The Rights of Personhood

After the discussion on Monday, I found I really wanted to comment on Bladerunner this week, though it is slightly unorthodox for me to do so as part of the Wednesday group. The group presenting had a final question that the class did not have a chance to address–“Is Deckard a Replicant?”–and I’d like to try to answer it here. This question can be framed in two ways: “Is Deckard a synthetic being?” or “Does Deckard have the same situation and problems of a Replicant?” Given that the first is unprovable by any viewer, the second must be considered. Deckard’s personality–or lack thereof–seems at first an obvious suggestion that he might be a replicant, but none of the humans in this movie are the fully-fleshed out people we associate with fictional representations. Working within the movie alone, Deckard does not actually stand out much from other human characters, whom we learn equally little about. Some might point to Deckard’s taking orders against his will at the start of the movie, but all the concrete examples of replicants in the movie rebel against orders. And so the question becomes, why does Deckard act more like a robot than the actual robots? Because it doesn’t matter for him. The true difference between Deckard and the replicants, which makes me convinced that Deckard is not a replicant, is that replicants are constantly scrutinized and feel the need to justify their humanity. Rachael brings out evidence of herself as a child, Leon safeguards his precious photos, Pris says “I think therefore I am,” and Roy saves Deckard. The last is significant because Roy is appealing to an idealized version of humanity–he safeguards life, therefore he must be human. Deckard never feels the need to do any of these things because he is under no pressure to justify himself–these are rights he possesses innately. Someone pointed out in class that Deckard was eating at the beginning of the movie and seemed aimless. The fact that he’s eating furthers the notion that Deckard is human–he consumes, he is selfish.


  1. I’m also intrigued by the questions about personhood that Blade Runner encourages its viewers to ask. What really interests me, though, is less the question, in and of itself, of whether or not Deckard is a replicant (because, as you said, we cannot answer that question), and more the complexities of the position that we as viewers are put in when we ask that question. In some ways, replicants resemble all fictional characters—they are constructed, by an artist of sorts, to resemble real people, but they have limited interiority and agency, as they are not real people. When we watch a film like Blade Runner and preoccupy ourselves with dissecting the question of whether or not Deckard is a replicant, or why he acts like a replicant, we engage in a coherence-making method of analyzing fictional characters that may be problematic in that it creates a hierarchy out of the “realness,” or the personhood, of fictional characters, none of whom are actually people in the first place. Perhaps fiction and film train us to perform Voigt-Kampff tests of our own on fictional characters (and maybe on real people as well), as we scrutinize interiority that either does not exist or that we can never have full access to.

  2. Many physical characteristics that define replicants such as mortality or incompleteness of memory runs parallel with physical characteristics of humans. If replicants are different from humans, as children are to adults. Or to extend this contrast, it can be a metaphor to how women are different to men or perhaps blacks to whites as well, since what differentiates them are also physical differences. A more important question would be to ask how replicants are different to humans, existentially. Your post seems to already explain how they are essentially similar, or that if there are any differences, it would be the mere difference between individual entities.

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