By my foolproof calculation, 99.78% of audiences sitting down to enjoy Blade Runner 2049 this weekend are going for one reason: to see if they get an answer to one of the oldest debates in cinema. Is the protagonist of Ridley Scott's 1982 cyberpunk sensation, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) a replicant? With a thrilling investigation interlinked with events from Blade Runner, finally, we have an answer.
Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Blade Runner 2049.
OK, the above isn't strictly true. Those who want an explicit answer will be left lacking, as director Denis Villeneuve, along with scriptwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, keep a veil of intrigue around the subject. But let's not lose hope. Like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is a film that leaves room for projection, its nuance elevated by its ambiguity. And where there's ambiguity, there's scope for speculation.
There is evidence to back up either side of the argument, no doubt a deliberate ploy. Since he was announced as director, Villeneuve has sent mixed messages into the public sphere. He originally promised fans that he'd tackle the topic head on, before backtracking and saying Blade Runner 2049 wouldn't answer definitively:
"So I decided that Deckard, in the movie, is unsure, as we are, of what his identity is. Because I love that. I love mystery. That's an interesting thing to me. I really love that."
A Human Deckard Makes More Sense In 'Blade Runner 2049'
However, this (admittedly subjective) article will argue Deckard is human. To understand why, first the mystery underlying the story gives a clue: the discovery of bones by LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling) that reveals replicants are capable of reproduction. Further still, those bones belonged to Rachael, who conceived a child with Deckard after the events of the original Blade Runner. K is tasked with finding the missing child, who is still alive, before the revelation becomes mainstream knowledge.
K works for the LAPD's Blade Runner unit, whose aim is to keep control by hunting for rogue Nexus-8 models. Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) highlights emphatically why the news of procreation would undermine such control: "Tell either side there's no wall... You bought a war." What she's saying is that, as things stand, replicants — initially designed as slave workers — are kept at bay because they are deemed inferior to humans. But, if they can reproduce with humans, the barrier between them is erased.
In the political landscape of this cyberpunk future, this means that replicants and humans can mingle, create offspring, and both be on equal footing in society. Consider the significance of this development, and how it plays into the Deckard replicant debate. The most logical explanation is that Deckard is human. If replicants could have children amongst themselves, although hugely significant, it'd still keep the current divide between them and the human race.
Even Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott disagree on Deckard's nature. The former believes him to be human, the latter replicant. In Blade Runner, both of these arguments center around Deckard's love interest, Rachael. When she is first introduced, she is unaware of her synthetic nature, having been implanted with false memories. This is the spark that casts doubt on Deckard's nature, too. But even then, Deckard's love for Rachael would be more of a statement if he were human.
Niander Wallace — Troll Or Replicant Revealer?
Aware of the eagerness of audiences to find an answer, Blade Runner 2049 enters full-on troll mode during Deckard's meeting with Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Talking to Deckard about his love for Rachael, Wallace says: "You were programmed well..." Cue exasperated gasps from the audience, only for that to be followed with: "If you were programmed. It's love, or mathematical precision."
In one sentence, Wallace acknowledges both sides of the debate. His behavior also ties in with the belief Deckard is human. He purchased the remnants of the Tyrell Corporation off the back of his ability as a genius synthetic engineer. Based on that, Wallace would know if Deckard was a replicant, or at least perform the relevant tests. Instead, by telling him he was "programmed," Wallace is trying to get under Deckard's skin. He knows he's human, but he also knows Deckard will have struggled with those doubts over the years due to his relationship with Rachael.
Deckard's response to Wallace's interrogation technique is telling. Wallace has touched a nerve, Deckard grimaces as he says: "I know what's real." But he doesn't fully mean it. The doubt remains. This element of doubt takes inspiration from the novel the original Blade Runner is based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. In the novel, Deckard is tormented by the thought that he can't be sure of his own nature. Dick wrote Deckard as human.
The beauty of Blade Runner 2049, and the ingredient that makes it remarkable, is that it'd be just as easy to argue the opposite. It's primed for multiple viewings, with each viewing guaranteed to throw up something new, something that'll change the perspective. So I'm prepared to be corrected on this. And if this perspective is wrong, the ending of the film doesn't lose any impact. Because ultimately, Villeneuve's film tells us that, replicant or not replicant, there is no divide.
Where do you stand on the debate? Did Blade Runner 2049 help you decide if Deckard is a replicant?