Philip K Dick
Movie - Blade Runner (1982)

Based on Story - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep


Story Version Notes
The original story, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" dates from 1968. It is a full length novel that runs around 235 pages. As such, it's the only full length novel so far of Philip K Dick's to be made into a movie. The novel had several intertwining themes. First, there had been a giant war in the past and the Earth was tainted - slowly turning all normal humans who lived on it into damaged "specials" because of the radiation. Most humans had fled to other colonies. So humans feared this natural decay that resulted from staying on Earth. Next, a philosophy prevalent in the story is that of "kipple" - of an orderly state of living would over time decay into disorder, with junk piling up. That a home, left to its own devices, would fill with junk and become unlivable. Third, the value of emotions is explored. Many people have machines that let them dial into a particular emotion and set up schedules of emotions to have - to feel hope at a new day, to feel satisfaction in their job, to feel contentment with a task done, even an emotion of wanting to turn the dial to get an emotion. False emotions are judged just as valid as real emotions.

This intermingles with the next thread - that caring for life is mandatory. The religion of the day praises caring for any form of life - from a cow to a beetle. Very few actual animals survived the war and it is a powerful status symbol to own one. So much so that a huge market in android animals, undistinguishable from the real thing, has sprung up. People care for, feed and clean these fake animals just as they would a real one. On the other hand, androids are considered to be a threat to humans and are not cared for.

Finally, there are two main contenders for the souls of humanity. One is Mercer, a religious figure that many humans 'bond with' via an empathy machine. They feel his struggles up a hill (Sisyphus, anyone?), are pelted with pain and join together to share their emotions. The second is Buster Friendly, a never-aging, always-smiling TV host who brings only sunshine into his viewers world.

Quite a lot of background, and that's not even the main plot! No wonder this book is said by many to be one of their favorite books of all time. Here we go. Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter in a Film Noir sort of San Francisco. His wife, Iran, is moody and petulant. Rick is very much a Sam Spade - down and dirty, living on a low salary. His special task is to track down androids that have escaped the colonies (usually killing humans in the process) and fled back to Earth to try to hide here. The android bodies can only last a few years, so it's more of a 'keep the locals safe' issue vs a long term threat. He deliberately dehumanizes the androids by calling them "it" to help himself with his job. He also keeps an electric sheep on the roof, wishing desperately he had the money to own a REAL animal. He feels frustrated at having to care for and upkeep a fake animal, to the point of calling in a "fake vet" to fix it when it breaks down. His wife is very tied to the status that the fake animal brings their family.

Rick's senior is sent to the hospital by a new wave of androids that have escaped from Mars. Two out of 8 androids were killed by the senior before the senior was hit. It falls to Rick to take out the remaining 6, which would earn him $6,000 - enough to buy a really neat animal. Rick latches on to the money this task will bring him and the ability to choose an animal from the often-thumbed-through animal catalogue. These androids are a new breed, made by the Rosen corporation. Their Nexus-6 brains are very advanced and their reactions are good enough that they might pass the empathy tests that in the past had allowed law enforcement to distinguish between androids and humans.

Rick goes up to Seattle to the Rosen HQ to try his empathy test on some Nexus-6 models there, to make sure he really will be able to tell friend from foe. Rosen makes huge money selling the androids on the colony worlds and sees Rick as a threat. They tell him to try his test out on Rachael Rosen first, an 18 year old family member. He agrees, and the test fails. Rick thinks this means she's an android, but the owner says that Rachael was raised on a transport ship away from other people which is why she has low empathy. Rick buys this for a short while, accepting his dream animal - an owl - as a bribe. Rosen doesn't want the police to know the test has failed, because the police would then shut down android production until a new test was developed. But then Rick has second thoughts and tests her again - and says with assurance that Rachael is an android. The owner admits she is and claims she had implanted memories and didn't know. The owner also admits to Rick that the animal they'd offered him was a fake.

