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Shannon Michal Dow

Playwright    Author    Artist

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BLADE RUNNER REVISITED

Posted by qigongcat on September 22, 2017 at 1:05 PM

With the advent of BLADE RUNNER 2049 hitting the theaters, I thought it might be interesting to look back not at the orginal movie BLADE RUNNER, but at the novel upon which the concept of blade runners is based: Phillip K. Dick's DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?. Interestingly, the term "blade runners" doesn't appear in the novel, although Rick Deckard's job is to hunt down and terminate androids that aren't following the rules humans want them to follow. Instead, androids have the perturbing propensity to be pretty human in their needs and desires, so much so that they might very well be mistaken for actually being human and only a test can determine if they aren't human--usually. The question about what constitutes proof of a living human being is at the heart of Dick's novel (and both films). The main test to determine whether an entity is human or an android is the Voigt-Kampff test, the sole purpose of which is to expose androids, organic entities that are identical to humans, through their inability to feel empathy. The irony, of course, is that some humans can fail the test, just as some androids can pass it. Deckard interestingly, through his own lack of empathy, exhibits evidence that he may be either a human or an android. It is not an accident that Dick portrays Deckard this way. Throughout the novel, Deckard struggles with what is the real distinction between human and so-close-to-human that it takes one particular kind of test to make the determination. Is this determination fair? Is it even meaningful? The answer lies in the paradox that is Rick Deckard.

Rick Deckard is human. Possibly. There is enough evidence to support this conclusion. In a world where empathy is the key determination of who is human and who is not, Deckard does exhibit empathy. Initially he views an android as a “solitary predator” which “had no regard for animals, which possessed no ability to feel emphatic joy for another life form's success or grief at its defeat.” However, as he gets to know some of those he hunts, he begins to have feelings for them. As he escorts the android opera singer Luba Luft out of a museum to a place where she can be eliminated, he buys her a book that contains a picture of a painting she had admired. She sees the humanity in this gesture. “'There is something very strange and touching about humans. An android would never have done that.'” Contrary to his mission, Deckard does not really want to kill her. He sees purpose in her living because of her beautiful voice. He even tries unsuccessfully to stop Resch from wounding her and must then kill her himself to put her out of her misery. After he and bounty hunter Phil Resch ride down in an elevator with Luft where Resch kills Luft, Deckard thinks, “I rode down with two creatures, one human, the other android . . . and my feelings were the reverse of those intended. Of those I'm accustomed to feel – am required to feel.” He detests Resch and likes Luft. Later he observes of himself, “I've begun to empathize with androids.” Since androids are incapable of empathy, Deckard must be human.

Deckard, however, is an android by his own definition. He would define androids as having a strange characteristic emotional coldness and an inability to feel empathy, both of which he exhibits more often than not. Deckard thinks of an android as a “solitary predator” who cannot feel for anything else but itself. Yet Deckard himself is a solitary predator. He hunts down and kills androids, euphemistically called “retiring.” He defends his actions by arguing that Mercerism, Earth's only spiritual guide, finds it acceptable to kill androids by pointing to the“rule of life” of Mercerism: “You shall only kill the killers.” For Deckard, an escaped android

     which had killed its master, which had been equipped with an intelligence greater than that of many human

     beings, which had no regard for animals, which possessed no ability to feel emphatic joy for another life

     form's success or grief at its defeat – that for him epitomized The Killers.

Androids deserve to die, Deckard argues, because they kill humans who feel emotions, yet he thinks nothing of killing androids who also might feel emotions. Androids to Deckard are not truly alive, because as he notes, like a spider, an android feels no empathy. Yet on this future Earth, even spiders are considered alive and, for that reason alone, should not be destroyed. Deckard's ability to kill androids without questioning whether they could be deemed “alive,” shows that he, himself, is one of the empathetic-less Killers.

The irony is that Deckard faults androids for not being able to feel on their own, yet he, too, cannot feel on his own. Like many humans remaining on Earth, Deckard uses a “mood organ,” a mechanical device that regulates moods, in order to program the way he wants to feel. His wife, depressed that most of mankind has emigrated off of the Earth, does not want to use the mood organ because she feels it actually diminishes feelings of empathy. “. . . I realized how unhealthy it was, sensing the absence of life, not just in this building, but everywhere, and not reacting,” she says to Deckard. However, Deckard thinks nothing of using a device that helps him feel emotions. When Deckard tells Luft that androids do not care what happens to other androids, Luft's response is, “'Then you must be an android.'” The android has outed the human. Again, Dick presents the notion that Deckard, if not an android in physical reality, is an android in emotional temperament.

Even the ability to feel empathy as a measuring stick of being human is put in doubt when it is revealed that androids might be able to develop the ability to feel empathy. This seems borne out when Rachael tells Deckard that she and Luft had been friends for two years, that she feels empathy toward Pris because they are the same model, and that she went to bed with Deckard believing that he then would not be able to bring himself to kill any more androids. Deckard is an android who believes he is human. An android is “born” as a full-grown adult, but can only live for four years. As a result, false memories are often implanted into androids to make them think they have pasts. Sometimes they do not even know they are androids. Rachael Rosen, introduced to Deckard as the niece of the man who manufactures all androids, is revealed by the new Voigt-Kampff Altered Scale test to be a Nexus-6, the latest model of androids. Up until the point when she took the test, she was convinced she was human. However, all of her memories of growing up have been implanted in her. Deckard's argument that he is not an android because he passed the Voigt-Kampff test a long time ago is countered by Luft's suggestion that his memory of passing the test is actually an implanted false memory. She even suggests that the human Deckard was killed and replaced by an android Deckard.

Luft's arguments might seem like merely attempts to persuade Deckard to not kill her. However, it is evident that androids have replaced people. Bounty hunter Sandor Kadalyi, sent by the Russians to help Deckard kill six escaped androids, turns out to be one of the escaped androids. There are two Halls of Justice, neither of which knows about the other and one of which is full of androids who may or may not know they are androids. At one time an authentic Inspector Garland of the Mission Street Hall of Justice existed and was at some time replaced by an android. In a world where androids are only allowed off-Earth, there seem to be thousands of androids posing as humans on Earth, whether they all know they are androids or not. Deckard could very well be one of them.

Does it matter whether Deckard is human or android? Not really. The whole point of Dick's novel is that compassion for others is what makes us human. Even if Deckard technically is an android, he is one of those who eventually develops the ability to show empathy. He feels sorrow for Luft's death. He feels pity for Resch when he thought Resch was an android who did not know he was an android. He feels love for Rachael. Some of the other androids, such as Luba Luft and Rachael Rosen, also show some feelings toward their own kind. Deckard's journey in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a striving toward being able to feel true compassion. In the end, he reunites with his wife, a new “man,” human or android, where the two of them show true compassion for each other. 

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