Replicants & Redemption in “Blade Runner”
Since its first release in 1982, the film Blade Runner has possessed several enigmas, part of director Ridley Scott’s style of storytelling by withholding certain pieces of information. Ten years later Blade Runner – The Director’s Cut managed to place even more mysteries into the narrative. The Director’s Cut removed the pedestrian voice over and the tacked on “happy ending,” but did add Deckard’s vision of a unicorn. The unicorn mirrors the last piece of origami created by Gaff (Edward James Olmos), and then in 1992 the biggest question became whether or not the protagonist Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was human or indeed a replicant?
Previously, Gaff’s origami unicorn seem to be a reference to Rachael (Sean Young). Deckard’s voice over during the “happy ending” scene explains that Rachael is unique by having no termination date; the implication then was that Gaff also knew about Rachael’s status. In 1992, however, it was Deckard who became the unicorn, and for the next 15 years fans and critics debated the evidence and merits of whether Deckard was a replicant. During this time, Ridley Scott refused to comment on the subject and the mysterious paradox grew ever more intriguing.
In addition to the unicorn there is plenty of visual evidence that indicates that Deckard is a replicant. The first is the film’s other Blade Runner, Holden (Morgan Paull), who bears a resemblance to Harrison Ford and mimics Ford’s smirk. To further implicate the notion of Paull and Ford looking alike, Morgan Paull was actually Ford’s stand-in during rehearsals and technical run-throughs. This visual connection suggests that Holden and Deckard are the same model of replicant. Humans produce replicants to perform dangerous tasks, and the hunting down of replicants might be one of the most dangerous jobs on the Earth of 2019.
Throughout the film, Scott uses eyes as a visual signal of replicants. The opening sequence of the film is a close up of an eye ball that reflects the flames of the 2019 LA skyline, the Voight Kamp machine focuses on the eye of the interviewee, Chew (James Wong) manufactures eye balls, and in several scenes a characteristic glow occurs in the replicants’ eyes. The image of the glowing eyes is first employed with Tyrell’s artificial owl, and then with Rachael in the same scene. The eyes of Pris (Daryl Hannah) strike the glow, but more importantly, Deckard’s eyes also take on the same glow in the bathroom scene with Rachael. Prior to the “Deckard as Replicant Debate,” one might think that the light in Ford’s eyes was just an accident from the light thrown into Sean Young’s eyes, but anyone familiar with the films of Ridley Scott knows that each shot is carefully framed and nothing is in there by chance.
With the release of Blade Runner – The Final Cut in 2007, Ridley Scott finally broke his silence on the debate and confirmed that Deckard was indeed a replicant. Early drafts of the Blade Runner script also contained more direct references; back in 2009 the site io9 ran “Blade Runner‘s Original Ending: Yes, Deckard’s A Replicant.” The evidence of Deckard not being human is overwhelming, confirmed even by the film’s director, but the thematic narrative of Blade Runner is actually a far better story if you ignore this detail.
The Tyrell Corporation’s motto is “More Human than Human,” and this is central to Blade Runner‘s main theme of humanity and what it means to be human. The humans we encounter though out the film are emotionally dead, including Deckard, and it is actually the replicants who are the emotionally honest characters, it is the replicants who are indeed “more human than human.” An irony of Blade Runner is the manner in which the supposed villains of the film possess more humanity than their human creators, and it is through his encounters with them that Deckard manages to regain his humanity.
If Deckard is a replicant then this redemption story arc is lost. The “twist” that he was secretly the very thing that he was designed to hunt is neat parlor trick, but the film’s “message” makes a far more lasting impression if you allow yourself to see him as human. At the end of the film, Replicant-Deckard and Rachael are merely two more replicants on the run, a continuation of the Roy Batty and Pris story, but with a Human-Deckard and Rachael ending the story transcends to a higher level. Deckard experiences epiphany with Roy Batty’s dying speech, but his relationship with Rachael (regardless of the 1982 or 1992 ending) marks the harmony between humans and replicants, and provides the audience with an optimistic outlook for the future.
The evidence, however, is overwhelming that Deckard is a replicant, Ridley Scott confirmed it, early scripts spell it out, but what is the purpose of the story if Deckard is not human? British cinema tends to favor nihilistic endings and Scott is an especially cynical Englishman, so it is quite possible that no redeeming ending was intended by the film’s makers. If the film is nihilistic, then the narrative has given up hope for the humans. Their world and their bodies are in a state of decay, and perhaps the future belongs to evolution and the replicants who are “more human than human.”