Secure that he CAN pick out a Nexus-6 with his empathy test, Rick heads back to San Francisco to track down the 6 remaining androids from the Mars escape. He's told that a World Policeman, Pokolov, (sort of a UN peacekeeper) will come to help him out - but it turns out this is the first android. Rick takes him out easily in the car. Next on the list is Luba, a fantastic opera singer. Rick loves opera and thinks she is amazing. He administers the test and Luba craftily makes the test results invalid, then calls "the police". A policeman shows up and confuses Rick by making Rick think his own police HQ and boss do not exist - i.e. that Rick is an android with implanted memories, being tricked into killing humans. Rick is taken to the "real" police boss, Garland, who it turns out was 3rd on his list. Another bounty hunter, Phil, is brought in. Rick and Phil talk about how they both try to distinguish androids from humans. Phil leaves to get his test (to prove Rick is an android) and in the meantime Garland and Rick are told by the police that Pokolov did indeed turn out to be an android, proving Rick wasn't crazy. Garland now admits to Rick that Garland is an android - one of the 8 that came from Mars. Garland claims he didn't know about Pokolov, that he was not a member of their group of 8. That he made a mistake allowing Pokolov to be tested. Garland also says that Rick and Phil are androids too - that Phil came down a week after the group of 8 and had deep memory implants. When Phil returns, Garland tries to kill him, and Phil kills Garland in self defense. Rick and Phil escape and go after Luba in a museum.

Luba is fascinated with Munch's painting, Puberty (See and Learn about Puberty Here) and Rick even buys her a copy of the image as they take her out. Phil then kills her. Rick gives the android test to Phil and Phil passes. He finds that Phil is empathic towards androids, and testing himself, Rick finds that HE is now empathic towards androids. Which he feels is a danger to his work (as you might imagine). He leaves Phil behind (we never hear from Phil again) and heads home, stopping to buy a REAL goat on the way with his earnings.

In a second storyline, we have JR Isidore, a "special" (radiation brain damaged) fake-vet worker who lives in an abandoned suburb. He runs into Pris, one of the 8 androids and wants to take care of her. Pris is very snobby about JR's special status. Soon Pris' remaining two friends show up, Roy and Irmgard, who are a couple. The three agree to stay with JR and JR realizes they are androids but doesn't mind. He figures all four of them are outcast by society. They batten down the hatches, waiting for the bounty hunters to track them down.

At home, Rick wants to enjoy his goat, but he's called and told he MUST find the remaining 3 androids tonight before they escape. Reluctantly he heads out, and calls up Rachael Rosen to come and help him. He meets Rachael in a hotel and the two sleep together. Afterwards Rachael taunts him by telling him he'll never be able to kill another android and will never be able to kill her. Rachael says that Pris is one of the "Rachael model" and therefore she now has made Rick ineffectual by sleeping with him. She says that she's done this to 9 bounty hunters so far, including Phil. Then she leaves and Rick heads out to confront the 3 androids.

At the homestead, JR finds, to his delight, a real spider crawling around. He brings it to the androids who view this as a curiosity and begin pulling its legs off one by one to see what it will do. JR is horror-struck. While this is going on, Buster Friendly reveals that research has proven that the Mercer empathy network loved by the humans is a fake, there is no real Mercer nor a real hill. The androids say that Buster is an android and now that he has exposed Mercer's broadcast as a construct, that it proves that empathy is also fake and that the line between humans and androids is now gone. They feel that JR's dismay is because of this news, although it slowly dawns on one of the androids that maybe "for some strange reason" it is the spider situation that is causing it.

In comes Rick. He is momentarily confused by Pris/Rachael but does kill her. He then easily kills both Roy and Irmgard. JR is sad that his fake love, Pris, is now dead. Rick heads north to Oregon where he ends up in a place very much like Mercer's hill and feels for a while that he IS Mercer, continually climbing up a path. He feels that sometimes a person has to do what feels like a wrong act in order to bring something right to the world. He happens across a toad - Mercer's favorite animal - and is thrilled that he has a real animal. But when he brings it home, his wife finds that it is actually an android animal. The novel ends with the wife tucking Rick into bed and ordering android flies to feed the toad, to help her husband be happy.

Lisa's Reaction to the Story Version
This story is simply amazing and has many, many different interwoven levels of meaning. I adore the novel and every time I re-read it I'm reminded again about how wonderful it is. A core meaning is the value of life and if it matters whether that life is 'naturally' or artificially created. Rick worries about murdering real humans by accident, and his wife calls him a murderer for his android slayings. The main religious figure, Mercer, that everbody emphasizes with, tells his followers not to murder ANYTHING except the "killers". But the "killers" are so vague that it could mean anybody. Rick worries that his job makes him outside of Mercer's world. Sisyphus, the image that Mercer elicits, was a murderer that also fouled up the natural cycle of death.

