Unresolved questions fuel the biggest debate, and there's no better example in Hollywood than the mystery surrounding the DNA of Blade Runner's Rick Deckard — is he or is he not a replicant? Fans have debated this for years, split between believing he is a form of unaware artificial intelligence, or a man who fell in love with a replicant, bridging the gap between human and technology. Now Blade Runner 2049 is near release, those murmurs have returned, bringing the debate back to the forefront of cinema.
I won't go into the intricacies of the reasons for and against, as they've been covered in-depth over the years. But in a nutshell, for those with hazy memories of the 1982 cyberpunk sensation, the cause of the debate stems down to the Tyrell Corporation creating Rachael, a replicant who, due to being implanted with false memories, believes herself to be human.
Within the fictional world of Blade Runner, this throws open the door for almost any character to be a replicant, with Harrison Ford's protagonist a leading contender. On the flipside, though, the core of Ridley Scott's film is about the nature of mind, of what makes us human. If Rick were a replicant, it would dilute that point; as a human his acceptance of Rachael, his view that she has value, is even more poignant.
Denis Villneueve Intends To Keep The Mystery
To make the debate even more confusing, in an interview with Cinema Blend, Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve revealed that creator Ridley Scott and leading man Harrison Ford still disagree, some 35 years on, on the true nature of Rick Deckard. As well as explaining the different theatrical versions of the movie that show two opposing views on Rick's identity, he said:
Again, Harrison and Ridley are still arguing about that. If you put them in the same room, they don't agree. And they start to talk very loud when they do. It's very funny.
As Ridley Scott has previously confirmed that in his view (which surely counts for something, right?!) Rick is a replicant, Ford presumably believes he is human. But as the man responsible for continuing the mythology, Villeneuve's viewpoint is arguably the most important, as he'll be the one to decide which side of the iconic debate Blade Runner2049 opts to portray. He added:
In the novel [by Philip K. Dick], that characters are doubting themselves. They are not sure if they are replicants or not. From time to time, the detectives are having to go and perform [tests] on themselves to make sure they are really humans. I love that. So I decided that Deckard, in the movie, is unsure, as we are, of what his identity is. Because I love that. I love mystery. That's an interesting thing to me. I really love that.
Although it's not great news for those who crave definite answers, Villeneuve's cryptic approach is the best option. It's within our nature to attempt to find answers, but with storytelling, often ambiguity is the key. Would decades of debate and chatter surrounded Blade Runner had Rick's identity been explicitly revealed from the off? It's unlikely. The gray area fuels speculation, and, dare I say it, it'd be a shrewd movie if Scott and Ford deliberately agreed on opposing public views.
Less Answers Equals More Intrigue
Part of the directors job is to provide the framework for the audience to project, to probe the movie for themselves, to take their own meaning. People have been doing that with Blade Runner for years, and by allowing the debate to continue post Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve illustrates why he is one of the best directors of his generation. It's tantalizing and teasing not to know, but just like the Inception spinning top, the films that stay with you the longest are those that require a careful chewing over after the credits roll.
Mystery doesn't mean monotony, either. By not revealing one way or the other, and using a big reveal as a form of gimmick, Blade Runner 2049 will hopefully leave more questions than answers. For a film diving into the depths of human vs. technology, the not-knowing aspect, where anyone could potentially be artificial, increases the impact of the core theme, helping to humanize replicants even more — crucial for the prospective Blade Runner shared universe.
The decision to include an ageing Rick is a strong indication of how a strong narrative can be moulded to different viewpoints — is this proof that he is human, after all? Or could it be that the Tyrell Corporation created a replicant with the ability to age authentically, granting them their most desired wish. If Villeneuve depicts such uncertainty well, it could keep the debate going for another 35 years.