The following essay was a paper I wrote for a class I took called “Science Fiction and American Culture.” It compares Philip K. Dick’s novel Blader Runner, originally titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to the movie based on it, Blade Runner.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was first published in 1968. You should be able to find a copy of it at your local library, or you can purchase one from Amazon.com. Blade Runner was directed by Ridley Scott and released in 1982, starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer and Sean Young. You can find more information at IMDB. If you would like to purchase a copy of this movie on DVD, click here to go to Amazon.com.
Blade Runner, the book, and Blade Runner, the movie seemed like alternate realities of the same story. They were completely different except where they overlapped. Some of the names were the same (Deckard, Pris, Roy, and Rachel) and some of the ideas were similar (in the book John Isadore is a chickenhead who helps Pris, in the movie J. F. Sebastian is a rapidly aging person who helps Pris). But, although the names were the same, sometimes the personalities weren’t.
Rachel in the movie was very different from Rachel in the book. Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies. I like the macabre feel of its mise-en-scene. I like the 1930’s-1940’s detective flick feel. Everything about the film adds to the dream-like surreal mood — the lighting, the camera angles, the music, even the voice over.
The book doesn’t have quite the same feel. The mood is less macabre and more apathetic. Iran, Deckard’s wife, programs their Penfield mood organ to give her a feeling of despair twice a month. People “plug in” to empathy boxes to “become one” with Wilbur Mercer who walks up a hill as unseen tormentors hurl rocks at him. At the end of the book, Deckard attempts suicide.
Life in the book’s world is pathetic and depressing. Life in the movie’s world is cluttered, dark and moody. The movie is more straightforward than the book. The movie follows a relatively linear story where things seem to be, at least mostly, what they appear to be. Almost halfway through the book, however, Blade Runner enters the Twilight Zone — and stays there for a long time before the reader realizes what is really going on. The whole sequence at the replicated police station run by replicants threw me for a loop. It was very disorienting.
The endings are quite different in mood, as well. The book ends with a hopeless sense of things-are-as-they-are-and-there-is-no-way-to-change-them. The movie ends with a sense that although things are as they are, you can always make the best of what you’ve got and enjoy it while it lasts.
Both the book and the movie approach replicants in a similar manner as well — a way that is different from most imaginings of androids. Replicants are made of flesh — in the book, you have to do a special bone marrow assay to tell the difference between real people and replicants. This gives new meaning to the phrase “artificial life.” They are artificial and they are made of the stuff of life — unlike the typical robot, which is made of metal and plastic.
This raises the questions: Do we have the right to call replicants less than human? Do we have the right to “retire” them? It almost seems like God destroying its own creation. If something that we create can live a life of its own, do we have the right to take away that life?
Instinctively, I’d say no. But that probably stems from my basic reverence for life in general. I don’t condone unnecessary vivisection either. The book, in a way, looks at these questions. Deckard decides that he can’t retire replicants anymore. He empathizes with them now. The Deckard from the movie ends up falling in love and running away with a replicant. He, too, decides that he can no longer kill replicants.