This weekend, I was with my cousins of 14 and 15 years old who began to be interested in science fiction and as a film buff I could not help showing them what is best. So I unsheathed the heavy artillery with Blade Runner’s Blue Ray. And then, at the end of the film, came the fateful question.
“So Harrison Ford, is he a replicant or not?”
“No it’s an actor!”
The answer was complicated, the debate lasting for 37 years. But I will try to answer it now.
So for those who think that I am speaking an obscure Pakistani dialect, I will make a quick rewind.
37 years ago, in 1982, to be exact, what was going to become one of the cornerstones of sci-fi cinema was “BLADE RUNNER” from Ridley Scott (at the time he was still making good films).
Blade Runner is the adaptation of a short story by the cult and over-adapted author Philippe K.Dick. “Do androids dream of electric sheep?”
The film strangely draws its title not from the short story in question but from an Alan E.Nourse novel. The story takes place in Los Angeles in 2019. Advances in science have allowed the Tyrell corporation to create replicants, androids endowed with consciousness and who are apparently identical in human beings. The colonization of space is underway and the main task of the replicants is to serve as slaves on extraterrestrial settlements. This is where one of the main themes of science fiction comes in: The revolt of the machine.
And yes tired of serve humanity, the replicants cause a bloody revolt and are consequently outlawed on earth. The title Blade runners are special police units that track illegal replicants.
The film’s plot focuses on the character Rick Deckard, a taciturn and disillusioned blade runner played by Harrison Ford. He is responsible for investigating the presence of a handful of fugitive replicants on earth, finding them, and then shooting them down.
Very loaded symbolically “Blade Runner” depicts in a dark film atmosphere a dystopian future drowned under the advertising and monopolies of multinational sprawling.
And … despite having reached its expiry date (No, we have not yet started the colonization of other planets), its aesthetic remains timeless and quickly made it one of the greatest representatives of a sub-genre of science fiction that responds to the sweet name of Cyberpunk.
By the way, the film is visually very inspired by a comic strip created in 1976 by the late Moebius and Dan Obannon: “The long Tomorrow”. Dan Obannon who will also become the scriptwriter of “Alien: the eighth passenger”, by the same Ridley Scott. And yes, it is a smallworld.
The aesthetic will be many years later repacked with a little more clumsiness by Luc Besson for “The Fifth Element” but here we move away from the subject.
“Blade Runner” is also a huge musical band of Vangelis (for my dad), but especially the famous and sublime end monologue of Rutger Hauer, the actor who plays Roy Batty, the leader of the replicants. A monologue that I post here for those who would like to see him again crying tears of blood.
but if you have not seen the movie yet, do it first before spoiling your face shamefully.
Little digression, but there is something that has always fascinated me, it is the relationship that seems to exist in the 80s between science fiction and underpants. I do not know what the correlation is but there is one, it’s clear.
Whether Rutger Hauer in this film that declaims philosophy in slip on a roof, Sigourney Weaver in Alien, or Sting who …:
Here of course I only take a few examples among the most famous but from there to detect a general diagram there is only one step. At the same time, you are an actor. Rutger Hauer, he is there in the rain in kangaroo underpants of space and he gets to ask you an iconic monologue of the history of cinema. Respect!
It’s a bit like Marlon Brando’s monologue in “Julius Caesar” with a propeller cap.
It should be noted that over the years according to the various international markets, seven versions of “Blade Runner” have emerged. A beautiful mess so that necessarily accentuated the aura of mystery that reigns around the film. Among these seven versions, three remain the best known:
- The version of the producers of 1982, which can be found for rent on youtube.
- Director’s Cut of 1992
- And the final version of 2007 which is the closest version of the original vision of the director.
And that’s where we come to the theme of this article, the main debate of “Blade Runner”: What is the nature of Rick Deckard, our main character hunter of replicants? Is he himself a replicant without knowing it or a human being?
“Fascinating question, isn’t it!”
This is a very common theme in science fiction, that of identity:
- what is a human being ?
- Where does self-awareness begin and end?
- Can a machine have a soul?
In the 1982 version that the producers had imposed after quite disastrous test projections, the deckard character is clearly presented as a human and he even pays the lux of a happy ending.
At the time Harrison Ford had just linked the first two “Star Wars” and the first “Indiana Jones” and that the general public was not really ready to see him embody a more ambiguous character that could be cowardly or unpleasant.
On the other hand in the director’s cut version of 1992, but especially in the Final Cut of 2007, which is widely recognized today as the final version of the film, the subject is much more troubled. The end makes the intelligent choice to give no clear answer and to leave a huge doubt about the nature of Deckard.
