Blade Runner, Deckard and Replicants

16 03 2015

I’m not going to go over the “is he/isn’t he” debate of Deckard being a replicant. But what I did want to explore is something that has bothered me for a while (since I first saw the movie in 1982, actually), but I think I have an answer for. It is the question from Deckard to Bryant, asking why replicants risk coming back to Earth.

Spoiler Alert: In this piece, I discuss important plot points that may give away elements of the story or the ending. Read at your own risk.

The scene takes place in a briefing room, with Bryant and Deckard viewing information about the remaining replicants (specifically Leon, Pris, Roy and Zhora). The images show their faces, their role/class and incept dates. Deckard first asks “what’s this?”. Then, when Bryant mentions the “fail-safe”, Deckard seems confused. Bryant needs to explain that Nexus 6 replicants have a 4-year lifespan to protect against problems as they come to terms with no history and no memory beyond their immediate past.

On IMDB, and certainly elsewhere, the natural question is, if Deckard is this legendary cop who hunts down and retires replicants, why wouldn’t he know this? Of course, the audience needs some exposition, and working it into the discussion about the renegade replicants would seem to be a natural place to put it. Otherwise, the writers would have to come up with some other device, and one that could interrupt the flow of the story.

This has bugged me for years, but upon recent viewing, I think I came up with an explanation that might fit. It is based on knowing (from the voice-over editions) that Deckard is an “ex-cop, ex-Blade Runner”. What we aren’t told is just how long he has been retired. Given his young age, you might think it was very recently. But that might not be the case.

It is entirely possible that Deckard has been retired for some time, possibly a few years. Again, in the voice-over he talks about having had a “bellyful of killing”, and building up that kind of mental pressure could happen in a short period of time. It is possible that Deckard’s legendary status was established over a few short years early in his career, and he decided “enough is enough” after only a brief period of time.

As a result, it is possible that replicant technology had moved on quite a bit from when he last encountered them, and the Nexus 6 is an entirely new form of replicant, at least to him, and possibly the world. We don’t know just how old the Nexus 6 model line actually is. Maybe the last model he saw was the Nexus 2 (I’m making that up, by the way), which was easier to find via Voight-Kampff and used extensively on Earth as well as off-world. He certainly seems to have to work hard to retire these particular units.

What we also don’t know is how long it has been since replicants were last used on Earth to start with. The opening text mentions that replicants are banned on Earth, but it doesn’t say how long ago that ban started. The replicants that Deckard previously hunted down may have been locally-used units and were runaways, and not ones that tried to return to Earth like the Nexus 6 units apparently have started to do. For all we know, the Nexus 6 units in the movie are the first to try, and that is what has surprised them.

For now, I’m satisfied that his is a plausible explanation for a scene that might seem confusing. Even if it is just enough for me, then that’s fine. I’m sure others will have their theories beyond “the writers messed up”.

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