Delayed sequels have the unfortunate tendency of resolving the ambiguities that otherwise made the original films so appealing. Blade Runner: 2049 is one such film that could very well solve one of cinema’s greatest questions, for better or for worse.
When the original cut of Blade Runner was released in theaters on June 25th, 1982, it did so without a dream-like sequence depicting a unicorn. That sequence was later introduced in a director's’ cut and has increased speculation regarding the true identity of the film’s main character, Rick Deckard. Deckard is a law enforcement officer whose job it is to track down and capture rogue human-like androids (or replicants). The unicorn sequence seemingly ties together several plot elements from the film in a way that has caused many viewers to question whether or not Deckard is actually a replicant himself. With the new sequel ready to hit theaters later this week, now is as good a time as any to revisit this long-reminisced open-ended question and how it might pertain to the story moving forward.
The sequence in question happens late in the film when Deckard is in his apartment, drinking. The added clip shows a dream-like sequence where there is a unicorn charging through a forest. At the end of the film, Deckard finds an origami unicorn outside of his apartment. The origami is a calling card of Eduardo Gaff, a liaison with the LAPD who had been assisting Deckard. Throughout the film, Gaff had made other origami creations to capture Deckard’s attention as he worked through the case. By making an origami unicorn, many people believe that Gaff knew about Deckard’s dream because this dream is common to other replicants. The theory states that basically the origami unicorn was Gaff telling/warning Deckard he is a replicant.
To the Blade Runner initiated, all of the above is explored territory. The details have been studied, and an opinion formed one way or the other. For many years, it seemed that the issue would remain unresolved, too. Actually, that may be part of the reason that the film has found more appreciation today than when it was first released. Existential philosophy is a good topic of debate, even more so when it is at the center of one of the most groundbreaking science fiction films ever made. Not giving us an answer made the film more intriguing over time. New voices gave us different perspectives, and all of this made us that much more motivated to study the details of the film over and over. We enjoyed the puzzle.
Now, with a sequel on the way, all of this hypothesizing effort could be wasted. Perhaps the fact that there is a sequel in the first place (taking place decades later) is proof that there is no question to Deckard’s humanity after all. Perhaps the film’s purpose is to explain how the opposite is possible. Or perhaps we should believe the filmmakers when they tell us that they’ve found a way to continue the story without giving away the answer. For fans of the original, there is reason to be concerned with all three speculative results, which causes us to greet the sequel with at least a bit of trepidation.
Tyrell’s Nexus 6 replicants are supposed to have a 4 year lifespan. This was built-in by their designer so that they could be helpful in their designated roles without replacing humans altogether. Taking place in 2049, the sequel occurs 30 years after the original film. The new film also features Rick Deckard, who is alive, and older. Since 30 > 4, this may be proof that Deckard is human. In fact, the decision to name the film Blade Runner: 2049 may be to intentionally hammer home this point.
This is a concern not just because it robs fans of the beloved mystery surrounding the first film, but also because it simplifies many of the events in the first film. If Deckard is a human, his feelings are genuine. His hatred towards his job is because he finds the work and the people he deals with unpleasant. He’s just another disgruntled worker, rather than the center of a bigger conspiracy. Deckard being human would also suggest that the filmmakers lied to us. Ridley Scott has long eluded to the fact that Deckard was a replicant, and if the sequel goes the opposite direction, Scott was playing us all along. In the original cut of the film, Gaff’s origami unicorn works as a symbol of purity, signifying Rachel. Since the dream sequence with the unicorn was only added later in a director’s cut, Scott may have inserted the clip for no other reason than to just stoke the rumor that Deckard was a replicant after all. The unicorn would also be a sign that Gaff was not after Deckard. The unicorn only served as a reminder of unfinished business, and perhaps Gaff felt sorry for Deckard and wanted him to find some happiness. If Gaff really wanted Rachel for some reason, he had the ability to capture her for himself all along.
