Deckard Is Not A Replicant

Opinions from Martin Connolly, 10 August, 2003.

I am Irish, living in Japan as a teacher of English at Tsurumi University in Yokohama. I am married, with two children. A long-time fan of the movie Blade Runner, I feel I have to put down in words some of my own ideas regarding the question of whether Deckard is a replicant or not. Having watching the movie over twenty times, and recently just finished reading Future Noir, The Making of Blade Runner, by Paul M. Sammon, I feel I have enough familiarity with the movie to be able to contribute meaningfully to the debate as such.

Firstly, I must state that I believe wholeheartedly that Deckard is not a replicant, but a human. For the sake of clarity and convenience, I will list the reasons one by one.

1. From a dramatic point of view, it makes much greater sense to have Deckard a human. Art, in all its forms, after all, is about reflecting humanity's nature and condition. In the movie, the characters around Deckard designated as human, do not hold enough weight dramatically to be the focus of such reflection. They are all fairly two-dimensional. The focus of human interest then must be borne by Deckard, and, considering how they're portrayed, the replicants also. The director chooses to show the artificial humans as human, in their desire to live longer etc., but we approach them as special because they are artificial, yet are possessed of desires which we attribute to natural beings, human and animal. We approach Deckard from a wholly different angle, as a human who should be similarly possessed of such will, and yet we see a man who seems ever so lacking in inner enthusiasm for this world and this life. That's what makes a large part of the drama of Blade Runner so appealing. It reflects a common human experience: we tend to take things/life for granted. That is the nature of humans. The replicants can never be so world-weary. They have a lust for life. That contrast strikes the audience forcefully and makes Blade Runner compelling viewing. If we take Deckard as another replicant, it makes a nonsense of the contrast, and ends up making the reflection of life, the basic principle of art, skewed. The audience led to the belief that Deckard is a replicant might just feel "Well, we learned something about how complex machines might be in the future, but very little about how complex humans are right now".

2. Deckard is the human representative of society in this 2019 world. We are interested in us, aren't we? His inner despondency and eventual gaining of some kind of knowledge reflects and/or projects the possible route that society might take.

3. The unicorn stuff. Well, the unicorn bounding through the forest wasn't in the first version I saw way back when, but now I guess it's here to stay. The final scene, in the Director's Cut, when Deckard finds Gaff's origami unicorn does, of course, necessitate the inclusion of the unicorn scene. However, the idea that this implies directly that Deckard is a replicant, following the logic that by doing this Gaff is telling Deckard that he knows he is artificial because he has privy knowledge of Deckard's innermost thoughts and those innermost thoughts must therefore be memory implants, falls down in a number of areas.

a. A Blade Runner seems to be a cut above an ordinary policeman, yet Gaff, an ordinary policeman, has knowledge about replicants' memory implants (believing the Deckard replicant theory), a knowledge which Deckard, a supposedly veteran Blade Runner gains only at the beginning of this story. That, of course, is a huge oversight: that Deckard learns about such memory implants only now, after his career as a Blade Runner has more or less finished. The point remains that if the information Tyrell gives Deckard is special, not in the public domain, so to speak, then how is that Gaff, the ordinary policeman, knows about the implants either at the same time as Deckard, or beforehand? To accept that Gaff knows beforehand is to get into a scenario where we'd also have to accept that some kind of joke is being played on Deckard, with everyone in possession of the facts except him. Why enlist Deckard at all? If such were the case, it might be interesting, but the narrative doesn't hinge on this understanding. We're never given enough depth in the character of Gaff, or Bryant, to make this an interesting angle from which to view the events which occur. Our focus is on the only fully realised, in terms of this movie, human character, i.e. Deckard. The whole idea of the title of the movie, imbuing a certain distinction on the main character, and our focus on him, is severely undercut by the implication that he is just a pawn in a bigger picture, a bigger picture/plot which is neither realised, nor has the necessary fully-rounded characters to make it either believable or interesting.

b. Unlike Rachael, Deckard, if we accept the Deckard-is-a-replicant theory, seems decidedly non-plussed when he discovers that he is not human (by making that contorted connection between the unicorn dream and the unicorn origami.) He nods. Almost smiles. He's just learned that he is not in fact human, but a machine made by the Tyrell Corporation, yet this doesn't seem to be much of a problem. Unless, as I believe, he's not nodding, in a wholly unlikely and hard-to-swallow fashion, at the thought his whole life has been a lie, but at something else entirely.

c. Why choose a unicorn? A unicorn is a mythical creature, in other words, one that exists only in the imagination/fictional stories. Memories, as defined by this movie, are of real things and people. Were Deckard to be caught in this moment daydreaming about, or remembering, something (which is what memory implants give replicants the impression of doing) real, say a childhood event/face/words/image special to him, it would make the idea that he was actually remembering something from his either true or implanted past, as we see with Rachael and in those photos of Leon. What we get, however, is not something which could never be a memory. The dream of the unicorn does not come across to this viewer at least as a memory; it comes across as an image, which in the terms of artistic constructs usually implies a symbol. I believe the unicorn is more of a symbol than a memory. Of course an image could be implanted just as easily as a memory of something banal but personal, but why? Why confuse the audience? Is it a memory or a symbol? It doesn't in the terms of the movie, and its well-established criteria for what memories are, come across as anything remotely like a memory. It does, however, come over as a possibly symbolic image. Think about this: if, as the Deckard-is-a-replicant theory goes, the director wanted to make the connection between Deckard's dream and the Gaff origami with the idea that Gaff knows Deckard's memories, then why not have him dream of a crane, or a dog, or a snake, i.e. something real and tangible, and then have Gaff make an origami of said animal? It would make it more believable to the audience that Gaff knew his memories.

