So, the title of this post should really be "Is Deckard A Replicant?" — but that might start us off on too deep a level of fandom.
See, Rick Deckard is the name of Harrison Ford's character in Blade Runner, the uber-classic 1982 cyber-noir film that, you know, affected just about everything that followed. As for replicants, they're the artificial humans (androids) that blade runners like Deckard are tasked with hunting down and "retiring."
Ever since the first movie achieved cult status, fans have hotly debated whether Deckard was, unknowingly, a replicant himself. With the debut of Blade Runner 2049, the temperature on that debate has risen again. After seeing the new movie with my son a few days ago, I thought it would be a good time to ask two pointed questions:
- So is Deckard a replicant?
- Who cares anyway?
Now if you have never seen the original Blade Runner, you should stop what you're doing right now and go stream the director's cut. Even if you have seen it, you still should stop what you're doing and go stream the director's cut (meaning the final, 2007 version Blade Runner: The Final Cut).
But it has gotta be the last director's cut.
That is where you get to see exactly why director Ridley Scott's movie is considered so important and so influential. His vision of a future Los Angeles that is all torrential rain, steam and blue searchlights piercing through ruin is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
But it's also in this final cut that Scott reinserts two scenes the studio removed. They hold the key to Deckard's status. Near the end of the film, Deckard has a dream about a unicorn. Later, he is escaping with Rachael — the beautiful next-generation replicant whom he has fallen for. Just as they walk out the door of his apartment, he finds an origami figure in the shape of a unicorn that was left by his former police partner Gaff. This signals that Gaff (who has a major origami habit) knows about Deckard's dream because it's not really Deckard's. It's an implant. Every replicant's memories and dreams are fake. They are implanted to give a "back story" needed to stabilize the replicant's artificial personality.
So the unicorn dream is central to the "Deckard as replicant" argument.
But there are counterarguments, too. Lots of replicants have super-strength of some kind. But Deckard spends a lot of the film getting beaten up pretty bad by his prey. What is the point of making a replicant who chases replicants but can't beat a replicant?
Now, I'm not going to tell you what happens in the new movie — which does address the issue. I will just say that there is still room for argument. And you should go see Blade Runner 2049. While it is way too long, the new director Denis Villeneuve deserves a lot praise for both keeping, and extending, the visual feel that made the first movie so important.
But before we go, let's take a swipe at that second question: Who cares? The amazing thing about the Deckard as replicant debate is that in 2007, Ridley Scott basically told world: "Yeah, he's a replicant."
You would think the director making a statement like that would end things. But it didn't. In fact, Harrison Ford is on the record saying Deckard is human. So people are still arguing — and the new movie is not going to end those arguments.
The interesting thing for me about this is the way these creations take on a life of their own in modern culture. From websites dedicated to theories about Game of Thrones to fan-made Star Trek movies — in a mass culture of mass media, our fictions have a way of taking on lives of their own. So clearly people care: about Deckard, about Harry Potter, about John Snow, about Luke Skywalker. We as a group care a lot.
And what does that mean?
(And, for the record, I hope Deckard is human.)
Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester and author of the upcoming book Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth. His scientific studies are funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Department of Education. You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @adamfrank4