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Why BLADE RUNNER’s Rick Deckard is the Least Heroic Hero

I’ve seen Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner probably 10 times and it took me a fair few viewings before I could even attempt to explain what the movie was about. That may have been some of the problem it had when it was released; it was gorgeous to look at but it is emotionally distant. Upon recently watching the film again, amid the gawking at how gorgeous it is every time I see it, it finally hit me what the film is ultimately about: humanity. Duh, right? A movie about robots wanting to extend their life is about humanity? You don’t say! But it’s deeper than that. I always thought that the replicants, specifically Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty, were far and away the most interesting characters, and Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, the titular “Blade Runner,” was pretty boring and unlikeable. But that, my dear friends, is the point. It’s taken me ten viewings to realize, Deckard is boring because he doesn’t know what it means to be human. He also might be the least heroic hero in science fiction.

Now, I’m not talking about whether he is or is not a replicant; that’s for other nerds to debate. There’s evidence either way and the ambiguity is part of why the film is great. So for the purposes of this argument, let’s set aside this argument. What do we know about Rick Deckard at the beginning of the film? He is a guy who is good at his job, maybe the best, but one who a) doesn’t do it anymore and b) doesn’t WANT to do it anymore. He keeps saying he’s retired and it’s only when faced with arrest that he agrees to take on the task of hunting down escaped replicants. So he is his job and, in the eyes of many people, he’s only as good as his job, but he doesn’t like it. In essence, he’s creatively unfulfilled.


Second, he lives alone and, until his fling with Rachael, he doesn’t seem like he has many visitors. He has many pictures of people, but they all are black & white and seem very old, so he doesn’t have much of a family presence either. He’s the typical cipher, a character about whom the audience knows little. This had to have been intentional. As a reference to the hardboiled detective noir of the ’40s and ’50s, Deckard is the man without a past and largely without a future. We truly learn nothing about his situation from the film other than he plays piano and daydreams about unicorns.


What we do know is that he’s kind of a dick. He seems to have little regard for life, and even less regard for replicant life. He has no problem destroying poor Rachael’s entire belief system by rather callously telling her she isn’t a human, but rather a replicant implanted with the memories of her creator’s niece. Sure, he feels bad about it later, but he seems to think nothing of crushing this poor woman at the time. And even after he’s apologized and she’s saved his life, he’s more than a little rough with her, all but forcing her to have sex with him. Even if he “likes” her, it still seems like he thinks of her as an object.


He also shoots women. At the start of the film, he’s hired to hunt down and “retire” four replicants, two men and two women. Rachael kills Leon, and Roy Batty dies of old age, so the only two he actually manages to retire are the women. He shoots Zhora in the back as she tries to run away, and he shoots Pris after she’s managed to beat him up pretty badly. Both of these cases are quite unheroic and keep him firmly in the category of “unsympathetic” character. What kind of a man shoots women in the back? In any other Hollywood movie, he would be the bad guy for doing this, but because these particular women are fugitives, and specifically synthetic fugitives, they are not considered people. We’re told that these women are violent killers, but they just seem to be trying to live quietly.


For the entire movie, Deckard has been about as unlikeable and unknowable a character as any in science fiction. But this changes when he finally confronts Roy Batty. In the film’s best sequence, Roy chases Deckard through the Bradbury building, taunting him all the way. He breaks Deckard’s pinky and ring finger on his gun hand in retribution for his killing the women. Deckard runs for his life, feebly jumping across rooftops and landings, while Batty merely hops. Batty could easily kill him at any moment, but just as Deckard clings to a parapet, Batty pulls him up and saves him. Batty, who has been a murderer the whole film, realizes his own life is ending and killing Deckard won’t change that. His final words, and his desperation to extend his brief existence, give Deckard an appreciation for his own life and his desire to create one worth living. Deckard is silent through all of this, and in versions of the film without narration, he barely says anything for the whole rest of the movie. He doesn’t need to.


