Appreciation & Assessment of the Dir.Cut.

This film deserves a higher status than that of cult, and is much more than just an acceptable homage to Philip K Dick, author of many original science-fiction novels, often laced with philosophical perspectives on reality and human dependencies. The film is multi-layered; thrilling and unsettling, part dark science fiction and detective film noir, realistic and dream-like, intelligent, mature, artistic and powerful. Purely on the surface, it has a visual richness which is wonderfully atmospheric (enhanced by the soundtrack of Vangelis), drawing one into a dystopic vision of the future which is not only a sprawling, technological metropolis, but an empty, soulless place. It is a film which not only incorporates the strong themes presented by Dick (disillusionment and control) but also adds its own sorbefacient mood, which though aloof and tragic includes through its characters a sense of life’s contained desperation. They are withdrawn, living in a mellow dream but primarily lonesome and in need of basic human love or compassion. The indication that many people have left Earth for the (deluded?) attraction of a utopian, resort-style Off-World colony increases the sense of their world as forgotten and abandoned. The characters seem random, everyday people of the city, but through the story are united by an accepting will to survive because there is nothing else, nothing but fear. Death to the replicants is represented by their own heightened sense of mortality and the outside embodiment of the Blade Runners; stalkers such as the weary Deckard.

article_campbell_01Throughout the film, life and death are displayed in ways that illuminate their surrealness; life in the case of a radically imposing world – large, expansive, beautifully decadent, grown strange even to the hero Deckard – and death, especially in the example of Zorra’s death sequence, as a sprawling, slow-motion operatic and disjointed event. Survival is a weary task amongst such decadence, but it is a prominent theme; the replicants are not human yet they want life, Deckard scrambles extensively on the rooftops and at one classic point, is moments from certain death. The film itself is called ‘Blade Runner’ suggestive of the confrontation with danger that hunting replicants for a living invites. ‘Quite a thing to live in fear isn’t it?’ Towards the climax the film attempts to bring the viewers as close to the ledge of death as possible. ‘4,5 – how to stay alive’ shouts Batty chasing Deckard with a nail plunged through his hand, an attempt to retain his failing sense of sensation by an infliction of harsh pain. This is all artistic nerve touching, and with the roles reversed to Deckard as the prey, the viewer senses the hopelessness of Deckard’s situation.

This highlights another interesting factor which distinguishes Blade Runner from being a conventional sci-fi thriller to a surprisingly relevant and resonant work; the mix of the traditional with the untraditional. We have the typical cop hero in the character Deckard, found in a downtown bar at the beginning, wanted for an assignment by the chief. The role of film noir is interesting in that such stereotypical characteristics are drawn upon and then overturned so that out of cliche emerges a great originality of vision – the future is not just visually dark and pessimistic but also fundamentally old in a spiritual and physical way. There is the usual love interest in Rachel, the main villain Batty and his boys heading for a showdown, a few minor characters of interest and behind it, the clever scientist whose plans backfire. Before long however, all is out of joint; the baddies are not evil, but confused creatures of Frankenstein seeking like us all, extended life and answers for the pain and suffering caused by grief and heightened doses of emotion. Rachel, one of them also, complicates Deckard’s task and in general there is a sense of confusion, horror in Zorra’s realistic death scene and complexity in man’s modern creations and lack of control. Technology, it seems has surpassed our ability to control and relate to it. This futuristic city is forlorn, lonely and lost. The characters are world-weary; they have seen and done it all, and are none the wiser. Rutger Hauer devised Batty’s death speech – a touching scramble for poetic words to distill the moment’s emotional(?) complexity – and he shines as one of the most three-dimensional film enemies ever. Instead of a great showdown with this enemy where the viewer witnesses good triumph over evil, we have a prolonged, desperate fight. Our everyman hero is disarmed, forced to flee and is saved by the enemy who is dying anyway. It is a scene where we wait to see if Deckard will survive and return to salvage all that he now cares about – his strange love for Rachel. After this case, we may discern that Deckard ‘won’t work in this town again’.

It has been suggested that the film suffers from an identity crisis through not knowing whether it is a science fiction thriller or a clever detective film noir. This was never the case. Like in the book, Deckard in the director’s cut is a conventional cop confronted by an unconventional case (Nexus Six replicants with memories and primitive emotions) which will bring him close to confronting a hazard that is inherent within us all; the darker more horrific desire for holding onto life. For this is the struggle of Batty and the replicants – how to live with dangerously acute powers and sensibilities bestowed by people such as the arrogant scientist Dr. Tyrell. They are not happy with their gift; playing second-rate to humans, living in fear of death, and by the end, suffering a painful, protracted and useless end. Their inability to comprehend their own mortality and loss of experiences (‘like tears in rain’) mirrors our own. This is the result of arrogant science, of playing Prometheus, and as a powerful theme resonates to the consideration that human life is not dissimilar. It is true perhaps that this fundamental idea of ‘what it means to be human’ may come over better in the book than in the film; a stronger depth inherent in the film is that of hunter and hunted. But what we do witness is Deckard’s natural but ironic predicament of falling for the enemy, i.e. Rachel. This is perhaps the only goodness in a film illustrating the fallibility of humanity; love and the need to be loved. It is here where we get the dream image of the charging unicorn, a symbol perhaps of an attainable goodness and simplicity amid such dark modernity and angst. Deckard doesn’t find an enemy as such in the replicants, but beings every bit as fallible as himself; confused, fearful and understandably dangerous when threatened. A more apparent interpretation of the unicorn is that it is a memory implant given to Deckard – himself a replicant, confirmed at the end when he notices the silver origami creation of the cane-man Gaff (a real Blade Runner?) Have they used Deckard as a thief to catch the thieves? Gaff shouts to a slumped Deckard ‘You’ve done a man’s job sir….’ Is Deckard a man and has he done the world a favour? At the beginning he was just an everyman in a fast-food chinese, but by the end doubt about reality and his relation to it has emerged and been confronted (a typical Dickian theme). Personally, although this is a strong connection, I prefer to think that there is still room for suggestion here, that the dream unicorn may also be a real dream, but perhaps attaches to a deeper meaning shared between the Blade Runners. This however is the cleverness of the subtle ambiguity in the film; that it works on these levels.

There are other groundings for understanding Deckard as a replicant, with his unemotional dedication to completing the task set for him by the chief. The reaches of Tyrell’s influence on the positions of the city are uncertain. Possibly it is all one engineered experiment by the god-like mental Tyrell; introducing Rachel to Deckard, their relationship, Holden’s incapacitation at the beginning by Leon, and the need for a being able to match and destroy Batty. But this is relatively inconsequential and merely adds strength to the theme of presenting the experience of humanity – its strange needs and compulsions – through the concept of replicants. The fact that the reference to their murder is classified ‘retirement’ draws attention to an unjust but deliberate discrimination. What these cops are tracking down in the Nexus Six replicants are mirrors of themselves, suffering from a lack of empathy. The film is laced with a subtle, ironic perspective.

By the time Deckard enters Sebastian’s building it becomes apparent that Deckard from this point will hardly be likely to just kill Batty and walk home to Rachel. We are not at all sure that Batty should be ‘retired’ – indeed nor any of them. The climax distils the running of the blade for both characters and for all people. Ultimately, as Rachel and Deckard rush to escape the vicinity of other Blade Runners, but of still inevitable death, their weakness and futility matches Batty’s. But they have a sort of love, one that possibly only Deckard feels, and we guess that they will cling to this as they enter the lift and the difficult future. The door slams, life goes on; the players have left the stage. They are left threatened, for possibly the cane-man Gaff will ensure that Rachel is hunted down. ‘It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?’ This statement could also be a hint to Deckard that he must leave and take Rachel away – but if they are both replicants then their lives will be half-lives in any case.

Blade Runner is an artfully crafted set-piece in that it displays the dispassion that is its primary theme, although it can really do no more on an emotional level. The interest of the replicants are as a device for depicting a negative condition where communication is lacking and individualism is strong; an inability to express the weight of our tragedy. The replicants group awkwardly together in the shadow of the oppression that is death. Empathy it would seem is what makes us human; our ability to feel for others. Deckard is not sufficiently possessed of this until he is taken to hand at the end by (ironically) Batty.

The definitive version of the film is the director’s cut, which retains the proper level of ambiguity by subtracting the ill-fitting, unnecessary happy ending. Instead we may wonder whether the unicorn of hope, love and purity (my interpretation) can live, or deserve to live, outside the dream and inside such an exhausted, dead-end of a world. This film is serious; both far-fetched and realistic, bleak in setting but finally unresolved, hopeful even, striking a powerful chord with its searching, struggling characters. Crucial aspects of
the human condition are here on display in surely what is a fine creation.

This essay does not include the vast religious parallels that can be read into the characters and their actions eg. the replicants as fallen angels returning to Earth to confront their maker, Batty as a symbol of mankind, Deckard as God’s agent of death and Sebastian as an intermediary Jesus Christ. (Read Jean-Paul Gossman article Blade Runner – A Postmodernist View)

Written by
Adrian McOran-Campbell

Copyright Adrian McOran-Campbell, 2001.

Blade Runner – A Postmodernist View


The Postmodern reply to the Modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot be destroyed, because it’s destruction leads to silence, must be revisited : not innocently but with irony ‘. Umberto Eco, Postmodernist Fiction.

Roy : ‘ Fiery the angels fell, Deep thunder roll’d around their shores, Burning with the fires of Orc.’

Bladerunner is not a pleasing film. Visually it is stunning and at the same time frightening. Unlike Stanley Kubick’s, ‘ Space Odyssey 2001 ‘ with it’s pristine images, Bladerunner sets out to shock. It paints a picture of a world where the sun never shines, where it rains incessantly. The crowded streets are narrow and filthy. People rush by dressed in weird attire. The images are magnificent yet decadent. There is a feeling of eeriness and the atmosphere is thick with expectancy. Each frame is like an abstract painting. When viewed, it says different things to different people. There are so many things happening at the same time. The bombardment of the visual effects and the double tongued dialogue has the viewer totally perplexed an this is what the film purposely sets out to do.

For once, the viewer is asked to think. Yet there is no clear – cut plot and everything is not what it seems. What is there is yet not there. What is said has a totally different meaning to the words spoken. The film has a subtext and it is within this subtext that it reveals itself. The behavior of the characters does not tie in with the story – line. There are hidden meanings in everything they say and do. It is not even clear who is human.

The film failed to find its audience because it could not be clearly understood. Understanding is what it demanded. Like all Postmodernist works, it did not conform to the norm. Instead of being a passive consumer, the viewer had to take an active part in the consumption of meaning.

Bladerunner is a parody. It revisits the past, mimics it and holds it up to ridicule. There are definitive religious and philosophical parallels and these are Milton’s Paradise Lost and humanity itself. It goes as far as to question God, mock Him and finally kill Him.

Roy and his followers : Pris, Zora and Leon are Milton’s fallen angels. They were created by Tyrell ( God ) and given a four year lifespan. God created man and gave him a four – score lifespan. The parallels are quite apparent.

Roy is the symbol of mankind. He was created by God and was separated by his maker, when he was sent off world ( expelled from heaven ). And like Lucifer, sets about on a course of destruction. Milton’s battle takes place in heaven. Here it is fought on earth.

The selected extract is part of the dialogue that takes place between Tyrell and Roy when they first confront one another. The latter cannot approach Tyrell directly. He has to make use of an intermediary ; Sebastian ( Jesus Christ ) as his link to God. Biblical teachings has it that God can only be approached through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Sebastian is the only true human. He is flesh and blood. He is the composite of both man and replicant as Jesus is a composite of God and man. Just as Jesus Christ lived among men, Sebastian lived among the replicants. In the scriptures, Jesus Christ attempted to bring humanity to God and was killed by those he tried to save. The same thing happened to Sebastian. He brought Roy ( man ) to his creator and was killed for his trouble.

Sebastian was Tyrell’s subordinate just as Jesus was God’s subordinate. But whereas the Bible says that the score between Lucifer and Christ is yet to be settled, Ridley Scott decides to settle it there and then. He takes advantage of the liberties afforded him by Postmodernism by deciding to rewrite the future. He does not wait for the prophecies as per the Book of Revelations and the final battle. He has Satan kill Christ there and then.

article_gossman_02The camera angle used to film the lift ascending to Tyrell’s headquarters gives the viewer the impression that it is actually going up to heaven. The interior decor resembles that of a cathedral and there is an aura of holiness about the place.

The dialogue between God and Satan when they finally face one another is frightening. What transpires in the room has a shocking effect on the viewer. Tyrell like God, speaks softly, and does not anger, whereas Roy like Lucifer is tormented and angry.

Tyrell : ‘ I expected you to come sooner .’
Roy : ‘ It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker . Fiery the angel’s fell, Deep thunder roll’d around their shores, Burning with the fires of Orc, I want more life Fucker ! ‘
Tyrell : ‘ The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long…and you have burned so very, very brightly Roy.’

Satan is not satisfied by the answers given to him by God and begins to make demands. But it falls on deaf ears and like humanity who pray to God for release from their sufferings, he is left unanswered. Biblical myth has it that humanity must not question God or His motives. The sentence of death placed on mankind will not be rescinded by Him. Humanity cannot sit in judgement of God but Roy Batty kisses his creator, judges Him and kills Him. This is perhaps the most shocking moment in the film as the viewer is left horrified, as Batty with tears rolling down his face gorges out His eyes. He obviously loves his creator but in this scene, he takes on the role of humanity and on behalf of humanity, executes God.

We are asked not to judge. We are born with the sentence of death hanging over us. We cannot question or may not question why we have to suffer through this life. Our prayers for help are most often left unanswered. Thus, when Roy kills God, however horrific it may seem, perhaps finally humanity can pass it’s own death sentence on God.

With God and Christ dead, Satan becomes almost a Christ – like figure. There is an aura about him. He glows as if he is all seeing and all knowing. But he is under a death sentence as he is pursued by Dekkard, God’s executioner. He has no alternative but to confront the Grim Reaper head-on. He fights the battle not only for himself but also for mankind. Whereas mankind at all times tries to avoid death, Roy turns to confront it. A further significance to substantiate his transition into Christ is that he pierces his hand with a nail, a symbol of Christian crucifixion.

article_gossman_03The final scenes in the film are also of great significance. The violent struggle on the rooftops is fought in semi – darkness and pouring rain and it is as if it is taking place in the very bowls of Hell. With the end near, Batty, goes through yet another change. This is manifested in the fact that he prevents Dekkard from falling to his death and indeed becomes his savior.

As they face each other, Roy seems to come to terms with his own mortality and the inevitability of death. He ceases to struggle against what he cannot change….the ‘ hand of death ‘. He looks back at what he had done and seen.

‘ I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe, Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, I watched seabeams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate, All those moments will be lost, like tears in rain, Time to die ‘.

By the time he dies, he has redeemed himself by following in the footsteps of Christ. In order for God to forgive him, he spares the life of the man who killed his beloved Pris. As he dies, the white dove he had been holding flies free into the sky. Finally his soul is purified and on the way upward.

The ‘ Angel of Death ‘ ( Dekkard ) looks upon the dead Batty and muses.

‘All he’d wanted were the same answers the rest of us want.
Where do I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was sit here and watch him die ‘.

Written by
Jean-Paul Gossman

Copyright Jean-Paul Gossman, 2001.

The City, Eyes and Christ

When Blade Runner came out in 1982, it dazzled audiences with its representation of humanity’s fallen social and technological structure. Utilizing unparalleled set design, the film presented a dark visual predicament of our future through the use of monstrous industrial environments, out-of-control scientific advancements, and urban decay.

Blade Runner ultimately asks the question about what makes one human. Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) leads a team of replicant (android) rebels who arrive in Los Angeles from the Off-World colonies in an attempt to confront the head of the Tyrell corporation which manufactures them. Limited to a four year life span, the team wants to find a way to extend their purposely limited life-spans. Since replicants once mutinied in a space colony, they are not permitted on earth under penalty of death. Hunted by Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who belongs to a special police unit of robot killers known as Blade Runners, Roy Batty manages to answer the film’s critical question only moments before his own death.

