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Deckard is NOT a fucking replicant!

I was going to incorporate this rant into the BR 2049 review, however the rant became so epic I decided it needed its own space. Now I know, many people will disagree. I used to think so too – in fact the first version of Blade Runner I saw as a kid was the Director’s Cut. In the DC it is pretty clear that Deckard is a replicant. However, this is not the case and is a very unfortunate alteration to the film. But I think it’s important we understand this as it is fundamental to the film that Deckard is human! I’ll first start with the two clearest pieces of evidence that Deckard is a replicant, and then I will go through and show why this simply can’t be the case.

  1. Deckard dreams of a unicorn, and at the end of the film Gaff leaves an origami unicorn outside of Deckard’s apartment.
  2. Ridley Scott says that Deckard is a replicant.

All the ornaments that Gaff makes are to taunt Deckard. The origami unicorn is Gaff’s way to taunt Deckard for his confusion/empathy for a replicant that isn’t real. It and Rachael and Deckard fleeing together are both in the 1981 script which is the last complete script of Blade Runner before shooting. There is no unicorn daydream, and Deckard puts the unicorn on the dash of his car and smiles as he and Rachael drive off together. If Deckard was a replicant, someone would have been there to retire him and Rachael. Plus Gaff could have just retired him on the rooftop earlier.

As for Scott’s comments. In earlier interviews in the 90’s Scott was less committed that Deckard is a replicant saying only that it’s an interesting idea. Furthermore not a single other person involved in the film – not the writers, not the actors, not the producers, not the cinematographers, not the film editors, not the sound designers, not the set designers, no one else agrees that Deckard was written as a replicant. Harrison Ford himself is on record saying his character is human, even going as far to specifying that he and Scott agreed Deckard was a human prior to filming, and arguing with Scott over that point for the sequel. Think about this for a moment – at what other time can it be shown that a director had an idea in his head crucial to the main character in a film that he kept secret from the lead actor AND everyone else involved in the film? So secret that he never told anyone, even after the film was released?

We can’t dismiss that the unicorn daydream was intended for the film. It appears to be something Scott improvised as filming occurred, which is what made so much of the film feel authentic. That Deckard dreams a unicorn, and then later Gaff leaves an origami unicorn for him to find is suggestive that Deckard is a replicant, there’s no doubt about it. However, in true film noir style it could just be coincidence. In the book Deckard faces an existential crisis after being accused of being an android, and he questions his own sanity and humanity. This appears to have been the way that particular theme was brought from the book to the film.

There is no other moment in Blade Runner that suggests that Deckard might be a replicant. Other than (a) when his eyes have the “android glow”, and (b) Bryant says that six off-world replicates escaped but only 5 are accounted for in the film. Both of those are accidents – (b) was corrected in the Final Cut (even though I think it was fine to leave it unexplained), and (a) Deckard is out of focus behind Rachael while her eyes have the effect. If (a) were intentional then it would have been used multiple times, like it is for the other replicants in the film. For me it comes down to the question of empathy: none of the replicants posses it. Think about it, they kill poor defenceless Hannibal Chew, and then also J F Sebastian. Sebastian in particular likes them, wants to help them, poses no threat to them, and they kill him anyway just so as not to leave a loose end.

If Deckard is a replicant well fuck. That means that a whole slew of the characterisation of Deckard no longer makes any sense! See the problem with introducing a plot twist at the end of a film (or television series) is that you have to allow the audience to go back and watch it with the revealing information making sense. The Orphanage 2007 does this really well for example. But this isn’t the case with Deckard being a replicant, if he is then most of the movie no longer makes sense!

