- Watch Blade Runner, the director’s or final cut rather than the cinema version.
- Is Deckard human or replicant? Make notes and give reasons for your answers.
- Watch The Matrix and make notes as to how far the ideas of the simulacrum inform the film.
Blade Runner – click for synopsis
I am always happy to watch Blade Runner. Nevertheless, I hadn’t watched it in some time and saw it with fresh eyes. I don’t think I ever thought of Deckard being a replicant before, although, in a way, when I watched it this time, the film seemed to be saying the idealised norm doesn’t exist at all except off-world. And what is off-world if not a reference to the idea of Heaven?
Watching it this time, it became very clear to me, especially towards the end that Blade Runner can be read as a deconstruction of the Christ allegory. The biggest clue to this is when Roy takes a nail out of the floor to put through his palm, ostensibly to keep his body from dying for a few more moments, but also as part of the function of the story to introduce the crucifixion symbolism. He then picks up a dove before leaping across buildings, saves Deckard and promptly dies himself – saying, “Time to die”, which could mean because he’s a replicant, but also suggest this is the point in the allegory where he needs to die. A dove, the symbol for peace, flies off as he does. His saving of Deckard mirrors Christ’s dying on the cross to save us from ourselves, which was one of the central points to the story I seem to remember. The deconstruction puts the sacrificed figure in the ‘bad man’ category and the saved one in ‘good’ category. Roy asks, “Aren’t you the good man?” (Now that I see this, I feel a bit dim for not seeing it earlier. It seems very obvious.)
We can surmise that Deckard is a replicant because he has a memory of a unicorn at one point indicating that the memory is probably implanted. But it also tells us on a different level of the storytelling that myth is part of the theme of the film, or the frame within which it should be understood.
Gaff is one of the policemen who comes to find Deckard to ask him to retire the replicants. Online we are told his ‘dislike’ of Decker is because he knows Decker is a replicant*. Gaff also makes small unicorns implying he has seen Deckard’s files and knows what memories he has stored in his head. I’m not sure if Gaff dislikes Decker since he seems to have been at Decker’s home in the final scene and lets Deckard and Rachael get away. He could have ‘retired’ them if he really felt strongly. We know he was there because he left one of his tiny paper unicorns behind. His character is limited due to screen time, and so a struggle to be fully rounded, and he does seem to serve mainly as a function of disposition.
Aside from the above clues to Deckard’s real identity, or rather in conjunction with them, there are plenty of unspoken and subtextual pointers to underlying conflict in him, which could suggest he is an advanced replicant. He seems empathetic towards the replicants. He doesn’t answer questions when asked about his past, leaving us and Rachael guessing. He doesn’t answer about having taken the test himself. He seems reluctant to kill the replicants and appears to be sad when he kills the first female, Zhora Salome.
*Rest assured I resisted the urge to search until after I’d answered the question for myself.
I wrote down some thoughts about the film in a post filed under notes when looking at Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and had watched it before spending some time looking at quantum physics documentaries on Youtube. I also did so before seeing an article about writer, Philip K. Dick who was convinced he had ‘seen’ that we existed in several realities at once following dental surgery.
“Dick goes on to describe the visionary, mystical experiences he had in 1974 after dental surgery, which he chronicled in his extensive journal entries (published in abridged form as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick) and in works like VALIS and The Divine Invasion. As a result of his visions, Dick came to believe that “some of my fictional works were in a literal sense true,” citing in particular The Man in the High Castle and Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, a 1974 novel about the U.S. as a police state—both novels written, he says, “based on fragmentary, residual memories of such a horrid slave state world.” He claims to remember not past lives but a “different, very different, present life.”
Finally, Dick makes his Matrix point, and makes it very clearly: “we are living in a computer-programmed reality, and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs.” These alterations feel just like déjà vu, says Dick, a sensation that proves that “a variable has been changed” (by whom—note the passive voice—he does not say) and “an alternative world branched off.”” (Jones, 2014)
As I suggested before, The Matrix writers draw on Baudrillard’s writings to such an extent that there is a prop in the film which looks like the book, Simulacra and Simulations, but is in fact a secret hiding place for computer floppy discs that hold illicit games on them. This refences not only the theory but also things which look real are in fact not. The film draws on ideas about simulated worlds becoming more real than actual reality, but there is little to say in the film that any of the worlds are in fact real. Even the one Neo ends up in might be a faked world. However, the faked aspect doesn’t protect anyone from dying because fake becomes the real despite not being so in the first place. The film also draws on developing quantum theories about multiple realities in the universe, The Many Worlds Theory and Hologram Theory. Hologram theory suggests quantum information is held at the edge of the universe and everything we see is a resulting product. As posted elsewhere on my blog, there are those who are convinced this theory will be proved correct. (Solon, 2016)
Of course at the moment it is not possible for a layperson to say either way (unless you have some weird epiphany following dental surgery perhaps). However, some of the themes and suggestions in the film can be seen as metaphors for very real scenarios. The idea that we can affect our physical world via thought is not far-fetched although flying about in an underground station probably is. Alexander Technique teaches you to simply notice habitual patterns in the body, and then to imagine changing them. For example you might imagine the spine lengthening. You should not try to DO this, simply to think about it a calm place and over time the repeated practise will in theory lead to relaxation, which in turn allows the biological parts to take up more actual space rather than being condensed causing pain and what some see as inevitable shrinkage as we age. My own experience while at drama school suggests that following the instructions and practising daily during rehearsal periods did lead to physical changes, or at any rate the perception that they had occurred.
The other thing about the film which links to quantum theory is the way in which consciousness works. No-one fully understand this at the moment, hence the fact questions pertaining to consciousness are known in science, physics and philosophy as The Hard Question.
J. Jones, 2014, Philip K. Dick Theorizes The Matrix in 1977, Declares That We Live in “A Computer-Programmed Reality, Open Culture http://www.openculture.com/2014/02/philip-k-dick-theorizes-the-matrix-in-1977-declares-that-we-live-in-a-computer-programmed-reality.html [22/12/16]
O.Solon, 2016 Is our world a simulation? Why some scientists say it’s more likely than not, The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/11/simulated-world-elon-musk-the-matrix?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+main+NEW+H+categories&utm_term=194421&subid=11118875&CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2 [22/12/16]
The Matrix Synopsis http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093/plotsummary [22/12/16]
Blade Runner Synopsis http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083658/plotsummary %5B22/12/16%5D