Although the name Blade Runner is taken from an idea by author William Boroughs, the film is loosely adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1969 science fiction story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Ridely Scott, a director with a solid background of 3000 television commercials and the successful films The Duelists (1978) and Alien (1979) reportedly committed to making the film without reading the book. Collaborating with industrial designer Lawrence Paul, art director David Snyder, and cartoon artist Syd Mead, Scott’s usage of repeating visual patterns, ocular icons, and recurring forms make it possible to explore the film using the formalist theory approach. The focus of this paper will be the examination of the three major image based motifs of the film: the city, the eye, and the representation of Christ in an effort to uncover their visual significance and meaning.

The opening scene of Blade Runner is terrifying. Fire explodes upward from an endless sea of lights into an eternal nighttime sky. Massive smokestacks belch pollution and neon lights burn coldly in the darkness. This revelation of Los Angeles in the year 2019 appears more like Hell than earth. The film’s universe as a post-apocalyptic vision on excessive capitalism and technology run amok manifests itself in the images of buildings resembling cancerous growths and the different angles in which the cinematography presents this vision (Kerman 54).

article_amotz-_01For example, the Tyrell corporation inhabits two 700 story towers built in the resemblance of Mayan Temple pyramids. The towers represent the basic premise to the entire concept of building in this universe. Instead of tearing down buildings or dismantling established technology, modifications and additions are built and added to existing structures.

The depiction of these images is conducted through the use of aerial special effects shots and ground level scenery. From the air, the buildings are a fascinating array of rectangular, tube, triangular, and cone shaped dimensions. Devoid of ambient sound, the city is a collage of different geometrical shapes offset and distorted by harsh lights and the blackness of the sky.

The street level poses a less glamorous approach. The futuristic urban center of LA is crowded, dirty, and congested. Asians, punks, and midgets walk the streets as cars maneuver through traffic lights that flash colors and speak commands. There is limited visual perception of the horizontal plane due to the masses of inhabitants and there is also limited visibility on the vertical plane because of the skyscrapers and slow moving blimps that advertise Off World explorations and consumption of mood pills. After the opening shot of hell-on-earth, the next shot in Blade Runner is a full frame close up of a blue eye. The eye reflects the image of the city against its cornea and establishes the importance of eyesight throughout the entire film. It is apparent that this eye belongs to Roy Batty, demonstrating his ability as an artificial construct to see. In support of this reality, Batty and another replicant named Leon enter the laboratory of Hannibal Chew, a genetic scientist who specializes in the creation of eyes. Interrogating the scientist, Leon rolls an artificial eye on his shoulder as Batty supports his ability of optical perception by saying to Chew, “If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes!”

Although Blade Runner allows both humans and robots the capability of eyesight, determining who is human and thus bearing a soul is validated by optically inspecting the eyes. The Voigt-Kampf test is the electronic magnifying device which measures a subject’s involuntary pupil responses to a series of questions meant to illicit empathic feelings. This process is completed on the visual level, as the tester watches an enlargement of a subject’s pupil on a television screen and calculates the timing of contractions and dilation. Since replicants have no empathy, their pupils do not respond involuntarily and this is the only visual aspect of their appearance that is unlike humans. The film proposes that empathic feelings are obtained through the influence of optic memories and dreams. In Deckard, this is presented by his vision of the unicorn and in replicants it appears as their collection of photographs. For example, the replicant Rachel saves a fake photograph which she believes is of her mother and her. Leon takes amateur photographs of his hotel room and former life on the Off-world colonies. A different example is Roy Batty, who’s will to live is based upon his desire to perceive the world around him. His need to see is so strong, he breaks through walls with his hands and head, smashes windows, and defies his own death. When he finally succumbs to the shut down of his systems he mourns the loss of his own memories and eyesight, rather than his physical extinction (Deutelbaum 76).

In dealing with the imagery and stylistic attributes of eyes and eyesight that are organic and artificial, the film also explores the capabilities of the electronic eye. Deckard uses two electronic eyes as he hunts for the replicants: the Esper machine and the electron microscope. Studying a photograph that Leon took of his hotel room, Deckard decides that there is more in it than his eye can perceive. Using an Esper machine which scans the photo and zooms in and out of it by voice control, he explores areas of the photograph that are concealed to the naked eye. As an electronic eye, the machine breaks the barriers of normal visual perception by zooming into the picture and revealing a totally unperceived reality. The machine is so powerful that it magnifies the image of a mirror evident in the photograph and uncovers a reflection of a replicant in it.

Using an electron microscope, Deckard investigates the origins of a small piece of tissue he believes to be of a fish. The magnified electronic image of the tissue reveals that its individual fibers are actually made up of thick cone shaped strands and a rough boulder like surface. In effect, the process of “layering” that influenced the visual aspects of the film’s city is apparent also in our ability to perceive different images of the same object as layers of its reality.

The final scene in Blade Runner gains a religious significance not from the narrative structure but from the visual design. When Roy Batty discovers that Deckard shot another replicant in their hideaway apartment, he gives him a head start to run away. While Deckard escapes, Batty anoints his head with the dead replicants blood. He also disrobes, but before resuming the chase he loses feeling in his hand which is a sign of his approaching death. Desperate for time, he finds a metal spike and stabs himself in order to regain feeling and prolong his life for a few moments longer. His impaled hand and the blood on his head is a foreshadowing of the religious significance this final scene will have.

Batty finally corners Deckard on the roof. The Blade Runner runs away from the replicant by jumping to another rooftop. Unfortunately he falls short and manages to grasp on to metal railings before falling. Batty easily jumps to the other side of the roof and appears above him. Using quick editing, the image jumps from Batty’s face of hatred and contempt to Deckard’s terrorized face. Just when he loses his grip and begins to fall Batty grabs him with the spike impaled hand and lifts him onto the rooftop. Sitting before the puzzled Blade Runner, Batty says his last words:

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 Tanhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time – like tears in the rain. Time to die.

Batty’s last words are not rendered in a visual manner nor are the definitions he talks of answered. Instead, the film allows the audience to create the memories the replicant speaks about through their own imagination using the film’s images as a supporting factor. As Roy Batty bows his head and dies, he releases the dove he held into the sky, releasing his spirit. As the frame captures his bowed head from above in the rain, he completes the series of images that present him as Christ.

Blade Runner’s three major visual motifs: the city, the eye, and Christ both enhance the narrative structure of the film and create an interpretation entirely of their own. The city’s abundant light sources and obese structural appearance almost causes an overload of retinal stimulation to the viewer or at least creates the inability to process the entire image at twenty four frames per second. The city’s multilayered portrait reflects the different ability that humans, replicants, and electronic eyes have in perceiving the same universe. The head of the Tyrell corporation sees the city from above, the replicants perceive images on the street level, and the Esper machine uncovers hidden reality in a photograph. The eye motif serves as a visual metaphor for deciding who is human. By claiming that the only visual distinguishing trait between replicants and humans is the difference in their eyes, the film refers to the image of the eye as the image of the soul. Finally, Roy Batty’s visual relevance to Christ does not mean that he sacrificed his life unselfishly for Deckard and embodies the Tyrell corporation’s slogan of being “more human than human.”. Batty saves the man who hunted him down and killed all his comrades because he wants Deckard to witness his death. In an attempt to immortalize himself, the replicant understands that this can only be done by becoming a memory in another person.


Dempsey, Michael. “Blade Runner,” Film Quarterly, Winter 82-83 p.33-38

Deutelbaum, Marshall. “Memory/Visual Design: The Remembered Sights of Blade Runner,” Literature/Film Quarterly, Jan 89 p. 66-72

Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1968

Doll, Susan and Faller, Greg. “Blade Runner and Genre: Film Noir and Science Fiction,” Literature/Film Quarterly, April 86 p. 88-100

Elitzik, Paul. “Blade Runner,” Cineaste, 1983 p. 46-48

Kerman, Judith B. Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press 1991

Morrison, Rachela. “The Blakean Dialectics of Blade Runner,” Literature/Film Quarterly, Jan. 90 p.2-10

Ruppert, Peter. “Blade Runner: The Utopian Dialectics of Science Fiction Films,” Cineaste, 1989 p. 8-13

Sammon, Paul M. Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. New York: HarperPrism 1996

Slade, Joseph. “Romanticizing Cybernetics in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner,” Literature/Film Quarterly, Jan 90 p.11-18

Wilmington, Mike. “The Rain People,” Film Comment, Jan-Feb 92 p.17-19

Written by
Amotz Zakai

Copyright Amotz Zakai, 2001.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? …No Really, Do They?

Philip K. Dick’s book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” is an all time science fiction classic, actualised by the screen adaptation “Blade Runner”. The book, and the film, rise questions about the meeting of machine and man, this is particularly the case in the way we wonder after haven read or seen the book or movie: Is Deckard an android?

I will not go into that one, there have been so many ventures in that direction, its a jungle out there, and it will be no less so with yet another monkey. But the ambiguity in Deckards character leads us to another, more exciting question: “How can man claim superiority over its creation”, or in relation to “Blade Runner”, “how can it be justified morally that Deckard kills androids?”

Because, in my view, it can’t.

A machine is so many things. Hereafter “machine” will mean the same as “structure interacting with its environment”. This opens up for the use of “machine” on many different object. For instance, if you have a computer, that is of course a machine. But the definition also says that the word processing program that you use every day is yet another machine, apart from the computer itself. And mine-sweeper is also a machine in itself.

But this is well covered by our everyday language. It is another issue when we call the system of government a machine (maybe a malfunctioning one, but anyway), or the postal system. Mail is put in the mailboxes, is sorted, transported, and is received by the rightful owner. The burial system is a machine, you die, they bury you, and if your relatives don’t go through hell (for you, that is), another guy gets your place (three feet below, good for him) twenty years later.

The social system is a machine. You have or have not connections, and they helps you (or don’t), with getting your children into Yale. All are structures that interact with their environment or each other. But now comes the juicy part.

Life is a guarded quality, especially for the ones who have it. And we tend to claim a certain superiority over the rest, because we have the gift of life. But let us see if there is really a difference between us and our subjects.

A plant interacts with its environment, a man does too. We breath and breed, we eat and puke. And thus we are a machine, a very fine and complex one, maybe, but we cannot deny the fact that we basically works in the same way that the next computer, the next local city-counsel, the next potted plant do. We are but mere machines.

We suffer under the malconception of superiority. In our own eyes we are the top of the creation. And in our own eyes and terms, we are. But its like using a ruler to measure itself. It will always measure up.

So, avoiding the blurred sight of man watching himself, what is mans true moral worth? If we also avoid the fact that man also invented moral: nothing. Good and bad is what happens in our heads. When we do biological “good” things, like reproducing, we get rewarded. If we break an arm, we get punished. Also the replicants are programmed for not getting into self-destruction. And they get rewarded if they do as told.

And: why should it be bad for the replicants to kill men, if men tries to kill them?

The following arguments can be made, based on man-moral, to kill men, not the machines (the replicants):

1. The replicants have not the once maybe successful, now outdated emotional problems, that is, they can be programmed not to have.
2. Men tend to choose their own biological solution, even if its not the best. Replicants can be programmed to reproduce the best solution, that is, they an be set to “learn” biologically, on an individual level.
3. Replicants can thus adjust to changes more easily than men.

So, in “Blade Runner”, the answer is clear: It doesn’t matter if Deckard is replicant, and if he is, good for him! The replicants are anyway morally superior.

And to answer the question “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” No they don’t. They yearn for world domination.

Written by
André Møllerhaug

Copyright André Møllerhaug, 2001.’s Analysis

article_cavagna_01Like most of the best science fiction, Blade Runner is not really concerned with pseudo-scientific gobbledy-gook. Despite the presence of aliens, alternate realities, or fantastical futures, the best science fiction asks, what does it mean to be human? What is the nature of consciousness? Of life? In exploring these issues, a science fiction universe can have an advantage over a “standard” fiction setting, because it gives writers greater freedom and a larger milieu in which to pose their questions. The best science fiction investigates the essence of life using conflicts out of the bounds of our contemporary world as a catalyst. (Star Trek also does this.)

Because science fiction is inherently speculative, sometimes one must forgive small holes in a premise. It’s inescapable-even the most scientific science-fiction must ultimately resort to the imagination to conjure up possible futures and technological marvels. If you look closely, all science-fiction premises are flawed in some way. Certainly in Blade Runner there are a few problematic questions. For example, why must androids be subjected to a complicated emotion test to determine whether they are human? Why isn’t a skin sample or an x-ray enough? A single scale and a microscope is enough to determine that a snake is artificial. One could argue that the androids are completely organic machines (the film suggests this, in fact), but that is inconsistent with their immunity to boiling water or extreme cold.

Such small discrepancies exist in most science fiction, and they don’t really matter, as long as the science fiction world remains true to itself once the parameters have been established. Though there are those who would disagree, science fiction should not be ultimately about the science, but about the thematic explorations permitted by whatever imaginary setting the author has chosen. What matters is whether the story yields answers that resonate as universal truths.

Blade Runner may contain discrepancies, but it is a sophisticated and complex film, memorable both in style and substance. It’s important in the development of cinema, too, because it is the first identifiable “cyberpunk” movie. Cyberpunk, a sub-genre of science fiction whose stories usually feature computers and/or cybernetics, came into its own with William Gibson’s 1984 novel, Neuromancer, in which Gibson writes about things called “the net” and “cyberspace.” Although William Gibson himself admits that he knew nothing about computers, he is credited by many with inspiring the development of the internet into what it is today.

Blade Runner doesn’t feature computers, but it does have cybernetic organisms (androids, or “replicants”), and it shares with Neuromancer and most cyberpunk a grim vision-a future world ruined by capitalism run amok. In the year 2019, corporations seem to have replaced governments. Earth is an environmentally degraded mess that people can’t wait to abandon in favor of off-world colonies. Note, for example, how J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson) is the only resident of his apartment building. The only people left on Earth are the wretches who can’t afford to leave and those who profit by exploiting them.

More than anything, the setting and visual style of Blade Runner influenced cyberpunk-a genre which culminated on film recently with The Matrix. But the style of Blade Runner was itself strongly informed by the classic film noirs of the 1940s. The setting may be futuristic, but it is typical noir: the city at night. Director Ridley Scott chooses darkness whenever possible, even during the daytime, and employs classic noir contrasts between light and darkness-light shines through window blinds, for example, and casts bar-like shadows against a character’s face. Blade Runner is also a detective story. Like in a film noir, Deckard (Harrison Ford) works his case in a seedy underworld and falls for the femme fatale. Deckard’s hard boiled narration in the original theatrical release (deleted from the Director’s Cut), reminiscent of a pulp novel, is another explicit feature of the noir genre.

Fear and paranoia is the essence of film noir. Such movies were most popular in the 1940s and early 1950s, when rapid technological advances after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to the chilliest era of the Cold War. Despite the economic boom, the omnipresent threat of nuclear annihilation instilled a sense of collective dread. Similarly, when Blade Runner was released in 1982, Reagan’s Second Cold War was underway, and the United States was at the tail end of a protracted economic recession, in which being eclipsed by Japan as the world’s economic superpower seemed like a real possibility. In Blade Runner’s future, Japanese businesses and culture have overrun Los Angeles, and the world in general is a bleak, inhospitable place. Virtually all animals have died, leaving lonely humans to design and build artificial creatures for companionship. Classic noir suggests that increased industrialization breeds alienation, and in the hyper-industrialized world of Blade Runner, this is especially true. Individuals are cogs, helpless and lost in their urban environment.

If it had to be described with a single word, the film noir mood is best defined as claustrophobic. Scott’s visual motifs enhance this mood. Everywhere, we see eyes, creating an atmosphere of constant surveillance, like in Orwell’s classic novel 1984. After the opening credits we see the flaming smokestacks reflected in an eye; eyes are used in the emotion test to detect replicants; the replicants visit Chew (James Hong), a genetic engineer who “only does eyes,” and before killing him, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) remarks, “If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes.” Later, Roy puts out Tyrell’s eyes. Scott also uses images of fans, also common in noir. In most cramped, polluted urban noir landscapes, the fans are required for ventilation. They are a visual symbol of the oppressive environment from which they provide a barely adequate source of relief. (Similarly, fans would later be used in Alan Parker’s Angel Heart as an ineffective remedy against the heat of Hell itself.)

