Is Deckard a Replicant?
The question has become almost as a famous as the movie to which it refers: Blade Runner. Now widely regarded as a classic (and a recent newcomer to the AFI’s revised list of the 100 greatest American films), Blade Runner is now showing at the Music Box as what’s fittingly called the final cut. The newest version is the culmination of distribution and editing controversies that have followed the film since before its 1982 premiere. There are multiple nuances to the various versions of the film, but the problem that has always stuck is whether Rick Deckard, Harrison Ford’s hard-boiled detective in a dystopian 2019 Los Angeles, is one of the “more human than human” android Replicants he is assigned to hunt down. Director Ridley Scott and his screenwriters couldn’t agree on the matter, even though the answer is a clear “no” in Philip K. Dick’s original novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In all previous versions, the evidence has been inconclusive.
There’s no ambiguity in the new version; Director Ridley Scott definitively states that Deckard is, in fact, a Replicant. When I was watching the film, however, I started to wonder if that question ever mattered. What matters is that Blade Runner is a modern classic, decades ahead of its time, and Ridley Scott’s magnum opus. The final cut is a must-see not because it answers the famous question, but because it’s even more stunningly beautiful, complex, and dark on the big screen than any home video version could be.
The changes to the new version are as follows: Harrison Ford’s voiceover, always the black sheep of the original version, has been cut. The graphically violent sequences that were cut out of the director’s cut have been restored. Some of the crowd scenes have been restored, and some scenes were re-shot to solve minor continuity errors. Few of these changes will cause any uproar, and in fact, the added violent scenes make the film darker, more disturbing, and better.
The change everyone will be talking about, however, is the insertion of Deckard’s unicorn- dream sequence. This is the original version shot in 1982, distinct from the similar sequence in the director’s cut, and has never previously been seen. Because Deckard’s partner Gaff (Edward James Olmos) leaves Deckard an origami unicorn at the end of the film, the unicorn sequence definitively states that Deckard has manufactured false memories, which make him a Replicant. The sequence will infuriate some of the film’s diehard fans: One of the greatest questions of 20th century cinema has been answered from above, taking the decision out of the fans’ hands. Imagine if Shakespeare had stated 25 years later that Hamlet is, in fact, mad.
What the sequence doesn’t change, however, is just how masterful the film’s thematic complexity and moral ambiguity remain. The questions of the ethical and political significance of artificial intelligence and genetic engineering have only become more poignant over the last 25 years. The head Replicant Roy Batty, with an all-time great supporting performance by Rutger Hauer, is still a morally complex and sympathetic Christ-like figure, even as he demonstrates undeniable evil. (One of the new changes, where Roy now calls Replicant designer Tyrell “father” as opposed to “fucker,” only further expands on the Christ imagery.) Sean Young’s Rachael is still devastatingly tragic as she begins to realize that she is not human. And the question of what exactly it is that makes one human as opposed to a Replicant is still unclear, even if Deckard’s position on the spectrum is not. It’s no coincidence that Deckard’s name is a play on the name of a certain philosopher who once asked what it is that makes us human.
The real benefit of seeing the film at the Music Box, however, is that the film has never looked or sounded more beautiful. The final cut features a stunning new digital restoration, and the visuals are still more innovative and aesthetically enticing than years of CGI have ever accomplished. Vangelis’ score, which itself has become legendary in music circles for its ingenious mixture of classical and electronic composition styles, gains levels of complexity in full theatrical sound that no home theater could fully convey. There will be a massive Blade Runner box set released this Christmas on DVD, HD-DVD, and BlueRay that contains every version of the film, and there’s a chance it may come to Doc in the winter. I wouldn’t take that chance: if you have any interest in science fiction (or American filmmaking) at its very best, go see Blade Runner in theaters now while you still can.