I saw Blade Runner in a theater in Aspen Hill, Maryland, during its debut summer release in 1982. I had seen the preview and was mesmerized by the idea of a near-future interpretation of a film noir detective story. It looked so cool, and it was, but not quite what I was expecting. That was certainly the case for many critics and audiences.
Few films have achieved the cult status and critical acclaim Blade Runner did after flopping at the box office. And even fewer films have spawned as much controversy. Specifically, and most controversial, has been the question of whether or not Blade Runner Rick Deckard is himself a replicant. the artificial humanoids Blade Runners are tasked with killing when necessary. I’ll never fully understand why some people seem to want Deckard to be a replicant. Phillip K. Dick certainly didn’t write Blade Runner’s inspirational novel, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, that way. It is the human/replicant conflicts that drive the story.
I guess some have a weird desire to bend the story to fit their own ideas or perceptions of some secret or some revelation so that only they among a select few understand what others are missing. It seems it is a desire to be unique, to appear elite and more sophisticated and knowledgeable than the general public; a desire to put their own stamp on something even if it goes against logic and fact. Unfortunately, holding onto such an opinion in the face of contrary evidence only makes them look like what they are trying to oppose and separate from. Instead of appearing more insightful and intellectual about the issue, they look quite narrow-minded and ignorant of the truth, failing to see past their own creative and observational prejudices.
Blade Runner is a great cinematic example of Occam’s Razor. But fools rush in and simply must over-complicate and over-science. I find such mentality to be misguided and destructive to the inherent message of the story that the creators worked so hard to deliver. Don’t turn the story into something you want it to be. Accept it and enjoy it for what it is. This is the arch fault of most film critics. I swear, so many of them don’t really seem to enjoy the movies they see. How many have written a successful screenplay — one that made it into production? How many have acted in or produced or directed a film? How many have academic backgrounds in film? I find most critics verbose and cliched as they attempt to be witty and appear insighful. Anyone can be a critic as they so readily prove.
Of course, none of this explains why director Ridley Scott was so hell-bent to make Deckard a replicant ten years after the film’s theatrical release with his infamous Director’s Cut. Nor does it explain how a director of his stature could put out something like Prometheus — a film so riddled with plot holes and disconnects that I simply could not take my own advice and enjoy it for what it was.
Blade Runner prevails by being such a cool throwback to film noir detective movies and a touching love story all set in a remarkable and original future world. It is surprisingly simple and beautiful and doesn’t deserve all the rampant speculation and conjecture it has had to endure over the decades. Count me as one of the most dedicated, stubborn, long-suffering, and fanatical believers that Deckard IS NOT a replicant! He simply fell in love with one.
I've read many arguments against my position. And I've made my counter-arguements. But more than what clues and implications we all take from the various versions of the film, I have always believed that the sheer beauty and power of the film rests on this: that Deckard, as a human, not only finds himself falling in love with one of the beings he has hunted and killed during his career, but incredibly has his life saved by, not one, but two different replicants! First of course is when Rachel shoots Leon -- a replicant killing another replicant, no less; and secondly, when Roy shows a truly human side of himself and saves Deckard after trying so hard to viciously kill him. If Deckard is a replicant, then these stunning events lose all meaning, all of their power, and all of the beauty of the film is wasted. If they are all replicants, who cares if they fall in love with each other. We already get that from Roy and Pris. But a human and a replicant -- now that is something truly endearing.
It’s argued that Deckard’s unicorn dream in the Director's Cut(s) is part of proof positive that Deckard is a replicant. I completely disagree. Those who believe that this scene somehow overshadows all arguments in favor of Deckard's humanity don't get to have it both ways. They don't get to point to the Director's Cut as being definitive while ignoring the original theatrical release and its voice over. The Director’s Cut was released 10 years after the theatrical release! This would be tantamount to a director’s cut of Gone With The Wind being released ten years later in which we discover that the real reason Rhett Butler didn’t want to stay with Scarlet is because he was gay.
Denis Villenueve, director of the superb Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049, got it right when he said he doesn’t like director’s cuts. “I will say that there’s no great things that are being lost. When I cut something it’s dead. It means it was not good enough. Even if sometimes I’m cutting my favorite shots, I still strongly think that when it’s cut on the floor of the editing room it should not go back to see the light of day again.”
Those who disagree don't get to have it both ways. The original theatrical release is every bit as canon as everything else in the Blade Runner universe. You don't get to pick and choose the elements that fit your argument. All of it must be considered.
Which means that everything Deckard says during the often maligned voice over in the original theatrical release is valid and true. It is legitimately canon -- as canon as anything else one might point to. Which would, for example, shed quite a bit of doubt in that the LAPD would have allowed its secret Deckard replicant to have a wife! "Implanted memories" the Deckard's-a-replicant crowd will counter. The back story and infrastructure of Deckard having always been a replicant destroys the fundamental conflict in the film. Why make the movie at all if it's not about a human and a replicant and the intriguing conflicts their relationship creates?
But I believe the most powerful argument against the unicorn viewpoint is quite simply explained. Recall that fellow Los Angeles officer Gaff says, "It's too bad she won't live. But then again, who does?” Clearly he is showing sympathy for Deckard and the fact that he has fallen in love with a replicant. If he knew Deckard was a replicant, why would he care about the two of them and why would he single out Rachel's imminent demise?
When Deckard returns to his apartment to get Rachel, he discovers that Gaff has been there and let her live. Why didn't Gaff kill her? Why did he let them escape? Again, he had sympathy for Deckard's situation. And most importantly, the origami unicorn can easily be explained away. A unicorn is a symbol for good luck. Gaff was leaving a little message for Deckard that he hoped everything would work out for he and Rachel. Deckard's little nod of acknowledgement when he picks up the unicorn shows he understands and appreciates what Gaff has done. This simple gesture negates the unicorn dream's supposed significance in the Director's Cut -- an addition that looks ridiculously out-of-place ten years later.
In retrospect, the film maintains its brilliance as one of the most influential science fiction movies of all time. And the phenomenal Vangelis soundtrack, just like the movie, continues to inspire my own musical creativity.