  1. Replicants are much stronger physically than humans. This is in part because they are primarily designed for hard physical off-world labour. Leon easily overpowers Deckard. Roy is shown to be much physically stronger too. Now you might say that well perhaps they nuked Deckard’s strength… but even Pris a “basic pleasure model” for who superior physical strength is certainly not required is easily able to overpower Deckard. It just doesn’t make sense that you would design a replicant to be a bounty hunter and give him normal human strength, but give superhuman strength to “pleasure models”.
  2. Speaking of Roy, he has a change of heart and decides to save Deckard, which is supposed to show his compassion towards a human in his dying moments. Yet with the revelation that Deckard is a replicant such a gesture becomes meaningless (Roy would always have saved a fellow replicant).
  3. The creepy idea of falling “in love” with an artificial human is lost if Deckard is a human. See my post on Westworld S01 for comparison.
  4. Bryant has used Deckard previously to hunt replicants, he brings him out of “retirement” to help with the escaped off-world Nexus 6 replicants. As the prologue explains, these were Nexus 6 replicants already on Earth (they were declared illegal and then killed). This would appear to be early after the Nexus 6 models were released. Deckard couldn’t have been a Nexus 6 because the crackdown was specifically targeted after it was discovered Nexus 6’s were dangerous and couldn’t be controlled. Meaning that for Deckard to be a replicant he has to be older than any other Nexus 6, and therefore would be less advanced not more advanced. But Nexus 5 replicants did not posses the ability to develop their own emotions.
  5. Why doesn’t Bryant know that he’s a replicant – Bryant has no empathy for skinjobs, no way would he have agreed to it. On the other hand, if he has used Deckard successfully for years and Deckard is a replicant… why does he detest replicants? Bryant is not that knowledgeable or even interested in replicants, he has far too many other things to worry about, which is why he tasks others like Gaff, Holden, and Deckard to do the work.
  6. Following Deckard helping to hunt and eradicate the Nexus 6’s, he “retired” from police work and separated from his wife. When the film begins he is living alone in his apartment. Why did they let a replicant live outside in the world with no purpose or control… why not just deactivate him?
  7. Bryant brings in Deckard because Holden get shot by Leon while administering Voight-Kampff. Deckard knows Holden, he even visits Holden in a deleted scene. Holden is a human. Deckard is only brought in because Holden gets shot. So, if we’re to believe that Deckard is a replicant it means that after they became aware of the newly illegally arrived replicants that instead of putting a replicant to work on a very hazardous and dangerous job, they gave it to a human instead while the replicant was living “free”.
  8. An alternate explanation is that they have just activated a “new” Deckard based on an older model they previously used. But this is a convoluted explanation, it doesn’t arise naturally out of the story. How did they give him a lived-in apartment so quickly? Why do all the cops know him? How do they have confidence this replicant can do a highly specialised niche job? Why is it not at least as physically strong as the Nexus 6 replicants? Plus if he is newly activated it means they designed a replicant who hates his job and wants to revolt right from the very start! Who the fuck would do that?
  9. It would be illegal for the police to employ replicants – they’re banned on Earth. And if they had permission it wouldn’t be for an experimental model.
  10. If Deckard is a replicant who is designed specifically for this very dangerous and hazardous job for them (according to Bryant he’s better than Holden), then why do they wait for a human to get shot before bringing it in to do the job? Why not get Deckard on the job right from the start?
  11. If Deckard is a replicant why does he hate his job? Who would desing a replicant that hates his job? Not only does he hate it, but it’s not all that great at it either. Think about it. He hesitates to kill every single replicant, starting with Zhora (he has to chase her down in the streets putting the public at risk), then again with Leon who nearly kills him before Rachael saves his life, then again with Priss who he could have shot point-blank but instead pulls the drape off her and lets her fight him. He would have killed Roy straight away if he was an accurate shooter, but instead he misses and doesn’t retire Roy at all. And finally, not only does he not retire Rachael, but he helps her to escape – the exact opposite of what he’s supposed to do. And he’s already decided to do this before he picks up the origami unicorn that “tells him he’s an android”.
  12. Several part of Blade Runner make Deckard explicitly human:
    • He has an exwife. Not an implanted memory, an actual exwife that he talks to, revealed in the voice over that was Ridely Scott’s idea and he himself designed and approved for the film! He’s later admitted the film doesn’t work as a narrated story, but the narration is completely consistent with his original vision. He had complete creative control over it, it’s not as if someone told him Deckard’s wife had to be mentioned.
    • He has the ability to express emotions normally – replicants don’t. Even the advanced prototype (Rachel) has trouble expressing emotion. All the replicants do, and especially empathy which Deckard has in spades! All the human characters are shown to quite easily express their emotions, Deckard included. This is really easily seen in their facial expressions.
    • He’s an alcoholic – who the fuck designed an alcoholic desolate pathetic replicant?
  13. Bryant sends Deckard to administer Voight-Kampff on Rachael. Bryant is interested to confirm that the Voight-Kampff indeed works on Nexus 6 replicants (this is in fact the stated reason for the same event in the book). Tyrell is cooperating with police, but also getting something for himself out of it (he wants to see how well his prototype does). This scene looses all of its meaning and makes no sense at all if Deckard is a replicant – then it’s just Tyrell taking the piss. But also if Deckard really is an advanced prototype then Tyrell would have known this and recognised him, and wouldn’t be sharing sensitive information with the replicant that could lead to it revolting.

