On Deckard, the Blade Runner

Deckard is one of my favorite characters in one of my favorite movies–Blade Runner. Deckard, a paid police assassin kills replicants when they are out of control or anywhere where they aren’t supposed to be. The movie is an existential examination of what it means to be human–to have self-awareness, to be unique, to have memories, to have purpose, to live your own life. Replicants are artificial human beings, or at least that is the starting hypothesis of the movie. They are used for distasteful, repetitious, or dangerous jobs that human beings do not want to do. Apparently, ethical considerations of treatment are off the boards because replicants are not really people, don’t have parents, are the result of complex DNA experiments. When replicants go wild, however, Deckard is called in by the police to identify and eliminate rogue replicants. So Deckard “retires” replicants who are no longer doing their jobs and are more an annoyance than a solution. By using a euphemism to describe the murder of a replicant, human authorities sidestep the issue of just how human the replicants are or if replicants are really just a name for slaves. The fact is, though, that replicants are such perfect reproductions of human beings that the humans need complex tests in order to identify the replicants. So if replicants are such perfect copies of human beings, why aren’t they human beings? Ridley Scott wanted to cloud the issue further by suggesting that Deckard was, ironically, a replicant as well in his movie version of the book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Phillip K. Dick (in which Deckard is not a replicant). Though Scott’s idea is intriguing, I believe it eliminates part of the ethical question concerning the retirement of replicants, but Deckard’s job certainly fits the bill for a replicant job–distasteful and dangerous. If Roy Batty, the dangerous battle replicant that Deckard must retire, has so much super-human strength, why is Deckard so fallible and weak? Of course, if Deckard were a replicant designed to retire replicants, he would have to be programmed to believe that he was human in order to do his job. He would have to have an unlimited, or undetermined life span, he would have to believe that replicants were a threat to both himself, particularly, and humanity, generally, and he could not suspect for a moment that he himself is a replicant. Ergo he would have normal human strength, suggesting that Deckard is both human and replicant at once, blurring the line between human and replicant to the point where there is no difference between the two. The question of what constitutes a human being is in play as is the right of the government to determine life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the case of the replicants, or do the replicants have rights? All of these questions double back on the society which has created artificial humans, but obviously considers them to be less than human in spite of the fact that hardly anyone can tell the difference. Deckard can “pass” as human, though a suspect one. Deckard as a human understands that the matched euphemisms of “retiring replicants” does not mask the problem of killing humans, and he struggles mightily with doing his job precisely because his profession puts into question the slavery of the replicants, which pushes the existential question to the forefront–what are we all doing working for big government, big business, or big bureaucracy? In the end, I think the story works a little better if Deckard is human, but making him a replicant with an indeterminate termination date certainly is suggestive.