Analysis: Scott’s “Blade Runner”

Based on Philip K. Dick’s story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, director Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is the first PKD story to have been made into a movie and, with a total of four cuts, it is the most revised and tweaked. The “final cut” was made in 2007 along with Scott’s commentary. Our references below are to that version. The challenge posed to PluribusOne™ was to reveal some new insight into the story after thirty years of examination by many others, from science fiction buffs to philosophy professors. 

Among Blade Runner fans, perhaps the most unsatisfactorily resolved matter to date is whether Deckard had any doubts that he was human and, if not, what could have made him feel certain that he was not a Replicant (android). Our approach to this question is, to our knowledge, unique, and it answers the question with substantial certainty while keeping within the margins of the reality established by the entirety of the story. 

But first: What does it mean to be human? This question is a typical starting point for attempts to answer the question of Deckard’s humanity. This avenue of examination and the related question: How can a human prove his humanity to someone else, or himself? could be given lengthy treatment. But the conclusion of such exploration can only be that reliable measures must exclude: rational behavior, abilities to process data, moral values, and even emotions. A perfect android could mimic any and all of these. 

The one quality androids will never have is: Imagination. That said, we can imagine the day when an android will be manufactured, or grown, that can mimic even that human quality to a considerable degree. However, humans will always be able to imagine ways to test faux-imagination faster than nonhuman androids will be able to find ways to fake it. This, we think, would make a great premise for a Blade Runner sequel. We have further thoughts about this to share with Ridley. But now we digress. 

Getting back to the matter of whether Deckard felt certain of his humanity, and supplying a logical basis for his certainty, we will first assume that Deckard was, indeed, free of doubts about his humanity. This despite our speculation that he reached a point where he became somewhat android-like—and a respecter of the self-aware Replicants—as a result of necessarily matching his own “wits” and behaviors to those of his prey for the sake of self-preservation as well as successful performance of his duties. 

Nexus 6 is the generation that has been in production for at least four years, and Rachael represents the first of a new generation—Nexus 7, presumably. Nexus 6 is the first generation able to develop human-like emotional responses. Hunting Replicants has been Deckard’s mission for some time, enough years to gain his reputation as top Blade Runner. He evidences a full range of human emotions yet lacks other advanced attributes of Nexus 6. Therefore, if Deckard is a Replicant, he is no newer than Nexus 5. But he is too human-like to be a 5, while too weak to be a 6, and if Deckard were a Replicant, Tyrell would have given him the strength and stamina of a Nexus 6 or 7, considering the importance of quickly and successfully “retiring” renegade Replicants. 

If Deckard suspected that he might be a Replicant, he would use the same deductive reasoning that we used and come to the same conclusion: he is a human being. But our acid test is whether Deckard has the ability to imagine, to fantasize. So, for us, the final clincher is that imagination is in evidence. He dreams of music, and he daydreams about a unicorn, which triggers his intuition and prompts him to find a clue within a photograph.

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8 Responses to “Analysis: Scott’s “Blade Runner””

  1. Stark Raven Says:

    My big question has always been this, What is the meaning of the origami unicorn at the end of the movie?

  2. PluribusOne™ Says:

    The origami unicorn is often thought to be some kind of tip-off to Deckard that he is a Replicant. In keeping with our larger analysis, we totally disagree.

    The unicorn is a symbol of hope, wonder, encouragement given to Deckard as a subtle message to “go for it,” to pursue his desires, his vision as shaped by his human imagination.

  3. Sara B. Good Says:

    Do you think Deckard had any regrets about terminating Pris and battling Roy Batty?

  4. PluribusOne™ Says:

    Yes—that he didn’t spend a week at the beach with Rachael and let Pris and Roy expire on their own at J. L. Sebastian’s apartment.

  5. Valiant Says:

    Why wouldn’t the Tyrell Corporation have used a Nexus 6 or 7 to retire renegade Replicants?

  6. PluribusOne™ Says:

    Tyrell did not use a special version of Replicant to retire Replicants because he knew, better than anyone, that humans are superior because humans have imagination (including intuition and inspiration), and that makes all the difference, as Deckard demonstrates.

  7. Stan Q. Says:

    Just before Roy Batty expires he gives a touching poetic speech about his experiences in other sectors of the galaxy. Doesn’t this evidence imagination on his part?

  8. PluribusOne™ Says:

    Actually, we have to remember that it is Rutger Hauer giving that speech that so moves the audience although Hauer has never seen attack ships off the shoulder of Orion and has never seen a Tanhauser Gate (I’m pretty sure).

    The point is that Hauer is acting, and acting masterfully. If he walked out of a mocked-up flying saucer in a cornfield in New Jersey and gave that speech, it would seem equally real, truthful. Roy does the reverse—acts like a human.

    The difference is that Roy is calling up images with respect to which he has developed emotional responses—but they are memories, not products of imagination—whereas Hauer is using imagination rather than memories in order to perform in the manner he imagines Roy doing in that situation.

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