If Deckard's a replicant


Whose is the unicorn dream?

Deckard is an original creation. None of his memories are his own, they were given to him. Someone, some human, must have had the unicorn dream before he did, and then it was implanted in replicant Deckard.



If Deckard's a replicant, who knows Deckard's a replicant? Who's part of this conspiracy?

Let's start with the police chief, Bryant. It looks like Bryant is on some kind of established terms with Deckard. "I need you, Deck. I need the old blade runner," and dang it feels strange to write that noun phrase out in lower case. Bryant and Deckard are not on friendly terms at all, adversarial, but they clearly have some years of shared history. Could it be that all of this just a charade by Bryant? Is he acting the part of a long-term "friend"? Is he being subtle? Is it in character for this replicant-hating police captain to work cheerfully with, and provide sensitive information to, a known replicant whom he only met a few minutes ago?

In which case, who's Deckard based on? Gaff? Except Gaff doesn't seem like a blade runner himself; as a blade runner, you'd think Deckard would know the other blade runners in his area, but he doesn't seem to recognise him when he comes to arrest him at the start of the film. (Or does he?) Also, Gaff walks with a cane, he isn't physically fit to hunt replicants. But perhaps he's retired. Or is Deckard based on Holden, then? This would make a lot of sense, given that Holden was the first choice for the job. Or maybe a combination of them, and perhaps other blade runners not seen?

Alternatively, is Bryant in the dark? He doesn't know Deckard's a replicant at all. In which case, when, exactly, was Deckard built? We know that legal replicants can't have a lifespan of more than four years. Nor can a legal replicant's lifespan be extended; Tyrell seems quite earnest about this. But Deckard's operating on Earth, which is highly illegal, so who's to say he hasn't been operating for years longer, or even decades? ...Except that, as a replicant, Deckard is clearly at the cutting edge of the art, equivalent to a Nexus 6 or even a little way beyond. Let's say Deckard can't be more than a few years old. So does that mean Deckard worked with Bryant for a few years, without either of them ever realising Deckard was a replicant, then quit/retired, went to a noodle bar, read a newspaper, then got dragged out of retirement?

Or... was there a human Deckard once, whom the replicant Deckard replaced relatively recently? Was this the man Bryant worked with? And then he, and his memories, including the unicorn dream, were used as the template for the replicant Deckard whom we see in the film, who replaced the human Deckard, and Bryant was never told, and never noticed?

Given this admittedly large leap... When did the switch take place? Months or years back, while human Deckard was still in gainful employment? Or relatively recently, during his brief retirement? (As long as I'm throwing ideas at the wall, who says "Deckard" has to be entirely human or entirely replicant? Could a switch have taken place, shock, horror, some time during the events of the film? Perhaps as late as the scene where Deckard is on the roof watching Roy die?)

If Deckard's a replicant, but there's a human Deckard at the back of all this, where is he? We can assume he's retired, and that could mean either literally or figuratively or both. Is he dead? If so, who knows about that? How could Bryant, for example, not know about that? How did he die? Did he die on this exact case? Perhaps by the hand of one of the escaped Nexus 6 models? This seems doubtful, given that none of Priss, Roy, Zhora or Leon (or Rachel) seem to recognise him... And the timeline seems narrow. Or if Deckard's dead for some other reason, then how did he die? When? Can memories be recovered from a corpse?

Or, now edging a fair way beyond speculation into fan fiction, if the human Deckard's alive, where is he in reality? And for which of the numerous possible reasons has he not taken this case up himself? Is he offworld? Is he still in Los Angeles, but unable to cooperate? He retired for a reason, after all. What was that reason, anyway? Blade running is extremely dangerous, so maybe he's injured, like Holden. Or maybe he's just unwilling? (When replicant Deckard is asked whether he's ever retired a human by mistake, he says "No." Maybe it's true that replicant Deckard never has... but if human Deckard had, why should replicant Deckard be granted that particular memory?) And if human Deckard is unwilling, but his memories were the ones used to create the replicant Deckard, did the human cooperate in this, or resist it? Maybe they just said, "All you need to do is sit in this machine for two hours, and then we'll be on our way, and you never need to hunt replicants again."

