Thirty six years ago, Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott got in an argument. Thirty six years later, they’re still going.
What are they fighting about? In 1981, they made a film—Blade Runner. The story is this: In the future, ‘replicants’—synthetic humans—do the hard labor. When they escape, they’re hunted down and killed. Ford played the hunter—Rick Deckard.
Rick Deckard was a human. Except, Ridley Scott thought, maybe he isn’t? Maybe he is a replicant too and didn’t know it?
Ford hated the idea.
“I find that there were a lot of replicants in the movie,” he tells me, when we sit down to talk about the sequel, Blade Runner 2049, in Berlin.
He’s right—the original film had very few characters. Deckard hunts down four replicants. He falls in love with another. Besides a supervisor and the scientists who created the replicants in the first place, that’s basically it.
In the film’s original release in 1982, there’s no ambiguity—he’s human. But after the film flopped, its legend grew—including rumors of a vastly different ‘workprint’ version of the film—closer to what the director intended. By the early 1990s, those cries became so loud Ridley Scott got the chance to go back and recut the version he intended.
This time, he did it his way. By its end, the Director’s Cut laid many clues that Deckard is a replicant. In his 2007 Final Cut, it’s crystal clear.
“Ridley Scott has settled that he thinks you were a replicant in the film,” I say.
Ford latches ahold of this quickly.
“What do you mean ‘thinks’?”
“That’s what he did,” Ford says. “He didn’t just think it. He did it!”
Ford gesticulates Scott’s craftsmanship to hammer home the point.
“But you wanted him to be human,” I say. “So I want to ask why. Why do you find the character more interesting if he’s a human than if he’s a replicant?”
“I thought the audience might enjoy having one person on screen that they can count on to be their emotional proxy for those circumstances and then they would have an emotional relationship,” Ford says.
While filming Blade Runner 2049 in Budapest, the sequel’s director, Denis Villeneuve, went out to dinner with Scott and Ford. According to Villeneuve, the argument started again.
“It always comes up somehow,” Ford told the New York Times recently.
It seems, whether through their arguments or from making the new film, Ford’s opinion on the subject has evolved.
“I thought for the success of my character that it would be good to be clear that my character was not a replicant. Ridley, on the other hand, thought, and still does, not so much maybe.
“What I didn’t count on was the poetic potential of having that kind of emotional context with somebody that you didn’t know was a replicant or not,” Ford tells me.
It may have been the replicants all along who the audience should have connected with.
“In fact, as a line of dialogue said in the original film, there’s the potential for replicants to be more human than human,” Ford says.
Will the new film settle the debate? Maybe—or maybe it will just play off the ambiguity. Blade Runner 2049, Ford makes clear, was made with this debate in mind.
“This film advances this argument into a different context, into a difference space, and I think it affords the audience an opportunity to revisit the question in an interesting way.”
The real debate extends far beyond just Rick Deckard, Ford thinks. As science catches up to the fiction of Blade Runner, and ‘replicants’ become a real possibility, what is human to begin with?
“Besides that simple little thought, there’s a great wide canvas of other things to think about. We have achieved the scientific potential to genetically source DNA and build a human being, but we keep ourselves from doing that, because of the moral complexity of that.”
What does Blade Runner 2049 star Ryan Gosling think? I’ll never know—Ford doesn’t let him get a word in edgewise on the subject.
“See I told you I could talk longer than you!” Ford says to him.
“Nicely done!” Gosling says.
- Blade Runner 2049 is in theaters October 5 -