18 March 2007

Is Deckard A Replicant?

One of my favorite films is Blade Runner. In part this is because of the film's discussion - unwittingly or not - of "being."* What does it mean to be "human?"

Tied up in that discussion is the question of whether Deckard is a replicant. Personally I think it depends on which version of the film you are seeing. In the original release - which I admittedly haven't seen in years - he probably isn't a replicant. Or at least the evidence for such isn't particularly strong. However, in the "Director's Cut," with its use of the unicorn as a way to tip off the audience, he quite clearly is a replicant.

Addendum I: It is fairly clear from the novel on which the movie was based that Deckard is a human; he is a human who cares about these replicants, that is one who empathizes with them. Empathy - as Adam Smith noted so long ago - is one of the core aspects of human sociability. If a human can empathize with a replicant, does that make the replicant human?

Addendum II: By the way, Deckard's rationale for killing replicants (in the novel) is in order buy a "real animal" - that eventually sets up a real bit of irony. Anyway, by this time in the Earth's history "real animals" are fairly rare and they are something of a status symbol. All Deckard has is an electric sheep, whose "real nature" he tries desperately to keep hidden from his neighbors. A little bit of this part of the story bleeds into movie vis a vis the snake scale that Deckard tracks down. Anyway, Deckard ends buying a real animal - an Emu or an Ostrich or something like that - while also taking in Rachel (a replicant). He loves Rachel and decides to tell her what she is; her reaction is to kill the Emu.

*Click here for some nice quotes on "being."


smacky said...

If a human can empathize with a replicant, does that make the replicant human?

I think that empathy needs to be requited by the replicant -- that is, it is necessary for the replicant to empathize with the human. Otherwise it is just another bot.

Grotius said...

In the case of Roy Batty - who saves Deckard's life at the end of the film versions of this story - he would be "human." He empathizes with the life of the man that he is chasing and could easily kill. He understands his fear because Roy Batty has also experienced fear.*

*I don't know if you've seen the films, but in them the replicants have a five year lifespan. It is this fear of death that drives them to come to planet Earth in order to find a cure for their accelerated "aging."

Grotius said...

Also, I don't recall this sort of empathy being illustrated in the novel, but that doesn't mean that it isn't there. It has after all been fifteen or so years since I last read it.

highnumber said...

I have not read Do Androids Dream...for a number of years either. I do not believe it is one of PKD's best books. It did make a very good film. In the director's cut, it seems quite clear that we are intended to believe that Deckard is a replicant himself. That made for a nice twist from Dick's novel which was, despite his tendency to question the nature of reality, really a straightforward science fiction/detective story.

Many of Dick's greater works might not make for great cinema. The excellent A Scanner Darkly captured the feel of Dick's world the best, but that is a highly personal book, and again, not one of my favorites. Each book of the VALIS trilogy would probably translate poorly for different reasons. The Divine Invasion would seem silly today. It would have to be done as a big Hollywood production, and I dread seeing Morgan Freeman as Elijah. When I try to picture VALIS on the screen, I see too much of The Man Who Fell to Earth, which is probably what Dick was thinking of for parts of it. The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is probably the best of the three and might make a decent low key drama, but of course it doesn't have the pull for 13 year old boys.

I could go on and on about PKD, so I'll just end by saying I think Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said might make the best film of all his novels.

Grotius said...


Well, you clearly have me beat when it comes to PKD. :)

Grotius said...


Anyway, what fascinated me about the movie, and then the book (that is the order in which I dealt with each) was how they adressed slavery. I've spent a goodly portion of my life studying slavery and the folks who made these works of fiction understood slavery in a way that isn't all that generally well discussed in novels, movies, etc. Namely slavery as a form of what Orlando Patterson calls "social death."

highnumber said...

You may be very interested in some of the speeches and essays in PKD's The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings. As I recall, one essay deals strictly with the topic of what it means to be human. He also writes about the film that would be made of Blade Runner. He died before it was released.

Social death, eh? That's a good way of putting it. It sends a chill through me. (Good album or band name too!)

Grotius said...


I'll check it out.

Anyway, the whole "social death" aspect to slavery is why the process of emancipation is generally a rather tortuous, multi-generational process. Indeed, in a lot of societies ceremonies are associated with. We could say that in our society the "Civil War Amendments" were part of our rituals.

samgrove said...

A human is an animal that can imagine things to fear.
A human can fear death before it arrives.
A human can believe s/he is not really an animal.

Frank_A said...

"Batty: I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Time to die."

That for me is probably one of the best quotes from the movie...Rutger Hauer really does a great job in the movie...

Grotius said...

Frank A,

Hauer really stole Ford's thunder in that movie. Then again a movie where the outcast is the "real hero" suits me just fine.

Grotius said...

Correction: The replicants in the two versions of the film have a four year life span.