"I was quit when I came in here, I'm twice as quit now." Get it? There's two of him, and they're both retired.

Questions. If Deckard's a replicant, who commissioned his creation? Does anybody in the LAPD know they're employing a replicant? We know (or do we?) that Gaff knows that Deckard's a replicant, because of the paper unicorn. It seems a pretty sure thing that this conspiracy must involve Gaff, maybe even start there. But: remember that using a replicant on Earth is an extremely serious crime, subject to the death penalty. Although the opening text is unclear, this penalty may apply to both the replicant and the person who let it loose. Releasing a replicant on Earth, even if it never discovers or suspects its own nature, is horrifically dangerous to you, the one who released it. And that's before the replicant you created gets given a gun and set to the task of identifying and exterminating other replicants, and that's before the replicant goes off-reservation and starts thinking for itself. So Gaff's part of this? Is the entire replicant-hunting division of the police operating outside the law, and this has been the case for years, or is this a relatively small operation, testing out a new idea? Whose idea is it? Why did this seem like a good idea? Do we think Gaff's that unbalanced?

Why does Gaff pass hints to Deckard? What's his agenda?

Who built Deckard? Okay, this one's relatively easy. If Deckard's a replicant, he's the most convincing replicant in the film. Only the Tyrell Corporation builds Nexus 6 models, although doubtless the corporation has competitors offscreen somewhere.

Asking more out of curiosity than anything else: How long does it take to construct a new replicant? Is it feasible that Deckard could have been built (or is it grown?) in only a couple of days after Holden was shot?

For that matter, who paid for Deckard to be built, and how much did he cost? If they're anything like artificial owls, Nexus 6 model humans must be outstandingly expensive. Who's got that much cash? Gaff? Others in the LAPD with whom Gaff conspires? Retired human Deckard? Maybe the unicorn? Or, even more interestingly, could Tyrell Corporation have taken the job pro bono? Now, what could motivate that?

Now we're cooking. The Corporation must build many replicants for numerous purposes. So, does Eldon Tyrell himself know about Deckard in particular? Suppose he does. Suppose Tyrell takes an interest, and/or this was a particularly special job demanding his personal involvement. Then what's his agenda? Did he meet Gaff? How did that meeting go? Was all of this, in part, Tyrell's idea?

What's really going on when Deckard puts the Voight-Kampff test to Rachel while Tyrell observes? If a Voight-Kampff test can detect even the most advanced replicants, then is it feasible for a replicant to be able to reliably administer this test to other possible replicants? When Tyrell says "I'm impressed," what is he impressed by, really? At first glance it looks like he's impressed that Deckard (representing blade runners in general) managed to get the correct result after testing Rachel, whom he considers to be a difficult subject for the test. At second glance it looks like he's impressed that Rachel was able to flummox the test procedure for such a long time. If Deckard's a replicant, though, and Tyrell knows it, it swings back the other way.

The question of how Tyrell feels about the hunting and "retirement" of rogue replicants was already open, and remains very interesting. But if Deckard's a replicant and Tyrell knows it, then how does Tyrell feel about setting replicants to catch other replicants? Does this further or obstruct his grander goals? Is he just overjoyed at the perfect larger-than-life cyberpunk post-noir tale that his replicant creations are spontaneously acting out in from of him? I can see that.

What if Tyrell is a replicant? We get to go back and ask all of these questions again, that's what! We also have an opportunity to get paranoid: is Gaff a replicant? Is Bryant, is Holden, is Sebastian? Is Zhora a human?

And at the end of the day, the whole idea sure went sour. The four rogue Nexus 6 models are dead, but now Deckard and Rachel have escaped. Does another hapless replicant get sent after them in turn? And so on, until it turns out that there's not a single real human left on Earth...