Birds are also a common motif in Blade Runner. Nothing represents freedom quite as well as a bird in flight, and nothing represents imprisonment quite as well as the same bird caged. However, different birds appear at different times, each serving a different function. Roy refers to “shores burning with the fires of a hawk,” a bird known as a hunter and predator, perhaps meant to represent Roy himself. Instead, the dove released by Roy when he dies symbolizes peace and, perhaps, his soul. Much earlier, near the beginning of the film, there is an owl in the lobby of the Tyrell Corporation. It’s a bird known for its large eyes (again, a symbol of watchfulness), and it is also mechanical. As it flies across the lobby, its image is juxtaposed to that of Rachael, looking like a flawless china doll as she walks out to meet Deckard. The message is obvious: the owl is artificial; Rachael is artificial. (Owls are also a symbol of wisdom, of course, which suggests that the replicants are in some respects wiser than humans; more on that below.)

Deckard isn’t sure at first that the owl is artificial. He must ask. After all, the owl is much more real-seeming than the statues of birds also found in the Corporation’s lobby. Those are the artificial birds; surely this flying feathered creature is a living thing. This contrast introduces the key conflict of Blade Runner. Can a replicant be a conscious, living creature, or is it just a machine? What’s the difference between a replicant and a human being? In other words, what defines life? It takes Deckard an unusually long time to determine that Rachael is a replicant. “More human than human is our motto,” comments Tyrell. A background advertisement during the climactic scene between Roy and Deckard echoes Tyrell’s remark. It advertises TDK, which makes blank video and audio tapes. Tapes are used for duplicating-or perhaps, replicating-and the slogan reads, “TDK-so real.”

Are the replicants alive? The empathy test used by Deckard helps to answer to this question. It is designed to detect replicants by measuring their emotional responses. This is done by tracking the dilation of their pupils as they answer a series of questions. Pupil dilation is affected by emotions. Therefore, one would expect to find variations in pupil size in a human subject and not in a replicant. Interestingly, however, the replicants’ emotional responses during the test seem strong-stronger, in fact, than those of a human being-and that’s what gives them away, not their lack of emotion. Consider how upsetting the test questions are to the replicant Leon (Brion James) in the opening scene. A hypothetical situation in which he refuses to assist a helpless tortoise greatly distresses him, and, in response to a seemingly innocuous question about his mother, Leon murders his interrogator.

Why the extreme response? As Dr. Tyrell (Joe Turkel) explains to Deckard, “[Replicants] were designed to copy human beings in every way except their emotions. The designers reckoned that after a few years they might develop their own emotional responses.” They become like young children or developmentally disabled humans when they experience anger or frustration, and don’t know the proper ways of dealing with strong feelings. Perhaps this is why Pris (Darryl Hannah) feels such affinity for the developmentally retarded J.F. Sebastian (in addition to the other more obvious reason, his medical condition that causes “accelerated decrepitude”).

Once the unnaturally strong replicants experience emotions, they become volatile and dangerous. Therefore, Tyrell has incorporated a fail-safe device into the replicants: a four-year life span. Tyrell is also experimenting with memory implants. Artificial memories of a childhood and adolescence provide built-in experience in handling emotional reactions-they supply maturity, in other words. Moreover, a replicant with artificial memories would not know that it is a replicant. Unlike Leon and Roy, Rachael is such an experiment, which is why Deckard has such a difficult time establishing that she isn’t human. Because she believes herself to be human, she is far more convincing.

In addition to their emotions, the replicants’ search for their Tyrell is further evidence of their sentience. For millennia humans have posited the existence of a god or gods that are responsible for creation and give order to their seemingly random lives. For almost as long humans have questioned their gods. Various answers are found in different religious texts, but there are very few who claim to have known God directly-to have spoken to him, or to have experienced the divine. Unlike humans, Roy knows exactly where his creator is. Tyrell lives in a building on Earth that closely resembles one of the Toltec pyramids at Teotihuacan, in Mexico-a visual expression of Tyrell’s godhood. Tyrell later refers to Roy as “the prodigal son,” further underscoring his status as father and creator.

When they meet, Roy asks the same questions that humans have longed to ask God. Why did you create me? Why did you design my life to be so brief? Can you not show mercy? Can you not make things better? Roy has reached the point in his development where he is wrestling with the same existential issues with which humans struggle. Alas, nothing can be done about his four-year life span. Frustrated by losing his last hope of changing his fate, Roy gets even by killing Tyrell, freeing himself of god.

Rachael’s implanted memory of baby spiders hatching and eating the mother spider foreshadows the result of Roy’s meeting with Tyrell, which serves as a warning not to use technology and science to play god. Tyrell’s creation, a sentient being designed only to make human life more convenient, has destroyed him. The replicants are only seeking a place in the world, to be accepted and fit in, and to increase their life span to a normal human length. They do not kill unprovoked. They are on a quest for life, not death. For this, they are considered dangerous, and they are hunted and killed.

It is the humans who have a greater disregard for life. They have destroyed their own world; they exploit each other, and, except for the child-like J.F. Sebastian (whose innocence only highlights other humans’ deficiencies, and whose solution for loneliness-literally making friends-contrasts with the manufacture of replicants to suit more distasteful needs), they show no compassion for one another or for the replicants Captain Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) callously refers to as “skin jobs.” This is not true, however, of the replicants, who protect each other, fall in love, and grieve.

Who is more “human,” the humans or the replicants? Like another unnatural, emotionally immature (and therefore dangerous) creation, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the replicants are ironically the more noble creatures, vilified and destroyed by those who misunderstand them. They are also slaves-note the heavy irony in Deckard’s question to Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), as he is posing as a member of the Committee for Moral Abuses, “Have you ever felt yourself to be exploited in any way?” The replicants’ fight for freedom, not unlike the struggle of slaves throughout human history, is seen as dangerous and subversive by their masters. “Aren’t you supposed to be the good man?” Roy asks Deckard. By whose twisted definition is Deckard the good guy and not a ruthless murderer?

By the time Roy has disposed of Tyrell, Deckard has “retired” all Roy’s companions, and Roy’s four years are almost up. Roy faces imminent death alone. His first instinct is to avenge his friends by killing Deckard before he dies himself. But Roy has a change of heart at the climactic moment. Having accepted his fate, Roy discovers an appreciation for life that goes beyond the basic instinct for self-preservation. With Deckard’s life in his hands, Roy spares him, exercising compassion that Tyrell did not possess. In the last moments of his life, Roy has achieved emotional maturity and is now fully “human.” His outward appearance has similarly changed. When Roy first appears, he looks inhuman with his chiseled features and bleached hair, but at the end he is wounded and bleeding, no longer a too-perfect physical specimen.

In his eloquent final words, Roy both mourns and celebrates his remarkable but brief life. “Look at what I have done in just four years,” he seems to be saying to Deckard. “Do not waste this gift I am giving you.” As Deckard listens to Roy and watches him die, a look of understanding dawns in his eyes. Only then does Deckard fully appreciate that the replicants are conscious, living beings. Only then does he grasp the brutality of what he has done to other replicants. Deckard’s perspective has completely changed from the beginning of the movie, when he comments to Rachael (before discovering she is a replicant herself), “Replicants are like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a hazard.” “Have you ever retired a human by mistake?” Rachael challenges him.

Rachael continues to challenge Deckard’s prejudices-for that is what they are-throughout the story, laying the groundwork for Deckard’s revelation. When Rachael visits Deckard’s apartment after the empathy test, for example, he cruelly informs her that she is just a machine-one of Tyrell’s little toys. Then, when she is visibly upset, he insults her by lying and saying that he was just making a bad joke. Deckard immediately regrets it. As Rachael stands in his apartment completely vulnerable and disillusioned, Deckard begins to see her in a different light. He begins to feel pity, and he also finds himself drawn to her. Deckard initially can’t accept that he is attracted to a replicant. Uncomfortable with his own emotions, he treats her roughly, trying to provoke what he views as a human response. This is not Rachael’s fault, of course. She has clearly exhibited emotions that can be described as human, but Deckard does not yet fully accept her as a conscious individual. The moment of tenderness at the piano, and later, when he is fearful that Rachael is lying dead in his bed, show Deckard’s true feelings.

Deckard has hunted replicants all his life. His mission is to protect humans from replicants. Yet here is a replicant who is for all intents and purposes human. Rachael awakens Deckard’s protective instincts, and he begins to reconsider what he does for a living. It’s not just Rachael that causes Deckard to reassess. For example, in Leon’s apartment, Deckard finds photographs. Why would a replicant, one without memory implants, keep mementos of his life? It’s another sign of “humanity” in something that is supposed to be a machine.

Of course, Deckard doesn’t enjoy hunting down replicants in the first place, even though he has been able to live with actions until now. Scott emphasizes the distastefulness of Deckard’s job by photographing each death tragically instead of triumphantly. Deckard’s dispirited reaction to Zhora death contrasts starkly with that of Bryant’s jubilant response. When Bryant tells him that there is one more replicant that he must retire, Deckard is even more unhappy, particularly when he learns that Rachael is the target. In yet another irony, Deckard’s own life is saved not once but twice in the film, both times by replicants.

Fearing that Ridley Scott’s final cut of Blade Runner would be too difficult for audiences to follow, the studio deleted Deckard’s unicorn dream, added Deckard’s hard-boiled narration (which Ford recorded under protest-and it shows), and tacked on a more uplifting ending that shows Deckard and Rachael driving off into the sunset. (The Director’s Cut ends with Deckard and Rachael leaving Deckard’s apartment and descending the staircase to make their escape.) Deckard’s narration then suggests that Rachael may have no fail-safe, meaning that she has a normal life span, and the happy couple can thus live happily ever after. The studio used extra footage from The Shining to create the dreamlike landscape as Deckard and Rachel speed off. Though beautiful, the addition of this footage is absurd, because we’ve been told repeatedly that the Earth’s environment is hopelessly fouled, which is an integral part of the story’s setting and context.

Deckard’s narration clarifies the plot, but it obscures many of the themes. It and the deletion of the unicorn dream rob Blade Runner of its most interesting subtext-the idea that Deckard may himself be a replicant. The most explicit evidence supporting such a conclusion is Gaff’s message to Deckard at the end of the movie. Gaff (Edward James Olmos) is a police lieutenant who works for Bryant and has a habit of making tiny origami animals and leaving them at places he visits. He makes a chicken, for example, and later what looks like a human with an erection, which is probably a comment on Deckard’s attraction to Rachael. When Deckard and Rachael leave his apartment to go on the run, Rachael knocks over a tiny origami unicorn left on the floor of the hall.

The obvious interpretation is that Gaff is telling Deckard that he’s been there, that he knows that Deckard is harboring Rachael, and that he will allow them to make their escape. But Gaff has already told Deckard this when he arrives at the scene of Roy’s death and says, “I guess you’re through,” even though Gaff knows Deckard has not yet “retired” Rachael. Gaff is then even more explicit, “It’s too bad she won’t live.”

The origami message is unnecessary unless Gaff is communicating some new thing. Why did Gaff specifically choose a unicorn? Does he have knowledge, somehow, of Deckard’s dreams-just as Deckard knows Rachael’s memories? If so, there is only one possible explanation: Deckard’s memories have also implanted.

The implication could not be clearer: Deckard is a replicant, too. And why not? Why should human beings risk life and limb in the dangerous task of hunting down renegade replicants? Humans build replicants to do all their dirty work-why not a replicant policeman? Of course, the replicant can’t know that he is a replicant, or he’ll refuse to do his job. So, just like Rachael, Deckard is given human memories. To maintain the illusion, they haven’t given him the inhuman strength that other replicants have. This makes Deckard’s task of hunting outlaw replicants more difficult, but who cares? If he’s killed, he can easily be replaced-right? Deckard could easily have been activated shortly before the start of the story. Deckard is not actually employed by the police department. He’s brought in when the previous blade runner fails. Deckard has memories of having worked for the police and having quit, but who’s to say those memories are real?

There are other hints that Deckard may not be human. The daydream of the unicorn is juxtaposed with his photographs on the piano, suggesting that, like a unicorn, Deckard’s past is a myth. In addition, in the Director’s Cut, we see red glints in some of the actors’ eyes-like people might have in a cheap flash photograph. However, only replicants ever display these odd red reflections-only replicants, and, during Rachael’s second visit to his apartment, Deckard.

Then there’s an odd discrepancy. Bryant at first tells Deckard that six replicants have escaped, and one has already been terminated. That should leave five. But then Bryant shows Deckard profiles of only four replicants. Where is the fifth replicant? Later, when Rachael turns up missing, Deckard has a total of five replicants to kill again, but presumably Rachael is not the fifth replicant Bryant originally refers to. So who is? Bryant can’t mean Deckard, as Deckard is the hunter. The issue is never resolved, and the discrepancy may be simply an error, but it’s possible that it was inserted to make us think that there’s another replicant somewhere that we should be looking for. The uncertainty hangs over the movie, just like Rachael’s unanswered question to Decker-“You know that test of yours? Did you ever take that test yourself?”

If Deckard is a replicant, there is an additional way to interpret Deckard’s rough treatment of Rachael during their love scene. Presumably, Deckard would never have experienced strong desire before. Deckard’s passion is so strong that even the cushion of his fake memories isn’t enough for him to process the emotion in a normal way. So he gets rough, initially, with Rachael. This explanation is not inconsistent with the interpretation that Deckard is uncomfortable feeling desire for a replicant, because Deckard believes himself to be human.

The possibility that Deckard is a replicant adds an extra dimension to the film, but it does pose problems. For example, why would Tyrell create replicant blade runner to hunt other replicants, also created by his corporation? Who knows? Perhaps the Tyrell Corporation manufacturers whatever it is commissioned to manufacture. If Tyrell Corporation replicants are destroyed, they must be replaced with Tyrell Corporation replicants, which means greater profits. Or maybe Tyrell is obliged to produce replicant blade runners to reassure the government that there is a safety net in place to take care of any problems.

Certain questions must necessarily remain unanswered because Scott doesn’t want us to know for sure Deckard is human or replicant. Had Scott explained everything, it would have removed all doubts, and thus removed the intrigue of the Director’s Cut. The theatrical release is a superior science fiction movie, but additional questions and themes explored by the Director’s Cut makes it a masterpiece, and one of the most talked-about science fiction movies of all time.

Written by
Carlo Cavagna

Copyright and Carlo Cavagna, 2000.

What Defines Human?

What if a nuclear war made the world virtually uninhabitable? What if science produced a robot, physicaly indistinguishable from human beings? What if one was forced to unravel the difference between human and machine for the sole purpose of maintaining the belief that we are not all machines. The answer to especially the latter question can be found in another question; Do androids dream of electric sheep?

Big questions, like what the difference between man and mechanical things is, or what defines a human being, are what Philip K. Dick (PKD) is exploring in his 1968 science fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (DAD). This essay will try to discover what, if anything, according to PKD defines man and separates it from i.e. a biomechanical robot. This of course, requires an analysis of said book. The method of the analysis is borrowed from the great french philosopher Rene Descartes. Analythicaly, Descartes’ method is roughly a total deconstruction down to the tiniest detail of a problem followed by a process of reconstruction. If done correctly one can in theory solve any rational problem. To clarify, it’s better to examplify this method with mathematics which incidetaly was Descartes’ modus operandi. If one for example looks at the equation 56 x 45, one can use an analysis of the problem by splitting it up into smaller factors: (8 x 7) x (9 x 5). By further analysis the problem can be reduced to: (2 x 2 x 2) x 7 x (3 x 3) x 5. Followed by a thorough synthesis one gets the solution: 56 x 45 = 2520, an answer that was far from apparent at the beginning of the equation.

