Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Blade Runner Analysis - Where is Mercer?

Journal Entry No. 3

In 1968, Philip K. Dick wrote wrote one of the most compelling cyberpunk novels in history, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Fourteen years later, in 1982, Ridley Scott directed the cult hit film, Blade Runner, loosely based on Dick's previously mentioned novel. Between that span of time something dramatically changed in the tale of the bounty hunter, Rick Deckard. Both the movie and the text are meant to question us on what exactly is human? To answer this question, Dick and Scott use completely different androids and characters in support of their arguments. The novel asks, “what if a bounty hunter felt empathy for the androids he is meant to kill?” The movie asks, “what if an android could feel, or perhaps mimic, empathy?”

The movie left out a key character from the novel, the religious figure Mercer. “He is the focal point of the universal religion of humanity in the novel, the savior and God. He is a figure that the murderous androids, who the bounty hunter Rick Deckard is charged with finding and 'retiring,' do not understand and absolutely hate. Mercer represents the embodiment of “empathy,” an emotion that the androids lack and that the humans share amongst each other” (Waking the Midnight Sun, par 1). Throughout the course of the novel, Dick shows how similar androids are to humans. As a reader, it is easy to feel empathetic toward the androids – indeed, Deckard is shown to have feelings toward the androids, which is a major problem for a bounty hunter. By the end of the novel, though, it is clear that there is a severe distinction between androids and humans. Mercrer acts as a support in this. Androids can never feel empathy, and to further prove this, they can not understand Mercer or his religion, a physical representation of empathy. In fact, it is not so much that humans need religion: Mercer is shown to be a “fake” near the end of the novel. It is more about how humans will always feel the need to be connected. “Mercerism” allowed them to do just this. The novel also examines the question of, what if an obviously human person cannot feel empathy because of a mental disease? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? suggests that humans will always be able to tell the difference between people and androids – maybe not always by a manufactured Voight-Kampff test, but humans will be able to feel that androids are inherently strange. Deckard is able to feel this distinction, and is able to connect with Mercer. Deckard, in the novel, is obviously human. So, what does it mean when Mercer is removed from the story? What if Deckard's humanity was removed the story?

Despite the differences between the novel and the film, “Blade Runner is [still] explicitly concerned with the question of what it is to be a human being” (Mulfall, par 1). Mercer is removed, but a new character replaces him. This character's name is Gaff, and he works in the same department as Deckard. Throughout the movie, with several scenes of dialogue and a daydream scene, it is supposed that the Deckard in the film has a severe difference from the Deckard in the novel: he is an android. According to the director of Blade Runner, Rildley Scott, “the whole point of Gaff, the whole point in that direction at the very end, if Gaff is an operator for the department, then Gaff is also probably an exterminator. Gaff, at the end, doesn't like Deckard, and we don't really know why. And if you take for granted for a moment that, let's say, Deckard is Nexus 7, he probably has an unknown life span and therefore is starting to get awfully human. Gaff, just at the very end, leaves a piece of origami, which is a piece of silver paper you might find in a cigarette packet. And it's of a unicorn, right? So, the unicorn that's used in Deckard's daydream tells me that Deckard wouldn't normally talk about such a thing to anyone. If Gaff knew about that, it's Gaff's message to say, 'I've basically read your file, mate'” (Grenwald, par 32). The image of a unicorn is an important one in the film. A unicorn can be seen several times if one is paying attention. The unicorn is an interesting choice, because in Deckard's dream, it is as if he is having a memory of a unicorn, which obviously could not be real. Instead of simply meaning that it is a strange dream, it can be said the dream, or memory, was manufactured. “Perhaps the most important aspect of the recently released director's cut is the footage of Deckard's dream. He dreams of a unicorn. This is directly referenced at the ending in which another blade runner, Graff, leaves an origami Unicorn outside Deckard's door to signify that he is allowing Deckard to escape with Rachael. By this inclusion, Scott lends weight to the 'Deckard as a replicant' concept by implying that another blade runner knew Deckard's dreams” (Reagle, par 5). Ridley Scott seems to be providing an entirely different scenario than Philip K. Dick. Scott seems to think that androids would be able to mimic humans to a much higher degree than supposed in Dick's novel. The androids in Blade Runner seem to have empathy for other androids, while in the novel it is said that androids would kill another android without thinking about it to save their own “lives.” Scott seems to think that androids could feel, or perhaps mimic, love for each other, hence the last moment in the movie, where Deckard runs off with his new love, Rachael. Indeed, Blade Runner can be seen as a love story, which is a severe difference between Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In the novel, Deckard find out that it is impossible for him to love an android. The fundamental differences between the two stories may explain the reasoning for the different titles. In fact, the words “blade runner” never even appeared in the text.

Ridley Scott also plays with the idea of one finding his own creator. “By having a race created by man, Scott can portray a confrontation between creator and created, or to place it in a more human context, a confrontation between God and Mankind. Roy is seeking longevity, and finds Tyrell, the designer who masterminded the Nexus 6 Replicants.... In a similar way that Man rejects God for having made him sinful, so too does Batty reject Tyrell, when Tyrell cannot offer him salvation. However, Batty is in some way saved by the end when he saves Deckard's life, and the symbol of the dove released into the heavens, and the nail through Roy's palm, are quite clear in representing him as a Christ figure making his ascension” (Scott, par 5 and 6). Blade Runner should be examined as a story of androids, not just that of Rick Deckard, like the novel. In this way, it becomes obvious why Mercer is absent from the movie. Mercer is meant to be the prime example of differences between humans and androids. Ridley Scott's film supposes that androids, being so close to humankind, would mimic them in such a way that they would incorporate empathy and love into their lives. In the case of the androids, Roy Batty becomes the Mercer of humans: the physical representation of empathy.

If androids could pass the Voight-Kampff test and show empathy, would that make them human? I still feel that we would be able to feel a difference. I think that both tales explain the need to never make robots too much like humans. In Dick's version, androids are a human made project gone wrong. In Scott's version, androids are a sacrifice for selfish human desires.

Works Cited

Grenwald, Ted. “Full Transcript of Wired's Interview with Ridley Scott.” Wired Magazine: Issue 15.10. 26 Sept 2007. 01 Oct 2008.<>.

Mulhall, Stephen. “Picturing the Human.” Blade Runner Insight. 16 Dec 2002. 01 Oct 2008.<>.

Reagle, Joseph. “The Parting of the Mist: An Analysis of Blade Runner.” 1995. 01 Oct 2008. <>.

Scott, Simon H. “Is Blade Runner a Misogynist Text?” 01 Oct 2008. <>.

“Mercer and Krishna: Blade Runner & The Bhagavad Gita.” Waking the Midnight Sun. 31 Aug 2008. 01 Oct 2008. <>.

No comments: