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Saturday
Oct012011

A Matter Of Electric Sheep

Blade Runner is one of those films that gets written about a lot, it's a very special movie. Even though it's almost thirty years old it still beats out the competiton. At University, despite the fact I was doing an illustration degree, they made me write a lot of essays. This used to annoy me as I felt this was a bit unfair and that I was there to draw, not to write. The easiest way to get the required amount of essays completed without using up too much of my brain or time: Film Studies. Somwhow I was able to write about the same film for every essay. So I wrote about Blade Runner for three years. It honestly started out as a short-cut so I could maximise my time drawing rather than writing and as I knew Blade Runner well it seemed like an easy option. It's a great film to interpret and to be honest anybody with half a brain could skew meanings and infer context to suit whatever end result they wanted. As I continued to write essay after essay I delved into the realms of art-school bullshit finding all sorts of references to feminism, castration, whatever seemed like it'd get me a good mark. The bullshittery was working, so I came over all proud and started doing it properly. This is when I came up with my theory.

When the Directors Cut first came out it opened up the question of Deckard being a replicant. It went back and forth for a while before Ridley Scott came clean in an interview and definitively said so. Case closed. Except no it isn't. The thing about sci-fi is that you have to create a world and these worlds have rules. Once you set these rules up and establish how your vision of the future works to the audience you really need to stick to them in order to get a really good film. Blade Runner has some rules and by following them through and looking at the players in the film I'd had a bit of a revelation.

The replicants in Blade Runner know they're replicants. Except Rachael. She's a new type of replicant and she's been given somebody else's memories to cushion her emotional responses so she can be more easily controlled. So if Deckard is also a replicant, he doesn't know about it either. So he's the same as Rachael. So it follows that he must have somebody else's memories too. And there's really only one person who's memories he could have.

Deckard is Gaff. If you think about it, it makes complete sense. Who is Gaff anyway? I propose that he was the best Blade Runner in the business before he got injured and acquired his limp, possibly even going after the replicants in the film. He's right up there in the cop ranks and appears to be close to Police Chief Bryant, the same relationship Deckard re-assumes when he's hauled in at the start of the film.

Deckard isn't even allowed to fly his own police car. Pretty much every time he needs to go somewhere, Gaff has to drive him. He's a real dick about it too, he doesn't talk to him or even acknowledge his presence. He just chauffeurs him around with that resentful scowl on his face. How come Deckard isn't flying himself around?

Another element of depth on this point comes in the design of Deckard's car. This was designed by the legendary Syd Mead who noted during the design phase that Deckard's car was for ground-only transport and had the vertical take-off flight systems removed. This is why the vehicle is a bit of a mess and has some panels missing and parts of the chassais exposed. Somebody has made sure that Deckard's car has had it's wings clipped. He's being kept under at least some sort of control.

Right through the film, Gaff shows complete contempt for Deckard. Right at the start when he approaches him eating those delicious looking noodles, his way of saying "hello" is by hitting him on the arm with his cane. All the way through he's basically a massive prick to him. The relationship makes sense - this whole endeavour of using a robot to hunt robots is experimental. If Deckard has Gaff's memories and skills than who better to keep a close eye on him to assess how things are going? And how much would Gaff hate doing this? The more Deckard succeeds, the more reason Gaff has to hate him. He's everything Gaff once was and serves as a painfull reminder.

On top of all of this we have the oragami. All throughout the film Gaff appears to know what Deckard is thinking. When he's getting the original brief from Bryant about how hard the job is going to be, Gaff makes an origami chicken and puts it on the desk because he knows Deckard is scared. He knows this because he would be intimidated by the job himself. Later, when discussing a visit with Rachael, Gaff makes the little matchstick man with a boner. He does this because he's already visited Tyrell and met Rachael and knows that Deckard's going to fancy her.

Then we have the one that can't really be interpreted any other way. The unicorn. Gaff knows about Deckard's recurring dream. How else could this be the case unless he also has the same dream?

Gaff says something very telling to Deckard near the end of the film. He lands on the roof right after the climactic fight which means presumably he was overhead observing the whole time, letting them get on with it to see how things played out instead of stepping in and helping. As he lands, he walks up to Deckard smiling and says "You've done a man's job". Coming from Gaff, this is the ultimate compliment. He has accepted him as his equal.

So that's my Blade Runner theory, that Deckard is actually Gaff. Might go and watch it again now.