If Deckard's a replicant, then it seems as if a significant chunk of the film is just outright missing. Honestly, this fact in itself could be construed as a very strong argument for him to be human, because if a thing were such a significant part of the film, surely it would be in the film. On the other hand, it also seems that deliberate ambiguity, and the hugely important discussion about which way it could go, is the "answer" to Blade Runner. So all I'd add is, if you love ambiguity, and open questions, then for Deckard to be a replicant opens up plenty of ambiguity and plenty of open questions.


They're making a sequel. Harrison Ford is on board. He's also visibly decades older. Given the theories above, this alone does not necessarily mean that Deckard of Blade Runner is a human.

There are a lot of different directions that this could go. Blade Runner's ambiguity is one of its great strengths, and I don't see how the sequel could possibly be made without somehow disambiguating the original, which would be regrettable, but I'm willing to be surprised.

Discussion (18)

2015-03-07 00:02:03 by qntm:

"It doesn't make any difference [...], it's completely hypothetical."

2015-03-07 12:22:34 by Quinnius:

http://arstechnica.com/the-multiverse/2015/02/harrison-ford-confirmed-for-blade-runner-sequel/ has another breakdown of this subject in the promoted comments, which may or may not take the fun out of the debate.

2015-03-07 14:01:19 by Tom:

ive always been partial to the idea that Deckard has Gaff's memories theory. http://www.gavinrothery.com/my-blog/2011/10/1/a-matter-of-electric-sheep.html

2015-03-07 21:09:34 by Liam:

In the original book, there's an entire fake police department run by Replicants in order to run interference.

2015-03-09 08:23:11 by Ianso:

Just to throw a spoke in things, it's arguable that Zhora does recognise Deckard... when he's trying to pull off his "dressing room inspector" thing, Zhora is arguably not taking him seriously, and trying to decide whether he (a) is playing a joke on her, because they know each other, or (b) actually trying to pretend to be an inspector. Which could lend credence to him being the missing replicant that Byrant forgot to enumerate.

2015-04-19 20:39:00 by TheCustodian:

Random musings. Another question. Are replicants grown/built as units? Or are they assembled? The fact that they appear as humans and are the product of 'genetic engineering' leans towards the 'grown as a unit' explanation. But Chu mucking around with individual eyes, in at least handful quantities, means maybe they can be assembled - if Chu is making eyes as replacements for humans, then transplant might indicate assembly. I think a lot of these questions turn on timeframes we're not given. We don't know how long the arrival replicants have been in transit or onworld. They've been there long enough to have rental rooms and jobs (Zhora). We don't know when they tried to break into Tyrell. With zero evidence and nought but personal intuition, I'd say Deckard was created sometime after the Shuttle discovery ("drifting off the coast"). Had he been around earlier, he probably would have been sent after Leon rather than Holden. We don't even know how long it is between Holden's mishap and Deckard's noodles. Deckard isn't up to current on Blade Running. The Voight-Kampff is new to him, either because it's actually brand new or because he hasn't been briefed on it, which means it was invented after his implanted memories stop. But he's able to use it. This implies that it's much more of a machine than a technique (to address Sam's discussion of it below). Given its appearance, it seems likely that it's either a pure mechanism or a mechanism with a rigidly defined playbook ("in answer to your query, they're written down for me.") So Deckard could be handed the unit and an instruction manual and sent off. I don't think the operator makes much difference to the process - the operator appears to be mostly there to operate the unit and ask the questions, and the unit's analysis of responses seem to be what matters.

2015-04-22 21:12:21 by Resuna:

I assumed that Deckard retired, but was somehow talked/coerced into letting them use him as a template for an experimental new model. Sort of a "set a thief to catch a thief" kind of thing. Deckard's moved out of LA (doesn't really matter where) and the replicant has inherited his apartment as part of his cover. He doesn't know he's a replicant, and only has standard human strength and agility, but he's got some behavioural similarities like the collection of old photos on his piano. That's basically as far as I got. I really rejected the whole "Deckard is a Replicant" idea until I saw the final cut with the unicorn dream sequence. That sequence, by itself, changes everything. Everything else in the movie is loaded with symbolism, and the unicorn dream and the tinfoil unicorn have to go together.

