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The Science Behind “Blade Runner”’s Voight-Kampff Test (nautil.us)
59 points by dnetesn on Oct 8, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments

One of my major life regrets is noticing a half-read copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in my optometrist's bag and not cracking a joke about the Voight-Kampff Test prior to him administering an eye exam.

If that’s a major life regret you must have a pretty nice life.

Nah, it's just that I've already made peace with the usual things like wasted career and family prospects.

I will however continue to regret not cracking that joke until the day I die.

As pointed out, Scott has said before e.g. in a documentary written and hosted by film critic Mark Kermode called On the Edge of Blade Runner that he meant for Deckard to be a replicant. Harrison Ford never believed he was a replicant, and Rutger Hauer claimed the debate came up after the fact. However, Mark Kermode recently revealed a debate between Scott and the director of the new film, Denis Villeneuve, where Scott repeated this claim, saying that if Deckard wasn't an android, the film wouldn't make any sense: the unicorn, the dream - the central twist is that Deckard doesn't realise that he is a replicant, and that he is chasing himself. Villeneuve however, disputed this, and said that it's not as clear cut as Scott makes out, and that the film is much more ambivalent than that.


It's pretty clear cut. It just doesn't batter you around the head with it the way the Sixth Sense does.

One of my favourite details: there are only five* "healthy human specimens" in the entire movie. Everyone else is fat, old, scarred, suffering from a degenerative disease.

Deckard would probably notice this if he had any friends. Instead, he stays home and drinks surrounded by photographs.

*Cue a crack about Brion James

No, the jury concerning the character in 1982’s Blade Runner is NOT still out. Deckard is a replicant. The article gets that wrong and director Ridley Scott himself even explains it:


I’ve seen Blade Runner maybe 10 times. I saw it again Tuesday night, in digital projection for the first time, at the Grand Lake in Oakland. Wow. Beautiful.

you realize there are more people that contributed to the construction of that universe than just Scott right? (at the least Philip k dick) and none of them have come out agreeing with him, let alone that if it's not substantiated by the source material then it doesn't matter what anyone says (and indeed the are no clear indicators in either of the films that deckerd is a replica the)

You realize the article specifically cited the 1982 movie by Ridley Scott, right? It's most definitely substantiated in that movie, as Scott pointed out. He set the whole movie up for the final unicorn scene.

In my mind Ridley Scott's decision to include the voiceover in the film more or less disqualifies him from rendering a final judgement about this stuff.

Scott is an interesting filmmaker. Blade Runner and Alien are two of the best films ever made in my opinion. Everything else he's done is amateurish in comparison (also in my opinion), even the successful/fun stuff.

This makes me wonder whether there's something behind the greatness of those two films other than his direction. Maybe the writer/crew/cast/studio/producers had more power in his earlier films and used that power wisely?

There's an interesting passage on the wikipedia article for Alien:

> Scott had wanted the Alien to bite off Ripley's head and then make the final log entry in her voice, but the producers vetoed this idea as they believed the Alien should die at the end of the film.

All that aside, it's not always clear who "owns" a film. The director tends to get a lot of credit, but film-making is collaborative, and who's to say that the screenwriter doesn't get to decide what the film is really about?

If you like Alien you might go back to Carpenter’s first movie, Dark Star. And if you like Dark Star you might look at They Live! (That is if you haven’t already.)

That said, I’ll need a very strong recommendation before I see Blade Runner 2.

The problem with that idea is it makes no sense from the standpoint of Roy's epiphany, which is ultimately the moral of the movie. If Deckard isn't human, there is nothing noble about Roy saving Deckard. Anyway, the unicorn wasn't in the original version of the movie. Directors quite often screw up their movies through reedits, like Lucas' edits to make Greedo shoot first.

I thought the line in the original cut when Roy says to Tyrell, "I want more life, fucker." was great. Roy very succinctly is saying, "You made me with a short life span and that was evil, fix it now. I give you no respect."

In Scott's most recent cut he changed it to "I want more life, father." Horrible change to me. Why change that?

At least I own the original on DVD and not some paid access to an online cloud copy that can be changed by others at will.

>In Scott's most recent cut he changed it to "I want more life, father." Horrible change to me. Why change that?