 

References (5)

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    Gavin Rothery - Directing - Concept - VFX - Gavin Rothery Blog - A Matter Of Electric Sheep
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    Gavin Rothery - Directing - Concept - VFX - Gavin Rothery Blog - A Matter Of Electric Sheep
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    Gavin Rothery - Directing - Concept - VFX - Gavin Rothery Blog - A Matter Of Electric Sheep
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    Response: storify.com
    That guy in the third picture just looks like Robert downey JR. Thanks for the share.
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    Gavin Rothery - Directing - Concept - VFX - Gavin Rothery Blog - A Matter Of Electric Sheep

Reader Comments (23)

Mind. Blown.

I'm going to have to re-watch it now again with this in mind.

October 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Keith

Interesting perspective - I'd like to throw a couple of observations in though:

- Gaff is clearly of Asian descent, so any memories he has involving people (family, friends) would be likely to contain people from the same racial background. Rachel's memories contained a believable family member.

- Everything Tyrell did seemed to reflect his egocentric worldview, even to the point of creating Rachel as a junior member of his family by using his niece's memories. Why would Tyrell want to use memories from one of the people responsible for destroying his creations, thereby admitting the flaws in his own work?

- Following from that, Tyrell delights in challenging Deckard to 'beat' Rachel using the Voight-Kampf test. If Tyrell really intended to build a better Replicant killer, why would he leave that degree of intuition to chance?

- How long has Deckard existed for, and how many Replicants had gone rogue previously? It could be that his inception only came about as a result of Roy and his gang going rogue, which may have been the first time such a thing had ever happened. If Deckard was the first replicant Bladerunner, he would be kept on a tight leash.

- On that tangent Gaff is the cerebral equivalent of a drill instructor, so attempts to break Deckard through psychology rather than physical means. Drill instructors exist to test and *train* new recruits; the issue with the rogue Nexus generation was its ability to learn things other than intended act act accordingly, so pressure training might throw some light on the matter. The Origami was an essential part of telling Deckard that he'd always be one step behind, and diffusing the superiority complex that led Roy to rebel.

- Why bother with that though, unless the police force was looking to use replicants for itself and didn't want to public to find out? They were military after all, and technology filters down. Interesting test too - set a thief to catch a thief, as they say. Of course, that questions whether or not Batty brigade were an accident or a live field test... ;)

October 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKuangEleven

Very insightful!

A thought regarding the stick figure/match-stick man origami ran through my mind. The story line sequence in the final edit of the film was not as originally story-boarded. Leon was hiding in the bathroom the whole time Gaff and Deckard were there. In the final edit, it appeared that Leon was outside the hotel. Taking that into consideration, the stick figure (in my view) was to represent that Gaff knew that Leon was in the bathroom. It was Gaff's 'calling card'. (Did Deckard actually "see" the origami stick man?)

You posed a very interesting perspective on this 'deck-a-rep' scenario. Certainly one of the better -- if not best -- scenarios.

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKipple

I want to make comment as well. Blade runner was a film that I studied hard in film school, met some people who worked on the film including Doug Trumbull. I think that Holden's character is often overlooked in the film. His striking resemblance to Deckard. My feelings were that these Nexus six breed of replicants were so brutal that the average man could not hunt them. So Deckard and Holden were created/tasked for the job. I do like the Gaff/Deckard hypotheses that you propose, one of the more original conclusions in relation to the film.

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVincent

Oh, this was fascinating! Dang it, wish I could go pull the film and watch it night now! Will definitely need to put it on the queue to see if looking at it with this in mind, whether I see this in there. Never before had I even contemplated Deckard being a replicant himself. Cool!

October 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGloria Oliver

simply one of the best films ever made. ever.

and DAMM dude! i wish my brain had taken the final leap that yours did, gavin. i mean, i knew deckard is a replicant, and that gaff was somehow privy to whatever memories had been coded into him - the unicorn origami affirms any suspicion - much the way tyrell knew rachel's memories even though they originated in his niece. but the leap to supposing deckard's memories originate with gaff makes perfect sense!! i'm so duh sometimes. from this i take another leap - to suppose that deckard's appearance in bryant's office is his first, that his being quit was a memory planted to explain why he hadn't been there for awhile - for awhile, in truth, being ever.

i'm thinking, though, that gaff's omnipresence is more than a monitoring of the newbie, if that's what indeed deckard is, brand new. i'm thinking he's keeping a watchful eye in case deckard becomes self-aware of what he is, as roy, zhora, leon and pris were. tyrell seems to keep very close tabs on rachel - she is much like the owl, no? a pet. but when she goes off on her own, she is hunted by the police. is she property, or person? (but gene roddenberry took that one on... ;) ) and is she a new experiment? or possibly the prototype...

