In part 1 we looked at how Blade Runner deals with the thorny issues of memory and identity. The film is deliberately ambiguous in how it presents the characters, both human and replicant, and that provides plenty of fuel for speculation. In this post, we’ll explore the humanity of the replicants and attempt to answer the ultimate question: Is Deckard a replicant? I shouldn’t need to warn you, but **!!Expect SPOILERS!!**
“Wake up. Time to die.”
In the dystopian world of Blade Runner, the replicants seem more human than the humans. They’re more emotional and seem to care about each other, driven by their quest to overcome death. Deckard describes them as machines, but they’re not mechanical. They’re biological and genetically engineered, so are more like clones, made from the same flesh as human beings. When a replicant is killed (or retired), they bleed red blood just like a human. It’s what they have in their heads that makes them different.
Replicants are made to be physically superior to humans in order to withstand the conditions off-world where they work as slaves doing what humans can’t do. They’re manufactured as fully formed adults but are emotionally immature. To compensate for this and make them easier to control, they’re given artificial memories as implants. These help them to create an identity (see part 1), but they may also have the potential to develop their own emotional responses – hence the limited lifespan.
And so the question arises: Is a replicant human if they believe they are?
Most of the replicants haven’t realised what they are – Rachael being one of them at the start. But others, like Roy Batty and Pris, have awoken to their condition and aren’t happy about the way they’ve been treated. This provides a simple answer to the question.
The fact that these particular replicants have rebelled and escaped slavery is all the proof you need that they see themselves as human. They obviously have feelings and a sense that their lives should mean something more than working as slaves. If they didn’t see themselves as human, they wouldn’t have rebelled and they wouldn’t need to be hunted and killed.
Re-read that last sentence.
This is the dangerous idea at the heart of Blade Runner: that some forms of life are more valuable than others. Depersonalising the replicants makes it easier to enslave and kill them. But the film depicts these biological machines as more human than the humans. This blurs and even erases the line between human and machine, opening the door to transhumanism.
By giving machines empathy and feelings and making them better than humans, it stretches the idea of what humanity is. This allows people to argue that the next stage in evolution is for humans to become machines; an insane argument that’s only possible within the framework of the materialist reductionist worldview.
I shouldn’t have to point out that it’s not natural or logical for a living being to evolve into something dead. This is nihilism and it diminishes both life and humanity.
But why does it matter? After all, this is just a movie.
Blade Runner is one of many, many films and TV shows that push the idea of transhumanism. We’re being bombarded with dehumanising and depersonalising stories that tell us we have no intrinsic value or worth. It feeds prejudice and discrimination against ‘the other’ – women, children, anyone of the ‘wrong’ colour or religion or sexuality, the traumatised, the disabled, the poor – the list is endless.
The more people see this kind of behaviour normalised, the easier it is to imitate and justify. It encourages people to see some humans as less human than others. And when you do that, you dehumanise yourself. You might not even notice it happening, and then one day you wake up in a society of psychopaths – if such a thing is even possible.
With that in mind, we can interpret these stories as metaphors or warnings without the need to literalise what we’re being shown. Let’s get back to the film…
Although Deckard is the protagonist of this story, he’s really more of a villain, going around killing poor replicants who just want to understand who they are. Roy Batty is a killer but he’s the true hero, albeit a tragic one – searching for his father and finding only rejection and loss, and then dying a noble death.
Batty is the leader of the group of rebel replicants who return to earth – like fallen angels – to find their maker and demand more life. He comes across as an adolescent discovering himself for the first time: rebelling against his father, defying his conditioning, and determined to be free. He wants to define himself as an individual – the act of a will to power. The obvious reference here would be Lucifer defying God and getting himself kicked out of heaven.
Batty is so keen to get more life for himself because this life is all he has. When he dies, that’s it – all his memories will be gone, like tears in rain. He has no soul. He’s not immortal. He can only cling to life and make as much of himself as an individual as he can before he’s snuffed out. He must create his own meaning with what he has.
In our secular society, many people see human life this way too. The materialist worldview says that this world and matter are the only things that are real, so you better make the most of it. Take what you can, enjoy it while it lasts, and fight the dying of the light for as long as you can. It’s a bit grim, and as we’ve seen, it feeds into the dehumanising agenda of transhumanism.
Despite this, Roy Batty’s death is probably one of the best death scenes on film, and the best final speech:
Prior to this moment, the pair of them have been beating the shit out of each other, so why does Batty suddenly relent and save Deckard’s life?
His body is beginning to fail and he doesn’t have long to live – that’s why he drives a nail into his hand, to give him an adrenalin rush. The nail symbolises the stigmata of Christ on the cross and suggests that Batty is sacrificing himself to save Deckard.
Perhaps, but I think it’s more selfish than that. He doesn’t want to die alone – a very human feeling. Batty saves Deckard because he wants somebody to bear witness to his final moments so they won’t be lost, like all his other memories. Deckard’s presence gives his death meaning.
After Batty dies, the dove he’s holding flies away. This could symbolise freedom and release from slavery, or the soul leaving the body. But does Batty have a soul? Is the dove even alive? It’s probably another electric animal, like the owl in Tyrell’s office. So this final act could be more hollow than poetic – if you choose to see it that way. A deluded machine switching off for the final time.
