Saturday, September 24, 2005

Tannhauser gate

Philip K. Dick was a creative genius -- full of tremendous and deep ideas. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which became the movie Blade Runner) is a meditation on identity, free will and artificial intelligence. (The main character can't be sure whether he himself is android or human, and, ultimately, whether there is any difference. Director Ridley Scott was true to this idea, making it clear that Deckard (Harrison Ford) is, without knowing it, indeed a replicant!) The Man in the High Castle is one of the best alternate history stories I've read--it takes place in an America which has been partitioned in half at the Rockies by the victorious Japanese and Germans. Some of the characters are dimly aware that things might have been otherwise... Dick's life was almost as interesting as his fiction. A serious intellectual, he dropped out of Berkeley, struggling financially and with psychological problems his entire life. He did not live to enjoy his fame.

Dick was an unappreciated genius of his time.

From the final soliloquy of the android Baty (Rutger Hauer), after he spares Deckard's life:

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain.

That quote popped into my head a few years ago while I was at dinner with some other theorists at a conference in Seoul. We were discussing my recent return from running a startup in silicon valley. Someone leaned over and asked, somewhat dubiously (suggesting that anything but theoretical physics was a waste of time), "But would you do it again?"


Anonymous said...

Rutger Hauer played that extremely well.
it is one of the most memorable moments
I know on film. thanks for recollecting it

Anonymous said...

IIRC, Rutger Hauer made up that line himself! I think he didn't like how the scene ended and he suggested the soliloquy to Ridley. I've never thought that Deckard was obviously a replicant on Bladerunner. I thought it was too well hidden. I know that Ridley Scott says that's how he intended it to be but what elements of the film made you think that he was a replicant?

Steve Hsu said...

Wow, thanks for sharing that about Hauer's improvisation. I knew the line didn't come from the book (there is no space opera aspect), and always wondered what screen writer wrote it!

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the movie in a while, but here are a couple of clues I remember as to Deckard being a replicant:
He dreams of a unicorn; later on, the cop (played by Edward James Olmos) leaves an origami unicorn in the hallway of Deckard's apartment. Deckard picks up the unicorn, and we hear the cop's voice over: "It's too bad she won't live, but then again, who does?" Deckard nods and crumples the unicorn. How else would the cop know about the unicorn dream, unless it was an implanted memory? (Implying he also was familiar with replicants and their memories). Also, Deckard takes a lot of beatings during the film and seems to come through them relatively unharmed, implying he's made of sterner stuff than the average human. I'm sure there are other clues, but I don't remember them. Gotta go watch the movie again!

Anonymous said...

Just watched BR last night as background music (and visual) while catching up with e-mail. One of the most notable "restorations" of the 1991 Director's Cut was the inclusion of the previously cut unicorn dream, which (as noted) ties in with Gaff's origami outside Deckard's apt. Originally, it might've indicated that Gaff had been there, and chosen not to terminate Rachael; the unicorn perhaps being a reference to Deckard being a savage beast, tamed only by a chaste maiden. With the dream fragment restored, it has a more important meaning. And Gaff's rooftop comment to Deckard, "You've done a man's job, sir," makes sense.

Another clue is the "count" given by Bryant, sometimes argued to be a script error. Bryant explains that six replicants were AWOL, "three males, three females." And "... one got fried running through an electric field" while trying to break into Tyrell Corp. If we accept that Rachael is indeed an unregistered Nexus-6 that Tyrell kept under wraps, then Roy, Leon, Pris, and Zhora only account for 4 of the 6. If the "fried skin job" was female, there's an unaccounted for male. Maybe (conjecture here) Deckard was caught, reprogrammed to think he was a blade runner officer, and would be good bait for Batty.

Another clue, another possible script mistake: During their confrontation, Roy Batty calls Deckard by name ... without ever having been logically informed of his name. But he also calls him "little man," so we have to take this all with a grain or two of salt. Filmmaking is so complicated, it's not unheard of for the makers to overlook little details. E.g., at the end of STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE, Spock and McCoy inexplicably exchange jackets from one shot to the next. ;)

I never thought Dick's book inferred that Deckard thought he was a robot. His theme was more troubling - the androids seemed to have more passion and motivation than Deckard and Sebastian and other humans left on Earth. Since the remaining inhabitants are sub-grade Homo sapiens that don't qualify for off-world lives, what's left are a rather inferior people. The infiltration of androids threatens a future earth where the android majority has more feeling and ambition than the few remaining humans. I think Hampton Fancher, David Peoples, and Ridley Scott did a great job of retaining this without the extraneous plot elements of Deckard's wife and her "mood machine," Deckard's interest in buying an android pet. I kind of wish the threat of a replicant insurgency on earth wasn't explored. It might've made for a more "oh !*#^" ending. ;)

Anonymous said...

It's his red eyes - batty, pris and rachel have them - and so does deckard - I've literally only just noticed this whilst rewatching 2007 director's cut for the 4th or 5th time

Jamie said...

David Peoples wrote the draft, Hauer improvised some it. According to him, he made up the tear in rain metaphor. But his job of delivering those lines will stand forever.

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