Is Rick actually an android? Garner tells him he is and says Phil is too. Rick thinks that his tests clear them both, but the tests actually give off confusing results. The tests were already shown to be questionable. Rick knows that some humans lack empathy, and Rick tells Phil that some androids have kept pets. The humans of this world dial up emotions. Is that any different than a robot dialing up an emotion? Phil talks about sleeping with an android and then killing it. Is that lack of emotion OK, while Phil's caring for an electric sheep OK too?

The Munch exhibit is a fascinating part. Puberty is about a girl who is just glimpsing the awareness of womanhood, of the rich, complex emotions it represents. Luba longs for that emotion of humanity and is a brilliant singer. Rick appreciates her talents and dreams and wonders why Luba needs to die when so many humans offer far less to the world. If Luba yearns to feel human and is having trouble, is that "worse" than a human who is capable of empathy but chooses to live at a dialed-in-happiness setting her whole life?

The story's end didn't have the same twist that most Dick stories do. There was no strange revelation. Rick's goat has been maliciously killed by Rachael - a "goat sacrifice" that in the Bible stood for Jesus' sacrifice. Rick had hoped this goat would save his soul from misery and then he had to see it die. In exchange, he gets a mechanical toad, which he sees as a symbol of Mercer's struggles, of mankind sitting in the ashes and dirt, trying to get by as best it can. It may be manufactured (just as Mercer was) but it can still bring hope.

That all being said, and as much as I love the rich symbolism and incredible talent in this story, I do have a few things that irk me here. First, when going after Luba, Rick is brought in by the "underground android-run mini-police force". What it turns out to be is Garner and a bunch of his android friends keeping an eye on things in the city and trying to keep themselves safe. Luba calls them up when she feels threatened by Rick. Yet when Rick and Phil get back out into the regular world and kill Luba, there's NO mention of any action taken against this ghost organization. We know at least that there is the android-cop that hauled Rick in to Garland. Shouldn't a massive effort be taking place by the real police to shut this organization down? Shouldn't Rick be praised for discovering this setup?

Next, Garland was third on Rick's list. Pris, Roy and Irmgard talk about the "8" in their group and include Garland and Pokolov. But Garland tells Rick that the only reason he tested Pokolov was because he thought he was a human and therefore it could prove Rick was a crazy human-slayer, allowing him to lock Rick up. But first off, Garland's organization was a fake one to start with. So he could have said anything he wanted to Rick and locked him up. Next, how could Garland NOT know Pokolov was an android? He knew "8 androids" had left Mars as a group (Garland being one of the 8). Did he somehow forget Pokolov was in the group? Androids have no empathy for each other. Why would he lie to Rick about Phil and Rick being androids too? Androids don't have empathy, so Garland wouldn't care about protecting the other androids.

I loved the scene with Luba in the museum, looking at Puberty, looking at The Scream. Phil feels androids must feel like the Screamer, isolated and alone. I also enjoyed the many references to real life vs fake life, real animals vs fake animals. With so many people raising NeoPets and Furbies and other fake critters these days, are we really that far from pouring out empathy on fake machines while we have real life humans and animals dying of starvation in our world around us? Why do we spend $100 on a fake dog when that money could have fed a real human or adopted a real pet from a shelter?

I also like that the androids think they have "won" and defeated empathy by exposing the Mercer broadcast as a fake scenario. But they don't realize that the value of Mercer has little to do with the "painted sky". It has to do with the humans all sharing their emotions, sharing their joy at a new animal, their sadness at the death of one. It has to do with their helping each other and supporting each other. When Iran sees the new goat, her first thought is to run to the empathy box and share that joy with everyone else, to maybe even help a suicidal person feel new hope in that shared joy.

The Rosen's aim in all of this is to learn, from watching the police tests, how to make their androids even MORE human, to have that empathy that is lacking. They have already created androids that people have fallen in love with. If they do cross that empathy line, will the next line of androids BE human and worthy of treasuring, like beetles and spiders are? Why is a created owl treasured, while a created human is not?

Rick even wonders how he is able to kill androids when he should care for them as life-like individuals, and says several times that only an android would have such little empathy that he would be able to, as a job, routinely kill others. So many questions, and Dick leaves us to ponder the answers.