2015-05-30 20:42:52 by Vondrax:

I am a little new to this discussion, and have seen a great deal of stuff on the various web discussions about how the unicorn dream sequence and the unicorn origami at least heavily imply that Deckard is a Replicant. Nothing I have come across yet explains to me why that is the case. I don't know what else it could mean, or why it is even in the Director's Cut, but neither do I see how it 'changes everything' or is proof of any sort about the 'Deckard as Replicant' issue. Can someone point me to the part of the discussion that clarifies this?

2015-05-30 21:10:29 by qntm:

The unicorn dream is had by Deckard, but he never tells anybody about it. Later, Gaff makes the unicorn origami and leaves it for Deckard. How could Gaff know about the dream?

2015-05-30 22:18:56 by Vondrax:

I guess i am missing the link that a relatively random origami figure implies that Gaff knew about the dream. It's not like he was always making origami budgies throughout the movie and changed to making unicorns after the dream. While it is a fine indicator that Gaff had been at Deckard's place, sometimes a unicorn is just a unicorn. But, I have to admit that I am not well-versed in the intricacies of this issue.

2015-09-07 19:01:59 by Seeronomy:

Do Androids Breed?

2015-10-27 15:18:15 by Resuna:

Gaff knows about the dream because he has information (case notes, or previous conversation with Tyrell personnel, or maybe even involvement with the Deckerd project) about Deckerd's programming.

2016-01-22 19:04:38 by Chris H:

In an early draft of the script, Tyrell was indeed a replicant. When Roy meets him, he kills the replicant version in Tyrells apartment, then discovers a room with a sarcphagus in which the realy Tyrell - cryogenically frozen - is being stored. Roy kills him, too.

2016-02-27 05:05:13 by mikey_asteroid:

In the book Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep Deckard is a human. While this can be changed in the movie version it's not really a side-story of the movie so it's doubtful they changed this aspect of the character. But the main flaw against Deckard being a Replicant is that Deckard clearly doesn't have the strength or stamina of the other replicants - clearly seen in all the fight scenes. He only lasted about 5 seconds with Zhora in the change room, 5 seconds with Leon and 5 seconds with Pris and would have died in all situations without others intervention, or without his gun. And he pretty much failed at fighting Roy in the climax. All of these fights he clearly shows pain and lack of stamina - where as the other replicants show no lack of stamina (especially Roy in the climax) and while they do hint at pain none of them seem affected by it (not by the cold and the boiling water, or as seen by Roy sticking a nail in his hand) Where as Deckard is clearly affected by the broken fingers, knocks to the head making him disorientated and lack of breath from being repeatedly struck or exerting energy to fight or flee. Furthermore, all other Replicants seem to be able to lift and toss Deckard however they want (in a super-human show of strength - even overpowered by the female Replicants) whereas at no point does Deckard even attempt to throw or lift any of the Replicants - so this clearly indicates he also doesn't have the strength of a Replicant. If Deckard was a Replicant and a Nexas 6 - built to fight other Nexus 6 you would assume that he has a massive design flaw compared to other Nexus 6 he is supposedly built to stop - as he clearly lacks the characteristics of the other Nexus 6 characters. In the movie Deckard only stops the two women (using his gun) where as gets pretty much beaten to a pulp by the two male Nexus 6 who simply use their hands as weapons. So it seems unlikely Deckard is a Replicant as he is physically unable to compete with the other two male Nexus 6 he is ordered to stop. So even with his gun, Deckard clearly appears human. Finally no one else in the movie even hints that he is a Replicant (Tyrell doesn't even make any hints or acknowledgements that Deckard is a Replicant) Tyrell even says that he thinks Rachel 'suspects' she is a Replicant - yet there is no hint from Deckard that he suspects that he himself is a Replicant. The Unicorn dream sequence doesn't prove that Deckard is a Replicant as a Unicorn is a mythical creature or purity and Tyrell hints at the purity of the Nexus 6 design - and when Gaff places the Unicorn in Deckard's apartment it indicates Deckard the purity of a Blade Runner Moreover the director's sudden comment that Deckard is a Replicant is probably for marketing decisions for follow up movies, so based on the previous comments he's also made (neither deciding one way or the if Deckard is a Replicant) seems to moot his opinion. And as previously stated, he showed nothing in the film to indicate any story or backstory that Deckard was a Replicant, and furthermore Deckard's flaws compared to the other Replicants indicate that he is human and has human strength and capabilities.