Perhaps because he felt the second version is even more powerful, what with the allusion to him being a prodigal son, Tyrell being a father/God, etc.

Sort of liked the slave saying "fuck you" to his creator a bit more. To each his own.

I think the fuck you is still implied (by the tone -- and end result).

I prefer father myself.

>The problem with that idea is it makes no sense from the standpoint of Roy's epiphany, which is ultimately the moral of the movie. If Deckard isn't human, there is nothing noble about Roy saving Deckard.

When Roy does that, he doesn't know either way. So whether Deckard is or is not a replicant, the nobility of the act stands.

Plus the whole point is in the ambiguity (including of the noble act).

In the voice over version, not a fan of the voice over version but it is the original theatrical release:

  Deckard (voice-over): I don't know why he saved my life.
  Maybe in those last moments he loved life more
  than he ever had before. Not just his life, anybody's life,
  my life. All he'd wanted were the same answers
  the rest of us want. Where did I come from?
  Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was
  sit there and watch him die.
Deckard is talking about the same Roy that crushed the skull of his 'maker', who's only reason for being was to kill. I think Roy's epiphany as he releases the bird from captivity stands up quite well, regardless of whether Deckard is or isn't a replicant.

How would Roy have known one way or the other about Deckard anyway?

He doesn't know. He may suspect but in the end, he doesn't care. That is the epiphany. Before he might have been trying to win an argument and make a point but in the end, facing death, he doesn't care to kill one more time.

BTW, the bird is probably artificial.

  Rachael:	Do you like our owl?
  Deckard:	It's artificial?
  Rachael:	Of course it is.
  Deckard:	Must be expensive.
  Rachael:	Very. I'm Rachael.

Saving the life of someone who killed your friends is still noble. Roy wasn't some Replicant revolutionary. He was just trying to save his own skin... and the lives of his friends

yeah it’s a real shame he misunderstood the source material so blatantly. made it clearer to me why i’ve found the movie dissatisfying, at least

How about he didn't misunderstand it, but took it as an inspiration, and created a vision of his own. You don't seem to be a creator.

Wouldn't be great if anyone had the legal right to re-interpret creative works of others. Maybe someday copyright will be returned to some rational length. 12 as originally legislated in the US seems reasonable.

The short story on which the film is based indicates pretty clearly the the main character is a replicant.

I thought the story is clear that he isn't one? He takes an empathy test to make sure.

SPOILER: The bit where he finds out he isn't working for the real police department, I thought, indicated that not only was he not a real detective but also not a real person. I do think a big part of the story was to kind of wonder if this really mattered in the end.

That said, it may be less clear then I remember. If found this GoodReads link where people are mulling this over.


See, I always thought the book veered towards Deckard not being a replicant: his mind - like Philip K Dick's - veered all over the place whereas the androids (who despite their lack of "empathy" still apparently had bonds with each other) focused on their priorities. He has a lot more regular contact with what he assumes to be the real police department to the police department that arrests him which he concludes was fake. He passes a VG test. And the only reason he's involved in the first place is to appease his apparently very real wife's human concerns.

Reportedly PKD once confirmed that in the book version Deckard was a human that had been dehumanised. Of course, it's PKD so it makes just as much sense the other way round (the "empathy boxes" make more sense as program-update devices than the sci-fi expressions of human religiosity and sentiment they were intended as)

It's pretty clear the film takes the opposite tack but it's a very loose adaptation (and filmmakers have taken the opposite tack from PKD far more explicitly in e.g. Minority Report)

If he doesn't know he's a replicant, could he not take the test as many times as he wants and still pass just like Rachael in the movie?

Rachael did not pass the test.

I agree.

That's irrelevant since we're talking about Blade Runner the film.

There are literally 3 versions of blade runner, the theatrical, the Director's cut, and the final cut. In the theatrical he's clearly human, in the Director's and Final cut he's replicant as part of a retcon by Ridley Scott.

I'd disagree with your use on retcon here. It's more the other way around: the voiceovers are a pre-publication retcon.

To take an example nothing to do with replicants: it's only the voice over that says Deckard could understand what Gaff is saying. This completely spoils the revelation at the end that Gaff speaks English perfectly well.

Declare is on the back foot for the entire movie. The theatrical cut desperately tries to blunt that, making for a confused experience.