And this is far from a comprehensive list of problems that arise throughout the film if Deckard is a replicant. Scott appears to have wanted audiences to have doubted Deckard’s humanity – but once you examine the story you realise that it only makes sense if he’s human. In a sense he’s metaphorically a replicant – used by his superiors for horrible hazardous work against his will that drives him insane. And he goes on a journey to re-find his humanity.

Now it should be noted that Harrison Ford is not entirely accurate on Blade Runner either. In 2002 he perpetuated the rumour that the voice-over was done without Scott’s involvement, and Scott later said doing a voice over was his idea after negative reactions from test audiences (actually it was part of the script). In the same 2002 interview Ford said that he and Scott disagreed at the time over whether Deckard should be human or a replicant, however I think he means it within the context of certainty (Scott wanted to leave doubt for the audience, Ford didn’t want that).

Deckard doubting his humanity is a theme from the book. In the book Deckard has an existential crisis and doubts his own humanity after being arrested by a sham police station who accuse him of being an android. In reality, the sham police station is staffed entirely by androids with the sole exception of their bounty hunter. Deckard and the other bounty hunter escape and both question their humanity. They’re both human, but Deckard feels empathy for the androids, whereas the other bounty hunter doesn’t. In the film Scott tried to condense this theme into just one bounty hunter – one that simultaneously has empathy for androids and is brutal to them resulting in him questioning his humanity. The problem is that Deckard never questions his humanity in the film. So rather then the unicorn dream and the origami being a proof that Deckard is an android, I think they are the film’s replacement for Deckard questioning his humanity to leave the viewer questioning it instead.

The director’s cut was an accident. Scott never intended to make a second cut of the film. In 1989 film preservationist Michael Arick found a copy of Blade Runner in the Todd-AO vaults on 70mm (most theatrical film is on 35mm). Film festival organisers in Los Angeles learned of it and booked the print, which Warner authorised, and they showed it in 1990. The audience loved it, and more than a dozen other US cinemas all booked the unusual print, which Warner advertised as the “director’s cut”. In reality it was an unfinished workprint version of the film (although it being printed on 70mm does seem odd), Scott wasn’t happy about it and so Warner pulled the print and cancelled existing bookings in 1991. It should be noted that during this time and after it other cinemas were booking the theatrical cut (many cinemas would not have been equipped for 70mm), and audiences were just as thrilled about it. Essentially the film found a new cult audience following from its original box-office flop. So Warner tasked Arick with making a new edit of the film, which he did from notes sent to him by Scott and it was released in 1992 as the Director’s Cut. And of course audiences loved it as well. It was not personally overseen by Scott who went back and personally oversaw the edit for the “Final Cut”. Anyway, since the DC restored the unicorn dream sequence it meant that it was in Scott’s interests to promote the idea that Deckard might be a replicant – an idea not found in the original cut at all, and but for this one scene isn’t in this cut either.

So with all of this now in mind, let’s visit our final question: Did Scott intend a the time of filming for Deckard to be a replicant? Well if half of what we witness in the film is “not real”, which would be consistent with the film noir genre, then you could conclude that way. But if the film is supposed to be internally coherent, which I believe is the intention, then Deckard is human and there’s no question. He has human failings, but he’s also more human than the inhuman monsters he’s surrounded by in the film. I think that’s what Scott wanted people to take away from the film when he originally made it. I don’t think he wanted to make a statement that Deckard is a replicant, the themes throughout the film contradict it.

 

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