and from a film-lover's perspective can i add that, although i hated the tone of the voiceover in the original theatrical release - and harrison had a good reason for doing it that way - i miss it in the director's cut, it was truthful to the whole futuristic film noir thing that makes it so delishuss and cohesive. in light of all the die-hards who know deckard's little secret, they could do much more with it than simply explain the complexities of the world they've created to audiences that don't get it. they could explore the interior life of a replicant who doesn't know he's a replicant. and if we factor in the supposition that gaff, athough an originator of deckard's interior life, cannot be privy to all the current variations of thoughts in deckard's head, it could have as intriguing a resonance as the light on deckard's eyes when he stands beside rachel at the piano. or roy's fighting dialogue 'YA that's the spirit!', for was roy not also aware of deckard the 'good man's' secret? and was he not teaching deckard what it's like to really be alive? what life is worth? subtlety for the initiated. i wish they'd rewrite it, get harrison to re-do it and put it back in.

hm, anyone have ridley scott's and harrison ford's emails??

signing off with this - great insight, gavin. i feel like a moron. :D

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterR SB K

In the end, an Insightful, metaphysical theory.

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Autiso

I'd like to point out to the first commenter that Gaff is played by Edward James Olmos, who is definitely not Asian.

October 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan

I *really* like your theory. I've just asked for the Final Cut of this for Christmas, so now I'm going to be watching it even more intently to see how your theory pans out.

October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Batty: the machine becomes human.
Deckard: the human becomes machine.
Gaff: human baby-sitting Deckard (his role at the end is simply to acknowledge a job well done but also the fact that Gaff knows that the only way for Deckard to love Rachael is to leave and never come back, to simply dissapear...Gaff humanity spared Rachael also).
It's possible that Nexus-6 could become aware of their status: i.e 4 year life-span, built for a sole purpose: slavery. Tyrell Corp doesn't want those N-6 back on Earth because this is, ultimately, a defective product that could become dangerous to others (Corp line/propaganda). Tyrell's moto says it all, therefore, to get those Off-World contracts, supplying N-6 to do the dangerous jobs no humans wants to do, it has to make sure that the product is safe for everybody involved.
Deckard is out and is re-called to duty because he's an embarassement not only to the force but mostly to the Blade Runner Section...why don't we eliminate this alcoholic pittiful human being and give him the ultimate mission: retire UberMensh Batty and company.
What are his chances of succeeding? His death into the hands of those machines would achieve two things: restoring Deckard's status as a Repdetect and the BRS and for Tyrell to prove whitout a shadow of a doubt that these N-6 are dangerous and have to be killed on sight.
Deckard as a Rep doesn't make sense, there has to be redemption from him by way of seeing Batty and Rachael becoming fully humans with all the complexities involved in that process. Him leaving with Rachael is simply the logical conclusion of someone who will become a teacher. Teaching her the minute details of what it is to be human while re-discovering his humanity at the same time and also a new purpose in life: truly a match made in heaven.

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoberg

I like your theory a lot. However, I'm doggedly adhering to Harrison Ford's take on the character: that he's a non-replicant whose humanity has been burnt out by the inhumanity of his job. That, to me, is a far more interesting proposition than his being a replicant.

There's a deleted scene that implies Gaff's antagonism is good old professional jealousy. And if Deckard had Gaff's memories, wouldn't he believe he WAS Gaff? What about all the memories he'd have of looking in the mirror and seeing a hispanic guy? Unless the memories could be edited somehow.... but without some kind of indication in the film that such an editing procedure exists, ultimately I can't buy it.

But I enjoyed it.It's definitely worth considering.

December 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris Weston

Morgan "I'd like to point out to the first commenter that Gaff is played by Edward James Olmos, who is definitely not Asian."

The actor, Edward James Olmos is from Mexican/American descent. However, Gaff was originally supposed to be of Japanese descent. The part was originally supposed to be very small and only spoken Japanese with English subtitles were to be used. So Kuang Elevan is entirely correct. I think you need to look past an actors heritage and immerse yourself in the story and background

September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNess

great post, but i prefer the simpler explanations that do not rely on material from "outside" of the movie we see. Deckard is a loser, a burn-out; that's why his car isnt the latest model. The cops go to him as a last-ditch effort. Deckard is a "cold fish," e.g. ineffectual and essentially impotent in the eyes of Gaff; hence "you've done a man's job." the comment also underscores that Deck is starting to identify w/ his prey, and that Gaff knows it, and uses loaded language around him to remind him the difference between Reps and Men. Deckard isnt a policeman; that why the police "escort" him to locations. for the same reasons, he can't be trusted; that's why Gaff is keeping tabs on him (and letting him know by leaving origami). The origami is meant to characterize Gaff, not Deck; they show he is methodical, precise, and given to grandiosity (he makes a little world of fake things). Of course, that is what the Makers like Tyrell also do -- make a menagerie of fake little things.