As an introduction to the novel, I’ll delve into the surface of the SF-genre and take a look at PDK’s influence on this genre. Furthermore I’ll try to explain the book’s environment and also separate it into three parts to create an overview, after which I’ll give an objective character analysis of the main characters, Deckard, Rachael, Isidore and Mercer. Next, I’ll link DAD with Descartes’ philosophy and from this make two interpretations of PKD’s view on reality based on Descartes. Finally I will compare the novel with the film, Blade Runner, in which there will be a few more points added.

The Science Fiction Genre

Science fiction is a projection of the present in the future. It’s through SF that authors and readers can predict what will happen if the current conditions are allowed to evolve into the future. The future is more than often projected as utopian or dystopian, and DAD is no exeption, operating in a dystopian society. A classic SF-environment.

The SF-genre can, depending on which definitions one chooses to follow, be said to have existed for over a decade, from the latterdays of the 19th century, where authors such as H. G. Wells and Jules Verne explored futurism. The term Science Fiction was first used in 1851 by the author William Willson, but only as a short remark before it is once again used i 1929. Science Fiction as we know it today is a difficult genre, as it at least until now has been impossible to categorize and properly defined.

Even though it is difficult to succumb to a rock hard definition of SF, there is little or no trouble in the wider aspect of putting a piece of litterature into the SF genre. A clue to recognize SF litterature is the fact that there’s always is a novum present. This term was introduced by the Canadian critic and author Darko Suvin. He says: “A novum is a deliberatly introduced change made to the world as experienced by author and reader, but a change based upon scientific or other logic; it is such a significant part of SF that frequently the novum determines the subsequent narrative.” The novum is in other words, the changed environment in which the story takes place and the way one often creates a novum is by asking “What if…?” A novum needs not, as one could be tempted to believe, happen in the future. An interesting novum could for example rise from the question of whether Jesus Christ did not die on the cross, but instead was saved last minute from aliens. How would the world look today? Without answering this particular question one could say that such a question or for that matter, all other novums (nova is the correct latin plural, although a tad confusing because of its astronomical meaning), would result in a comprehensive rewrite of history. Suvins understanding of SF is that it’s as much about history as fantastic and scientific inventions.

Though SF can be dated back to the end of the 19th century, it is the 1940s and ’50s that are known as SFs classic period, wherein authors mostly consentrated on space travel, the exploration of other planets and such. The ’60s became for SF, as for many other cultural genres, a period of revolution. Most older generation SF-writers were at this point pretty locked in the classic SF-style, but the youth rebelled against this with their New Wave-style; first i Britain – soon after in the US. The next generation SF-authors were of the opinion that classic SF had become too far fetched and was lacking a realistic foundation. Instead, they said, of concentrating on outer space, one should focus on inner space. One of these young writers, nameley J.G. Ballard, said: “SF should be a means to explore our own subjective perceptions of the universe and our fellow human beings.” After slowly breaking through, the New Wave-authours began experimenting. In Britain, this experimentation with inward focus gradually got out of hand, and the books seemed to concentrate only on moral and political questions. At the end of the ’60s and the beginning of the ’70s, the SF-revolution had gone so far that some books neglected good plots in order to treat grand questions. This resulted in a drastic drop i populraity for SF-litterature i Britain. In the US, on the other hand, changes were minor. Many young talents gave birth to new ideas which gave SFs popularity a boom throughout the ’60s. Another thing that helped push forward this boom and which influence cannot be ignored, is the TV-series Star Trek. Furthermore, the Apollo program forced people to think about what the future could bring and what science could do – SFs main area.

PKD was a part of the New Wave and his 1959 masterpiece, Time Out of Joint, is by Edward James characterized as one of the era’s more important works. PKD also seems to have known what the future for New Wave was going to be, as DAD from ’68 was written in tact with New Waves aftershocks.

article_brandt_01Whilst New Wave in the USA evolved faster and faster and eventually became mainstream SF, spin-offs from the genre were bound to come. In the ’70s, one of these were the feminine SF which erupted as a result of more and more female readers. The reason for the rise of feminine SF has been said to have been that “Girls are into relationships – not rocketships”. Another side of SF was Fantasy which roughly can be described as fairytale-SF. In 1979, a new man entered the SF-scene. His name was Ridley Scott, and his approach to SF was the silver screen. Up until that point there had only been one piece of filmed SF that took advantage of its opportunities, namely Star Trek. The film in question was Alien, really a good old horror movie, but at the same time an expression of something new in SF. With Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner from 1982, which is based upon PKDs DAD (though without being all true to the original book), another part of SF, Cyberpunk, came into existence. Cyberpunk was the offspring of that time’s punk music and mentality. Mixed with the society presented in Blade Runner, we get a pretty clear view of what Cyberpunk represents.

PKD can in this respect be said to be a man inprinting his humongous footprints in the SF-genre. Not only by his lifetime achievement of some 40 novels and a vast amount of short-stories, but also by being a pioneer within the New Wave ghetto. New Wave with its focus on inner space was an important part of Science Fiction’s development, even before DAD. Therefore the honor of, not excactly the father, but perhaps the grandfather of Cyberpunk go to PKD, as it was he that after all wrote DAD – the idea behind Blade Runner.

Novum and Structure

The scene is San Fransisco, once upon a time in the future. In the film, we are told that the year is 2019, but in the novel PKD is more vague. We never get to know the excact year, only some indication that it is sometime after 1991 (p26: We are told that in august ’91, the specifications of the Nexus 6 were made public). Also, the action is limited to one day. DADs novum involves that there at one time has been a nuclear war, in the book christened “World War Terminus” or just WWT, and the few survivors are those inhabiting the Mars colonies. The relativeley few remaining on Earth, like those not permitted emigration because of low IQ, are fighting the radioactive dust that since WWT has been darkening the sky. The dust is a constant and unavoidable threath, and the government are thus encouraging all those who can travel to do so under the slogan “Emigrate or degenerate” (p11). To further press on emigration, all immigrants are offered their own personal, free android to help them with the process of moving. The demand for more androids results in a fast technological development, and with the new Nexus 6, a robot who is virtually undistinguishable from humans, great complications are looming in the horizon. Androids are banned from Earth, and if escaped from the colonies, are to be retrieved and retired as soon as possible. This job falls into the hands of the police, and the bounty hunters working there. Deckard is one of them.

The book is consists of 22 chapters of varying length, but as mentioned a rougher separation of the book into three parts makes things clearer. The first part, chapters 1-8 is a presentation of the story and its plot. The reason part one ends after chapter eight is that this is where everything starts going wrong. Up until this point, things have been peachy keen for both Deckard and Isidore. Deckard gets his long awaited promotion and an assignment to retire 7 androids, finally making him able to afford a real animal. Isidore is also doing quite well, having recieved a visitor and performed a successful telephone conversation without stuttering once as opposed to…well, always. The second part, chapters 9-12, is mainly about Deckard. As mentioned, things are beginning to go downhill. He messes up his retirement-job and gets arrested. He is taken to a mysterious, unknown police station, but escapes with the aid of another bounty hunter. The end of this part, where Deckard and Resch are about to retire Luba Luft, is a major turning point in which Deckard gets an epiphany, rendering him able to feel empathicaly for some of the androids. The final chapters, 13-22, or part three, is the build up of the climax, when Deckard shoots Pris. Deckard’s seemingly permanent melting together with Mercer could actually have been given it’s own part, but seeing as it probably isn’t natural and that it’s a perfectly fine conclusion to the build up mentioned earlier, I’ve let it hang around in part three.


article_brandt_02The main character of the book is of course Rick Deckard. He is a bounty hunter for the SFPD and as we know, he has been given the task of retiring seven androids, which functions as a basic plot for the entire story. He is married to Iran and they live together in an appartment complex that seeing as it’s relatively heavily populated, is middle class turf. The marriage though, is far from happy, though it has its good times. Deckards goal from the start on, is to retire the afformentioned androids, cash in his 1000$ a piece reward, and exchange his electric sheep up on the roof for a real animal. When he finally retires the three first androids, the first thing he does is to purchase a goat.

Throughout the book, Deckard experiences an emotional crisis, although he is first able to define it after Resch shoots Luba. His empathic feelings for certain androids forces him to take a good look at his own life, which is mostly built up around his work. How else will he be able to live with a job that requires him to kill things that he nurtures feelings for? At page 110 Deckard tries to express this unfortunate situation, (Resch has just shot Luba, whom Deckard had feelings for, and he realizes that he at that time could have killed Resch himself without feeling remorse):

“So much for the distinction between authentic living humans and humanoid constructs. In that elevator in the museum, he said to himself, I rode dow with two creatures, one human, the other an android… and my feelings were the reverse of those intended. Of those I’m accustomed to feel – am required to feel.”

Recsh then suggests the feeling could come from Deckard beeing physicaly attracted to some of the androids; in this case Luba. Resch’ cure for this is simple: Go to bed with one and kill it afterwards. Deckard tries this later on with Rachael, but after the first part, he can’t kill her. Later he succeds at killing Pris, who is physicaly identical to Rachael; -but only after Mercer has explaied him that what is needed is to do what’s wrong.

Rachael Rosen works for the Rosen enterprise, a company that makes androids for colonies. She is herself an android of the Nexus 6 class, and is in the novel (as opposite to the film) aware of this. She also has contact with the renegade androids on Earth, and part of her job descriprion is to convert bounty hunters. She does this by one way or the other sleeping with them, which isn’t alway easy, as humans aren’t allow sexual relations with androids. On page 149 she says about her profession: “No bounty hunter ever has gone on (…) after being with me”, and later, on page 150, she continues: “This seems to work… for reasons we do not fully understand.” She has failed before though, with Resch. Her welcomeness and helpfulness with Deckard is of course an excuse to get him to bed. When it later turns out that she’s also failed in converting him by his killing of Pris, she reacts by killing his goat.

John R. Isidore is the main character in the parallell sub-plot which takes up almost 1/3 of the novel and happens simultanously with Deckards hunt for the renegade androids. Isidore is basicaly Deckards complete oposite. He lives all alone in a deserted block in the suburbs, obviously not an attractive area, and thus most likeley part of the bottom of society’s hierearky. He is furthermore a special (a chicken brain, in so many words), and therefore lacks the opportunity to leave. Isidore has some qualities which, at least I think, makes him easy to sympathise with. He has the innocence of a child, making him appear as someone who just happens to be caught in the mess surrounding him. He is nevertheless concious of what’s happening, and is often found walking around, philosophizing. One of these subjects is kippel, which can only be described as organic disorder, and something which Isidore fears will take over the world: “By then, naturally, he himself would be dead, another interesting event to anticipate as he stood here in his stricken living-room alone with the lungless, all-penetrating, masterful world-silence” Isidore’s childishness functions as a sort of comic-relief in the novel by for example the interuption of his sombre, apocalyptic philosophizing in the following line: “Better, perhaps, to turn the TV back on”. (p.20)

Besides all this, Isidore is one of the only persons on earth who is willing to aid the androids in hiding from the bounty hunters, even though he is aware of the fact that they are using him. Being a loner, company of any kind and the feeling that he is needed is enough for poor Isidore. This is one of the reasons he reacts so strongly when the two plots melt toghether in the end of the book and Deckard kills the androids in his appartment. To make things worse, he recieves the news of Mercer, his big idol, being a fraud just shortly of Deckards antics. Before this, Isidore has witnessed two androids torturing a real spider, a spider which he has found himself, a rare event indeed, and this torture seems to him confusing and totally incomprehensive. He finally cracks and goes into a violent fit, but is helped by a manifestation of Mercer, the would be fraud.

Wilbur Mercer, or rather Al Jarry, is the god-like person behind the entire movement/religion that in the novel is refered to as Mercersism. Mercersism is about worship around an empathy box which is supposed to melt people together with Mercer. Mercer himself is, in the melting process, always climbing a mountain. Beneath the mountain lies The Tomb World where everything is dying or dead. On the top there is a presence of absolute evil throwing rocks at the ascending Mercer, and when somebody becomes one with him they too can feel the pain of the rocks as well as get physically harmed. The idea behind this is to be able to share ones feelings with others connected to Mercer at the same time. Depression for example, may henceforth be treated with the possibility of taking part in the joy of others. Mercercism is later, as mentioned, exposed as a fraud by Mercers arch rival, the televison host who is on 23 hours a day, and who is also revealed to the readers, though not directly to the characters as an android; Buster Friendly.


To my big surprise I have yet to meet anybody who has noticed the link between both DAD, Bladerunner and Descartes’ philosophy of simplicity. This is to me quite obvious, but perhaps it is due to that fact (simplicity) that noone has seen it. There are many things in both novel and film showing signs of PKD being inspired by the great french philosopher. The first and most apparent matter is the main character’s name: Deckard/Descartes,- the similarity is striking. One of those actually having discovered PKDs use of Descartes is Ridley Scott. At one time he even lets the android (or replicant in the film), Pris, ironicaly enough, quote Descartes: “I think (Sebastian), therefore I am”, or in latin: “Cogito ergo sum”. Ironicaly because the cogito argument according to Descartes, is the basis for human self-realization. Even more arguments speak for the philosoper’s influation on PKD, but to understand this demands a greater knowledge of Descartes’ teachings.

Rene Descartes set out to find a method to solve all rational problems. He wanted to use this method on what he called “the grandest of all examples,” namely the human self realization. True to his method, he starts by deconstucting this realization to find, if anything, something absolute certain to base everything on. To do this, he uses a tool called the methodical doubt which in simpler terms means doubting everything. The methodical doubt rests on two arguments of relevance to this essay: The dream argument and the argument of the great deciever. The dream argument refers to det great unsolvable question whether everything is a dream. When one dreams and thinks the dream lifelike, the dreamworld is understood as reality. How can one be certain that the reality one percieves now, when awake, is not a dream of which one any minute could awaken from? The other argument is an even more powerful one. As sure as life could be a dream, there could be a great, allmighty deciever who gives us these dreams, and who decieves our minds with regards to everything else. One must doubt ones feeling of existence, because this too could be an illusion. In the midst of this chaos, Descartes realizes one thing which seems to back up the theory of existence: To be able to doubt ones existence, there has to be an ‘I’ present. He uses other words to explain this in his first meditation: “I myself exsist since I persuaded myself of something”. The fact that Descartes actually never personally used the phrase I think therefore I am, but rather the quotation above, is a rather interesting digression.

Another place in his Metaphysical Meditations, Descartes works with the dualism between body and soul. Although he is uncertain about the solution to this problem, he concludes that there must be a bridge between the two since one can go from the immaterial thought of raising ones arm, to the concrete action. This bridge, Descartes says, exsists in a small gland in the brain which he calls glandula pinealis, or the cone gland. This cone gland is logicaly nonsense seeing as something immaterial never could influence something material. Descartes was aware of this fact, but could not come up with a better solution.

The reason I mention Descartes’ cone gland here, even though it basically is meaningless, is that PKD uses a similar analogy in his description of Mercer on page 23. Mercer has a small knot in his head which he apparently can use to ressurect animals. The fact that both Descartes and PKD talks about a small gland/knot in the brain with supernatural abilities, is a good indication of PKDs inspiration. Furthermore, the methodical doubt and its arguments funcions as an important basis for several themes in the novel. One could for example not have read the book without asking oneself wheter Deckard too is an android, being the subject of a great deciever’s plot to rid him of his existence.

Interpretation Using Descartes

Somewhere in my material about the book, there is a small word of warning printed: “A word of warning: Dick’s speciality is straight-faced satire. If parts of the book strikes you as absurd, they’re supposed to.” One of these absurdities is Deckard using his newly aquired $3000 on a goat with the only function of eating and bleating. PKD of course, has a meaning behind this kind of insanity, and he lets Deckard himself imply this: “We couldn’t go on with the electric sheep any longer; it sapped my morale.” (p129) After his meeting with Luba Luft and the entire polemics based around the pseudo-police in Mission-street, Deckard himself is forced to speculate the possibility that he himself could be an android. This is why he is willing to pay enormous amounts of money for a living, breathing animal. An android, as Deckard knows it, is not capable of having living creatures because they are incapable of understanding the animals most basic needs, such as food and air. By purchasing an animal he tries to convince himself that he is not an android. Thus the thought of an electric sheep destroying his morale.

