Visuals Create Tension

In the film, Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scottthe scene where Rick Deckard first meets Rachael Rosen (16:57) is one the of the few scenes taken directly from the book. Set design plays a key role in this film, the stark contrast between Dr. Eldon Tyrell’s opulent pyramid-like home with the gritty city showcases the extreme difference in class in Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  However, Scott’s use of the two-shot creates more of a tension in the film between Rachael and Rick than Dick creates with words. The fast cuts back and forth create a sense that Rachael is completely sure of herself staring Deckard down and having a response to each question, all the while acting very stiff and robotic. A cigarette cloud forms in front of her face (20:37) which creates the sense that Rachael is beginning to doubt herself and needs to hide her reaction from Deckard. Also, the use of an interposed dissolve into an establishing long shot (20:41) accompanied by Deckard and Rachael’s echoing voices creates a feeling of a long passage of time whereas in contrast to the novel which seems to move at a much faster pace during this point of the story. The visuals allow the audience to see how an android would supposedly act in such a setting when with words there can be several interpretations depending on the reader.

Paranoid Empathy

The feelings of distrust and paranoia central to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is built into Rick Deckard’s profession as a bounty-hunter. His job requires that he intuit whether apparent humans are actually androids, which, even though he claims that “A Mercerite sensed evil [in andys] without understanding it,” must be carefully discerned through the use of technology like Voigt-Kampff scale (32). This feature has the interesting and extrapolating effect of casting empathy as something mechanical and legible through technology, as displayed when Rick uses the scale to test Rachael Rosen. Rick describes the test: “This… measures capillary dilation in the facial area. We know this to be a primary autonomic response, the so-called ‘shame’ or ‘blushing’ reaction to a morally shocking stimulus. It can’t be controlled voluntarily, as can skin conductivity, respiration, and cardiac rate” (46). While this description is meant to show the utility of such a machine in detecting “The Killers” or the androids, the mechanisms of the Voigt-Kampff scale reveal a perverse vision of “empathy” in the novel as something invasive and frightening, driven by the paranoia pervading this decaying society left behind on earth. A reader may become unsettled by this redefinition of empathy as a locating a set of standard biological and involuntary reactions that each and every person is meant to have, lest they be shunned or “retired” for being an android.

So Close yet So Far

“Eventually, of course, the Voigt-Kampff scale will become obsolete,” Rachael agreed. “But not now. Were satisfied ourselves that it will delineate the Nexus-6 types and we’d like you to proceed on that basis in your own particular, peculiar work” (474)

At this moment in the novel, Rick is trying to figure out whether Rachael is an andy or a human using the Voigt-Kampff test. At this moment, the readers are also trying to figure out Rachael’s identity. At this point, the test seems to have failed, but there are moments like this one that makes us suspicious of Rachael. Just a few pages before the Rosens were angry and disappointed with Rick, calling him “bad morally” because of the risk the test has on humans who are not emphatically mature. They are mad that Rachael could have been tested by this method and killed by accident in a random checkpoint. However, Rachael gives the suggestion that Rick should continue using the test even though it can accidentally cause the death of humans mistaken for andys. She also doesn’t want him to go back and report his findings so they can stop the usage of the test, stopping the hunt for androids until they develop a more accurate test. Therefore, she puts other androids in danger by not giving them the chance to run away during the new test development and encourage him to hunt more while he still has the chance. It’s later stated that Androids don’t care what happens to other androids and she doesn’t care about innocent humans stuck in the crossfire so this may be an indication to whether she is an android or not. Also, she suggests this because keeping the test is the only way Rick can keep going and bounty hunt androids immediately. She only thinks of his livelihood and his need for money instead of the consequences he would face if his work found out he knew the test would fail and still used it and even killing innocent humans while using a test he knows may fail. Rachael goes to an immediate reaction without thinking deeply. A picture of a naked woman means whether she’s sexually attracted to it than any other circumstance such as confusion that a woman would show her body for a magazine. Her reactions are meant to show her care for another person by suggesting he keep conducting the test, yet it shows how heartless she is to the people involved.