Gaff is a foil to Deckard. He highlights Deck's humanity --by kind of victimizing him, mocking him, etc. This helps the audience identify with Deck, who otherwise sleepwalks through most of the movie. We need to be able to root for him when he finally awakens into action during the confrontation with Roy.

September 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commentera grown ass man

Really interesting perspective on the story. Blade Runner is my favorite film of all time and the spaces in the film that let an analysis like this cast things in a different light some 30 years later seems to be something no other film has had. I think there are two other respects that interlink with your theory. One is that Deckard knows the childhood memories of Rachel. This to me has reinforced that he is a replicant, it also leads to the concept that Decards memories could be an amalgam of different memories from different people. The other is that both Deckard and Rachel seem to have human strength and abilities. It led me to thinking maybe they were Nexus 6.5 or 7. The two of them are different from the others and "more human than human".

January 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnother Gavin

Let's ask the author himself, Philip Dick:
ME: Phil, is this what you intended when you wrote the original story?
Phil: Who knows? I was drunk at the time!

January 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterClark Aungst

Didn't Gaff just read Deckard's file?

June 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMC

Great take on the subject; I never even thought about who provided Deckard's memories. You make a convincing argument to be sure.

July 24, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternorthierthanthou

One Question to your supposed theory....If Deckard is a replicant Blade Runner and Replicants can be made Faster, stronger and smarter basically leaving us humans in the dust. Would you make a Blade Runner replicant with the abilities of a Human to Hunt Upgraded Replicants or would you make a Blade runner with Replicant Abilities to hunt Replicants??
It makes no sense to make a replicant Blade Runner as weak as Humans are supposed to be!! I cannot explain Gaffs actions but maybe it is as simple Gaff is an ex Blade Runner and has been there before!! I mean how often do Humans share the same emotional path and make the same emotional mistakes, as kids our parents can pretty much foresee every mistake we make lol, but that doesnt make us replicants it just means our parents are mature and experienced. Maybe just maybe Gaff has been there done that and knows exactly what Deckard is about to go through emotionally.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterA J

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November 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOdiambo

Just posted this when I saw your link on Reddit:

That's . . . that's damned interesting.

And here's something weird I never thought of (in this context) before: a Gaff deck (get it?) is a special deck of cards used for performing certain illusions. One notable example is the broken hearted deck. Not sure how long these have been around, only heard of them about 20 years ago myself, but I bet it's a lot longer than that. Here you go.

Yeah, damned interesting. Thanks for the thoughts.

Great theory. And to the guy who said Deckard would think he is gaff, if they have the technology to bulid replicants and implant memories, of course they have the tech to edit them and choose which ones to use/leave out.

January 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean B

Its an interesting theory that I'v not heard before although I'd argue most of it can just as well be explained by Gaff just knowing Deckard is a replicant. In that situation I think its easy to see why a human bladerunner would have contempt for a replicant taking his job.

The biggest argument for this theory is I'd say why does Gaff let Rachael live? earned respect for Deckard seems like the most obvious answer but if Deckard is partly programed with Gaff's memories then that obviously makes him more inclined to take pity on him, perhaps parts of him are why Deckard is attracted to her?

One comment that Byrant makes after Zhora's death does become much more interesting, "you could learn something from this guy Gaff". On one level that seems to disprove the theory but on another you could argue Bryant is mocking Gaff pointing out Deckard's potentially greater success using Gaff's own memories.

As far as Deckard not being physically as strong as the other replicants that would surely give away his nature both to Deckard himself and everyone else, the same with Rachael. Deckard and Rachael are probably "Mental level A, Physical Level C".

February 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJon

Love these interpretations. Cant help but chime in my two cents.

With regards to the origami: It appeared obvious to me (though I may be wrong) that the origami was a sign that a number of the characters were replicants- perhaps symbols of imagery implanted in them. Gaff, having a number of physical abnormalities including two different colored eyes and needing a cane, was obviously human- just as Tyrell had the really bad eysight requiring thick glasses which was proof of his human imperfections. If Gaff was human he would be aware of replicants that were placed around him, and possibly of the dream imagery used to keep them in place. Think about it: The unicorn was the dream of Deck... the naked man, the dream of Leon... and the chicken in BRYANT's office! Yes, I think Bryant was probably a replicant as well. How else would a guy in that day and age have the memories of a racist as mentioned in the original voice-over? Memories of chickens when real owls are a thing of the past? "Youre talking about dreams."

April 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRCM

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