Rick Deckard: Medium man in print, sci-fi badass on screen

In class, the general flatness of Rick Deckard in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was a point of conversation, with the entire class finding it odd that the novel’s apparent protagonist was, for lack of a better word, insipid. The following passage, which was brought up in a previous discussion, captures this point well:

“In the irregular light the bounty hunter seemed a medium man, not impressive. Round face and hairless, smooth features; like a clerk in a bureaucratic office. Methodical but informal. Not demi-god in shape; not at all as Isidore had anticipated him.” (218)

Me too, J.R., me too. But I digress.

The android-hunting hero of Dick’s imagination evokes images of cubicles, 3/4 sleeves, and paperwork, not Harrison Ford’s chiseled jaw. Dick’s hero is trapped in a loveless marriage, not a freewheeling bachelor who walks shirtless around his apartment. Perhaps most stark in comparison to the film, Dick’s hero does not waltz into an exotic dancer’s dressing room only to find himself in a hot pursuit that ends in a public shooting and a copious amount of broken glass. In fact, in print, he winds up in handcuffs for being a creepy “sexual deviant,” a charge I find hard to believe would be pressed against Ford. Ultimately, he does not even retire the android himself. On the whole, Dick’s Deckard probably would not sell tickets or popcorn.

The scene in question creates several conflicts with the novel. While there are plenty of instances where Ford is less than heroic, such as when Leon nearly kills him and he has to be rescued by (gasp!) a woman (and an android woman at that), the sensationalizing of Deckard’s investigation of Zhora and his overall persona in the film distracts from one of the novel’s central messages. Deckard’s protagonist status is complicated, and his moon-faced appearance is intentional. The work he does is not heroic or exciting despite the laser tubes and fugitive androids; it is just a job with questionable ethics. The retiring of Luba Luft, more sympathetic as opera singer in the novel, at the hands of Phil Resch is an important turning point for Deckard, who is forced to recognize his appreciation of an android and rethink his world’s concept of empathy entirely. The film’s making of Deckard into a  hard-boiled, lone wolf beefcake is a distraction from Dick’s goal to challenge social perceptions of good and evil because it removes the possibility that Deckard is, perhaps, the immoral one.

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