Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Blade Runner has gotten more critical talk in the near three decades since its release than maybe any other box office flop in that span. Not counting the multiple subsequent re-releases, the film lost $9 million for the studio, falling short of $20 million gross (Box Office). I’ve heard that it initially wasn’t well-received because audiences anticipated and yearned for another Harrison Ford, Star Wars-esque sci-fi action flick that would hold them over until Revenge of the Jedi (A handful of you know that’s not a typo.). What found its way onto the big screen in 1982 was a less-than-moderately paced look into a gloomy future of planet Earth, where rain is constant and most are looking for ways to flee to the “Off World Colonies.” The film has mere pockets of action, but is rich in themes that are now more recognizable and appreciated as technology races forward, becoming an increasingly integral part of our lives.
The movie crept onto, count ‘em, three syllabi in my graduate school study…of English Literature, no less. And what would inherently come up (By the third time, weeks in advance of actually viewing the film, I’d already begun organizing a mental pool on which of my peers would mention this first in class. It, most unfortunately, wound up being the super-cute, pink-haired feminist who sat across the semi-circle from me.) was the question as to whether Rick Deckard is a Replicant or not. The first time I’d seen it, I completely missed that as a possibility altogether (You too, eh?). After that, I picked up on what really is the only shred of evidence that the protagonist could be a Replicant: the unicorn.
When Deckard does research on the Replicants that he has been asked to come out of retirement to hunt down and “retire” as well, he finds himself testing Rachael, a new Replicant creation of the Tyrell Corporation to see if she is one of them. Rachael actually thinks that she is, in fact, human. How was Tyrell able to gain this desired effect? By encrypting memories into the robot’s system. In trying to come to grips with the reality that she is not a real person, Rachael soon seeks the council of Deckard, falling for him in the process. Deckard somehow feels compelled to requite this affection as well. Later, he is seen contemplating his current case at his apartment when the screen flashes a quick shot of a unicorn. A shift in gaze tells the audience Deckard is thinking of the mythological animal that could have quite possibly been “invented” by then. After all of the Replicants have been vanquished, Deckard chooses to flee with Rachael because he fears for the “life” of his new love. However, his partner in blade running, the origami master, Gaff, has left a tiny paper unicorn close to his front door, hinting at the notion that Gaff knows of the implemented, manufactured memories of the Replicant Deckard and that other law enforcement will be looking to retire the new lovers as well. The screen turns to credits, creating an air of ambiguity around the film’s conclusion.
Though the famed unicorn is an exhibit of evidence pointing to Deckard’s identity as a Replicant, there are other things that need to be taken into serious consideration before coming to a conclusion on this matter, my fine, committed reader.
Let’s say just for shits ‘n’ giggles that the police force powered this Deckard up to track down and retire these other four Replicants. That might explain the very odd fact that Deckard has not been on active duty for some time, yet has been able to maintain the lifestyle of a person with a full-time job (and he does seem to be a bit on the young side to be collecting a robust enough pension that would support his means). However, what is infinitely more important, and, perhaps, puzzling, is that the Replicants Deckard has been charged with finding are new, elite models: The Nexus-6′s. He’s nearly choked to death by Zhora. (Fearing her identity being unveiled by witnesses to a murder, Zhora instead flees her busy dressing room and is shot in the back by a trailing Deckard.) He should have been killed by Leon, but was bailed out by Rachael. He’s lucky to have killed Priss (Let’s be honest). And Batty is clearly capable of killing Deckard with ease. We see him toying with Deckard for quite some time and Batty grabs his arm before Deckard falls off the side of the building to his certain death. Why would the blade runner unit use an inept, perhaps outdated Replicant model to hunt down others of a superior quality? That would lead to certain failure. It makes much more sense to explain Deckard’s near inability to kill these Replicants on the fact that he is merely a human being who, yes, has much experience as a Blade Runner, but little of late, and absolutely none in facing Nexus 6′s.
Another point that easily deposes the idea that Deckard’s true identity is that of a Replicant, and is closely related to the previous one, is that Deckard does not know he is a Replicant, which is a feature that Tyrell specifically touts as one of a brand new model of these droids that is of an even higher quality than the Nexus 6′s! Add all this shit up. Now the argument for Deckard being a Replicant is that Tyrell made a model that is better than the Nexus 6, would not be self-aware, but also not be able to take a Nexus 6 in a fight, which is what the fucking police force hired it to do…Yeah…right.
One of the film’s main themes that emerges from Batty’s speech towards the end, aimed at Deckard, is that as technology grows and people become more dependent upon it, the humanity of mankind will wither away. As Deckard (or is that Indy?) perilously holds onto the steel thingamajig that hangs off the side of the building, Batty says to him, “Quite an experience to live in fear isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” Tyrell and Co. (TYCO?) created these self-aware machines only to be oppressed laborers. They have no freedom and a very finite lifespan. Man has no sympathy for these machines that do possess real feelings. Throw in all of the obvious Jesus allusions (that huge spike through the palm, while Batty tries to stay alive to convey said theme) and symbols of purity (his incredibly light hair and the grasped dove that comes out of fucking nowhere) and you have a being whose mission is to deliver a message, a new truth to those who persecute him – a message that Tyrell couldn’t comprehend or “see,” hence the Coke-bottle spectacles and the manner unto which Batty murders him (crushing Tyrell’s eyeballs back into his skull).
The director’s goal to communicate this theme about a potential loss of humanity would not be properly executed if Deckard were a Replicant because there would then just be two robots in love, which was already possible with earlier versions of the Replicants anyway, like the Nexus 6′s. So there’s no need to tell this story with updated machines. On the flip side, with Deckard being a certified human, and having him fall in love with a robot, the lesson rings true because the lines have been so blurred between what is natural and what has been fabricated by man. With Deckard, “the real,” standing next to Rachael, “the manufactured,” and the viewer not able to see any actual differences between the two, then a loss of humanity is observed in Deckard, while a more palpable humanity surfaces in Rachael.
Plus it’s incredibly obvious in the Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” which the movie is based on, that Deckard is clearly a man.