Narrative Enigmas

What are some of the gaps and enigmas in Blade Runner?

After seeing Blade Runner, the viewer is left with many unresolved questions. This may be frustrating, but at the same time it provides for a good deal of debate!

Let’s have a look at some of the puzzles in the film.

Firstly, we are never really told what has happened to the city of Los Angeles, or the world at large, in such a close future scenario (2019). Clearly the film is an exaggeration of tendencies that are already inherent in our society today, such as the increasing prevalence of technology, pervasive media and advertising, genetic engineering, the widening gap between rich and poor, depletion of natural resources and climate change, and so on. Presumably these factors (among others) have all intensified to a point where a dystopia has been created. In Philip K. Dick’s novel, the world has been badly damaged by a nuclear war, which may have also happened in Blade Runner.

Is this city the result of nuclear war or extreme environmental degradation?

We also are not given any information about the off-world colonies. Where exactly are they? What do they look like? Who lives there? Are they really ‘golden lands of opportunity and adventure’? Perhaps colonising other planets is a very recent activity and no proper civilisation has been built up – this may explain the use of replicants for labour (although they are also used as personal slaves for the rich). It is said in the film that you need to pass a physical test to emigrate to the off-world colonies; presumably you also need a certain amount of money. This may have resulted in mainly the ‘unfit’ and poor being left on earth.

How did it come to be that one corporation seems to dominate the whole city, and perhaps the world as well? The role of government is completely missing in Blade Runner. The only hint as to a governmental/legal system is the text at the opening of the film which states that replicants were declared illegal on earth. But apart from that, we are not made aware that any form of government exists in the Los Angeles of 2019, which may imply that government has been minimised to such a degree as to be essentially out of sight. It is the Tyrell Corporation that is really within sight in the film. The idea that an increasingly smaller number of large corporations dominate the economy and are gaining power over governments is not radical – it is discussed with concern by many, and it may even be an objective factual trend (see the documentary ‘The Corporation’ for a good overview).

The two 'temples' of the Tyrell Corporation seem to dominate the city - notice the white light shining upwards into the heavens...

What about Deckard…is he a replicant?

There are many questions we can ask about Deckard. The most obvious and debated one is whether or not he is a replicant. Overall, we do not really get much of an idea of who he is…and of course, what he really is. There are simply no firm answers. Ridley Scott has suggested that Deckard may be a replicant, but other people involved with the film have argued against that, including Harrison Ford himself. So what happened to Deckard’s family and his former wife? It seems reasonable to view Deckard as not really a ‘good guy’ at all, even though he works for the police (which probably means little in a corrupt system). He has presumably done similar blade runner assignments before, although perhaps not on Nexus-6 models – so how many replicants has he killed? His perception of replicants is certainly altered throughout the course of the film, as his life is saved twice by two different replicants and he ends up in a sexual relationship with one of them.

Is the unicorn ‘dream’ actually a dream that Deckard really has as he is sitting at his piano? It seems like a strange thing to envision. But why would Ridley Scott put that in and then have Gaff leave an origami unicorn at Deckard’s apartment door? Gaff says tells Deckard he has done a “man’s job”, and then reminds him that life is temporary (“it’s too bad she won’t live..but then again, who does?”). These could be read as strong hints to Deckard’s true replicant nature. Gaff may be a character who actually helps Deckard and Rachael in the end.

And of course, the conclusion of the film: where are Rachael and Deckard going? Is there any escape? Do Gaff or other blade runners come after Rachael in an attempt to retire her?

Is this Deckard's moment of realisation regarding his true nature?


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