay on one of my favorite films and the fan debate regarding its title character.
|In the 1982 futuristic movie Blade Runner, Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, the titular character and police detective in a sprawling, dystopian Los Angeles of 2017. His character's job is to hunt down human-looking synthetic robots (Replicants) and terminate them with extreme prejudice (called "retirement" in the film). This job is made more difficult by the fact that the Replicants look, think, and behave like humans; the only recognized method to detecting their genetically-modified body is with a biometric and psychological test administered with a "Voight-Kampff" (VK) machine, similar to a lie detector.|
For die-hard fans of the film, endless debates (at least since the mid-80's when Blade Runner was immortalized through cable TV and video rental) have waged about whether Rick Deckard, the cop whose job it was to hunt down and kill Replicants, might actually be a Replicant himself, without ever knowing it. There were subtle clues placed either intentionally or coincidentally throughout the movie and several scenes edited out of early releases and then later restored, which seem to stoke the debate. Ridley Scott, the director, has emphatically stated that Deckard was meant to be a Replicant. However, Harrison Ford has contended that during filming, the role of Deckard was always discussed- and acted- as being human.
The following are 8 clues found in brief moments, background props, or dialogue that suggest rather strongly that Deckard is a Replicant; or at least, that the viewer is supposed to suspect that Deckard is not what he seems. These scenes should be familiar to fans of the film, so no extra set-up is required.
I. Cold Fish.
As Deckard waits for a seat at the sushi bar, his narration mentions a former wife who called him "cold fish", implying that he had difficulty showing emotion or feelings for other people. This would be a problem for Replicants who are not emotionally attached to other Replicants, and indeed is an issue when Deckard attempts to seduce Rachel Tyrell. Although the narration was never approved by the director and removed from later editions, it does provide extra information in the film and some sharing of Deckard's thoughts and emotions.
II. Counting Replicants.
When Deckard and his boss, Captain Bryant, are at the police department watching video of the escaped Replicants and discussing their actions since arriving in Los Angeles, Bryant lists three male and three female Replicants and adds that one of them died running through a force field. We know that Deckard has to track down two males (Roy Batty and Leon) and two females (Zhora and Pris), so if one other pair was with the escaping Replicants and one died, this could infer that Deckard was the male and the dead Replicant was his female partner. This would also explain the ex-wife we never see or learn about.
III. Scenes From a Hotel Room.
A recurring motif of memory and photographs (the physical form of memory) is highlighted during Deckard's search of the Replicants' hotel room. Deckard finds several photos that Leon has apparently taken and saved, and we hear him surmise that Replicants do this as a form of memory creation due to their own lack of long-term memories. Rachel even carries around a photograph of what she believes is her and her mother. The problem is, Deckard's apartment is also full of antique photographs (literally covering the piano). Also, in one of Leon's photographs is a bottle of Johnny Walker that is identical to a bottle shared in Bryant's office and favored by Deckard. This may have just been the over-use of a prop, but it cleverly hints of Deckard's link to the other Replicants.
IV. Genetically-Engineered Abilities.
Deckard gets beat up quite a bit in the movie, but his injuries never seem to slow him down. He even gets tossed into a car windshield with no apparent physical damage. Though later scenes show Replicants feeling and reacting to pain, Deckard seems to share a lot of traits featuring superior strength and intelligence. Captain Bryant calls Deckard a "one-man slaughterhouse" and warns Gaff to be careful around him.
V. The Dream of the Unicorn.
Deckard falls asleep at his apartment and has a dream about a unicorn running through a forest. This suggests he was thinking about Rachel's unique circumstance and comparing her to a mythical creature. This scene was added to later versions by Ridley Scott to enhance the idea that Deckard's memories have been shared.
VI. Batty and Deckard.
Roy Batty seems to know a lot about Deckard, a cop he supposedly never saw before. Unless someone gave him secret files or access to the current police investigation, how does Batty even know Deckard's name, much less his Replicant-hunting abilities? "Come on, Deckard!" Roy taunts him during the final chase. "Aren't you supposed to be good?" Their dialogue suggests that Batty knows Deckard more than he possibly could.
VII. Gaff and the Unicorn.
In another of the film's motifs, Gaff likes to create and leave little origami figures that represent the ideas or emotions of the situation. He creates a small chicken while listening to Deckard argue against hunting down more Replicants, and later creates a little stick figure of a man with an erection while Deckard gets into the thrill of the hunt. But it is Gaff's final present of the little silver unicorn outside Deckard's apartment that suggests he is aware of Deckard's dream and his connection to Rachel, whom Gaff also lets go at the end.
VIII. Escape to the North.
Deckard is apparently the best and bloodiest Blade Runner cop in the department and has a history of "retiring" many Replicants; yet in the end, he falls in love with Rachel and runs off with her, leaving Gaff to eventually chase after them both. The film never reveals any reason or rationality for Deckard's sudden change of heart, except for the image of the unicorn and perhaps his newly-found desire to save Rachel's life just as Batty saved his life. If Deckard was always a Replicant, or if the Deckard we meet is a Replicant version of the human Deckard, then it would explain his unusual sympathy toward Rachel.
Author's note: It will be interesting to see the upcoming sequel to Blade Runner, now in production in Europe and directed again by Ridley Scott. How will Scott re-introduce and explain the character of Deckard since Replicants are normally built for a four-year life span?