Why It Matters (Part Two of Two)

I’ve always liked the movie Blade Runner, possibly more than I should, even though I never thought it was the utter classic that many geeks feel. There are some problems with it, but for the most part I like its messy charm. The Director’s Cut released later cleaned some of it up in some ways. Removing the awful voice-overs was a mixed blessing. On the one hand the VOs were silly and stated the obvious, but on the other hand they gave the film a nice patina of pulp that I liked. I personally would have preferred if they had been changed to different voice-overs instead of abandoned altogether.

The other major change in this cut was the infamous unicorn dream sequence. In it, Deckard dozes off and dreams of a unicorn running through the woods. At the end of the movie, of course, Gaff makes an origami unicorn. What does it mean?

To legions of fans, the implication was obvious: Deckard himself was a replicant. Gaff made the unicorn because he knew Deckard had dreamt of one. And the only way he could know this was if Deckard was a replicant.

For years I argued against this idea to no avail. And then in 2000, a full 18 years since the movie came out, Ridley Scott committed his crime: In an interview he “confirmed” that Deckard was, in fact, a replicant.

So. There you have it. The matter is settled, right?

Wrong. Wrong for a multitude of reasons.

I reiterate my fruitless argument against the idea of Deckard being a replicant, which is summed up thusly: it makes no goddamn sense. If Deckard is a replicant, presumably built to hunt other replicants, why does he suck at it? Leon only fails to kill him because Rachel shoots Leon from behind. Roy only fails to kill him because of reasons that are Roy’s alone. He’s terrible at this job.

Also, Scott’s explanation that the “missing replicant” is Deckard and not an editing glitch, also makes no sense. Six replicants escape, one of which is Deckard, but the other replicants don’t recognize him, he has no memory of the escape, and is hire to capture the others? Zuh?

Thirdly, if you leave out the unicorn dream scene, there’s absolutely zero ways to explain any of this from within the context of the movie. You can postulate and pontificate and speculate all you want about how exactly Deckard’s replicantness works, but you won’t get any shred of help from the actual movie. As far as the movie’s concerned, he’s a human guy who used to be good at this and is now off his game. That’s it.

Okay, so that’s the actual mechanical problems with Deckard being a replicant. There’s also the thematic ones. Some people like to claim that having Deckard be a replicant is the whole underlying question of the movie: what does it mean to be human? I agree about this underlying question. However, I would argue that it only matters if Deckard is human. With Deckard human, we contrast his own machine-like, emotionless life with that of the actual machines. We then are confronted with the idea that the replicants risk and lose it all just to get a taste of the bleak existence that Deckard takes for granted. We see the difference between machines that don’t know what it’s like to be human and a human who doesn’t remember. And at the end, when Deckard leaves with Rachel, who he now knows is a machine, the line between the two blurs even more. If this is all just the adventures of a bunch of machines, who cares? What difference does it make?

The only reason for Deckard to be a replicant is because you’re sitting in your garage saying “wouldn’t it be cool if Deckard was a replicant too?” which, yes, seems cool until you think about it for ten more seconds and then you realize it makes no sense.

Unless you’re Ridley Scott.

Eighteen years later he decides to “reveal the truth”. Never mind that it makes no thematic or plot sense. Never mind that there’s very little in the movie to support it. Scott pops up in an interview and “settles” the whole issue.

Sorry, Ridley, that’s not how it works. You had a chance to tell the story of replicant Deckard back in 1982 and you blew it. You had another chance when you released the Director’s Cut and you blew it again. Let me tell you how a movie is made, Mr. Scott. You get a script, and then you film people acting it out. There’s more to it than just giving an interview and telling people what it’s about. If you have to do that, you’ve failed at your movie.

It doesn’t matter at all what Ridley says in an interview. It doesn’t matter what issues are raised in the original book. What matters is what’s actually in the movie, and what’s actually in the movie doesn’t support what Scott claims is there.

So that’s it for my two biggest movie-related gripes, both involving directorial hubris. If I were to write a third in this series it would probably involve why Tim Burton’s Batman is a lousy movie, and I may yet do that, but for now I’ll put this to rest.

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