There are some amazingly powerful lines in this book. The sales pitch for the androids claims that having android-slaves "duplicates the halcyon days of the pre-civil war Southern States". Rick muses that "most androids I've known have more vitality and desire to live than my wife". The exploration of who to invest emotion in and who to treat without empathy is constantly blurring. And yet there are always many sections where I laugh out loud, even after many re-readings. Definitely a book to own.




Movie Version Notes
I have seen Blade Runner (both the original and directors cut) many times but not since this latest re-reading of the story. So I'll post for now my thoughts of it based on the memories. Yes, it was a classic film noir movie in San Francisco, with Harrison Ford being the quinessential Sam Spade type of character. He has no wife. He's alone in the gritty streets, trying to scratch out a living. He's a bounty hunter and has a job to do. The lead enemy, Roy, is played by Rutger Hauer.

The androids are a lot tougher to kill in the movie, to add that dramatic tension. He goes after a blonde in a mall, the blonde running through several plate glass windows is a classic movie image. Pris and Roy are lovers in this version, and JR is a creator of mechanical monstrosities and is more of a 'mad scientist' than a retarded barely-functional person who can still feel. In this version, Rachel is indeed an android but doesn't know it and the secret is kept from her.

Deckard falls in love with Rachel, and has huge difficulty taking out Pris the acrobat-android and Roy. Pris and Roy both want to be able to live longer. This is their prime motivation. In the end, of course, Rick kills them both and goes off with Rachel. Depending on which version you watch, it is either implied or made crystal clear that Rick is most likely an android himself.

Lisa's Reaction to the Movie Version
Again, I really have to re-watch both movie versions to write this up well. But my main thought is that they kept the "human killing androids" theme and completely lost all of the other fantastically complex ideas in this book. Gone is Mercer/struggle vs Buster Friendly/canned happiness. Gone is dial-an-emotion. Gone is live animal/mechanical animal. Gone is life-dissolving-into-kipple. Gone is remaining-humans-becoming-worthless!! They stripped out all of the key components of the story and only left behind "human bounty hunter. Robot targets. Two seem alike." Yes that is of course interesting, but that is the boring material of thousands of science fiction books. It wasn't the meat of what made THIS story so incredibly fascinating.

In the movie, Pris and Roy want to live a long life together. This wasn't anywhere in the original story. In the story, the androids did not want a *longer* life, they just wanted to be able to *live* the life they had available to them. Some of the androids wanted to be more human, while other of the androids felt quite superior to the humans. They felt their intellect was far more important than this stilly "empathy" that humans claimed to have. In fact, in the book, Rick says many times that the androids looked clinically at their choices of life and death and if death seemed likely, they just accepted it. Rick said that this was very bizarre to him. In comparison, the androids of the movie fight for their lives, which is more of an emotional / empathic sort of response.

The alteration of JR from a looked-down-on, non-intelligent human that still had empathy into a machine-loving mad scientist was a really sad decision in my point of view. The whole point of JR is that he was the complete opposite of the androids. They were very smart, he was not smart at all. They were clinical and machine-loving, he loved REAL creatures like spiders. He did work at a "fake vet" store but he wasn't capable of actually doing any of the technical work. All he could do is gather them up and care for them, the empathic part of things. He was a barely functioning human who did have a handle on empathy as his only thread of humanity. It was that one slim thread that the androids never were able to get a handle on even when it stared them right in the face in the spider situation.

Ridley Scott (of Gladiator fame) did a fantastic job of building a somber world, and the look was imitated by hundreds of directors after this movie came out. It really had an effect on many people. People pick on Harrison Ford as being wooden but the whole POINT of his character was that he had no empathy, that he was more android-like than the androids he was hunting down. Were his memories real or implants? Was his calm killing of others OK or a danger sign?

I love the movie, but wish it had even made an attempt to include all the great layers of meaning that the book held. It didn't even try. I suppose at least it might hook people into reading the book, and then once people reread the book a few times they can begin to appreciate what Dick the philosopher was getting at.

Buy Blade Runner DVD from Amazon.com
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep from Amazon.com

Philip K Dick Stories Made Into Movies
A Scanner Darkly
Barjo
Blade Runner
Imposter
Minority Report
Next
Paycheck
Screamers
Total Recall


Philip K Dick Homepage