The 4 Differences Between Deckard from Blade Runner and Deckard from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

As we are building our excitement for the new Blade Runner sequel this Autumn, I decided to revisit the original novel that the movie is based on. Philip K Dick is one of science fiction’s most weird and underrated authors and Blade Runner is only one of many PKD movie adaptations. It might be the best one though.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that one of the things that makes the film so great is the dystopian mood that’s created by the dark and dreamy visuals and the atmospheric soundtrack. Looking at the plot, the novel and the movie are pretty similar but have some aspects that are dramatically different.

1. Deckard is Married and Lives in San Francisco Instead of Being a Broody Bachelor in L.A.

As the book starts out, we quickly discover that Deckard is not a loner with a weirdly futuristic apartment, but living with a wife who is having a bout of self-induced depression. Both Deckard and his wife seem to be somewhat obsessed or even ruled by a synthesizer that can control human emotions. They both use the machine each day to alter their moods and behavior to make themselves into hyper-efficient work drones which is very different than the rebellious, walk-out-on-my-boss, Deckard from Blade Runner.

2. Instead of Being the Best Bounty Hunter in the Game, Deckard Starts the Story as a Bit of a Loser at Work.

Speaking of work, Deckard is a bit lame in the book. We’re used to thinking of Deckard as a badass who can retire young and still get called back into the office and even blackmailed into working because he’s so good at what he does that no one can match his skills and abilities. In the book, Deckard is sort of an up-and-coming bounty hunter and Agent Holden, the Blade Runner that gets shot in the beginning of the story, is actually the best man on the force. Deckard gets talked down to a lot in the beginning of the book and maybe even is the butt of some jokes behind his back which is the total opposite of the Deckard we meet in the movie.

3. Book Deckard is Obsessed with Buying a Living Animal to Replace the Electric Sheep that He Keeps on his Roof.

Aside from the mood synthesizer, Deckard and his wife are constantly preoccupied with the idea of obtaining a living animal to take care of. This actually becomes the subplot of the story. He is able to be manipulated by the company that makes the Replicants when they offer him a real life owl (thought to be extinct) in exchange for him falsifying the results of the Voight-Kampff test that he did on Rachael. Both the idea of caring for animals and “better living through the mood synthesizer” are moral aspects of the neo-religion Mercerism that is common in the dystopian world that the novel presents. Owning a living animal is a status symbol and point of moral pride for citizens of this world. For those who can’t afford the outrageously expensive rare living animals, there are android animals, such as the electric sheep that Deckard has to replace the sheep he used to own that died.

4. Deckard gets Arrested for Being a Sexual Deviant when Framed by one of the Androids he’s hunting.

Maybe one of the funniest differences between the book and the movie happens when Deckard goes to investigate the first Replicant, who in the movie is a stripper with a snake and in the story is an opera singer. When he starts asking her questions she quickly turns the table on him and calls the police to report him as a sexual deviant asking her perverted questions. He gets arrested despite working on the police force himself. We then come to that classic Philip K Dick moment when reality is turned on it’s head and the reader and the character start asking themselves “What is really real?” He gets taken to an alternate police office where he doesn’t know anyone and they don’t know him. He meets another Blade Runner bounty hunter and they team up to “retire” a few android Replicants who are running this false police station, including the chief of police. This theme enters certain versions of the movie with the “unicorn dream” which implies that Deckard himself is a replicant because at the end, Agent Gaff leaves the unicorn origami at Deckard’s apartment implying the his employers know the unicorn is a symbol his mind uses because he has been programmed that way. Is Deckard really real?

The other classic Philip K Dick mind bending moment comes towards the end of the book when Deckard has to hunt down Pris who ends up being the same Replicant model with the same face as Rachael and this becomes a tool for shaping who Deckard is becoming throughout the story. He has to look at his new found empathy towards female androids and especially towards Rachael who he slept with in the previous scene and this helps him become a more mature and savvy Blade Runner and person in general. The movie doesn’t really touch upon the existential elements that are present in the book though there is a deleted scene where Deckard and Agent Holden discuss the metaphysical ethics of sleeping with a Replicant before retiring it.

Overall, Deckard in the story is a bit of joke, a second rate bounty hunter, and doesn’t have much respect coming from his wife, his boss, or even himself. In the movie, he’s mysterious, self-assured, moody and rebellious. To the credit of book and film Deckard, they both end up sleeping with the Replicant Rachael, but for different reasons. The novel is great and I highly recommend reading it next to the fireplace or in the bath on a Sunday afternoon this winter as we wait for next October and Blade Runner 2049! Finally, if you haven’t seen Blade Runner Final Cut, you need to. The visuals look crisp, radiant, and more beautiful than ever after they’ve been cleaned up for DVD and its definitely the best cut of the film that’s been released.