Deckards big problem throughout the novel is as mentioned a couple of times already, his convincing himself of not being an android. By using a third person perspective, PKD leaves the reader with the same question. Other than buying the afformentioned goat, Deckard chooses to grant Luba Lufts final wish regarding a certain book, resulting in Lubas reaction, “There’s something very strange and touching about humans. An android would never have done that,” which probably was the one Deckard was hoping for. The strange and touching thing about humans which Luba is referring to, is the same thing Deckard, in the book clings to, as a proof of him being human. I am of course talking about empathy. Empathy being the basis of the human religion mercersism, and of which the entire Voigt-Kampff test is built around. Empathy as one of the few things being certain in the defining of a human being, and by Deckard’s behaviour, even though it is over an android, he prooves to himself that he is human. The android Buster Friendly’s exposure of mercersism as fraudulent kinda destroys this though.

According to PKD, empathy then is the definition of man. A cheeky “…or what?”, seems more or less appropriate after such a conclusion as the author so many times before has put the great deciever on display for both Deckard and the reader. The police on Mission Street, Buster Friendly, Rachael, the owl the Rosens try to bribe Deckard with, Isidore’s cat, and lest not forget the (“tudsen” – hva i helvete?) Deckard finds in the end. All of these turn out to be fake, so in the best carthanian style we must, as with everything else, doubt the fact that empathy is the true definition of man. This is given more substance at p.139, in Roy’s file: “In addition, this android stole, and experimented with, various mind-fusig drugs, claiming when caught that it hoped to promote in a group experience similar to that of Mercersism, which it pointed out remains unavailable to androids.” This fact alone, that Roy has tried to produce psychofamaseutical drugs that were supposed to make androids empathic beings, makes one doubt that this “quality” is for man alone. By giving us this tiny information, PKD crushes our suspicions and beliefs with one stroke. Before, we were certain of Deckards empathic abilities would prove him to be human, but with the suggestion that androids can produce such abilities artificially, one cannot say for certain where man starts and android ends. Deckard has thus no guarantee of his claim to humanity.

Even though PKD does not say or even suggests a certain quality parting us humans from androids, we still have the feeling that there must be something drawing a line between the two. To show this we must once again turn to Descartes, this time towards his pine gland. I have earlier mentioned Mercer being in posession of a similar organ. In the end, Deckard realizes that he and Mercer are the same, and must thereby posess the same abilities, also the pine gland. The gland is as we remember the bridge between soul and body, and this raises another question which PKD has failed to bring into the story; the human soul. Without actually having any ground for it, my belief is that PKD does not directly mention the human soul because he has learned from Descartes. Descartes burnt his fingers when trying to define and categorize the incomprehensible term soul. PKD on the other hand, realizes that the term is way to difficult and thus hints towards it, for example through his use of Descartes. According to my own little brainstorm, PKD defines man as something unpercetptable spiritually moral which one can choose to call the human soul.

Interpretation Using Kim Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson has another way of interpreting the novel. Instead of using Descartes as done above, Kim Robinson consentrates on the contrast and lack of contrast between humans and androids. He starts with the argument that one in the novel from time to time is forced to view androids as either victims or threaths. Luba Luft is for example a victim: All she does is trying to be as human as possible and with her beautiful singing, she could have been a fine human being indeed. A threath is an android like Polokov. As opposed to Luba, he attacks humans as it is he who goes to see Deckard and not the other way around. Our perception of humans changes in the same way throughout the reading experience. Humans act sympatheticaly and evil and as an example, Robinson uses John Isidore who is first exploited by his boss Hannibal Sloat, and afterwards by the androids. He is indifferent to whether his tormentor is human or mechanical.

Based on this and the fact that humans are also capable of being inhuman so to speak, and vice versa, Robinson categorizes the beings in the novel into four different classes: 1. Human humans, of which Isidore could be an example. 2. Evil humans. Resch and Sloat are good examples of these. 3. Human androids, being Luba Luft, and 4. Evil androids, being Roy, Imgard and Pris. Robinson uses the confusion around definitions of man and android these classifications create to say: “The more contradictions there are in the androids, the more the novel has succeeded in unraveling our easy biological definition of humanity, and in replacing it with a difficult spiritual or moral definition.” Kim Robinson then, views the definition of man as something which is very understandable spiritually, and not something which is measurable.

In my view, Robinsons further analysis is a bit shallow. He believes PKD sets up a contradiction of Human/Android and Human/Inhuman, and goes on to suggest that DAD’s entire meaning lies in the humanity versus the inhumanity.

Philip K. Dick and Reality

PKD’s relationship with reality can once again be seen in his use of Descartes. Whereas Descartes operates with a classic dualism in the shape of body and soul, PKD also uses a form of dualism between man and android. A way this dualism comes to our attention is through the existence of the police station on Mission Street. We get the impression that the entire police force at this station consists of androids whereof many could be unaware of their actually being androids. Characteristicaly, this pseudo-society, this isolated, little sanctuary in the midst of human society, stribes to become more like the latter. This of course, is a hopeless dream, as they despite their superior intelligence lack the all important, but indescribable “human factor”. A parralell, albeit a very weak one, to the father of dualism, Plato and his World of the Aidees from the famous story of the cavern can be drawn out from this. The androids seek a higher level of existence; the human.

Another view on reality becomes clear when one instead of Descartes’ dualism, study his dream argument. From this one could ask any person wheter or not they are able to prove that their actions or thoughts are not part of a dream, or for that matter ask Deckard to prove he’s no android. Both questions would be impossible to answer; as mentioned, Deckard is human due to an undeterminable factor, but he is incapable of proving it. To determine that this is life, not dream, is only based on our intuition. PKD has forced upon us, a small existential crisis, and it is my opinion that this is 100% deliberate.

Blade Runner

When people ask me what my essay is about and I reply Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?, people rarely have any idea of what I’m talking about. I have to explain that it’s the novel the film Bladerunner is based upon to recieve nods of recognition. The novel is a piece of genius, but would probably just be known as one of PKDs many books if not for Ridley Scott’s adaption.

One of the curses of transfering a novel to the silver screen is that it’s impossible to confine 200 pages of dialogue and action inside a 2 hour long flick. On the other hand, films have the advantage of being visual which if done right can give the story a whole new dimention. Ridley Scott was probably facing this excact problem when he was in the process of filming said book. He chose to solve it by rewriting the story completely. The most important difference between DAD and Blade Runner is the total lack of mercersism and empathy relations in the film. There is furthermore no mention of Deckard’s wife (except in the original’s narrative, – translator’s comment), home or pets which makes the whole Deckard/Rachael sub-plot different. Most of the other characters have a part in the film, albeit with other names and other functions. The Rosen corporation is called and is being run by the business tycoon Tyrel, a confident and power hungry man as opposed to the novel’s Rosen.

article_brandt_03The owl has an interesting part in both novel and film. In DAD Rosen uses it to bribe Deckard, and we are furthermore told that owls were the first animals to become extinct due to the toxic dust from WWT. Owls are often a symbol of wisdom and sensibility, and the fact that they were the first ones to go is a symbol of the new world’s lack of these qualities (there’s no sense in paying several thousands of dollars for a goat for example). The owl of Bladerunner has an entirely different function: When Deckard arrives at Tyrel to perform the Voigt-Kampff test, he sees the owl and jests: “Is it artificial?”, whereupon Rachael replies: “Of course it is”. By once again viewing the owl as a symbol of intelligence, the film tells the audience that artificial intelligence is a natural thing in the future society of Bladerunner.

Another thing that has changed in the conversion is the character JR Isidore who is called JF Sebastian in the film. Even though JR/JF carries a sub plot on screen as well as on paper, the main difference is him going from “stupid” to a genetic engineer at Tyrel. Also, JRs bond with the replicants, the risc of failing the empathy test, becomes JFs problems with ageing. JF has a disorder which traps his actual 25 years of age inside the body of a 65 year old man, and the androids are constructed to stop working after four years.

Despite these differences there are two big similarities between the novel and the film. First, the question of Deckard’s predicament (human/android?), is still one of the most important ones in Bladerunner, and second, the thoughts of Descartes play a central role in the film. The first similarity is probably most interesting judging by the multitude of discussions regarding this on the internet. The problem with participating in one of these is is their low level resulting in useless arguments. One of the most frequent and thought provoking arguments found on the world wide web is that Deckard is a replicant because Gaff knows his thoughts and dreams. Gaff is another bladerunner who only appears in the film and who has a habit of making small origami figures in relation with the story. When Deckard refuses to take over Holdens mission of retiring the last four replicants, Gaff produces a small chicken as a symbol of Deckards fear. Shortly after Deck’s first meeting with Rachael, Gaff makes a small matchman with a big erection to show Deckard’s attraction to her. These two figures could have been made by simple observation, but at one point article_brandt_04later in the film, Gaff makes a unicorn after Deckard has envisioned a unicorn in a dream. How could Gaff know Deckard’s dreams unless he knew his thoughts, and how could he know his thoughts unless they were implants? Implants like Rachael’s private memory of the spider eating her children which Deckard reveals his knowledge of during the Voigt Kampff test. To further prove him being a replicant, we told that six replicants have escaped the colonies, but only five of them are retired, the sixth one is never seen. Unless it’s Deckard?

Nevertheless, it’s an interesting point that Ridley Scott had to cut out the 12 second long unicorn scene because the producer thought it “(…) too arty”. The unicorn appears not until the Director’s Cut release in 1992. This version of the film also drops the voice-over from the original ’82 film which the producers meant was nescesary if the audience were supposed to understand the story. The original then, is a film made for the broader part of the public, and according to the producers this audience needed a hero they could identify themselves with. So the ’82 crowd didn’t get the arty-farty unicorn, but a happy ending where Deckard and Rachael drives away (a leftover shot from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, by the way – translator’s comment). The Director’s Cut is the film Scott originally inteded it to be – a more complicated story and no annoying voice-over to ruin the brilliant photograpy, and of course, the open ending.

If there should be any doubt that the filmatic Deckard is a replicant, one person should be able to answer this question. The magazine “The Blade Cut” did excactly this when they interviewed Ridley Scott. In this interview, Scott confirms that it was the intention from the beginning that Deckard should be portrayed as a replicant. It took him ten years to show the audience this.


There are now three criteria to conclude from. First, the interpretation using Descartes’ techniques, of which I may take credit for. Second, Kim Robinson’s view. Robinson and I operate from different platforms, but we still reached somewhat the same conclusion: According to PKD, there is no way we can use an empirical method of categorizing being as a term for humans or non-humans (androids). However, there could be a spiritual distinction between the two, or in other words: What defines human beings is its soul. These interpretations do have their advantages and disadvantages. Generaly, I could say I used Descartes, but without the Isidore sub-plot, while Robinson used Isidore and completely ignored Descartes. If I had to choose from the two I would of course, use my own interpretation.
Ridley Scott’s film, portraying Deckard as a replicant is another interpretation. Personally, I think Scott did this to give the audience a good old mystery, not because of thorough philosophical research and interpretation of PKD like myself. This is not to say the film is bad. It is one of SFs finest moments, confronting the audience with philosophical thoughts – a rare thing in such films indeed. The fact that it’s so brilliant in every visual way makes it an even greater experience

The writing was not entirely without problems. A while in the essay, I realized that if every little, and sometimes big detail should be in here, it would have been far too long. I had not anticipated this before writing, resulting in my having to leave out themes like mercersism as a critique of television, and a more in-depth conclusion of Deckard’s meltdown with Mercer. Also, I had trouble fitting in an exploration of PKD’s writing techniques, like his foreshadowing. Still, I’m pretty satisfied with the final result.

Post script: I stumbled upon, during my writing, an article in the danish newspaper Politiken, regarding advancments in the research of artificial intelligence. I did not think this had much relevance for the essay, but the fact that a computerized brain is already produced is nevertheless facinating. With such advancements in computer technology, who knows what things will be like in the year 2019?



Dick, Philip K. – Do androids dream of electric sheep? – Voyager, paperback 1997


Dalsg̴rd-Hansen, Povl РDescartes РBerlingske, 1966

James, Edward – Science Fiction in the 20th Century – Oxford, 1994

Jones, W. T. – Hobbes to Hume – HBJ, 1969

Robinson, Kim Stanley – The novels of Philip K. Dick – UMI, 1984

Politikens Filosofileksikon – Politikens, 1983

From the Internet:

Deckard IS a replicant –

Deckard IS NOT a replicant –

Study Guide for Philip K Dick –

What is the Significance of the Unicorn?

And all the images in the essay were found on the Internet.

The original essay was written in Danish. The Blade Runner Insight version has been translated to english by Asle Sætre.

Written by
Jens Brandt

Copyright Jens Brandt, 2000.

The Least Scary Option

How and why does Blade Runner, a film about the future L.A., image that city in terms of the New York modernist metropolis?

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner has provided rich pickings for cultural theorists, film critics, and urban planners since its release in 1982. The film has been continually revisited, even to the extent of having a high profile cinematic re-release. What makes it so fascinating? It is, in part, the prescience of its vision: clearly the film was ahead of its time. Yet this can be overstated – in many ways it can be seen as a fairly logical extension of the seventies science fiction cycle (particularly Scott’s earlier Alien, or John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, released a year earlier). And there are other films of similar vintage that also anticipated crucial movements without generating as much scholarly attention (an example being Steven Lisberger’s Tron (also 1982), a film that has major flaws but is in some ways more ambitious). The film’s fans would probably reply to such observations by arguing that Blade Runner is distinguished from its predecessors and contemporaries because put its various ideas together with more finesse. Less charitably, we might characterise Blade Runner as an ideal subject for study because it assembles a particularly diverse grab-bag of fashionable ideas for theorists to sift through; seen this way, Blade Runner’s sometimes incoherent eclecticism becomes part of its attraction. Certainly, when we attempt to define Blade Runner’s view of the city, we find ourselves confronted by numerous contradictions. The film manages to embody both modernist and postmodernist ideas, just as it mobilises the mythology and imagery of both New York and Los Angeles. How can these contradictions be resolved (if indeed they can be), and what is their ultimate meaning?

That all these aspects are present does not make them all equally obvious. Certainly the film seems to underline certain elements more than others. The films’ evocation of Los Angeles, for example, is obviously signalled by its own title card that declares it to be set in “Los Angeles – 2019.” There is nothing subtle, either, about the film’s evocation of perhaps L.A.’s most powerful regional myth: noir(1). This is most conspicuous in the original cut of the film, which includes a hard-boiled narration by Harrison Ford. This narration may border on self-parody at times, but there can be no doubt about the generic model into which it places the film. Even in the narrationless “Director’s Cut,” however, the influence is strongly felt. Harrison Ford remains a tough, disillusioned cop whether we hear his narration or not; the cinematography does not lose its rain-drenched darkness (for the exteriors) or hazy brown smokiness (as in the interiors at Tyrell’s apartment). The character of Rachel is partly based upon noir models of the femme fatale, though her inscrutability is here mobilised for a somewhat different purpose. The costume design and hair styling for Rachel are clearly very evocative of fashions in the genre’s post-war heyday(2). Moving beyond noir, the film’s depiction of the urban environment as largely populated by non-whites could be seen as playing upon the city’s racial anxieties (although the racial mix is not quite L.A., with relatively few Hispanics). Drawing a slightly longer bow, we could see the abandonment of Earth for the outer colonies as mirroring the flight from inner urban areas by the wealthy in L.A. – an idea I will return to later.

The film’s postmodernist tendencies have also been detailed extensively by such writers as Giulliana Bruno and David Harvey(3). Most obvious is the film’s use of postmodern pastiche: the film’s production design emphasises the coexistence of multiple historical influences and styles, particularly of architecture. The urban decay and retrofitting shows the acceleration of industrial processes and recycling (which Bruno characterises as the process of becoming reliant upon one’s own waste(4)) under late capitalism. Harvey is quick to note that the production of replicant’s individual parts has been outsourced to street vendors, which extends the process of industrial devolution and flexible flows of capital found in post-Fordist economies(5). The replicants’ four year life spans (offset, claims Tyrell, by the intensity of their lives) are suggestive of the accelerated experience of life under postmodernism. The film’s ruminations on the nature of memory (and the importance of photographs) evoke postmodern ideas about the mediation of life through technology and the elimination of “real” history. The film has also been suggested as one of the principal inspirations for the “cyberpunk” genre of science fiction(6). Insofar as it marries noir to images of futuristic dystopia, this seems fair enough. Less convincing, though, are attempts to describe Deckard’s examination of the photograph as suggesting the idea of cyberspace(7); it seems more inspired by the scenes of technological detection found in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966) or Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974).

