Do Androids Dream of Election Fraud?

This is going to be a short bit (I hope) on the classic Blade Runner sci-fi mystery.

Okay, three things up front:
1) I write sci-fi. I’m not famous, but I do write sci-fi on occasion.
2) Blade Runner is my favourite film of all time.
3) I am a fan of Philip Kindred Dick’s writing, more so than I am a fan of Ridley Scott’s direction. I love both, but there it is.

Okay, so, what’s the point of arguing about this 35 years after the movie came out? None, really, except that intelligent people keep missing the point about the so-called mystery of Blade Runner. There are a lot of clues to support the theory that Rick Deckard was an android, but they’re all based on little film tricks that Scott injected into the film almost as an afterthought.  The only compelling evidence anyone has ever come out with was the unicorn origami conundrum, tied to the unicorn dream. Here’s the thing: the unicorn dream was not part of the original narrative at all. It’s made to look significant to inject a little extra worry into what may have seemed to some to be a bog standard sci fi noir detective story.

The central question of the whole movie is, what does it mean to be human? In fact, one could suppose that the whole thing is a sham, and that anyone in the supposedly human camp could be an android. More shades of Terminator (different director, but the same fears; how do you tell the difference between Them and Us?), really. The central Cold War-era question of trust in the 80s ended up superseding the question of the meaning of humanity, but the film didn’t really ask either question too pointedly, so you are still left to your own devices to interpret the message.

The problem for me is, Ridley Scott isn’t a writer. He’s a director. I like directors. Especially the maverick ones. My favourite is Terry Gilliam, but that’s neither here nor there; Terry’s not really a writer per se, either. But he has a better sense of what the story he’s telling is really about. Ridley made Alien, and then got roped into doing this film. He also went on to make Legend a little while later, a fantasy story featuring a sequence with a unicorn, some of which wound up on the cutting room floor. The unicorn footage? Ended up in Blade Runner for the director’s cut. Ta Da! Neat trick, but it’s not part of the story, and only works because Ridley wedged it in there to make his point.

The central argument is that Gaff knew Deckard was a replicant. I don’t know if Deckard was actually a replicant, but I don’t really care, either, because I remember what the story is supposed to be about: What does it mean to be human? You can have the mystery and still have that question, but it goes unanswered because we’re confused by what we’ve been watching. We saw a human replicant killer fall in love with a replicant, which is a more useful metric than Gaff’s obsessive fidgeting with mini origami figurines. If a man who is trained to detect, hunt down and kill fake humans suddenly falls in love with one, doesn’t that tell you something? Something profound? Something human?

That’s the point of the film. A more cynical Deckard would have ‘aired out’ his girlfriend and moved on. Rachel was cute as heck, but Rick knew she wasn’t ‘real’. His in-built prejudice against replicant invaders and a lifetime of thinking of replicants as The Other would almost certainly have dictated that… except for one thing: He’s a human being, and humans change our minds. We learn. We adapt. We grow. We aren’t as logical and precise as we sometimes aspire to be. We. Can. Change.

Rachel proved herself to be human enough for Rick. In the end, he learned that it was more important to believe you are human, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and to act accordingly, than to have actually been born a human. That doesn’t take away from the so-called mystery, but it does become confusing if Deckard is actually a replicant who has no idea that he is. A (retired) replicant killer who happens to be a replicant that isn’t aware of his identity is kind of profound, too, but it kick-drops the original question into the mud. Why? Because the movie in its final state would rather ask the question, ‘how do we know who is a human?’ It suddenly becomes a question of ‘who do we trust?’ That leads back to the original question, and doesn’t necessarily detract from it, but it DOES obfuscate the point, unless you look really hard at it.

Philip Kindred Dick wasn’t as ambivalent–or as sanguine–about the question. He asked it in a lot of his work. He was obsessed by the idea that real humans were as likely to do inhumane things as any seeming fakes. In fact, his central argument for years (before his untimely death) was that we as humans really ought to try a little harder to behave like decent human beings instead of what he saw humanity becoming.

So, to end this bit of meaningless ramble, I just want you to understand one little idea before you go see the sequel: We are all human. All of us. Even the replicants. It’s up to us to figure that out and act accordingly.


Don't be shy. Tell me what you really think, now.


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