Batty isn’t the only slave. Deckard is enslaved by the system in which he works. At the start of the film, he’s retired and doesn’t want to take the job. But Bryant gives him no choice. The work has left Deckard feeling cynical and alienated, but he can’t escape. He’s not really alive – just doggedly does his job and doesn’t question his existence. He’s dehumanised and lost in a world of noise. The city is an assault on the senses and yet he seems to feel nothing.
This may be a clue that Deckard is a replicant, but it’s not that simple. In the novel it’s clear that Deckard is human, but the film works either way. Ridley Scott has stated that he sees Deckard as a replicant which is why he included the infamous unicorn scene. But even that can be interpreted in different ways.
Deckard daydreams of a unicorn running through a forest. This could symbolise his longing to return to nature, living as he does in a hellish city where all the animals are artificial. He dreams of a unicorn because it’s a fantastical creature and his desire to escape back to nature is impossible. Perhaps it’s a longing for freedom, or for the sacred, or for love.
If Deckard is a replicant the unicorn would be an implant. So he dreams of something that isn’t real because he isn’t real. It could symbolise his desire to feel special and unique, or that he is different from all the other replicants – destined for what comes in the sequel.
But if the unicorn is an implant, it’s not his memory. And why would you implant a ‘memory’ of an imaginary being? The implants are supposed to help the replicants make sense of their experience and create a rudimentary sense of self. So how exactly does a unicorn implant achieve this?
Deckard is accompanied by officer Gaff who drives him around and mocks him using sarcastic origami figures. He doesn’t do much else in the story and it’s not clear why he has such a problem with Deckard, although he appears to come to respect him in the end. Perhaps Gaff taunts Deckard because he knows he’s a replicant and doesn’t see him as human.
After Batty dies, Gaff congratulates Deckard and says, “You’ve done a man’s job, sir!”, implying he’s not a real man. But it could also be more sarcasm. Coupled with the origami unicorn that Gaff leaves outside Deckard’s apartment, it could mean that Gaff knows what’s in Deckard’s mind – in other words, he knows about the unicorn implant.
But if Gaff knows Deckard is a replicant, why does he let him leave?
Gaff is a mysterious and ambiguous character and I think there’s more to his interactions with Deckard than simple mockery and possible clues to his replicant status. The word ‘gaff’ means hook, but also to reveal a secret. That secret could be that Deckard is a replicant. But that brings me back to the original question:
Why does Gaff let Deckard leave with Rachael?
Deckard starts out dehumanised and gradually comes back to life and rediscovers his humanity. Perhaps Gaff acts as a guide to this process of awakening, leading him back to his true nature and to freedom from the system. This interpretation works whether you see Deckard as human or a replicant.
Gaff acts as a soul guide or psychopomp, like Hermes, the god who guided souls into the underworld. Gaff drives Deckard around, taking him up to the top of the pyramid to see Tyrell – like Hermes ascending Mount Olympus to visit the gods – and then back down into the underworld of the city streets.
The origami figures also reinforce the idea of Gaff as soul guide and may represent the stages of a process of initiation into awakening. The first figure he makes is a chicken or cockerel; next comes the little man with a boner; and finally there’s the unicorn.
The chicken or rooster is one of the symbols of Hermes, or Mercury, and heralds the rising sun. The cockerel announces the dawn, the return of the light, and so represents awakening. This is the first stage of Deckard’s initiation. Gaff makes the figure in Bryant’s office while Deckard is trying to get out of taking the job. It could mean Gaff is mocking Deckard by calling him a coward. But it could also represent the first glimmer of rebellion and the desire for freedom. Deckard is beginning to wake up.
The second stage of initiation comes after Deckard meets Rachael and Gaff makes the little man. This represents Deckard’s attraction to Rachael and the activation of the life force, expressed as sexual desire. If the cockerel stands for the life force at the level of pure instinct, the little man stands for the human expression of that energy. Deckard has grown up and become a man.
The final stage comes at the end of the film when Deckard finds the unicorn outside his apartment. He returns home looking for Rachael, expecting to find her dead. But then discovers that Gaff has been there and has allowed Rachael to live. The unicorn represents the raising of the life force to the highest level and the opening of the third eye. Now Deckard is awake and he can see the truth.
At the beginning of this process, Deckard didn’t know who he was. If you think he’s human, he had fallen away from his true humanity and become dehumanised. If you think he’s a replicant then he never knew who he really was. So Gaff has either awakened Deckard to his true nature as a replicant, or has guided him to reconnect with his humanity.
The question is whether there’s any difference. Either way, his journey represents a return to his true nature, an awakening or liberation from slavery to his old conditioning.
And it’s love that makes the difference – his love for Rachael. The price for that love, is death.
“It’s too bad she won’t live – but then again, who does.”
Personally, I think the film is more meaningful if Deckard is human. In terms of story structure, you already have Rachael discovering she’s a replicant so you don’t need Deckard to go through the same process too – as storytelling, it’s redundant. A replicant falling in love with another replicant is boring, but a human falling in love with a replicant is much more interesting.
What do you think? Share your theories in the comments below…
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