(WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the original Blade Runner — you've been warned)
Recently, the new trailer for Blade Runner 2049 hit the web, and for those of you who don’t know me, Blade Runner is my favorite movie of all time. So, this was a pretty big deal for me. Don’t worry; I’m not going to go on a rant about why I love the first one so much. However, I did want to take some time to discuss one of the biggest debates in cinema history (at least I like to think it’s one of the biggest debates in cinema history). If you haven’t had a chance to check out Ridley Scott’s #scifi masterpiece, you might want to stop reading here, because there be spoilers ahead.
For those of you left standing, you’re probably familiar with the uncertainty over whether Rick Deckard is or is not a Replicant. Just in case you need a refresher, Replicants are genetically engineered humans similar to organic robots (androids, for the sci-fi connoisseur). They were originally designed to be physically superior to humans and have varying degrees of intelligence based on the model. the question remains: Was Deckard a Replicant?
The Evidence For
Well, let’s look at the facts. Perhaps one of the most compelling pieces of evidence presented by the Pro-Replicant side is that at some point every Replicant's eyes have a reddish glow (an effect achieved via the "Schüfftan Process" in which a piece of half-mirrored glass is used to bounce light into the actors' eyes). Pris’s eyes glow in Sebastian’s house, Rachel’s eyes glow at the beginning of the film and so on. While this rule is never explicitly stated in the film, Deckard’s eyes do, in fact, glow when he is in his apartment with Rachel, a little more than halfway through the movie.
Another strong argument is the scene in which Gaff leaves an origami unicorn outside Deckard’s apartment. (This scene was only introduced in the director’s cut.) Throughout the film, he has several dreams about a unicorn running through the forest, and the fact that Gaff chooses that figure to leave for him is a little uncanny. While this might just seem like an incredible coincidence, it is revealed that the next generation of Replicants have implanted memories, as shown when Deckard reveals that he knows about the spider from Rachel’s childhood. This brings up the question of whether Gaff knew about Deckard’s dreams, which would mean that they were implanted. However, since Gaff makes several origami figures throughout the film, it could simply be a coincidence, especially because the figures get more elaborate as the film goes on.
The Evidence Against
Now, on the opposite side of the dispute is the fact that in the novel by Phillip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep), Deckard is able to pass a Voight-Kampff test (a test meant to sniff out Replicants) without being detected as a Replicant. It could be argued that he is an advanced model and could not be detected because of this. However, Rachel is a next-generation Replicant, and she is able to be detected by the test (despite it taking more than 100 questions). While this might not have any bearing on the film itself, the source material seems to support the idea that Deckard is simply a human.
Another counterpoint is that Deckard is physically dominated by all of the other Replicants he comes in contact with, all of whom easily defeat him in hand-to-hand combat and almost seem to be toying with him like a cat would. Replicants also have a much higher tolerance for pain and seem to be able to take an obscene amount of damage. The exception, of course, is Rachel, who only seems to possess the strength of a typical human.
Still, even if Deckard was a Replicant, what would be the point of making one that was simply the same as a human? After all, if the Tyrell Corporation was able to make physically and intellectually superior models, why would they take a step back by creating one like Deckard? The counter argument is, in fact, something that Tyrell says in the film about the company's motto being, “More human than human.” So, it could be plausible that they would create a weaker Replicant.
Finally, there is the disagreement between film star Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott over this debate. Scott has stated in several interviews that Deckard was a Replicant, but Ford argues that they both agreed originally that he wasn’t. Now, could this have been a move on Scott’s part to get a more natural performance out of Ford? If so, is it the director who gets to make this call, or is it up to the actor portraying the character? If Ford played the part as a human, does that mean that Deckard was a human all along? Co-star Rutger Hauer has chimed in on this debate by stating that he always believed that Ford’s character was human, which he thought added a deeper meaning to the final clash between them at the end of the film. Was it a battle between man and machine or was it just two Replicants duking it out?
So, in the end, was Deckard a Replicant? Well, the fact of the matter is that it might be impossible to argue one point successfully over the other, since both sides have loopholes. However, this isn’t a bad thing. It means that #BladeRunner is a film that’s unique to each viewer. Personally, I love it because it has different implications each time I watch it. Really, it’s like two movies rolled into one. So, if you’re still trying to decide, do yourself a favor and watch it a couple more times, once assuming Deckard to be a Replicant and once assuming he’s human. Then make up your mind. Or don't. After all, there doesn’t seem to be a right answer.