Despite all this, the film is far from being unquestionably a visualisation of postmodern Los Angeles. For starters, the film never quite convinces as a depiction of a future L.A.. Paul M. Sammon has documented the confusion about where exactly the film was set, noting that the film’s setting switched from “San Angeles” (a San Francisco / Los Angeles megalopolis) to New York, and then back to Los Angeles(8). The result is a curious hybrid city that bears only occasional similarities to L.A.. This is clear in the scene in which Deckard travels to the Tyrell corporation building. The Tyrell building’s pyramidal structure, which emphasises horizontal expansiveness rather than height, is the most distinctly L.A.-inspired form in the film(9). The views from Tyrell’s window also evoke a smog-covered suburbia that is also strongly suggestive of L.A. Yet the city that Deckard departs from is made up of closely packed high-rise buildings; the scenes at street level that we see are much more reminiscent of New York, and the ever-present electronic advertising recalls Times Square. The filmmakers themselves acknowledge this New York influence: design artist Syd Mead says one conceptual exercise was based on an extrapolation of New York’s form based upon the assumption that the height of the World Trade Centre towers would become the norm(10). Indeed, the external sets were literally built upon the old “New York Street” at Warner Brothers’ Burbank studios(11). Elements such as the flying cars also downplay one of L.A.’s most prominent mythical representations – the freeway.

The link back to New York is crucial because it connects the film with a line of thinking that leads back to modernism rather than postmodernism. For the city, the cinema, and modernity have been linked all along. Scott Bukatman argues that “cinema, science fiction, and modern urbanism were interwoven products of the same industrial revolution.(12)” Peter Wollen draws a more particular variation on the same theme, noting that the “history of film coincides almost exactly with the history of the skyscraper.(13)” The first half of the twentieth century was an era of high modernism, and the era in which the cinema found its feet – and it was New York, not L.A., that seemed to represent the ultimate metropolis in this period. Its vertical forms famously inspired Fritz Lang’s 1926 classic Metropolis, and this in turn was one of the principal inspirations for Blade Runner’s vision of the city(14) (Lang, of course, was also an important figure in the history of noir; it is interesting that one person should figure so prominently in Blade Runner’s lineage).

The notion of New York as a modernist city is not necessarily an immediately obvious one, since the distraction of modernist architecture obscures some of the issues. David Harvey talks of the strict functionalism and simple forms of modernist architecture (the “International style”), for example, and these tendencies did extend to urban design on a broader scale(15). Le Corbusier presents the most famous example: he was an architect, but his utopian visions of future cities were enormously influential and scaled down versions were often implemented. Harvey characterises the modernist planning style with admirably succinct comprehensiveness, describing it as centring upon “large scale, metropolitan-wide, technologically rational and efficient urban plans, backed by absolutely no-frills architecture (the austere “functionalist” surfaces of “international style” modernism).(16)” Such architecture often found its way into science fiction of the sixties and seventies as a way of representing future cities, whether the intention was utopic (as in “Star Trek”) or dystopic (George Lucas’ THX-1138 (1971). This preoccupation of cinematic science fiction with such architecture was probably an important factor helping Blade Runner to appear so different. Blade Runner’s break with this model was also no doubt part of the perception of the film as unquestionably postmodern.

Yet Bukatman argues that Blade Runner does indeed evoke modernist ideals; just a different version to that of Le Corbusier and his followers(17). The functionalist model might form the basis for the cities’ street plan and provide the impetus and architecture for its signature skyscrapers, but the city as a whole takes on a much more heterogenous form. This was, of course, true well before postmodernism appeared, and didn’t stop New York becoming the archetypal modernist city. As Bukatman says, “[Le Corbusier's] modernism is indeed rejected by Blade Runner, while the modernist experience of the city described by Simmel, Benjamin and Kraceur – disordered, heterogeneous, street-level – is revisited and renewed.(18)” Once again the dubious boundaries of the term “modernism” have caused trouble: modernist architecture might be strictly functionalist, but modernism as a movement is far more diverse and varied, with artists and theorists being very attracted to the idea of New York as a vibrant modernist metropolis. Just as postmodernism can be characterised as the cultural face of Post-Fordism, so modernism is linked to Fordist capitalism, and New York’s status during this period as a centre of world finance put it at the centre of all modernist discourse, not just that of architecture.

The question remains, though: why all this New York imagery? To attribute it to the fact that the film was originally set in New York evades the central issue, since it doesn’t tell us why Scott changed the setting to New York in the first place (Phillip K. Dick’s source novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, was set in San Francisco(19)). The answer probably lies in looking beyond the issues of postmodernism and modernism. Bukatman notes that heterogeneity is not purely a sign of postmodernist urban form, since it existed under modernism(20); but of course this argument does not stop at modernism (and I’m not trying to imply that Bukatman thinks it does). Wollen points out that Blade Runner’s city also has strong overtones of medievalism(21), and this is important in grounding the discussion. Negative images of the city have centred around the issue of overcrowding since the middle ages, simply because high densities have always accompanied cities in the past. Depicting urban crowding and squalor is, quite simply, the most obvious way to present a nightmare future. This holds true in Blade Runner even though there are strange new twists: the city is only partially an overcrowded one, since the buildings are largely empty even while the street teems with life.

One of the challenges of the twentieth century city has been the change to this paradigm that has been wrought by the rise of the automobile. Suddenly, cities were freed from the necessity of density (imposed by mobility restrictions and infrastructure costs), and suburbs could expand endlessly. This is the model that L.A. epitomises, with its dismantled public transport system giving way to a seemingly endless suburbia linked by freeways. The problem is that urban problems do not go away. The poor can still be poor in suburbs, and the physical isolation that occurs in suburbia (even in the pleasant suburbs) can be psychologically devastating(22). This shift in the urban fabric of cities in general – and L.A. in particular – wrought changes upon L.A.’s pet genre, the noir thriller: as Norman Klein points out, the suburbs became a new zone for noir, partially displacing the traditional image of the big, dark city(23). An example is the sun-baked noir of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), a film which is set in the thirties but which presents one of the battles surrounding (and occurring in) what will soon be an ever-expanding fringe.

Suburbia has therefore become the new enemy of the planner, and in its extremes (as found in L.A.) represents the latest vision of urban hell. Models of planning in the era since the late sixties have therefore increasingly attempted to recreate small town environments(24) or to emulate the variety of inner city areas – with New York being one of the classic models to attempt to emulate(25). These visions have, to an extent, filtered through to the general public. Klein notes, for example, that not only did planners see the Blade Runner future as something of a desirable outcome for L.A. (“… three out of five leading planners agreed that they hoped L.A. would someday look like Blade Runner”(26)), but that L.A. residents partially shared this view, thinking that the sushi street vendors in the film look impressively cosmopolitan(27). Nevertheless, the seemingly complementary idea of suburbia as wasteland has gained considerably less currency. There is a strong investment in the idea of the suburb, both in L.A. and elsewhere, and to suggest problems with it can cause hostile reactions. Alida Brill, talking of the residents of Lakewood, California, an early (1950s) version of a planned suburban town, notes the high levels of anger that arise as such a utopian model begins to show signs of strain(28).

Scott seems to have been aware of the possibilities of a suburban hell as opposed to his urban nightmare: talking of his original “San Angeles” conception for the city, he describes the megalopolis as “a single population center with giant cities and monolithic buildings at either end, and then this strange kind of awful suburb in the middle.(29)” Yet this seems to have been too threatening. By avoiding a depiction of the Blade Runner city as an L.A.-style low density nightmare, Scott has left audiences an escape. The idea of a dense, forbidding inner city is so familiar that it is almost taken for granted; it is also something that one can leave. In the original cut of the film, this is exactly what happens: Deckard and Rachel simply leave the city and return to a beautiful wilderness. (This point defies all logic, since we have been told animals are nearly extinct – so how stable is this ecosystem?). Yet even in the film’s final cut the nightmare can be fled from. Rachel and Deckard still discuss fleeing north, and of course it is implied that much of the population has already left Earth for the colonies, much as they abandon run-down urban areas. This dulls the edge of the dystopic future, since we are being presented a situation in which only a certain underclass have to face the terrors of urban decay. But this is true already, and a thought that most have already learnt to live with.

The representations of Los Angeles (as endless suburb; a physical embodiment of postmodern/post-Fordist decentralisation) and New York (as high density modernist metropolis) both have utopian and dystopian elements. Blade Runner’s strength is that it anticipated many of the anxieties surrounding postmodern futures, and did so at a very early stage. Yet, in a film where visual design counts for so much, it has chosen not to represent a suburban hell. This makes its vision more familiar and less challenging; its urban future fits comfortably within the expectations of established genres. The mainstream American cinema has often shown the nightmarish side of dense inner cities or small towns, but has yet to start seriously examining the underside of the L.A.-style automobile dominated postmodern suburb. Since it is still yet to do this in 1998, perhaps Blade Runner should be forgiven for not making the leap in 1982.


1. A solid discussion of noir as an L.A. regional phenomena is to be found in Davis, Mike, 1990, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, Vintage, New York, particularly pp. 36-46. (Back)

2. Descriptions of the noir influence upon Blade Runner run through virtually all commentary on the film; one of the more concise summaries of these influences can be found in the first few pages of Dresser, David, 1985, “Blade Runner, Science Fiction and Transcendence,” in Literature/Film Quarterly, Volume 13, Number 3, 1985, pp. 172-179. (Back)

3. The latter is clearly indebted to the former, and acknowledges the influence; Harvey’s piece is nevertheless valuable for its greater clarity and rigour (Harvey is the rare theorist who retained some self-discipline when his interests shifted to postmodernism). See: Bruno, Giulliana, 1987, “Ramble City: Postmodernism and Blade Runner,” in October, 41, Summer 1987, pp. 61-74; and Harvey, David, 1990, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, Blackwell, Cambridge and Oxford, pp. 308-323. (Back)

4. Bruno, 1987, op. cit., p. 64.

5. Harvey, 1990, op. cit., p. 311.

6. Bukatman, Scott, 1997, Blade Runner, BFI, London, pp. 45-52.

7. Ibid., pp. 46-47.

8. Sammon, Paul M., 1996, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, HarperCollins, New York.

9. I am thinking mainly of its horizontal expansiveness, but Peter Wollen suggests that its neo-Mayan architecture is indebted to an L.A. based architectural movement headed by Robert Stacy-Judd and Francisco Mujica. See Wollen, Peter, 1994, “Delirious Projections,” in Sight and Sound, Volume 2, Issue 4, August 1992, p. 25.

10. Peary, Danny, 1988, Cult Movies 3, Simon & Schuster, New York, p.35.

11. Klein, Norman M., 1997, The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory, Verso, London & New York, p. 96.

12. Bukatman, 1997, op. cit., p. 42.

13. Wollen, 1994, op. cit., p.25.

14. Bukatman, 1997, op. cit., pp. 84-85.

15. Harvey, 1990, op. cit., pp. 66-98.

16. Ibid., p. 66.

17. Bukatman, 1997, op. cit., pp. 60-61.

18. Ibid., p. 61.

19. Peary, 1988, op. cit., p.32

20. Bukatman, 1997, op. cit., p. 60.

21. Wollen, 1994, op. cit., p. 26.

22. I speak from experience: I lived for six months in one of L.A.’s most pleasant and crime free fringe suburbs (Irvine) and found the built form of even this part of the city profoundly depressing.

23. Klein, 1997, op. cit., p. 295.

24. Interestingly, one of the leading examples of this movement, the planned community of Seaside, Florida, is used as the setting in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998) to represent a nightmare of unrelenting niceness.

25. This latter trend owes a lot to Jane Jacobs’ seminal book: Jacobs, Jane, 1961, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Random House New York.

26. Klein, 1997, op. cit., p. 94.

27. Ibid., p. 98. Of course, these views romanticise the inner city, and Klein (who grew up in Brooklyn) is unimpressed, noting the glib dismissal of inner urban crime and decay in these reactions.

28. Brill, Alida, 1996, “Lakewood, California: Tomorrowland at 40,” in Dear, Schockman & Hise (eds.), 1996, Rethinking Los Angeles, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, pp. 97-112.

29. Sammon, 1996, op. cit..

Written by
Stephen Rowley

Copyright Stephen Rowley, 2000.

Humans & Technology, What Separates Them?

The movie Blade Runner (1982) is loaded with contrasts and contradictions, and at the same exotic and typical of it’s time. It’s a full blown action film full of symbolism and ambiguity. It became instantly a cult movie and a visual icon for cyberpunks.

Two Versions

After Ridley Scott released the new version, Director’s Cut (1992), which in his opinion are much closer to his original intentions, it’s now more interesting to examine some of the main elements of Blade Runner, and also how these elements are influenced by the seemingly minor differences between the two versions.

From now on I’ll assume that the reader has seen at least one of the two versions, preferably both. If that’s not the case, I’ll recommend you to rent or buy the movie(s) before proceeding on. The two versions are named ‘Director’s Cut’ and the Theatrical Version, the former will from now be referred to as DC, and the latter will be referred to as TV.

Let’s first compare DC and TV. There are three main differences in the contents between them:

* Deckard’s narration has been removed in DC.
* The Unicorn-Dream scene has been added to the DC.
* The “Happy-ending” from TV has been removed in DC.

Regarding the “happy ending”, one must conclude with the fact that this ending was added to satisfy the production company, which believed the American audience would demand a happy ending. This scene contradicts both visually and stylistically with the rest of BR. (The scene was, by the way, cut from The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) and just pasted on to BR). The direct and inconclusive ending in DC is more in accordance with the original plot, theme and style of BR. The “happy-ending” in TV are therefore simply an element of noise (despite the quite excellent music).

The effects of the first two elements (listed above) are on the other hand dramatic and fundamental.

Is There a Main Character in Blade Runner?

Deckard narration i TV has the following effects:

1. Deckard is established as main character, and becomes the character the audience gets to know best.
2. It gives the illusion that Deckard has full control over the situation. Since all that happens is part of Deckard’s retrospect, the audience can then assume Deckard’s survival and probably his victory in the battle.

On the contrarily, in DC Deckard is just one of the main characters, no different than Rachael, Roy and Pris. This give the relationship between Roy and Pris same emphasis and priority (well, almost) as between Deckard and Rachael. This introduces an uncertainty factor to the audience, and the question; “who are the bad guys, and good guys?” becomes more ambiguous. This, without doubt, was the director’s initial intention. It becomes more evident that the audience’s sympathy is divided among several parties.

The Unicorn, a Significant Symbol

The Unicorn has a fundamental significance and multiple important functions in the film. Deckard has a dream about it, and Gaff (the “assisting” policeman to Deckard) makes a unicorn origami figure of the unicorn at the end (when Rachael and Deckard leave the apartment). Of the three main arguments of Deckard being a replicant, that one represents the strongest indication. (The two other arguments are the confusion of whom the 6th replicant is, and the fact that Roy knew Deckard name.) Gaff’s origami figure suggests that Gaff knew of Deckard’s memories. And therefore Deckard’s memory has to be artificial. Gaff has by this time established a pattern of making origami figures that represents comments to or about Deckard. The unicorn was the third comment he makes.

I will not in this article examine all the pros and cons of whether Deckard’s is a replicant or not, but I would like to ascertain that it’s plausible that he is in the DC version, whilst in the TV version there’s less indication of this. Review otherwise my closing comments in this article. I will return later to the other functions of the unicorn.

Themes, Conflicts and Excess

I: Creation and the Creator

Blade Runner is a movie that will grow on you for each time you watch it – an open universe, a hologram where you’ll discover new outlines and shadows each time. Let’s review some of the major contours in the movie. BR is a techno-organic mosaic, produced visually such that the organically and the technological, the authentic and the artificial assume each others characters, mixed up together in multiple parallels and counterpoints in the course of events.

