The Replicant I Used to Know

By Niclas Hermansson

Another installment in the web serial “Deck-a-rep?”

Recently, director Ridley Scott decieded to officially declare Rick Deckard a replicant. The rafters rang with mirth in the replicant ghetto on the net! Deckard is a skin job!

The debate doesn’t end there, though. Still, many fans reject the concept as such. Those fans claim that the movie becomes pointless for several reasons: a less-than-human hero has low identification value, the human being/artificial being interaction is lost, the hero’s spiritual awakening becomes superfluous etc. Very intelligent arguments, indeed. Nevertheless, I would like to argue that the fact that Deckard is a replicant doesn’t make the movie pointless, it is the very point of the movie.

Originally, I think Ridley Scott’s intention was just to imply the possibility. What is human and what is not? Where to draw the line? These are important questions in Blade Runner, if not the most important ones. At least, it was the most important questions for Philip K. Dick when writing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the novel which Blade Runner is based upon.

Deckard is no standard hero, but more of an anti-hero. He’s very human, almost weak: drinking too much, living life as a loner, gaining a few pounds too many, not getting along with his collegues. The world he lives in is merciless and unforgiving.

When Deckard has to face the superhuman strenght and speed of the replicants it’s easy to sympathize with him. Even more so as the replicants lack the ability of feeling pity or showing mercy, while Deckard is gravely disturbed by the fact that he has to kill them.

Finally, when Deckard finds the origami unicorn in the end of the movie, the viewer realizes: I have actually sympathized with an automaton. It’s like to pity a vacuum-cleaner! But if Deckard isn’t human, then who is? In other words, the viewer has to confront the same dilemma as Deckard does in the movie!

There are other arguments as well. The dehumanization of human beings is an essential concept in socially conscious sci-fi in general and hardcore cyberpunk in particular. Personally, I find it easier to identify with a mechanized freak and find the thought of the dehumanized hero almost romantic. As actor Rutger Hauer puts it in Paul M. Sammon’s Future Noir:

“I always felt the subject of Deckard being a replicant was a matter of an emotional understanding. He certainly behaves like a replicant, because he’s so programmed. Ironically, through their very actions, you understand that it is the replicants who are free.”

Scan the net thoroughly and you will find hardcore cyberpunk fans who actually are dreaming of modifying and augmenting their minds and bodies with cybernetics. They stand for an extreme philosophy, but nevertheless, they’re moving the borderline of humanity further away.

The dehumanized hero is more than a stylistic feature of hardcore cyberpunk, though. It’s also a social statement of radical science fiction. The question is not if Deckard is dehumanized. The question is if you and I can become dehumanized in this society.

Finally, speaking of both stylistic and moral concerns once again, I think Deckard being a replicant correspondes well with the film noir tradition. The approach in film noir movies is fatalistic, almost defeatistic. Deceit and abuse are standard means of success and survival. Little people don’t stand a chance.

In Blade Runner, it doesn’t really matter what Deckard does. He doesn’t even know who he is, the ultimate deceit. Deckard is just a pawn in the game, a complex game played by the megacorporations and the police. A machine is killing other machines, not really of any concern for human beings.

I quote the director Ridley Scott about Deckard being a replicant, once again a quote from Paul M. Sammon’s Future Noir:

“To me it’s entirely logical, particularly when you are doing a film noire [sic!], you may as well go right through with that theme, and the central character could in fact be what he is chasing…”

Whether Deckard is a replicant or not doesn’t change facts, though: Blade Runner is a truly enchanting movie. Almost twenty years have passed and we’re still asking us the same question Philip K. Dick did: What is human?

Written by Niclas Hermansson

Image artwork by SpoonyBardess