A Very Dreamlike Interpretation of Blade Runner
by Bret Dorman
(Spoilers for random movies!)
Does Inception end in a dream or reality? What happens at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey? Did Travis Bickle die and hallucinate his heroism or did it really happen? What’s that goopy stuff Donnie Darko sees? Is Nina Myers in Black Swan crazy or just dedicated to the craft of method acting? Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
Some movies are ambiguous on purpose and some are like carefully crafted puzzles. Is The Shining about Native American Genocide? or The Holocaust? Or is it about the American Government’s abuse of power? Could it possibly be Kubrick’s confession to filming/faking the moon landing? I like to think it’s all of the above all at the same time. Even if I don’t think we faked the moon landing.
But there’s been one film question that has plagued me ever since I started watching movies more than any other question. The first question that was asked that made me question the entire film that came before it and depending on the answer had enormous consequences for the film’s statement on humanity.
Was Rick Deckard in Blade Runner a replicant?
Despite having my own crazy initial first reaction to the movie, I scoured the internet for answers. I visited the IMDB message boards. I looked on youtube for clips. I returned my bare bones Netflix DVD rental (which was the Director’s Cut) and bought the official Special Edition Final Cut on DVD. Even after watching it over and over I still double dipped and bought the 5 Disc Ultimate Edition that comes with the briefcase, Spinner model, plastic silver origami unicorn, hologram thing, and a case file on the sci-fi design, as well as five versions of the movie and a super behind the scenes making of feature.
But the question remained.
Was Rick Deckard in Blade Runner a replicant?
The closer Ridley Scott got to his “final” cut the clearer it seemed Deckard was a replicant. He even states so here. Harrison Ford on the other hand disagrees, thinking Deckard is more human than machine. He even states so here. The book seems to imply more toward human if I understand correctly, but I have never read it for myself.
My Short Answer: Deckard is a human.
My Long Answer: Well, that’s a bit more complicated.
What follows is nonsense. I know this. But this is why Blade Runner remains one of my favorite films. I don’t get it. I don’t think the people who made it get it. I think its above everyone’s head. I think its a visual poem that is the result of the collective consious of all living beings trying to figure out “what it all means.” (Not to take away from Philip K. Dick or the cast/crew of the movie. They did all the heavy lifting and I respect them for creating this and being a part of the masterpiece.)
Blade Runner has always been a messy film to me. If I were to make a Top 5 Messy Masterpieces it would be #1. It’s flawless. It’s a disaster. Yet it all transcends these silly human words and labels to become a cinematic memory we all can share.
Now I know the rules. I know about the origami. I know about implanted memories. I know that he avoids the question on if he ever took the Voight-Kampff test. But allow me to just ramble on here. I’m not looking to be shot down and told I’m wrong, because I know I am. Every interpretation has holes, as is the nature of the story. Even if you agree Deckard is a dude, you probably don’t have the same interpretation as I do. Heck, I’m not even sure how I came up with this but for some reason, on the first run through, this is how I viewed the movie. It is unique to me (as far as I know) and I like it.
To understand my interpretation you have to know that I just *like* stories where side characters play a huge role in the way of mysterious backgrounds. Reservoir Dogs is all about exploring nooks and crannies of characters while not showing you the big event. Morpheus is my favorite character in The Matrix, which is full of anime-like side characters; including Seraph as the guardian of The Oracle, complete with his own nickname (Wingless) and history with Smith alluded to through dialogue. Cheyenne in Once Upon A Time In The West meanders his way through the story of Frank and Harmonica.
In Blade Runner, we keep running into Gaff, as played by Edward James Olmos. Gaff is fluent in city speak, relies on a cane, and knows origami. He seems to have a distrust of Deckard. He is basically, the key to understanding the entire movie, as I see it.
Let’s use the Director’s/Final cut for this conversation.
First question: If Deckard IS a replicant, how far down the rabbit hole does the movie go? I mean, are all the cops in on it? Why does Deckard want to force-kiss Rachael and make it all weird? There’s a ton of backstory that needs filling in if Deckard is not a real person. Has he met Tyrell before? I mean, I’m about to invent some crazy backstory, but the point is it works both ways. We’ll ignore these, as I’ll get to later, because I don’t think they “help.”
Secondly, the question of the origami: What does the origami mean? Deckard dreams of a unicorn and Gaff leaves an origami unicorn. Clearly he must be a replicant. But that went completely over my head for some reason. I jumped to this wacky other idea instead. In Deckard’s conversation with Rachael, he brings up the spider memory. It’s one of many false memories Tyrell Corp implants into its replicants to give them a sense of personality. But how does he know this information? Is it common knowledge? Part of Blade Runner training? Or is it something Deckard knows first hand?
My Interpretation: Deckard was used as part of a program to make replicant Blade Runners. Seeing as he’s one of the best, they tried using some of his memories in hopes that it would subconsciously inform the replicant version. I’m not sure how much he was aware of this, but needless to say I do believe the unicorn dream is his own original thought.
Last question, how does Gaff know about the unicorn: Gaff knows because Gaff is really the replicant! What?! No way!
Remember, we’re playing in my head here, so let me work this out. Okay, Gaff uses a cane right? And he’s a police officer. I think he was a replicant Blade Runner, supposed to be like a super cop, but he got injured on a case. In a way, this means he proves that humans are more reliable than replicants when it comes to hunting their own kind. I mean, lets face it, if Deckard was an android of some sort he’d be better in a fight. Instead he spends a lot of time getting his ass kicked. He’s not very physically fit, he’s more like a punching bag.
This is why Gaff says the line “Looks like you’ve done a man’s job” at the end of the movie. He’s saying it as a sort of back handed compliment.
Gaff leaves origami around everywhere because part of his replicant-y Blade Runner programming/training is to figure out what people are thinking, to discern, without using a Voight-Kampff test, whether they are real or fake. He gets inside peoples’ heads.
The ending of the movie, as Roy Batty accepts death, is much more poignant to me if the person he saves is a real person. To see a “robot” reminisce, and then pass on, is a total mind fuck. As a human, you have to wonder, what it all means? Well, there’s something in Roy’s story, as he hunts down his creators and murders them, then saves Deckard, his own hunter, and let’s him live, that makes the whole movie a perfect sort of noir poem. Hero spends the entire movie in over his head, then lucks out, learns the meaning of life, and tries to protect an innocent dame. Classic! Now add robots. Sci-fi classic!
Ok, let’s snap back to reality…
Whoa! What? Deckard? Human? Gaff? Replicant? Clearly I need a Voight-Kampff test of my own.
The thing is, I think my theory holds up just as much as any other theory. Like with Total Recall, Blade Runner allows both options to exist simultaneously. There are no “wrong” answers. Perhaps my interpretation says more about me than it does about the film?
Like I said, this view is unique to me (as far as I know). I don’t see it discussed very often. Even getting rid of questions like, “How can Deckard drink alcohol if he’s a replicant?” or “Why does he feel pain and the others can seemingly ignore it (think Pris and the boiling water)?” I think the movie works better if you try to connect the clues given to you instead of working against them.
So how about you? Is Deckard a replicant or human? Or, are there any movies you’ve seen that you hold any wacky theories to despite knowing they are pretty wacky?