Such a course of events in Blade Runner is the creation’s insurrection towards the creator, represented in the movie with the replicant Roy Batty’s rebellion against Tyrell, his maker, the God of Biomechanics. While Batty becomes more and more human and develops emotions, Tyrell acts with a cold mechanical behavior. The rebellion leads to the death of the creator and this act proceeds with Roy’s attainment of some kind of a human state. The artificial becomes human and destroys it’s creator in the process. Are we presented here with a Nietzschistic allegory, that the human must destroy its God in order to evolve to and beyond the human state towards the godlike? In the ability to create there’s also the power to destroy. By liberating oneself from, and if necessary destroy its creator, the creation can now become the creator. Only through God’s death can the humans reclaim the qualities that were reserved for the God, which originally belonged to the humans, but were taken from them and alienated by a God. Accordingly, the replicant Roy has to capture the emotions and the humanity from the God of Biomechanics, Tyrell.

II: The Artificial and the Natural

Another course of events over the theme:”humanization of the non-human” is the relationship between Deckard and the replicant Rachael. It is common to conclude that Rachael became human when Deckard fell in love with her. However it is also correct to say that Rachael became human when she realized her affection for Deckard. It is of course very helpful if there exists a mutual affection, but it is through her own reasoning, her own choices and actions – e.g. when she saves Deckard’s life by shooting Leon – that Rachael really becomes human. By transforming and mixing together the different pieces, memories and skills from various people, the ones she was implanted with, she’ll take possession of them and use them as a basis to construct her own personal identity (here we anticipate postmodern approaches of identity, fractal subjects etc.). In the “piano-scene”, Deckard confirms this by his comment to Rachael; “You play beautiful”. But it’s not Deckard’s statement, but rather the underlying reality that it describes, that is the substratum for Rachael’s growing identity.

III: Integration

Notice the theme-integration between Rachael’s first realizations of love for Deckard – she’s saving his life by shooting Leon – and Roy Batty’s realizations of love for life in the end of the movie. While Rachael learns to love life through murder (because it is the first time she’s making a personal obligation to protect a value she has chosen; Deckard), Roy learns to love life by accepting this own mortality, and this is expressed, contrary to Rachael’s case, once Roy cease to commit murders. And hence the two contrary events unite, since both saves Deckard’s life.

While the 21st century’s Los Angles is cynical and corrupted, Rachael, on the other hand, is clean – a piece of untouched and original nature – and also the most advanced artificial being ever created. And not only that, but she’s also original because she is artificial. This paradox is thematic related and reflected in Roy’s paradox, that he is simultaneously a killing machine and a still growing being that fights, not only for “more time”, but also for the opportunities this time will introduce; the possibility to gain a more human state – including human experiences, emotions, values and memories.

Destruction, Hope and Victory

It is by no coincidence that Roy’s first lines in the movie are: “Time…enough.” There was enough time: Roy achieved his goal of become human. He is no looser, his death and the way he let it happen is his final victory. Therefore both Rachael’s and Roy’s path to humanity have the same course of evolution. The paths contradict and intensifies each other through it contradictory nature, and both Roy and Rachael achieved their human goals.

This is also expressed in the Unicorn. The Unicorn is pure and untouched (both in its traditional symbolic meaning and in its perception of living in unspoiled forests). At the same time the Unicorn is an artificial being – because it’s merely a creation of fantasy, hence made by humans. It’s untouched and artificial, as Rachael.

The Unicorn is also a non-living creature. Just like Rachael, until she saves Deckard’s life, and hence gives herself a human life. Rachael doesn’t only save Deckard’s physical life, but she also makes him gain new values and emotions. It is now that Deckard has got something of personal importance worth fighting for.

It is by no coincidence that Deckard was dreaming of the Unicorn while Rachael was playing the Piano, nor a coincidence that the director made a new version to include this.

Roy’s victory takes place in his last moments. Deckard’s victory is that he becomes a human again; a great victory, whether he’s a replicant or not. The complexity that revolves around Deckard’s identity enriches Roy’s victory and makes it seem even larger than if one of the alternatives (human or replicant) were excluded. Deckard’s “resurrection” as a human through a gradual revival of his suppressed humanity is evolved along with hints of his non-humanity (as a replicant). A quite strong contra pointy effect – a man restores his human soul but might loose his physical humanity along the way. But Deckard gains his humanity in the end, as well as Rachael and Roy does.

Both Utopia and Dystrophy

It is reason to question the extensive and superficial conception that Blade Runner is a completely dystrophic film. It is correct that the situations are gloomy and the environments are cold and polluted, and there is much violence and misery throughout the movie. However all three main characters (Deckard, Roy and Rachael) evolve during the movie and gain each a personal victory in the end; all this in spite of great difficulties both external and within each of them. A self possession is gained, and this makes life more precious and valuable, no matter the life span. Therefore one can say that there exists quite a bit of optimism in Blade Runner; humans, even in the worst of situations, can succeed and gain or restore their humanity.

However the movie is melancholic due to the surroundings and circumstances displayed. Another reason would be the short (Roy) or uncertain (Rachael and Deckard) longevity of that which is gained.

The expression and the title “Blade Runner” directly reflects the name of the elite police unit that “retires” rouge replicants. But the expression can also be perceived as an innuendo of the fragile balance between the human and the artificial; the organic and the technological, which is being displayed through the whole movie, and also is so perfectly formulated in Rachael’s two questions to Deckard; “Have you ever retired a human by mistake?” and “You know that Voight-Kampf test of yours? Did you ever take that test yourself?”
Where exactly does this boundary between the human and the artificial go? Has it been abolished?

The expression “Blade Runner” is also an interesting self reference, since the film itself balances on a thin line in its ambiguous presentation of the main(?) character Deckard’s identity (human or replicant?). It’s well worth noticing that the film would not have been so rich in content and meaning if one of the two possibilities were excluded. The doubt in Deckard’s true identity will forever be with us; the openness of this question is an inevitable part of this movie’s mythological identity, just like the doubt of whether there exists a distinction between humans and technology is an inevitable part of the identity of the cyberpunk’s culture.


Blade Zone, The Blade Runner fan club:

Blade Runner Insight:


Blade Runner FAQ:

The Official Blade Runner On-Line Magazine:

Blade Runner scripts:

Blade Runner Replicant Site:

The Blade Runner web ring:

Android World:

This article’s original location: (in norwegian)

Written by
Thomas Gramstad

Copyright Thomas Gramstad, Morgenbladet 13 – 16 May, 1994.

Blade Runner

In the movie industry today, it is hard to place movies into one single classification. There are just too many categories to consider, all of which are very broad and have a thin line in the criteria that is required by each. What one perceives to be a dramatic film, another may describe as an action-adventure movie. This diversity is resulted from the lack of discrete definitions in articulating what a particular assortment is supposed to be. So, people are forced to provide their own definition of every individual category and decide whether or not the selected film corresponds. In addition, the filmmakers themselves are placing a greater burden on the viewers, for they do not produce the film to target a specific audience or place their own work into a specific category. Besides, categories are unimportant, for movies should be judged by the quality of their content and the way they proved their theme rather than fulfilling the requirements of a single genera. In regards to Blade Runner, I placed it into a very broad category, science fiction. However, the decision was hard to establish because many aspects of the movie fits into the criteria for a number of different classes. Possibilities that were debated include action, romance, suspense and even classic.

What is Science Fiction?

In today’s diverse society, it should be safe to say that not everyone’s opinions are the same. In my view, a movie may be categorized as being science fiction if it satisfies three main criteria’s. First of all, the movie must draw on scientific knowledge. The whole idea of creating a sci-fi film should be to allow the general public to become exposed to new scientific discoveries through entertainment. Scientific data presented in a movie allows the audience to learn science and enjoy a relaxing break at the same time. In other words, a movie is good if the filmmaker optimizes the accurate use of scientific resources and provides some sort of learning experience. Second, the film must use speculation in an imaginative manner. What this statement means is that the producer must be creative in giving the film a futuristic tone. This is not to say that the actual setting must be in the future. It does not really matter whether the movie takes place during a period in the past, present, future or all three. The important thing is that the film must be produced with a futuristic frame of mind. This way, the movie can be given both a futuristic and a realistic feeling. The purpose is to present possibilities to the public that are feasible and not too outlandish that it will be considered ludicrous. Finally, it must posses the ability to attract all audiences. A good movie will combine aspects of different movies together in a way that will not offend fans of a specific category; and as a result, avoid major criticism. Although it is merely impossible to avoid all objection, providing points that most audiences can appreciate will decrease dispersion. Appealing to different people will also help the producers because a broader audience means more patrons which ultimately results in greater cash inflow.

Blade Runner: A SCI-FI Movie?

In order to judge a movie, one must take the origin of the movie into consideration. A person cannot comment on the quality of a film unless the time period in which the film was released is known. Blade Runner was produced over a decade ago, so times have definitely changed and criteria’s for movies have changed as well. Going back to the time of production, 1982, this movie could have rationally been labeled as science fiction. However, in the movie industry today, one can argue against the justification of that decision because of the thin line that now separates filming categories. Putting Blade Runner into perspective today, I would still have to insist that Blade Runner is sci-fi because it satisfies all criteria’s previously listed. One, there are many discoveries that were used. The most outstanding is the use of cyborgs. Although we do not necessarily have plastic people walking around in the streets today, we do have a form of genetic reproduction, plastic surgery. Not to say that plastic surgery is equal to creating people, it is a way of modifying the skin. The only difference is that the producers took this concept and manipulated it a bit more drastically in order to create an advanced impression. Two, having genetically reproduced people is still a concept that is attainable today. Therefore, creators of the film were not too eccentric in using cyborgs as the main topic of the film. This movie takes us into the future, to the year 2016. Flying cars and awkward buildings were used to represent what the authors see the world in that time. Today, people do not imagine flying cars anymore; instead, they wonder how long it will take before they are actually out on the road or in the air. We have already produced cars that can be driven in water, so it will only be a matter of time before cars can fly. Blade Runner contains allot of things that were only considered dreams back then; however, all may seem fairly realistic to the minds of today. Last, there are definitely topics in the film that should attract many audiences. There is romance, action, suspense, conflict between good versus evil, almost everything. Take the incident in which the hero falls in love with an enemy and overcomes adversity to stay with her, this is a representation of love and romance. As for action, there is enough explosions and brutality to define the word violence. People must understand that this is a fairly old film and should appreciate the effort the producers must have put forth in creating this movie. This is a great movie, a presentation from the past that is still entertaining today; and above all, a real spectacle to viewers with high standards.

Written by
Tony Chang

Copyright Tony Chang, 1999.

Analysis of Blade Runner

article_lachniel_01Welcome to 21st century earth. The firmament flashes with belching mushroom clouds of fire and smoke. The rain falls, as it always does, soaking the fouled earth below. Far below the dark clouds and torrential rains sprawls a city of glass and steel. The human race exists, as it always has, but the numbers dwindle as crime and pollution drive the people to Off-world locations in search of the literal and proverbial new world. It is a time of change, and the beginning of a new era, embodied through the mythical quest of a single man….a Blade Runner.

The protagonist, known as Deckert, is an ex-cop and self described killer in retirement. No longer working for the police, Deckert is first encountered in the streets, waiting in the rain for a stool to open at an outdoor sushi shop. Overhead, a huge airship projecting advertisements of “adventure” in an Off-world location hovers by. Deckert looks up from his newspaper.

“They don’t advertise for killers in the newspaper.”

Without a job, Deckert is encountered walking the streets. He is solemn and dark. He moves laboringly, apparently without purpose. He walks to the newly opened stool and orders his food. Soon, there is a hand on his shoulder. Turning slowly back, Deckert looks into the eyes of a dark skinned man – Gaff – and begins his own mystical journey.

The setting in Blade Runner is dark and brooding. The city, perhaps due to its perpetual rain, has a lingering fog and darkness that is penetrated only by the neon street signs and huge video advertisements. Flying cars soar through the city’s skies, and people of all races and colors crowd the rainy streets. In the distance, there often rumbles a dark and unknown sound like thunder. From the onset, the music of Vangelis vibrates and rumbles as the viewer is transported to this futuristic city. It is a city in decay, all vestiges of nature having been long since eliminated. Even the people, now a mish-mash of English, Asian, Hispanics, and more people are slowly leaving the planet to an Off-world location.

The backdrop, with its powerful imagery and stark landscape, is the perfect setting for the modern myth. It is a time of societal decline, where technology has polluted the earth and seized control of the cities. As in all myths of creation, this setting contains the necessary chaos and destruction to force the rise of a new age. The sky, with its drizzling rain and bolts of lightening, portrays the violence and power of the gods. In an older era, it would be as if a god such as Thor himself were watching from the heavens and punishing the people below. And like the Phoenix of Egyptian mythology, we see a hero arising from its fiery coals. The hero is Deckert, and he is an unwilling hero.

Facilitating the mystical journey of Deckert throughout the movie are numerous archetypal characters. Through his journeys, we are introduced to a virtual pantheon of influencing characters. Among these are the archetypal creator, the tempter, the holy redeemer, the mother, and integrally linked dark and light deity figures. Perhaps most important to the action of the movie are the dark and light deities. Although these deities each have their own polar identity, their motives and purposes are not easily defined. Indeed, like the Yin and Yang of the Tao, they play upon each other to facilitate change. The dark figure, who is introduced at the start of the movie in the character of Gaff, serves as a kind of passive observer, in accordance to the traits of Yin. The light figure, encountered in the form of Roy, is a violent and active motivator of change. Roy embodies the spirit of conquest and change associated with the Yang of the Tao.

Gaff first approaches Deckert at the outdoor sushi bar, delivering a message from a man called Bryant. As it turns out, Gaff and Bryant are both policemen on the Blade Runner unit. Speaking in city speak, Gaff arrests Deckert and brings him to speak with Bryant. High in the metal tower of the police station, Deckert is given a choice to either rejoin the police force, or become “little people”. To Deckert, the threat is obvious – either work once more in the blade runner unit, or face the constant persecution of the police.

In this scene, Bryant is taking the obvious role of the biblical tempter. Like the snake in the garden of Eden, Bryant presents an irresistible choice. Deckert has little choice but to comply with his offer, simply to protect himself. To add to the temptation are the unusual circumstances of the emergency. As it turns out, six NEXUS 6 Replicants have escaped from an Off-world location, murdering over twenty people. Of these six Replicants, three are male, and three are female. Even the Replicant group’s make-up is significant as these three couples are reminiscent of the preparatory pairing of species on Noah’s Ark before the great flood. Deckert learns that the Replicants have for some reason returned to earth. One of the Replicants was found “fried” by a perimeter defense device at the Tyrell corporation. In addition to the immediacy of the problem is the fact that the NEXUS 6 line is the most advanced and self-sufficient model of all the Replicants, and thus potentially the most dangerous. Faced with blackmail, Deckert has very little choice but to accept the assignment.

Like the snake, in the garden of Eden, Bryant is a rather loathsome image. He is fat, drinks heavily, and is often prone to vulgarity. To add to his malevolence, he is clearly portrayed as a racist. Deckert states that Bryant is the kind of person that in past history would call a black person a “Nigger.” The personification of this racism now takes the form of hatred for Replicants, whom he calls “skin jobs.” It is his hatred for the Replicants that causes him to blackmail Deckert into his service, and hence precipitates a chain of events that follow. It is interesting to note that Bryant never seems to understand the full import of what he has done, instead remaining ignorant in his own world of hate. At the finish, Bryant never quite realizes what has transpired. It could be that this lack of a greater understanding is yet another element found in the evil archetype. In historical literary convention, evil figures have failed in that they do not understand the larger issues at play. Bryant is certainly an example of this singlemindedness and ignorance.