But judging a book by its cover is not a good inclination. Furthermore, the idea of the film proving Deckard is human is not a bad one. It would actually shed new light on the original film and would be worth exploring further in the new one. By showing that Deckard is actually human, he would serve as an example of how easily we can all question our own humanity. Mankind may pride ourselves in our accomplishments, but what is the cost of that progress? Deckard may be human, but perhaps in the world we have created for ourselves, that is the worse outcome of the two. Based on the trailers that we have seen thus far with references to a search for the savior of the species, these topics seem like they could be addressed in the new film.
If the reverse were true, this would mean replicants can live longer than 4 years. It seems there would have to be some sort of technological break through to make this possible, as it seemed that the replicants from the original film were simply not built to last very long. Indeed, the replicant known as Rachel was referred to as an “experimental model” of perhaps next generation technology. Proof of this is the fact that it takes Deckard longer to identify her as a replicant than with a Nexus 6. Let’s say that if Deckard was a replicant, he could be of this more advanced build, allowing him to live longer. If this was the case, the new films could be exploring this new technology that has been secretly infiltrated into society, to devastating results. Perhaps the corporations were replacing humans for something more controllable, more profitable, and humanity is dying because of it.
However, if Deckard is a replicant, the implications could cause challenge some fans by causing them to look back at the original film and the character of Deckard in a new, less flattering light. For example, as a replicant Deckard may have a connection with other replicants, which is the reason he was so effective as a Blade Runner. This calls into question everything that he had accomplished. He didn’t have extraordinary skill, he was made for the purpose of hunting down his own kind. He was a tool used by the corporations to fix their problems, not a public servant fighting for humanity. When he is called back into duty in the original film, it is because the humans are desperate. This could be a reason why Roy doesn’t kill him at the end of the film. He recognizes what Deckard is, and for the prolongation of their “species” wants him to live on. The fact that the growth of the androids would come at the expense of humans is not a concept that is lost on him, which is why he has no choice but to flee.
His interest in Rachel, would also not be one of physical attraction. If Gaff’s unicorn was the warning that many people theorized, Deckard had even more reason to flee than to protect Rachel. He may have previously thought that he was human, which would have explained his attraction to Rachel (even though he knew she was a replicant). But after seeing Gaff’s unicorn, that changed. Once Roy was gone, he knew that he was the biggest threat remaining. If Rachel had been captured, there would be proof of another type of android, which could make things more difficult for him. He didn’t feel sorry for her any more than he felt sorry for himself. He needed her because of what she was - an android that only he, another android could identify. In many ways, she could potentially become a tool for him to use for whatever he planned to do next.
Finally, if the film neither addresses nor denies Deckard’s existence as a human, it would feel like somewhat of a disappointment, and a wasted opportunity. This is something that many fans have been waiting a long time to see. We are expecting an answer to the question simply because it is one of the most compelling and frequently discussed aspects of the original film. Glossing over this loose end would leave questions in our minds regarding the motives of the returning characters, as discussed above. It would also suggest that the filmmakers of the sequel were not confident enough in their approach to broach the topic. However, it could signal that the sequel is headed in a new direction.
Given the fact that so much time has passed between the sequel and the original, there certainly would be a lot of things that could have changed. Perhaps the question of whether Deckard is a replicant or not is no longer relevant. Perhaps Deckard’s experiences and skills alone are what make him worth seeking out in the sequel - aspects that don’t change whether he is human or replicant. Finally, removing the question altogether shifts focus to other characters. Deckard is not the main character of Blade Runner: 2049, and because of this the film may not need to answer the question to be compelling. In fact, the question of whether or not Deckard is a replicant may be echoed in similar questions facing the new characters. In a way, this would expand the question beyond the limits of Deckard’s perspective, and by not answering it, this could help the filmmakers make a very profound statement. Of course, we’ll have to watch the sequel to know for sure!
Are you a fan of Blade Runner? What are your thoughts on how Decker’s identity could positively or negatively impact the sequel?