Blade Runner (The Final Cut): Rick Deckard, More than Meets the Private Eye
Written Review by David Carter
I think Blade Runner’s biggest strength as a work has always been its place in the canon of great films as a mood piece and a feast of design. If you’ve ever read anything about the film or watched the incredibly in-depth documentary about its inception called Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner then you know that while the film wasn’t destined for immediate critical or financial success, it was destined to influence writers, visual artists, and directors for decades. What you mostly hear those people talk about is how lived in and fleshed out the world is, or you hear about how the lighting and cinematography redefined how you could visualize science fiction. If you’re a part of the fan conversation, the discussion inevitably leads to talks about the different cuts of the film, whether or not Deckard is a replicant, and occasionally about the philosophical themes of consciousness, morality, and faith. Because of Blade Runner’s highly visual impact, people tend to gloss over one of the great things about science fiction and how it relates to this film:
What does this film say about the modern world?
I’ve mentioned this before when I talked about the film Colossal, but in short, what makes science fiction such a unique genre is that you can couch all these big serious ideas (or more aptly, anxieties) about the modern world into the texture of something fantastical and far off. The more entertaining the text and the closer you are in time to the material, the easier it is for the allegory to slip through the cracks. The further away you get in time, the allegory becomes more obvious to everyone. Like I mentioned earlier when it comes to discussion of the deeper themes of Blade Runner people to tend to wax poetic about the implications of the soul of a machine, but there’s a deep vein of discussion to be had about what those machines represent and what is Deckard’s relationship to those machines. And on this most recent viewing, there was one scene that stuck out in particular to me. A scene that even my un-woke (asleep?) teenage self always found uncomfortable and kinda pointless even after subsequent viewings.
The forced consent scene between Deckard and Rachael.
This scene can feel like it comes out of nowhere for Deckard’s character, who up to this point has been kind of a lovable anti-hero. Someone who reluctantly (but adequately) does his job as a blade runner and has a few drinks to take the edge off, but then all of sudden he becomes a brutish sexual predator. It wasn’t until this viewing that I realized that it wasn’t the film taking a hard turn left, the film makes it explicitly clear who Deckard is. I had been taken in by Harrison Ford as a persona and brought my own empathy for the replicants to the table. I was already seeing replicants as people, but Deckard from the very beginning does not. Like almost everyone in Blade Runner Deckard has no qualms about abusing and killing these machines. It’s not an accident that the film implies replicant humans are on the same level as replicant animals. They’re not even second class citizens, why should they be treated as such? The element of having the charismatic Harrison Ford cast as Deckard is genius because you see him as a “knight in tarnished armor” type similar to Philip Marlowe but underneath he’s so much closer to Hank Quinlan. He’s bigoted and brutal but he shrugs it off with a smirk.
So, what is it about the forced consent scene that clarifies the themes of this film and also Deckard’s relationship to the replicants? Well, if replicants are supposed to be these stand-ins for historically disposable and abused people, be it Black people (which is how I read the film on this viewing especially with all the anxieties about how replicants are physically superior to humans), Chinese, Jews or anyone else I’m forgetting (I think there’s also an interesting reading of how veterans are treated in this film) – then Deckard is just another complicit hypocrite. Replicants aren’t anything to him until he needs something. In the case of Rachael, she’s a warm body to relieve his anxiety. He can sweet talk to her up to a point but eventually, he has to put her at a remove. The week he guns down a replicant peacefully trying to make a living, is the same week he goes to bed with a replicant. Deckard is the equivalent of a “Blue Lives Matter” cop having an abusive relationship with a black woman. Yet, I understand that this is all a part of his arc within the film. It’s only after his harrowing and soul-shaking encounter with the antagonist (and in my opinion hero) Roy Batty that something clicks inside him. Yet it’s only the first step in a long and unseen road to Deckard viewing Rachael and all other replicants as conscious beings.
This viewing was the “Final Cut” of the film, but each cut has slightly different levels of ambiguity to Deckard’s own humanity. When you take that into account along with the “prejudice” reading of the film, his humanity can drastically change those relationships. If he’s human then he’s a bigot coming to terms with that bigotry. If he’s a replicant then he’s someone who’s been culturally brainwashed and has to engage with this newfound inner conflict with his heritage. Ambiguity is an interesting wrinkle to fold into allegory but I think it makes the movie that much more fascinating.
Blade Runner is a film that’s been picked over and analyzed countless times. I’m positive that there’s writing out there that picks up and goes much more in depth about what I’ve written here. I just wish things like this were more a part of the discussion of this film. There’s been a small outcry lately that Blade Runner is another case of a film that’s style over substance (and emotion) and has been overpraised, but I think this is a symptom of people focusing on the same things ad infinitum. It’s a film that deserves the same level of thematic discussion as any other sci-fi classic, even if you have to dive into some uncomfortable territory to find it.