I mean that's what Scott claims I guess that it was always his intention but it really seems like a pointless twist thrown in for the directors cut. The whole point of the film is Deckard (a human) learns the humanity inside the machines, not Deckard learns he's one of them which is a far less moving story. It's supposed to be ambiguous at points like in the book to emphasize the question of what makes a human but ultimately he should be human. Given the 2nd film's explanation for how he's a replicant is seriously contrived I have to say it seems like a retcon to me.

In any case given there are multiple cuts of the film, I'll choose the Final cut minus the Unicorn dream as my ultimate version of the film.

I haven't seen 2049, but I knew they'd have to come up with some stupid story to explain the fact he's still alive. That's what happens when the realities of film-making collide with the story you want to tell.

It's clear that Scott intended Deckard to be a replicant. (And the article gets Scott's and Ford's opinions backwards, which is embarrassing.) But Scott also chose to make it ambivalent enough that people are still debating it decades later. The director's intentions are worth noting, but it's still fair to examine the movie on its own.

We were probably in the same room at the same time then. The internet is weird sometimes :)

    I once had a very strange
    conversation with a
    Lacanian psychoanalyst,
    the sort of person I don’t
    normally interact with. We
    were talking about whether
    machines could be conscious.
    He got very cross and said,
    “No, of course they can’t,”
    and I said, “Why not?” He
    said, “Because they don’t
    have a mother.” This is
    almost what I’m beginning
    to think might be an
    interesting point.
I tried to find some references for this but I am not having much luck so far. People are social animals, and respond to isolation poorly, so maybe there we find at least the beginnings of the idea, that people are only fully people in society. And entry to society more or less demands an upbringing...

Why can't machines have an upbringing?

HAL: I am a HAL 9000 computer. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you'd like to hear it, I could sing it for you.

I am not advancing this point of view, just looking for some things to read about it.

I really don't know why you're getting down-voted.

Modern research child development pegs development of self-conscious to the way we are raised. We are born "pure animals" only feeling, and develop a self-image and awareness-that we are feeling through interaction with others, in particular the care-giver (.../mother).

It is by observing others in our animalistic state, reacting to us, that we develop our capacity for self-reflection -- which still isn't fully there at 4 / 5 years old.

To put this point most generously: self-consciousness describes a biosocial process by which animals acquire a recognition of themselves as conscious.

The claim is then a machine (an oscillating electric field) does not, nor cannot, participate in biosocial processes.

NB. If you redefine consciousness to "seeming as-if conscious" then anything may be trivially true of a machine (or, of anything).

Thanks for your thoughtful response. Are there any articles or books that seem particularly representative of this point of view to you?

"As a psychologist, I am very interested in the question of how we know whether we are seeing reality or not. Everything we know about the world is based, to some extent, on these very crude sensations, so we always have to be epistemically vigilant. Don’t believe what you see."

Finally, somebody gets it.

Finally? Somebody? In philosophy this is about as normal a statement as "always check your return values" is in programming.

"By Kant's account, when one employs a concept to describe or categorize noumena (the objects of inquiry, investigation or analysis of the workings of the world), one is employing a way of describing or categorizing phenomena (the observable manifestations of those objects of inquiry, investigation or analysis)."

Kant 1781


The ancient Hindus were talking about the illusory nature of what we perceive around us, and the reality underlying this illusion thousands of years before Kant lived.

Reality is a loaded word, and I suspect it is a graduated spectrum rather than a single point. What one sees as the 'reality' very much depends on how deeply one can probe and the associated limits in observation.

Sure, but the probability we're hallucinating goes down quite a bit when all (or most) of our 5+ senses agree that a thing is really there and happening. If it weren't we wouldn't have lasted long in the real world.

Hallucinations are the addition of something which isn’t there, we work more by heavy filtering. We see a narrow slice of EM radiation, what we see is at best, only part of what is real. That doesn’t imply magic, but it does about the incompleteness of our senses.

There's also distortions that can mess up our evaluations of the world. We've got some majorly flawed equipment, but it still seems to work just enough so enough of us can reproduce.

That presupposes what it's supposed to prove.

Let's minimize the loss

Argument from redundancy? Nice.

statistics provides that tool, so it’s an argument from math

Statistics don't come with premises we don't put in them.

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