In my most recent video essay on blade runner I said Deckard, the protagonist of the first film and prominent character in the second is not a replicant despite the fact Ridley Scott (the director of the first film) has said on many occasions that his character is in fact a replicant. In this cheeky little post I want to defend my statement and I want to voice an invaluable lesson Ridley Scott has unknowingly taught me about storytelling.
But first, in order for me to make my point I want to tell you a story, it is a story that may or may not be true but then again why are you trusting me, I’m a writer, I lie for a living. So here’s how the story goes. One day, a 14 year old english student was set an assignment by her teacher to create an essay on a novel. The teacher for weeks lectured the class on what the novel is about, the intricacies of what it’s themes are, its use of symbolism and a number of meanings intended by the creator by the means of a particularly boring powerpoint presentation.
However there was a rather happy coincidence, her father just so happened to be the writer who created the book in the first place so she did what any resourceful student would do an asked him about the book. What did he mean when he used that piece of symbolism? What are the core morals and themes of the story? The father happily answered all of her questions and spent a whole hour telling her about his intentions and thoughts that went through his head when he wrote it and all the while the girl jotted down every nugget of information on her notepad.
So the following week the essay was due and using her notes straight from the source she explained the symbolism and themes with a great big smile on her face and without even checking over the paper twice she handed it in to the teacher gleaming with confidence.
The next day the teacher came to her desk and handed back her paper, the result, a C+. She didn't know how to feel, shocked might of been the most accurate word. She stomped up to her teacher after class asking why she got such a mediocre grade on a paper she was dead certain she should of gotten at least a B.
The teacher turned to her. “I’m sorry, it was certainly a well thought out essay but you totally ignored everything I said. The core theme is clearly about the fragility of life however you have put that it is about the relationship between a father and his daughter not to mention the vast majority of what you said went totally against what I taught you. You clearly weren't paying much attention in my class.”
The girl got one of the lowest grades in the class because the interpretation she provided, despite the fact it was from the original writer was totally different to what the teacher had said it was.
A number of months ago I told a family friend that story and I said
“Isn't that just absurd, how could that teacher be any more in the wrong?”
To which he replied
“Not really, what makes her interpretation any more valid than the writer’s?”
Now whether that story I told you was entirely true or just pure fiction is ultimately irrelevant. Now was the teacher in the wrong? Absolutely, all art is a very malleable medium and often the best pieces are ones where five people consume it and all come out with their own interpretation. The fact the English teacher thought her interpretation was correct and all others where incorrect was just flat out ignorant however it does raise a fascinating question. Why is the writer’s intended meanings any more or less valid than the meanings of a person who reads said work?
This all comes back to blade runner because when Ridley Scott said Deckard is a replicant it taught me a valuable lesson; that the best policy a writer can adhere to is to never state what one means when one writes a certain line because when like Scott one states exactly what something means then it spoils the fun of the viewer/reader trying to come to their own opinions as to what a certain shot or scene or even the entire story meant.
Part of the reason a truly great film like blade runner is great is because it invites the viewer to come to their own conclusions as to what it means and when Scott said what he did it, to a small degree it hindered my enjoyment of the film because there is a reason a magician never reveals his secrets because part of the fun is trying to realise how he did it and the moment he explains how, the show suddenly becomes less engaging for the viewer.
So that is the lesson Ridley Scott unknowingly taught me. That if a fan comes up to you and says...
“I love how the protagonist’s struggle to never kill anyone was an allegory for our societies struggle with capital punishment”
And even when their interpretation in ‘wrong’ and nowhere near what you intended you should never correct them because not only does it make you look more clever than you actually are but it also spoils the fun of consuming one’s art as the individual coming to their own conclusions is in part, what great art is all about.
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If you use that link you will be directly supporting me :)