The Importance of the Question - 'Blade Runner' Review
Was Deckard a replicant in Blade Runner?
There is probably no other cinematic question that has generated so much debate, analysis, studies, essays, theses, and theories in the last 30 years.
The eternal question is fueled by the fact that Ridley Scott (director), Harrison Ford (Deckard himself), Hampton Fancher (original screenwriter) and Philip K. Dick (author of the original novel) have different visions about it.
For Scott, Deckard is a replicant. For Dick, that's made very clear in the novel. He is undoubtedly human. Ford deems the character human, but he understands and sympathizes with Scott's need to "have both ways." For Fancher, the answer doesn't matter:
“The question has to be an eternal question. Quoting Pound: 'Art that remains news is art in which the question 'what does it mean' has no correct answer.”
The seven different Blade Runner versions haven't helped either. Every version has different cuts and additional scenes that affect the interpretation. Some have a Deckard voiceover narrating the whole story, film-noir style. Others even have a "happy ending."
Personally, I'll always use the "Director's Cut" (1992) and the "Final Cut" (2007) as reference. In both, especially in the "Final Cut," Ridley Scott had full creative freedom.
I think Fancher is right. Not only is a satisfactory ambiguity a clear sign of Blade Runner's power as art, but it's a fantastic strategy that is well-designed by Scott to enhance the core idea of the film and the original novel; what is human?
All elements are designed so that the perception of what is real, even within this strong personality universe, is always slightly clouded. Blade Runner can be a straightforward story about a human who hunts replicants, falling in love with one in the process, or a long dream sequence of a replicant who doesn't know that it is one. Let’s not forget that the original novel is titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The amazing Vangelis' score is a surreal journey full of synthesizers, echoes, distant voices and melancholy. The sound design is based on this same idea. Almost all dialogue has reverberations or echo effects, giving them a rarefied and brilliant texture.
In this 2019 Los Angeles, it's always nighttime. The few times we see the sun, it's interfering (Deckard actually say that at one point) in its magic hour, about to hide. It's the artificial neon of a city completely transformed into a billboard which illuminates the actions.
The amount of Easter eggs, details and winks displayed to keep the tension about Deckard's origin is remarkable and never feel forced. The unicorn dream. Practically all of Gaff's (Edward James Olmos) origami and interactions. That unfocused reddish gleam eyes scene.
His resistance/strength in the confrontation with other replicants. His relationship with Rachael (Sean Young). The impersonal, anachronistic photos that decorate his house. Ridley Scott filled this universe with clues (or riddles) with a superb fluidity, managing never to harm the elegant and artistic rhythm of this story.
Because among all this dim delirium, Blade Runner is a beautiful irony about humankind's hypocrisy and arrogance as they consider themselves a superior race for supposedly having feelings. Nothing makes it clearer than the application of the Voight-Kampff test to detect replicants: An empathy test to show humanity, used by humans to hunt and destroy entities nearly identical to humans.
This city of Los Angeles underlines the theme of the dehumanization. This is a result of an exacerbated capitalism that has destroyed the ecological order, converted all human relations into commerce and economic transactions and created an absolute alienating conformity among its inhabitants, who we rarely see bonding, harmonizing or encouraging friendships between themselves, but always consuming, working or looking for easy escapist entertainment.
Blade Runner is also a study of the implications of technology in society. Scott confronts the future by using old literary references and ancestral religious symbolism. That clash between the past and the future is somewhat confirmed in the design of this retrofuturist Los Angeles.
What's Your Rating For Blade Runner?
Christianity as a frame of reference is evident. For this, Ridley Scott gave certain roles/archetypes to the characters. Rick Deckard symbolizes the existentialist side of humanity, researching, locating, and eliminating "dangerous replicators" as he questions his own struggle and nature. The symbolic burden of the replicants, and especially of Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), is openly the duality God/Demon. At times, Batty is a fallen angel.
In others, he's Christ, the creator's son. Roy Batty not only distrusts his inventor but also requests his presence to claim him for his limitations, also demanding repairs and amendments to obtain a full life. Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) names Roy a "prodigal son" who returns. After not getting any benefit for his personal God, Roy commits a deicide, a fundamental purpose of Lucifer.
In the final confrontation, Roy further expresses that duality several times, rejoicing even when Deckard, in a violent impulse, sends him verbally "to hell." In the climax of the film, Roy is unmistakably "Christified." Bloodied, semi-naked, with a ragged piece of white cloth, he inserts a gigantic nail in the palm of his hand.
This, however, is only a visual dressing for what will come next: the strange representation of immolation-redemption-sacrifice. Roy saves Deckard (Christ saves man from his sins) from the precipice and lets himself die, as his creator had predicted. Seconds before dying, Roy release a dove (Holy Spirit). At the same time, Roy demonstrates a final paradoxical act of humanity by saving his enemy.
Blade Runner's symbolic burden is heavy and filled with other references that not only embrace religion but for example literature (the presence of William Blake's work is remarkable) and even legendary chess games to underline the subject of immortality. Ridley Scott's mastery is that he achieved to framed all those references in this atmosphere, numbed between the real, the oniric and the fictitious and therefore, the viewer receives everything fluidly, without unnecessary distractions.
Yes, it doesn't really matter to answer the question about Deckard's humanity, even when Blade Runner does everything in its power to fuel it. It’s understandable: The real objective of this masterpiece it's to examine why that question is important for us. Also have a look at Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049.
Title: Blade Runner
Release Year: 1982
Director(s): Ridley Scott
Writer(s): Philip K Dick & Hampton Fancher
Actors: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, a.o.
© 2019 Sam Shepards