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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve: Deckard is human

Has the director finally settled one of the hottest debates in modern cinema?

Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve with actor Ryan Gosling, left, who appears in Blade Runner 2049. Courtesy EPA/ Alejandro Garcia
Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve with actor Ryan Gosling, left, who appears in Blade Runner 2049. Courtesy EPA/ Alejandro Garcia

Denis Villeneuve, director of the eagerly anticipated, 30 years-in-the-making, sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic film Blade Runner, may have settled one of the most hotly debated topics in contemporary cinema – is Deckard a replicant?

Deckard, the movie’s main character, played by Harrison Ford, who reprises his role in Villeneuve’s sequel, is a Blade Runner – an elite police officer whose job is to hunt down and ‘retire’ (kill) escaped replicants – a race of artificial humans bred as a slave labour force for space colonies. The original film, particularly in Scott’s later alternative cuts, left a huge question mark over whether Deckard himself was unknowingly a replicant.

Speaking to The National at the film’s international press launch in Berlin, about this debate, Villeneuve says: “I didn’t find the answer in the movies, I found the answer in the book, where there is so much contact between replicants, between humans and non-humans that they start to doubt their own identity.”

Fans of ‘the book’ – Phillip K Dick’s short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), on which Blade Runner is based, will be aware that the literary Deckard is very much human – the book deals with the way in which Deckard becomes increasingly dehumanised through his brutal job, while the replicants become increasingly human as they seek their own identities, to the point where the two start to converge. If Villeneuve is using the book as his source, rather than the ambiguous movies, then it would seem the Deckard we will see in the new film is definitely human, although Villeneuve suggests that the question is in fact more important than the answer: “I love that sensation of creating questions about this paranoia about ourselves. I like asking questions, I’m not so bothered about the answers. I like this idea of, ‘Is Deckard a replicant or not?’ To ask the question is interesting, to have that tension.”

Director of the movie Denis Villeneuve and cast members Ryan Gosling, centre, and Harrison Ford participate discuss the forthcoming Blade Runner 2049 film at Comic-Con in San Diego on the weekend. Reuters / Mario Anzuoni
Director of the movie Denis Villeneuve and cast members Ryan Gosling, centre, and Harrison Ford participate discuss the forthcoming Blade Runner 2049 film at Comic-Con in San Diego on the weekend. Reuters / Mario Anzuoni

Villeneuve is not the only person connected to the film who has expressed an opinion in the issue. Ridley Scott emphatically told the 2000 Channel Four documentary, On the Edge of Blade Runner, “He’s a replicant.” Original screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who also co-wrote the new movie, disagrees. He told a 2008 fan convention in Los Angeles: “Ridley’s off. He’s totally wrong. His idea is too complex.”

Villeneuve is aware of the disagreements: “If Ridley was sitting here now he would say, ‘What are you talking about? He is a replicant.’ But when you speak to Harrison Ford he’ll say, ‘Of course he’s human.’ Me, I just love the question, and honestly, that’s what’s interesting about science fiction.

“You can approach these existential questions with the limits of science and perception. I think it’s fascinating.”

We’ll have to wait for the film to see if any further questions are raised this time around, but for the time being at least, from the director’s own mouth, it looks like Deckard is a human.

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