2016-03-23 15:30:44 by Nd:

The unicorn dream was added how many years after the movie came out? Well after the controversy came out and in plenty of time to be used to make more money. If the origami unicorn is proof positive that gaff knew of tbe dream, which if the 3 of them had been dreaming of men with giant erect penises in his previous origami jn the chiefs office? Or are we cherry picking and saying 1 is a hobby and the other is some secret knowledge? If gaff leaves just random origami wherever replicants are, and he leaves one at deckards place, PROOF that he knows deckard is a bot! Except who is in his apartment right then? Not deckard. Rachael, who gaff KNOWS is a replicant, and who he KNOWS is in the apartment, and who he KNOWS has escaped. And who he decides to let go, "it's a shame she won't live" And sure "maybe gaff this, maybe gaff that", maybe gaff only knows how to make 2 things, unicorns and guys with hard ons. They didnt spend much time in the movie going over his extensive origami knowledge. And really, if you were going to create a replicant to hunt others, why create one you have to then blackmail into working? Much simpler to create one that loves his job. And why create one that is drastically inferior to his prey and only survives by luck. Im assuming they're expensive. Why is he eating? They don't show any of the others needing food. Our is it good strategy to throw a honda civic into a battle to the death with 4 abrams tanks? Theres a ton of things that say he's s person, and people obsess about a paper unicorn, that in context of the story, doesnt fit.

2016-03-26 05:32:10 by Agammamon:

"We know that legal replicants can't have a lifespan of more than four years. " We don't actually know that. We know that the *superhuman* N6 models were built that way - at a minimum as a safeguard and potentially because the state of the art doesn't allow packing that much potential into a longer-lived chassis. Deckard, physically at least, has baseline human strength, endurance, and reflexes. Same with Rachel. Personally, I'm of the opinion that Deckard is human and Rachel has an indeterminate lifespan (potentially including the 4 year limit) as a lot of the movie doesn't make sense otherwise. If there's some sort of special replicant hunting ability that would suggest Deckard being a replicant - well, its not shown.

2018-01-07 00:07:21 by qntm:

Seeronomy: nicely anticipated.

2023-11-20 18:03:15 by J:

Why would the unicorn dream necessarily have to belong to anyone? It could be entirely synthetic, created out of whole cloth to act as a marker that Deckard, a replicant with no four-year lifespan limit, is not a natural human. There is another indicator that Deckard is not human. In the novel, it is intimated that most able-bodied humans (it is implied, those with good breeding potential) have emigrated offworld. Certainly all the definite humans we see have some form of disorder; Eldon Tyrell has poor eyesight, J. F. Sebastian has his accelerated decrepitude, Gaff has a mobility issue of some kind. Neither Rachael nor Rick Deckard have any apparent disorder or disability. We know, of course, that Rachael is synthetic, and it hints that possibly Deckard is too. During Roy Batty's interaction with Tyrell towards the end of the movie, Tyrell hints that one of the reasons for the replicants' limited lifespan is that they 'burn brightly', and their enhanced physical abilities come at a cost of reduced longevity. It therefore could be the case that replicants with non-enhanced physical ability would be longer-lived, presumably potentially as long-lived as natural humans- but natural humans without any genetic disease, since their genetics were curated by their maker.

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