With the recent release of the awe-inspiring new trailer for Blade Runner: 2049, people are once again questioning Rick Deckard’s humanity. Harrison Ford’s Deckard, the protagonist from 1982’s Blade Runner, is returning in the upcoming sequel. It’s unclear what his role will be, but he comes across as a potential mentor and partner of Ryan Gosling’s character. Many, many would-be conspiracy theorists like to claim Deckard was not a human, but a Replicant, in the original film.
Unfortunately, the biggest proponent of this view is the director, Ridley Scott, himself. The goober has pulled an anti-Christopher Nolan and decided to explain his interpretation of the film. And while he’s certainly entitled to do that, I’ve just as entitled to say that he’s wrong. I’m a millennial after all, and I feel entitled to everything. Scott, whose filmic track record is as spotty as an alcoholic’s liver, retroactively makes his film worse by “making” Deckard a Replicant.
Everybody Else Associated With The Film Disagrees
Maybe this alone should be enough to make my point, but literally nobody else agrees with Ridley Scott. I don’t mean your college roommate, I mean the guy that played Deckard (Harrison Ford), the guys that wrote the screenplay (David Peoples and Hampton Fancher), and even the guy that wrote the freaking book the novel is based on (Philip K. Dick) all saw Deckard as human. There have been interviews to that point, and generally speaking, most people involved with the film agreed that the film needed a “human center.”
Harrison Ford definitely wanted to play the character as a human, believing that propelled the plot along better. In Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Deckard is explicitly human. And the original screenplay writers say they wrote Deckard to be human.
Given the weight of all these people, it’s hard to take seriously Ridley Scott’s claim – well after the fact – that Deckard was always supposed to be a Replicant. Very clearly, most everybody else thought the movie made more sense with a human in there.
Having A Robot Blade Runner Doesn’t Make A Lot Of Plot-Sense
Beyond my issues with the unicorn scene, there’s not a lot of in-movie reasons for Deckard to be a Replicant. If he is a Replicant built to kill other Replicants, why would you give him such a sad, crappy disposition? Would that make him more likely to kill Replicants? His backstory should be as straightforward as, “Replicants killed my wife. I hate Replicants.” Giving him a bunch of moral ambiguity and a complicated personality is what leads him to question so much about his existence and the nature of Replicants. If they want him to just kill robots and go home, they could have made him a lot more straightforwardly.
Additionally, if Tyrell Corporation wants to test whether or not Rachael can pass a Turing test, why in the hell would they use a robot? It makes no sense to test the humanity of a robot by seeing how human they seem… to a robot. Presumably they would have created Deckard, so why use him to test Rachael? All this would do is cause him to question his legitimacy, further muddying his effectiveness in their eyes. In fact, that entire scene sparks all those questions in Deckard’s mind. How stupid would it be for Tyrell to set up a pointless Turing test only for Deckard to suddenly question his humanity? That’s quite the goof.
Why would you need a human-looking robot anyway? If it’s entire job is to hunt down Replicants, just program it to be entirely unfeeling, make it a perfect shot with a right hook that punches a hole in all robots, and send it on its way. Emotions are of no use to a pre-programmed assassin.
Generally speaking, having Deckard be a Replicant retroactively makes Tyrell the stupidest corporation ever, and the Blade Runners the worst-run crime fighting organization on the planet. The plot devolves into questionable nonsense if Deckard becomes a Replicant.
The Unicorn Isn’t In The Original, Is Flawed
The single biggest scene that theorists point to for proof, is the bit with the origami unicorn. The gist is that Deckard has a dream about unicorns, and the next day Gaff (another Blade Runner) leaves a little origami unicorn outside his door. The implication being that Gaff could have accessed Deckard’s dreams because Deckard is a robot.
Well, first off, that scene is only in the Director’s Cut. So for the “true version” that scene doesn’t exist at all. It was snuck back in once Ridley got to do whatever he wanted. Additionally, the scene wasn’t in the original screenplay. But even when the screenwriter, Hampton Fancher, saw the scene, he didn’t think it made Deckard a Replicant.
When I saw the unicorn in the director’s cut, I, I thought of it as a symbol. And that’s the beauty of something that’s good, I guess. You know, you could– It’s ambiguous. And my interpretation had nothing to do with: “Oh, that shows that Deckard’s a Replicant.” I don’t think that anything should show that Deckard’s a Replicant. If you think that, you’re already wrong. You know? I mean, it says, it’s just the question mark is what’s interesting.
He liked the ambiguity it presented, but nothing about it confirmed for him that Deckard was supposed to be a Replicant. If anything, it shows that humans and robots are more similar than we know (we have similar dreams), but again it sort of goes against a sensible plot to have Deckard confirmed as a Replicant.
Certainly, it can create confusion and a sense of panic for Deckard, but it doesn’t mean he’s definitely a Replicant and Gaff is just playing mind games with him (which, again, wouldn’t exactly be helpful if you’ve built this robot exclusively to hunt other robots).
It Breaks The Moral Of The Films
The trailer for the new film seems to hint at a possible twist where Officer K (Ryan Gosling) could be a Replicant. He’s told that he’s “special” which in a world full of robots could imply that he was made differently or something. Maybe he’s the only robot that can truly love, or maybe his heart is made out of a bologna sandwhich. Either way, this would make it less likely that Deckard is a Replicant. Surely not every main character could be a robot. Otherwise Blade Runner could succumb to the same problems as Westworld where the twist every couple of episodes is that surprise, yet another person is actually a robot. If everybody is a robot, then who is the audience supposed to connect to?
This is ultimately my biggest issue with Ridley Scott and his claim that Deckard is a Replicant. If he is, then what the hell is the point of the movie? If virtually nobody onscreen is human (not Deckard, Priss, Roy, Rachael), then how is the audience supposed to sort through the questions about what defines humanity? That’s like asking, “What is being a dad all about?” and then having an all-female movie exclusively about moms. Sure, there could still be some insight there – maybe you can guess what a dad should do based on the holes in some character’s life – but really wouldn’t it make sense to use a few different dads as well? It’s hard to see what you’re trying to prove if there aren’t any examples of the thing you want to show.
In the original books, the issue isn’t so much whether or not the Voight-Kampf test sucks at detecting robots, but rather whether it’s too good and could accidentally implicate a human with a lower-than-normal amount of empathy. Deckard is very clearly a human, but what he struggles with is where the line between robot and humanity blurs when it comes to people with mental issues or just sort of a lack of empathy generally. Is that where our humanity lies or is it something deeper? What does separate us from the robots? Deckard himself struggles with empathy (though he can always pass a Voight-Kampf test), and finds himself attached to things that aren’t real like robotic pets.
If everybody onscreen is a robot, then the movie basically just asks the audience to compare themselves to a bunch of robots that are played by humans. Of course those robots are going to see human-like, because they’re played by actual humans trying to be human. If there’s no distinction between what a human character and a robot character are like – or if we have to wonder who is who – then we have no real comparisons and the moral will likely fall flat. By having Deckard be a human who struggles with his own identity amongst such human-like robots, we are able to suss out the key differences between humans and robots.
Is our ability to empathize with animals enough, or is there something deeper that makes us truly human? That’s what Blade Runner explores. It’s much more than just, “Oooooh, is he, like, a robot?!”