Tuesday, December 06, 2011

 

Androids vs Replicants

In the 1982 film Blade Runner, the autonomous humanoid machines that the main character Deckard is tasked with hunting and killing are called "replicants". In the 1968 Philip K. Dick novel that inspired the film, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, they are called "androids". But that's a superficial difference compared to the divergent views of humans and technology in the two works.

Blade Runner has a curiously more positive take on replicants and a dimmer view of humans. In Androids, Deckard is introduced to us in bed asleep with his human wife, Iran, and the novel ends with their troubled relationship improved and Deckard going to asleep in the bedroom with Iran leaving the room to make a phone call on his behalf. In Blade Runner, Deckard has no wife or close human relationships and the film ends with Deckard running off with his love interest, a fugitive replicant named Rachael.

In the book, Rachael and Deckard have sex but for Rachael's part it's an attempt to manipulate Deckard, not out of anything like love. Later, when it's clear that Rachael did not succeed with Deckard, she goes to his home and kills his black Nubian goat. In the dystopian future of Androids, domestic and wild animals are exceedingly rare and expensive. Deckard pays a large down payment and signs a three-year loan contract in order to buy the goat.* Animal ownership is also a sacramental part of the dominant religion of Mercerism, being necessary for "true fusion with Mercer" ( p. 441).** Elsewhere in the book, Pris, an android, notes that animals are "sacred" and "protected by law". Another android, Roy, breaks in and adds "Insects ... are especially sacrosanct" (p. 549). Later, Pris and Roy methodically mutilate and torture a spider to the great distress of the human, J. R. Isidore, who found it. None of this is in the film.

Lack of empathy is a distinguishing feature of androids-replicants in the book and film but this comes across much more strongly in the book. In the film, the empathy deficit is at least partly the result of a human design feature—the replicants have an engineered four-year life span. In the book, the androids, including Rachael, are down-right sadistic but while they too have a four-year life span, it is not deliberate but the result of a technological shortcoming. In one of the final scenes of Blade Runner, the last fugitive replicant to die, Roy demonstrates empathy, saving Deckard's life, and then in his final moments Roy gives a beautiful soliloquy about what will be lost when he passes out of existence. No such scene exists in the book.

Notes
*There's an interesting scene in the book when Deckard first comes home with the goat. He asks Iran, "Does this cure your depression? ... It cures mine." (p. 556). Iran replies, "It certainly does cure my depression. Now we can admit to everybody that the sheep's false." Not something Deckard is enthused about: " 'No need to do that,' he said cautiously."

** All page number refer to the version of Androids found in Philip K. Dick: Four Novels of the 1960s (Library of America, 2007).

See also: "Mercerism and Faith"

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