d. The unicorn as a symbol of what? Well, the idea that it's open to interpretation is what a lot of art is all about, within reason. However, I think there might be an implication that the unicorn symbolises something akin to beauty, rarity, and delicateness all thrown into one. This kind of association is made explicit in Scott's movie after Blade Runner, Legend. The unicorn is obviously beautiful, in its pure peacefulness etc., and special, because it is the original unique thing, and delicate, because for its beauty to be beheld it has already become vulnerable (i.e. they usually shy away from everyone). The setting, also, as mentioned by Ridley Scott in his interview with Paul Sammon, is important, too. The unicorn belongs to a world wholly different from the urban nightmare of Blade Runner land. Therefore, the unicorn sequence is trying to implant the audience with some idea of a world beyond this (urban nightmare). That, in itself, is perhaps enough, but it doesn't explain the final scene, with the origami unicorn. Unless we suppose that the world of the unicorn, possibly unattainable but certainly attractive, is the world where Deckard would like to be. And that leads us, and Deckard, who has already had one encounter, to Rachael: she is beautiful, rare, and delicate. Deckard has seen this in her, been affected, shaken somehow from his world-weariness and self-loathing. She has reminded him of the idea of such beauty. In these early stages he cannot bring himself to dream of her: she is artificial; she is a replicant, and his job is to kill such things. So, his mind makes a dream image not of her, but of something which has her qualities. This is actually very close to the way our minds actually work, by translating the object of our thought into something more acceptable to our sensibilities.

e. So why the origami of the hidden thought? It works as a beautiful tie-up, implying not that Gaff is privy to Deckard's thoughts, but that he, too, has seen that there is something special in Rachael, something beautiful. Hence, we can feel his humanity, for recognizing beauty despite his bluff exterior, and for not killing her. That the hidden thought image is rendered into its origami simulacrum should speak of a kind of artistic licence that allows art/artists to stretch the believable into the logical in terms of artistic roundedness. The argument about memory implants is just so prosaic and mathematical at a time when we should be elevated enough to think of a connection being made in an artistic/empathic sense. Deckard nods because he is thanking Gaff for recognizing that Rachael is beautiful, and the last of her kind -just like the unicorn is. A world, a life, a love beckons Deckard. It may be short-lived, but its worth leaving the world he's so unhappily a part of, for.

4. If we believe the Deckard-is-a-replicant theory, we'd have to wonder what is Gaff's motivation in telling him so? It's seems kind of perverse of Gaff to want to let Deckard know that he's less than human. Yet, we feel ultimately that Gaff is sympathetic to Deckard, and basically a good guy.

5. The phrase "You've done a man's job", I believe, has been used to describe humans before. Indeed, you might say that if we're supposed to read this as an ironic allusion to the notion that Deckard is therefore not a "man", i.e. human, then we'd have to re-appraise the meaning and usage of this phrase down the decades or centuries it has been in use. (If you check, I think you'll find it consistently applied to humans.)c6. When Rachael asks Deckard "Have you ever taken that test yourself?" referring to the Voight-Kampff test, she has hit a nerve. The poignancy of her words comes from the fact that the audience knows Deckard is a human, but are asked to question not so much whether he's a human, but to question his humanity. He does, after all, make a living from killing living things. As PKD wanted to infer in his novel, that the profession has robbed him of something precious: hence the need to take the test. That subtle and beautiful moment would be undercut by the simple idea that he's so cold because he's a replicant.

7. The glowing eyes? How many shots of myself, family and friends do I have with glowing eyes (red-eye)? A question not of indicating whether someone is an artificial life form or not, just an effect of the lighting of the movie scenes. It helps to make the audience feel there's something eerie about people and this world of 2019.

8. Ridley Scott said in an interview with Channel 4 that "Deckard is a replicant". Case closed? The director has spoken? Well, I believe that once a work of art, be it a movie, a painting, a song, a novel, or whatever, once completed, must stand on its own two feet. We neither need, nor want, the artist to explicate what he/she has made. If the artist didn't make things clear in the final form, and Ridley Scott had two chances, then they either did so for the sake of healthy artistic ambiguity, or because they merely failed to say what they wanted to say. The work is like the child: the parent cannot be referred to in order to clarify what the child is saying. Therefore, whatever Ridley Scott said at any time after the movie, especially the Director's Cut was released, has no bearing on the matter. Whether he shouts from the rooftops that Rick Deckard was a replicant, unless his movie actually says or implies so, he may as well be shouting out the letters of the alphabet. No artist can tell its audience what is what if their work hasn't already done so for them. Imagine, in a very Phildickian way, that Shakespeare has been spirited into the future of now, and starts telling everyone that there was nothing particularly complex about Hamlet after all: he was just a bit mad. Oh, and King Lear, too. So don't be writing those deep character analyses, you chaps, because I am the author and I know what's what, OK?

August 10, 2003
Martin Connolly
Isehara, Japan

Copyright 2003 Martin Connolly.
Published by in the Blade Runner and DADoES Analysis Section