Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bladerunner: Deckard is a Replicant - But of Whom?

Recently, I had a twitter conversation with some old friends about BladeRunner, one of my favourite films as outlined here.  Specifically, we were kicking around the theory that Deckard is a replicant of Gaff, with Gaff’s memories being implanted into Deckard’s brain in order to fool him into thinking of himself as human.

It’s an interesting theory, but one with which I disagree.  Twitter is not the best medium for outlining a path of reasoned thought, so I figured that this was deserving of some long-form discourse.  The Deckard-As-Replicant-Gaff theory does have some evidence going for it, so I’m going to begin with some rebuttals.

Gaff Theory Point #1: Gaff Knows About The Unicorn

OK, let’s start with the big one – Gaff knows about Deckard’s unicorn dream.  The Gaff Theory purports that the reason Gaff knows about the dream is because it is *his* dream.  Per this theory, that is the *only* way Gaff could know about it.  This doesn’t actually hold up, as Deckard is made aware of the memories implanted into Rachel’s brain and even confronts her with that knowledge in one of the movie’s best scenes:

Scratch that – Deckard doesn’t just confront her with that knowledge, he destroys her.  That’s beside the point however – the key here is that the movie establishes that the memories implanted into Nexus 7 replicants are maintained on file somewhere so that third parties can be briefed on what they are.

With that mechanic established, there is absolutely no reason why Gaff cannot be aware of the unicorn dream via purely bureaucratic channels.

Gaff Theory Point #2: Gaff Is a Jerk to Deckard Because He Hates His Clone

Uncanny valley time!  Gaff resents his non-limping, more handsome, more effective at his job clone because of the inherent jealousy all humans would have against a clone of theirs.  There’s no way that Gaff is a jerk to Deckard just because he’s a jerk…

This is a pure case of confirmation bias.  Gaff is a really eccentric guy.  Look at the way he dresses, the way he compulsively grooms himself, the contempt with which he regards nearly everyone around him, not just Deckard.  A guy with that many OCD-style tics is bound to be a bit combative with someone as schlubby as Deckard.

In fact, the contrasts between Gaff and Deckard would indicate that Deckard is not, in fact, a replicant of Gaff.  The cityspeak patois that Gaff speaks with is never uttered by Deckard.  Deckard shows no penchant for origami, and a much lower bar for personal dress and grooming.

If Gaff is a jerk to Deckard in the film, it is purely because Gaff is a bit of a jerk in general.

Gaff Theory Point #3: Gaff Drives Deckard Around Everywhere To Keep Tabs On Him

How this is supposed to provide evidence that Deckard is a replicant of Gaff is beyond me.  Gaff is Deckard’s Chauffeur… Therefore Deckard is a replicant of Gaff?  You need to line up a few more dominoes than that to make this argument stick.  It’s pretty clear in the first scene that Deckard is not active with the Police force at the start of movie.  Thus, he probably does not have a squad car of his own, and either needs Gaff to drive him around, or needs to borrow a crappy old one from the motor pool. 

If that isn’t enough refutation, let’s look at it from a replicant’s perspective:

Hey, Remember When You Used To Be Me?

If Deckard’s memories were from Gaff, don’t you think there would have been some kind of mind-blowing realization along the lines of:


It’s notable that Rachel apparently has no knowledge of Tyrell’s neice until Deckard tells her about where her memories come from.  It makes sense.  The whole point of implanting memories in the Nexus 7 replicants is to make them easier to control.  Confronting them with the artificial nature of their memories is a situation that Tyrell Corp. would want to avoid, so by necessity, any Nexus 7 would need to be distanced from their source material as much as possible. 

With that in mind, the Police Dept. would likely not want Deckard to be working directly with the source of his replicant memories.

Is this enough rebuttal before moving on to a counter-theory?  I hope so, because that’s where we’re going now.

Deckard is dead.  Long Live Deckard.

The human Deckard was a Blade Runner.  He dies before the events of the movie, a replicant is made of him and allowed to integrate into LA life for a time.  When it looks like he’s pretty functional, they decide to bring him in.

This leads us to the great intro scene at the noodle bar:

Note the roundabout way Gaff approaches the situation.  He challenges Deckard to confirm that he is a BladeRunner himself.  He waits to drop Captain Bryant’s name and waits to see Deckard’s reaction.  It is a probing, testing exchange, because it’s the first time that Deckard’s implanted memories as a BladeRunner are being put to the test.

The reason that Gaff is given the assignment is because Gaff was human-Deckard’s partner.  And the reason Gaff seems like a jerk is because in any workplace, one always gives ones friends the most $#!^.  This also provides a secondary route for Gaff to learn of Deckard’s unicorn dream: Picture the following exchange, sometime in BladeRunner’s past:

  • Deckard & Gaff are on a stakeout together, sitting in their patrol car, being bored.
  • Deckard breaks the silence, “So, I’ve been having this recurring dream lately.  I’m standing around in a forest, surrounded by fog, when all of a sudden, a unicorn randomly gallops by me.  Then I wake up.  Crazy isn’t it?”
  • Gaff raises a perfectly-groomed eyebrow, “I had no idea you were a closet Brony, Deckard. I’m not sure they actually allow Bronies on the force.  I’m gonna need to take this to internal affairs.”
Gaff being Deckard’s old partner also provides an explanation for why he allows Deckard to run away with Rachel, even though it would have been a simple matter for him to “retire” Rachel and then lie in wait for Deckard at his apartment at the end of the film.  Instead, Gaff leaves only an origami unicorn as a calling card, and parting gift, to his old partner.

The natural follow-up question is: How did human Deckard die?  And why bring him, specifically, back as a replicant?

Obviously, the original Deckard had to have been the best BladeRunner on the force.  Since much of the movie has to do with finding the Nexus 6 replicants who are trying desperately to go to ground and hide, the original Deckard had to have some kind of rare ability to “think” like a replicant, and therefore find their safehouses.  This would lead to Deckard finding and “retiring” replicants at a prodigious rate.

This brings us to cause of death.  Killed by a replicant fighting for its life seems pretty likely.  But I tend to lean towards a narrative where the human Deckard, feeling the cumulative guilt of “retiring” so many replicants, takes his own life, having over time acquired just a little too much empathy for their plight for him to handle.  I think that this aligns better with the mood and flow of the film, and also with the way in which Ford plays the character, with more than a hint of nihilism, and existential ennui.

So there we have it.  Deckard is a replicant of Gaff’s old partner, the best BladeRunner in the business who killed himself because he started to care too much.  And just like the original, replicant-Deckard starts to care too much.  This time however, he finds himself a living way out.

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