Sunday, February 10, 2008

Is Rick Deckard a Replicant?

Warning! Warning! Warning!
This will be strictly a blog for Blade Runner geeks. Everybody who isn't will rightly turn away with moderate to complete disinterest and/or bewilderment, so I suggest those in that category stop reading right now. Trust me. I'm your friend.

Well, is he?

I, and anybody else, who watched a certain segment of Disk 4 of the Final Blade Runner Cut edition have it on the highest conceivable authority that Rick Deckard is indeed a Replicant. Said highest authority is none less than God, who in the instance goes under the name of 'Ridley Scott'.

That's good enough for me and it should be for you. All the discussions about what means what in the Director's Cut and now in the Final Director's Cut, and especially the unicorn dream/vision, have become utterly and completely nuncupatory, pointless and, let's face it, fatuous. It has been for a long time, of course, because God had pronounced on this matter several times before, but not on video. So there. Canna have more proof than video. Right? Unless it's a conspiracy of sorts, which must needs involve Ridley Scott. Now that makes a lot of sense. Not.

You, too, can watch Blade Runner 'Verse God, Ridley Scott. Courtesy of moi, the internet, YouTube and Adobe. And, let's face it: this is far cooler than the Moses and the Ten Commandments crap! Poor bastard, having to schlepp himself up a mountain after being freaked out by some wally trying to scare the crap out of him by projecting his voice so that it appeared to be coming out of a burning bush. None of this mumpitz today. Just some common-as-muck technology, even though the rendering is a bit creaky. Cause for doubt? Well, a bit further on, though you'll have to buy the DVD set if you want proof, God is more explicit, when he notes that, If you don't get it, you're a moron. Well, couldn't be much clearer than that.

Other commentators on the DVD I watched—Blade Runner actors, writers, a Ridley Scott son, other directors who confessed to being 'influenced' by the movie, yet other cinema and writing-world luminaries and yet other mostly unimpressive talking heads—by and large refused to acknowledge God's authority in the matter. At their most honest they admitted that they really didn't actually like Deckard being a Replicant and hence preferred to ignore it, and never mind God. One who stood out and had a sane kind of perspective on the whole thing was Rutger Hauer (Batty), who said that it didn't change the story and so basically is it didn't matter; though he accepted that Deckard was a Replicant, just like his character. The rest basically said "Screw God. I believe what I want to believe." One of them argued the case against God's recorded! pronouncement on the matter with the convoluted fervor of your average religious nut; only in this instance he was arguing against God. Well, maybe he was an atheist, or the equivalent of it.

There is no Ridley Scott

Go tell Ridley that.

I have acquired renewed respect for Rutger Hauer, an actor I always liked anyway; and who, I think, has been vastly underrated, despite an extensive movie career. His comments on the DVD, plus the simple fact that he basically created that immortal line "All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die." were among the most cogent of the lot.

Back to Deckard and his Replicant-dom.

First of all, with all due regard for Rutger Hauer's cogencies, but I think he's at best half-right when he says that it doesn't change the story. It doesn't change some parts of it, but it majorly changes its spine. It also has what you might call a 'meta'-meaning, which only comes out when you look at the very fact of the denial of God's word by so many others, a lot of them closely involved in the movie, appearing on that DVD.

Purely from a story point of view, we have a major change, in that the main protagonist turns out not to be someone we had erroneously identified ourselves with, and whose 'journey' to finding his humanity we kind of understood as being a 'human' journey. The mold for these stories is classical and if we see Blade Runner that way, then it, despite its profoundly dystopian themes, makes the movie kind of familiar-comfortable. 'Disillusioned former killer-cop finds his humanity by falling in love with robot,' and stuff like that. And, let's face it, that, or a variation on this theme, has been used as a partial synopsis; if, that is, people saw the story at all, and it is amazing how many actually didn't, but just saw the 'world'.

But now...well, there is no 'human' to identify with, but a 'robot' himself. Someone who might not have been alive for all that long before the story starts. Maybe this creature actually never had 'retired' any Replicants at all. Maybe those were just memory implants. Maybe it was just like with the protagonists Michael Bay's The Island, which is an unabashed and fitting action-flick homage to both Blade Runner and Logan's Run.

Bred in a vat, then realesed to the world, Deckard appears very much like a man without a past; unless you watch the voice-over version of the movie, which asserts otherwise; but the voice-over version is shit. There are indications that he has a past, later, but all of these could be manipulative. Personally, I think that Gaff, who seems to haunt Deckard like a monkey on his back, may well be a now-decommissioned former Blade Runner, whose memories were implanted into Deckard so the Replicant could continue to do his job. At the very least Gaff is in on the plot; and so, one would, suspect, is Deckard's (putative) former police boss.

I could go on about all the other consistencies supporting such cogitations, but it's much better to watch the movie, again and again, because it's so cool to discover them yourself. The main point here though is that, once you've accepted that Deckard=Replicant, you're out of your classic-mold story framework, because how can you participate in the journey of something that's not human? No matter how much it thinks it is. No matter how many memories it has and how human it appears to act and respond.