While in the police station, Deckert views a video, which is a recording of a Replicant that was discovered at the Tyrell corporation. After the first Replicant was found dead, the Tyrell corporation ordered a VOC-COMP test of all their new employees to search for potential infiltrators. As it turns out, they managed to find one. The video tape shows a small room with two men. Between them is the VOC-COMP machine, which measures pupil dilation electronically. The test, which is comprised of a series of shocking questions, is designed to provoke an emotional response. When the interviewee (in this case a Replicant named Leon) is questioned, he becomes more and more agitated. As more questions, which contain concepts repulsive to humans (e.g. Dog Soup), are asked, Leon becomes confused. Leon becomes more and more agitated – eventually to the point of killing the Blade Runner interviewer with a handgun.

Reluctantly accepting the mission, Deckert gets up to go. As he walks towards the door, we see the dark man, Gaff, taking a piece of paper from the ashtray. After folding this paper into the form of a chicken, Gaff sets it into the ashtray as Deckert walks out.

This oragami figure is not the only one to be found in the film. Oragami figures appear at several times throughout the film to indicate a linear sort of progress. Gaff, the dark observer, creates these images out of trash and refuse with great purpose and clarity of mind. The oragami figures that Gaff create throughout the film detail the stages of Deckert’s progress on his quest.

Deckert discovers that the NEXUS 6 model has a unique destiny. This model, which is by far the most intelligent manufactured being to date, is thought to be capable of developing emotions. To eliminate any possibility of rebellion, all NEXUS 6 models are engineered to have a 4 year life expectancy. The irony is that just at the time when their experiences have provided them with the necessary experiences to develop their own emotions, they are mandatorily “retired” from service. This life expectancy is engineered into their very being, and cannot be changed. The NEXUS 6 Replicants, flawed with mortality, are not much different from their human counterparts. As it later turns out, the Replicants, like humanity, seek only to go beyond their limitations – to cheat death. This search for meaning and immortality is found throughout history and mythology. Humanity has always placed a great meaning on immortality, and has historically placed it into the realms of divinity. This quest, then, is not one that is only held by humans. The Replicants are a model for humanity, they humanity in a modern mythology. In this fable, this new mythology, it is the Replicants who act as surrogates by seeking life and enlightenment.

This movie depicts a world in which humans, now in decline, watch a new species rise from the fire. Although it is Replicants that struggle so hard to find their identity, it is not so far detached from humanity as one might think. The Replicants are an example for the humans to follow, a remnant of the quest that they once undertook but has since been quashed by pollution and technology. By viewing their struggle for definition, humanity (as exemplified by Deckert), comes to realize its battle once more. In this case, a new element of co-operation is added into the spiritual quest that lays ahead. Now, not only must humanity deal with issues of existence and mortality, but must also make way for a new species of intelligent life. Indeed, the whole definition of humanity is changed by it’s interaction with the Replicants.

Deckert is sent to the Tyrell corporation to investigate the case further. He meets with the monarch of the Tyrell corporation, Mr. Tyrell himself. Tyrell is the mastermind behind the creation of the Replicants. It was his genius, and his company, that created and refined the Replicants throughout time. He is the one man who has overseen all aspects of their creation, and in particular, created their minds. Tyrell has asked Deckert to perform a test on a Replicant to demonstrate the VOC-COMP’s efficacy. Tyrell asks Deckert to first demonstrate it on a “human subject”, a woman by the name of Rachel. Rachel is a beautiful young woman, an assistant to Mr. Tyrell. She is intelligent and polite. She creates an aura about her which seems to captivate both Mr. Tyrell and Deckert as she speaks and moves. She seems the perfect person. Unbeknownst to her, she is also a Replicant.

Through the story, Rachel takes on the Role of the Archetypal mother. Despite the fact that she is a Replicant, she is clearly a force for peace and good in the story. Rachel, despite her supposed lack of humanity, saves Deckert’s life. This act further fortifies the premise that she acts as a life-giving influence in the story. Deckert discovers that Rachel is a special Replicant, an experiment of sorts. Rachel’s programming has no time limit. Tyrell, in his role of creator, made Rachel to live forever. Rachel is the first and last hope of the Replicant species. She is the first of the Replicants in history to be given a chance for life – for survival.

Rachel’s role as a mother figure is clearly reinforced by her precisely chosen name. In the biblical accounts, Rachel is found as the wife of Jacob. In the account, god found that “Rachel [was] barren” and unable to bear children. This is clearly indicative of the vital missing element of the Replicants – the ability to reproduce their own. The lack of fertility can easily be equated with a lack of humanity, yet Rachel persists as a mother figure. In the biblical account, Rachel circumvented her infertility by the use of a handmaid, saying “Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.” (Genesis 30:3) Thus, the biblical Rachel was able to become a mother, though she lacked the physical ability to do so. The naming of Rachel, then, is clearly not accidental, but rather a precise reinforcement of Rachel as a mother figure using biblical precedence.

At Tyrell corporation, Deckert discovers the truth about Rachel. Knowing that even Rachel herself does not realize, he sends her out of the room. Questioning Tyrell, Deckert discovers the secret to the NEXUS 6 line – memories. In their creation, Tyrell has given them all a set of their own manufactured memories. These memories, Tyrell explains, give the Replicants a padding against their own inhumanity. It gives them a buffer against their glaring lack of continuity, and allows them the psychic space they need to develop themselves. This buffer, then, gives them the unprecedented ability to acquire emotion in their short existence.

Later, at Deckert’s apartment, Rachel appears seeking answers to the answers that Tyrell refused to give her. During the VOC-COMP test, Rachel began to suspect that she was a Replicant. Tyrell, by refusing to speak with her about this issue, drove her from the proverbial nest. Rachel, who has run away from her world as she knows it, goes to Deckert. Deckert tells her the truth. Her memories, which she has always claimed as her own, turn out to be that of Tyrell’s niece. Her family pictures, manufactured by Tyrell, which were once her only proof of existence, are shown to be forgeries. In tears, Rachel sneaks out of Deckert’s apartment and into the streets.

The importance of history in the definition of self-concept is not unprecedented in humanity. The human experience plays a great role in defining what humans are. All of humanity’s events, beliefs, and myths provide a framework for understanding. Without history, humans would be as lost and confused as the Replicants. All of the NEXUS 6 Replicants, including Rachel, have a set of fake photographs and memories. These photographs become icons for the Replicants, integrally linked with their concept of self. The six rogue NEXUS 6 Replicants all cling to these photographs, knowing full well that they are not real.

Upon searching the apartment of the Replicant Leon, Deckert find his photographs. Hoping for a clue, Deckert analyzes the pictures carefully using a computer. The picture shows a woman in a mirror’s reflection. The picture leads Deckert to another Replicant, a woman by the name of Zhora who is an exotic dancer at a club.

Deckert encounters Zhora dancing with an artificial snake in a strip club. Zhora’s dance is integrally twined with this serpent. The serpent, in this case, is a symbolic image. The serpent, the central image of kundalini, is indicative of great spiritual change. In a historical context, the rising of kundalini or “life force” in the yogic tradition, is linked with an opening of intelligence or spiritual insight. Thus, Zhora is used as a device to show the infant awareness of self that was budding in the Replicants. Ultimately, Deckert pursues and eventually kills Zhora in a crowded marketplace by shooting her in the back as she flees. Deckert examines the body coldly, and walks away into the night. Silently, Leon (who has observed the death of his fellow Replicant) follows Deckert into a dark alley. Surprising him from behind, Leon begins beating Deckert mercilessly asking:

“Painful to live in fear, isn’t it?”

Just before the striking blow, Deckert is saved by Rachel who shoots Leon from behind. Reeling from the physical pain and mental anguish, Deckert and Rachel return to Deckert’s apartment. Inside, Deckert’s guilt is apparent. Feeling the guilt of the murders of Leon and Zhora, Deckert begins to question his own beliefs. Sharing this trauma with him is Rachel, who realizes that by law she must suffer the same fate of death as the other Replicants. Deckert’s exhaustion overtakes him, and he falls asleep.

As he sleeps, Rachel quietly sits down in front of a mirror. Slowly and deliberately, she begins undoing her tight bun of hair. Her hair falls to her shoulders in curly locks. This symbolic gesture points towards a kind of acceptance of both herself and her womanhood. Releasing herself from the constrictions of society, as exemplified by her prudish bun of hair, she moves towards self- acceptance.

Upon awakening, Deckert encounters her in this state. In moments, they find themselves in each other’s arms. As they fall into a love-making embrace, Rachel bows her head in tears. In this coupling, there is a clear parallel to that of numerous mythical stories. In particular, the story of Adam and Eve bears a most striking relevance. Where in the original story, the coupling of Adam and Eve was the first male-female match of history, so also is a human-Replicant coupling a significant milestone. It is the first occurrence of inter-species love in the history of humanity. The old testament traces the root of all humanity to Adam and Eve. It is not unlikely that the love between Deckert and Rachel is the root of a whole new era of life. With Deckert (the searcher) and Rachel (the mother) we can see foreshadowing of a new future for both humans and Replicants.

While all of this is happening, the other Replicants have been working towards their goal. The last two living Replicants are Roy and Priss. Roy, a combat model programmed for “maximum self-sufficiency,” is the leader of the Replicants. Priss, a “basic pleasure model,” is his lover, and last remaining Replicant female. After having confronted the bio-technician who designed the NEXUS 6 line’s eyeballs, Roy discovers the name and location of a genetic engineer privy to the confidence of Tyrell. Roy sends Priss to meet this man, J.M. Sebastian, at his home.

Priss gets to know J.M., who is far from an enemy. He gives Priss clothing, food, and protection from the elements. Inside of J.M.’s home, there are dozens of genetically engineered “friends.” J.M., a genetic engineer, has created and given life to his own friends. J.M., a genetically flawed individual with a lymphatic disorder, is sympathetic to the plight of the Replicants. In JM, we are able to see a microcosm of the story. J.M., a secondary creator figure, has created life as Tyrell has. Further, he understands the plight and feelings of the Replicants. Perhaps because his own life expectancy is limited by his genetic disorder, he sympathizes with the Replicant’s situation. Upon meeting Roy he is persuaded to bring him to Tyrell.

Surprising Tyrell, Roy begins to ask the questions that he has had for so long. It is a proverbial reunion between the father and the son. The father, the godlike Tyrell, clothed in white robes admires his “prodigal son” with a kind of pleased benevolence. The son, a frantic Roy, puts aside his deference to his creator stating “It’s not easy to meet your maker.” Roy probes Tyrell with technical questions about his genetics, life expectancy, and birth date, until he is at last convinced that Tyrell truly cannot help him. Explaining sadly that “we made you the best we could” Tyrell gazes at Roy resignedly. Roy takes his father by the shoulders and embraces him. Slowly, Roy’s fingers move up to Tyrell’s face. Roy gouges out the eyes of his father, and kills him violently.

By gouging out his eyes and slaying him, Roy avenges his plight. In the story of Oedipus, Oedipus gouges out his own eyes in remorse for unknowingly killing his father. This somewhat altered use of the imagery bears striking resemblances to the classical story. In addition, as in the Mythological fable of Polymnestor, the gouging of eyes was a revenge killing. In the fable, Polymnestor’s eyes were gouged out as revenge for the death of others at his hands. When Roy killed Tyrell, he was symbolically avenging the deaths of the Replicants. So also was he able to ensure that no more Replicants could be made to share his fate. Roy, then, is the motivating force behind the conflict of the Replicants. It is he that masterminded their actions and determined their fate. Roy sought answers and meaning for their lives. He embodies the yang force of the Tao. His actions push Deckert down the path of awakening, and allow Deckert to deal with this journey. He embodies the light. Before Tyrell dies, he shows his understanding by saying:

“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long”

Back at J.M.’s home, Deckert is on the trail of the Replicants. He discovers Priss, and is attacked by her. He is almost killed, but manages to shoot her at close range. She is hit, and in a spectacle of spasmatic mechanical convulsions expires on the floor. Deckert once again gazes into the face of yet another Replicant victim and contemplates his actions grimly. Soon, Roy returns to J.M.’s home. Finding her dead, he begins to howl in pain. He rubs his fingers on Priss’s bloody wounds, and holds them to his lips. Tasting the blood, he begins howling once again and s runs in search of Deckert. The symbolic act of drinking blood, prevalent in numerous religions (especially Christianity), has a clear meaning. Priss, his friend and lover, whose life he considered more important than his own, was what he considered holy. By drinking her blood, he partook of her divine spirit.

Roy and Deckert play a game of cat- and-mouse in J.M.’s rain-soaked loft. At one point, Roy’s hand starts to freeze. Knowing that the end of his own four years is at hand, Roy exclaims “not yet” as if needing time to fulfill some great purpose. To combat the numbness, Roy pulls a long nail from the wood and impales his hand with it. At this point, Roy is clearly taking the role of the Christ-Redeemer. Like Christ at the hands of the Romans before his crucifixion, Roy has sacrificed himself for his cause.

While chasing him, Roy puts his head outside of a window to watch Deckert as he flees. As Deckert runs out of sight, Roy tilts his head and smiles as the rain pours down upon him. Once again, a Christian image (of baptism) is integrally linked to Roy. Roy pursues Deckert onto the roof of the building, and corners him. In a desperate attempt to flee from him, Deckert jumps to an adjoining building. Grappling to hold on, Deckert dangles from a precipice by two hands. As Roy approaches the edge of the building to view him, he is seen in stark contrast with his arms folded and holding a dove. Holding the dove with his arms crossed like a pharaoh, Roy silently leaps to the other building. As Deckert’s fingers slowly begin to loose their hold on the wet precipice, Roy approaches.

“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it’s like to live as a slave.”

Suddenly, Deckert’s fingers fail and he begins falling to the ground far below. At the last moment, Roy saves him by grabbing his wrist with the nail-impaled hand. He draws him up to the roof, and lays him down.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I saw sea beams glitter in the dark beneath tanhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in the rain”

“Time to die.”

Roy looks for the last time at Deckert, and smiles. As the last strength in his body leaves him, the dove he was holding escapes and flies into the sky. As the camera follows the bird, it is seen flying high into a cloudless, sunny sky. It is a proverbial dove of peace, set free in a sky of sunlight and hope. Deckert gazes at Roy in wonder, reflecting upon his sacrifice. Like Christ, Roy gave himself for humanity. For understanding. At that moment, muses Deckert later,

“Roy loved life more than anyone.”

When the police come to claim the body of the Replicant, both Bryant and Gaff are there. Bryant, triumphant in his victory, congratulates Deckert on his accomplishment. When Bryant has gone, the dark man approaches Deckert. Speaking for the first time in English, he tells Deckert that

“It’s too bad the girl won’t live. But then again, who does?”

In that single moment, Gaff shows his understanding of all that has transpired. Deckert hurries home to find Rachel. Desperate to escape the city before someone in the Blade Runner unit finds them, they gather their things. As they run from the building, Deckert spies an Oragami unicorn on the ground. This unicorn, a symbol of purity and light, was intentionally left by Gaff. It showed that Gaff had been to Deckert’s apartment. As before, when Gaff left an oragami chicken, and later when he left behind a human effigy made of a matchstick, the symbol marks a milestone in Deckert’s epic journey. Gaff had known that Rachel was there, and despite the fact that it was his job to kill her, he let them go. Deckert and Rachel leave the city, and true to the romance style, live happily in the north. Thus, the mythical quest ends, and a new era begins.

Somewhere in the country, Deckert and Rachel lived happily. They found peace together, despite their differences. The light and dark forces (Gaff and Roy) fulfilled their purpose of pushing Deckert to his destiny. The cycle of father and son, the redemption, and the myth of creation, came to fruition. Out of the darkness of a 21st century land, poisoned and polluted, rose a new beacon of hope.

To the viewer, this new mythology is a vessel. Tales and mythology are a strong part of the human experience. They help to define humanity. Through the images and icons of the old mythologies of the Greeks, Egyptians, and Indians, our subconscious racial memories are touched, stirring the hardly known emotions of the soul. We take meaning from these images, and make it our own. Through science fiction, we are able to grasp the values and lessons of a time now alien to us. Though the specifics have changed, these lessons are just as valuable as their ancient counterparts. Through Blade Runner, we see an epic quest filled with meaning and symbolism applicable to the human condition.

Written by
Mark Lachniel

Copyright Mark Lachniel, 1998.


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