This question of Descard’s identity is precisely what spawned these bloody version battles that drove Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford and the producers to continually fight each other during filming, but also during years that followed. To the chagrin of the film crew.
It’s a difficult question: Who owns a film in the end, its director, scriptwriter or audience? And probably a little at everyone.
Once the film is made available to the public, it becomes a kind of Frankenstein’s creature, which takes a different form for each viewer and even more when he deliberately try to scramble the tracks as does “Blade Runner.”
But in the end, after years of patience and effort, Ridley Scott won an end to Blade Runner, an end that gives depth to the film, precisely because the debate can not be resolved and that each spectator is led to make his own interpretation. This debate is one of the iconic and controversial figures in the history of cinema.
This exciting question gives all its aura of mystery to the film and that’s why …
“Ridley Scott, FUCK YOU!!!!”
After having held for a small decade in the wake of the director’s cut, leaving the suspense hanging, Ridley Scott has finally ended up revealing in an interview that Descard is a replicant.
SO WHAT? What’s new? You’ll tell me, and rightly so. Ridley Scott has never hidden that for him Decard is likely to be a replicant, but why? WHY?
When you create a voluntarily ambiguous ending it’s not, then, to fuck it with a premature interpretation. It’s a bit like Paul Verhoeven was making a statement today saying that in “Total Recall” it was all just a dream. Or if Kubrick had decided that the end of 2001 was simply a trip under hallucinogenic mushrooms of Dave Bowman.
The interest of a debate like that of “replicant / not replicant” is precisely that one is supposed to be unable to answer definitively. the interest is the questions, the philosophical vertigo, the fascination of the mystery of the possibilities, not the stopped answers which will inevitably be disappointing and limited, a little like the scenario of Robin Wood (from Ridley Scott).
So yes, you are going to tell me,
“Hey that can be easy open ended no? It’s especially that the director could not make up his mind that he made a foolish thing to do! “
This is all the more common since the 2000s and the beginning of the internet era have shown that once people have set foot in unrestricted access to information, they tend more and more to want to over-explain everything at all costs. And we get the reboots and prequelles fever, that is systematically give a justification and a past to characters who do not necessarily need. Especially when it is Descard in Blade Runner when it comes to characters whose interest lies precisely in the mystery that surrounds them.
- It is necessary to explain the birth of “Aliens”, one makes “Prometheus”.
- We must explain the genesis of Sadako and Annibal, we do “Ring 0” and “Hannibal Rising”
- Ditto for The Thing and its version of 2011, prequel that does not even bother to change its title to dispel the confusion, while everyone thought it was a remake.
- Or the semi-Arlesian “Exorcist: The Beginning” (by the way, a little advice, prefer him version of Paul Schrader: “Dominion: prequel to the exorcist” which is better, well a little better.)
An exception to this is the masterful Joker in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”. This guy has no identifiable past, no identity, it’s a free electron. That’s what makes him scary!!!
Of course we are not immune to a prequel or they will explain that it is scarred by eating a mister freeze.
But for now we can leave the benefit of the doubt.
The human being needs a bit of mystery, it is essential, for better or for worse, that’s what allows him to show imagination, analysis …
Forgive me Mr. Scott but you have no legitimacy to say that Deckard is a replicator, or so if but your opinion is not worth more than that of another spectant. No, the debate is and will still open!
Blade Runner has had a sequel in 2017: “Blade Runner 2048” that I have not seen. I do not know what direction the script took, but seeing the empty shell of “Prometheus”, directed by the same Ridley Scott, I dread the worst.
It’s a very difficult balance, as much in the cinema as in any form of creation, knowing where and when to stop.
There is a fundamental rule to the cinema, it is the value of the off-camera. The off-camera is what the viewer can not see, but that makes work his imagination. This is a fairly simple but essential mechanism that creates a good deal of the intensity of the cinema experience. We could push that to a rule that is called the off-film rule, ie what the viewer does not know. The off-film is not described in the film, but the viewer can guess through some clues, which opens up an infinite number of possibilities to the imagination.
This off-film is precisely what gave birth to some myths absolutely fascinating as for example the space jockey fossilized in Alien which we know nothing! (finally until “Prometheus”), or again, there is the debate on the nature of Descard in “Blade Runner”, which is necessarily much more interesting than any attempt at definitive answers.
I’m not against trying to enrich a universe but, you have to be careful what you touch and how you touch it. There is something that deserves to be touched. In the case of “Raging Bull” by Martin Scorsese. It’s a genius oneshot, it’s typically the kind of movie you have to leave alone …