But you see, one of the movie's basic themes is the question about how to define 'human' and how to define what 'makes' one human. Again, like in The Island, does the fact that you weren't born into a human womb with the usual attendant preliminaries, which may include in-vitro fertilization, and that you didn't grow up in the usual way, learning things bit by bit and so on, disqualify you from being classified as 'human'? Does the reason why you were created influence anything regarding your 'human' status? Disregarding your 'true', factual history, if you say, were duplicated at this very instant in a Star Trek Transporter-like device, would that other 'you' be a human being with the same perquisites, legally, ethically, morally, existentially as you yourself? Of what if it were created entirely in vitro and grown in a vat or plastic womb bubble with artificial aminotic fluid, and them implanted with enough of your memories to effectively think it is you. How much, for that matter, do you know you are whatever makes you 'you', given that at any instant you're not really what you were only microseconds ago, and even less so what you were a day ago? How does actual chronology and 'continuity of existence' determine the existential status of what one 'is'?

These are troubling questions and Blade Runner raised them all. It's not the only movie hat has, of course, but nobody claims that. As I argued quite a while ago in a blog, all of this dates far back and is, indeed, another 'classic' story theme, delivered to us and our Judaeo-Christian Euopean traditions by the Jewish concept of the Golem and its status with regards to its human creators. Replicants are golems, albeit not really made from completely 'inanimate' matter; mainly because anybody who knows anything about this realizes that the whole differentiation between the 'animate' and the 'inanimate' is not really what most people think it is. Actually, this may be another bit of terminology that should be discarded, because with what we know now we should also know that it is semantically void.

Blade Runner also advanced the interesting proposition that only by knowing what we are--or maybe exactly and by knowing this thing and nothing much else and then acting upon this knowledge--do we make ourselves 'human'. This is what happened to all the Replicants, because all of them, you may have noticed, had 'emotions'; meaning they were driven by motives other than the 'rational'. Indeed, their emotions were stronger than those of the 'real' humans populating the movie. That the Replicant's emotions did not focus on the same objects of emotion as those of the 'real' humans merely means that they had a different aesthetic, ethical, moral and generally 'symbol' framework of reference. Note that nowhere in the movie is it asserted that Replicants do not have emotions! The purpose of the detection test was merely to figure out whether these are 'human' emotions. And, without being overly flippant, but I have great sympathy for he Replicants' sentiments. For few things make you come 'alive' more than the awareness of your mortality; and if certan death is looming a finite distance in the future and there's nothing you can do about it, the "itch you can't scratch" as Leon put it, this is likely to generate about as much awareness of 'what you are'--mortal, doomed to disappear into the void whence you came--as is conceivable.

In other words, the Replicants actually, by their very nature, are more 'human' than most of us, and for people that is a hard thing to admit. Deckard of course, only figured it out at the end, when finding the origami unicorn revealed the truth to him. He nodded because, I suppose, it not only all made sense to him, but he also realized that events and his actions which led him to this point were, I guess, 'sensible' as well; and maybe he also understood what, if anything, everything that he was about to do actually made sense in that context as well. Meaning that he became a completely realized 'human' in the fullest existentialist sense of the word.

A human, with and despite of his non-human chronology. Ridley Scott made the point so clear that I don't get why some people don't get it.

Those people who don't get it--and there seems to be lots of them, stuck in ruts of thought that in effect make them less-than human, as it would be defined by the movie--demonstrate yet again that stories aren't just what they are but also what they do and what they reveal about those to whom the story is told. In this instance it is probably fair to say that all those who either deny or complain about the fact that Deckard is a Replicant, and who think that it somehow takes away from the story or makes it less accessible or 'humanly accessible', are almost exactly like those so unflatteringly depicted in Blade Runner itself. Like Deckard's putative former boss, Gaff (initially, though he changed as things developed), just about everybody involved in Replicant-creation, the police on the whole, as well as the bllions of ordinary humans, who, by their implicit consent, accepted the existence of Replicants as robots for slave-labor to do the dangerous and dirty off-world work, ranging from fighting and hard-labor to whoring.

That revelation surely must be a pinnacle of irony. I had a good chuckle when it came to me, because it was just so funny. And I do mean 'funny haha', because I have a twisted sense of humor. And I do appreciate that others might not think it quite a humorous; especially those who stand exposed by their reaction, and who have seen fit to react publicly and on record for all to see.

But so be it. The contribution of Blade Runner, as well as the much more widely 'accessible', if you will, Island, to human thought--and, yes, I do mean 'thought'!--goes far beyond 'entertainment', as do the contributions of all great stories.

But, you see, if Deckard had not been a Relicant, all that would not have been so. Which means that I must, respectfully in this case because I respect the man, disagree with Rutger Hauer. Not only does Deckard's Replicant-dom change the story, but in more ways than one it is its essence.


Anonymous said...

Something that never quite seemed consistent on the whole "is Deckard a Replicant" question - and I do agree that Scott certainly intended Deckard to be a Replicant in the movie (the book is a whole different kettle of fish).

If Deckard really IS a Replicant, then why is he consistently outclassed (in a physical sense) by every single other Replicant that he confronts - even the non-combat models?


Till said...

Not every Replicant needs to be 'better, stronger, faster'. Seems to me (and others have noted this as well) that Deckard gets meted out physical punishments that would have killed your average human, or at least would have left them crippled. Deckard gets up and walks away from these situations.

Continuing this line of thought: if Deckard was created as a Blade Runner, then making him more resilient to physical abuse would (a) help him fulfil his function, and (b) make him less dangerous to the humans around him.

All he really needs for his job is resilience and cunning. Plus being a good shot. It's a clever design feature, this aspect of the Deckard design. Whether it was intended by Scott that things should be set up this way: who knows? And it doesn't matter. It is consistent with the story. I must confess that I often retrofit or adapt things in similar ways when spinning mine.