Rick Deckard is far more than simply the lead character in the film; he’s a flawed and complex anti-hero who learns what being a person means through his interactions with those who are not “real.” At the beginning of the film, he is far more machine-like than any of the skin jobs he’s made to hunt and it’s because of them, specifically Batty and Rachael, that he understands what it truly means to be human.

Images: Warner Bros

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He is the writer of 200 reviews of weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe. Follow him on Twitter!

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  1. chuck says:

    The only answer I can come up with comes from an engineer in the newspaper comic strip, named “Dilbert”…………….”Reality is always controlled by the people who are most insane.”

  2. Allen Barrett says:

    First, can’t believe one of my all-time favorites is over 30 years old (can’t trust anyone over 30, right?).
    Your analysis of Rick is the one I’ve always shared, but you leave out one of the film’s most basic ideas – the world’s “best” people have gone “off-world,” supposedly to some pristine latter-day Edens,  leaving behind  all the rejects to fight over mankind’s hand-me-downs in an overcrowded, polluted, industrial garbage heap.
    Exploitation and heavy-handed authoritarian rule have further reduced most of those who remain to mere serfs in a world ruled by industrial overlords who take what they want from humanity and create whatever cannot be taken.
    The only remaining shred of human dignity the average human has left is the illusion that he is somehow superior to the obviously better-endowed replicants. An illusion fostered by laws forbidding replicants on the planet and their built-in termination dates.
    Average humans struggle to find relevance in a dystopian world with no future while the very wealthy delude themselves with symbols success and comfort. The replicants, who are no more than talented slaves, would be content just to add more time to their programmed existence. 
    The message of the movie’s final scene to me is, whatever we are, we  can only find fulfillment by getting out into the real world and away from the one dominated by society’s illusions and cultural expectations.

    • Rob says:

      Nice work, bringing up the fact that the wealthy & powerful have already jumped ship from Earth. The movie still resonates deeply b/c the maintenance of one’s basic humanity is always challenged by the ruthlessness of the cold elite. This has always been true on Earth and will probably always be true.  We make choices about what we can and can’t live without and what it costs us. Decard is fairly broken, and given his line of work, one can see why.

  3. Bryan Quintana says:

    Blade Runner is based on Philip K. Dick’s story, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”. The entire premise of the story is am I human, and what does it mean to be human. I prefer the theatrical release because it leaves the answer undetermined where as all other versions add the unicorn fantasy segment. First it is completely incongruous with the rest of the movie. Second it definitively answers the question when the Egyptian, Edward James Olmos, leaves the paper unicorn in the hall. Thirdly it ruins the best scene in the movie where his blood mixes in with the alcohol in the shot glass. In the original Deckard never gets his answer as to whether he is human but instead discovers his humanity.

  4. Logan3 says:

    Deckard is the man who’s trying not to feel.Roy is the replicant who’s trying to feel.They’ve overlapped, erased the line between the two.

  5. Sarah says:

    I always thought that Rick Deckard was very conflicted about his job, which is why he didn’t want to go back to it. I thought his reason for telling Rachael that she wasn’t human was him fighting his feelings for her, trying to convince himself that it didn’t matter because she was just another replicant. I don’t think any of the replicants were just trying to live normal lives. I think they were in hiding and they were all working with Roy to find their maker, Tyrell. That’s how the cops found Leon, because he was trying to get a job at Tyrell Corp. Pris is clearly working with Roy to find Tyrell when she cons J.F. Sebastian to shelter her in his apartment so she and Roy can use him to get to Tyrell. At first I was confused by the scene with Rick and Rachael when she comes to his apartment, but then I thought he was trying to make her wake up and realize that she has feelings for him too. He’s revealed to her that she’s a replicant, which has her doubting who she is, and his roughness with her is him trying to help her realize that she’s a person too, even if she isn’t human. The final scene when Roy dies makes me cry every time.

  6. Zach says:

    You put a fair amount of thought into that, well done. Your analysis made me want to go out and buy the movie so I can watch it again with that in mind. 🙂