In the wake of the release of Blade Runner 2049’s trailer, my love of Blade Runner has been rekindled. It is one of my favourite films of all time, and in my opinion, one of the best scifi films ever made. But this post isn’t about the movie itself – rather, it is about the movie’s main character: Rick Deckard, a police officer specialized in hunting and retiring escapee androids.
For those who haven’t watched the film, I’d recommend it in a heartbeat – though I do not recommend reading this post before you do, since it is peppered with spoilers which might affect how you perceive the film.
There are many indicators to suggest that Deckard is a replicant. From lines such as “You are the Blade, Blade Runner” and “You’ve done a man’s job, sir!”; to visual clues, such as the presence of photos and memoirs with no physical characters to anchor them (such as the photographs of his wife scattered around his flat, even though there is no mention of her or his life prior to the movie’s events) and his eyes reflecting and glowing as replicants’ eyes do. There are scenes indicating his superhuman strength and endurance, such as enduring beatings from three different androids and climbing to the roof of a building with two broken fingers; plus, his lack of a reply to Rachael’s inquiry of his taking the Voight-Kampff test himself provide additional ambiguity.
What does Ridley Scott have to say about it? In the following video, he voices his opinion that Deckard is, in fact, a replicant:
This opinion is more fleshed out in the Director’s and Final Cuts of the film which feature Deckard daydreaming of a unicorn. The dream is meaningful because of the unicorn origami Gaff leaves at his door at the final scene of the film, which would imply that the dream he had is an implanted piece of imagination which Gaff has knowledge of (the same way Deckard knew of Rachael’s implanted memories).
I suppose, then, that the answer would be that it depends on which version you watched, and on your interpretation. Though the unicorn scene really doesn’t allow for any other interpretation other than Deckard being a replicant, it is only present in alternate cuts of the film: the theatrical cut maintains the ambiguity which I personally find to enrich the film much more.
Although Scott believed that Deckard is a replicant, Hampton Francher (original screenwriter) preferred the film to remain ambiguous, and Harrison Ford believed Deckard to be human; so I really do not believe that even though the director believes him to be a replicant, that the audience should as well. What makes the whole film so impactful and touching, is how Roy Batty showed himself much more humanized than Deckard himself, who became dehumanized in the process of hunting down the androids.
The themes discussed both in the film, and in the book the film is based on, gravitate around humanity, sentience, and emotion. To me, the ending of the film and the beautiful Tears in Rain monologue lose so much of their resonance and weight by shedding the juxtaposition between man and machine, by losing Deckard’s questioning of the difference between himself and them as Batty expires.
This is one of my favourite scenes of all time. Such a touching, mesmerizing and resonating message spoken by a machine which should be free of sentience, emotion, desire, forgiveness – and yet, is not. As Deckard watches him, shock written all over his face, one might glean that he is learning from a machine what it truly is to be human.
I have really come to see Deckard as a dehumanized being hunting a creature which proved itself much more human than he ever was. To me, that is more important than any answer the ambiguous film could ever present.
The screenshots used in this post are single frames used to illustrate the post, which has no commercial nature whatsoever. No public domain images illustrating the film have been located, and the presence of said images does not impact the copyright holder’s ability to profit from the original film.