The 1982 film Blade Runner was inspired by Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which illustrates a story where a man hunts androids that are hiding out on Earth. Although the premise of the movie stays consistent to that of the novel, it is easy to see why the film was just inspired by the novel and not based on the novel. In both stories, Rick Deckard begins to exhibit sympathy towards these replicants/androids he is tasked with killing. However, the movie and novel present Deckard’s empathy in vastly different approaches. The movie presents this empathy with Deckard struggling with self-identity, thinking he may be an android himself. While the novel depicts empathy as a main focus with introducing a religion called Mercerism and the love for his wife, neither of which are mentioned in the film.
In the film Deckard, who is trained to kill replicants, begins relating to the androids he meets. Now, in the film, it is common knowledge that this is not supposed to happen, almost impossible actually, for a human to have any feelings towards the replicants. However, Deckard begins to relate to the androids and thinking of them as being fairly similar to humans. He begins becoming familiar with the emotional feelings the replicants have and the satisfaction they experience from being alive. At one point in the film, Roy, a replicant Deckard is tasked with killing, saves Deckard from falling to his death. Roy then dies but it is important to note that Deckard did not kill him, Roy’s lifespan expires. That moment was very impactful for Deckard because he sees the humanity in Roy, a replicant. He was trained and taught they the replicants were evil and needed to be eliminated from society, but Roy’s very impactful act of saving Deckard’s life shows that the replicants do in fact have empathy for humans, thus making Deckard feel sympathy towards them. Deckard goes on to make himself take the Voight-test, a series of questions and analyzations that determine whether or not the taker is a replicant or human. Deckard passes the test in flying colors, it says he is definitely human. Yet, Deckard is still not convinced he is indeed human. This creates his empathy for the replicants and is another detail that alters his opinion on killing them.
The novel takes a very unique approach to illustrating the empathy Deckard begins to feel towards the androids. The novel introduces the religion Mercerism which emphasizes that all life is sacred and no one should harm one another. Deckard’s wife is a very strong believer of this religion while he is not; which is kind of a given for someone who is hired to kill. However, Deckard’s love for his wife is highlighted through the novel and is a main reason he even does what he does. His main purpose of even being a bounty hunter is to make his wife happy by replacing their electric sheep with a real goat, something that is very sought upon because animals are on the verge of being extinct. Therefore, it is shown that Deckard is not really doing the job just to kill, but to make his wife happy.
Unlike the film, Deckard in the novel is absolutely a human and he never questions his identity. However, when Deckard participates in the Voight-test, he discovers he is beginning to feel empathy for the androids. Deckard even eventually ends up having attractions to an android Rachael, where they are also involved in sexual actions. Another android, Pris, is discussed to be an identical looking replicant to Rachael and Deckard is tasked to kill her. Rachael knows this and feels empathy for Deckard, knowing he is having a hard time killing Pris because they look identical. Rachael goes on to tell Deckard that she would retire Pris. This means a lot to Deckard and shows how sympathetic androids are. Later into the novel, Deckard begins to grow a giant understanding for Mercerism, having religious visions and rethinking a lot of his decisions. He begins to understand that being human is similar to that if being an android; humans were created with no extra purpose than the machines they created.
In both stories, Deckard begins to show sympathy for the androids he is paid to retire because he begins to determine them as very human-like. However, both stories consider different approaches to the way Deckard has a change of heart. In the film, Deckard experiences first hand the humanity and sympathy the replicants have. He sees that they just want to live a normal life for as long as possible. While in the novel, Deckard goes on to understand his empathy for the androids by a religious vision he experiences and understanding that the purpose of their existence is no different than his.
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