Using the film Blade Runner for GCSE English.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?


Bladerunner was based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick.


Tom Cleaver writes:

Having recently read Phillip K. Dick's book 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' and subsequently watched the film 'Blade Runner' for the second time after some years, I searched the internet to explore the deeper meanings of
I came across your website, one of the few I could find that actually contrasted the film and the original book, and couldn't help noticing some errors in your comments.

Firstly some purely technical mistakes: you say that Roy Baty is named Irmgard in the book. In fact, he is still named Roy, but another of the androids, his 'wife', is named Irmgard.
You also say that Garland in the book takes some of the role of Bryant in the film. This is untrue as they are both in the book. Garland is an android posing as a police chief in a
fake police station in an attempt to snare Deckard, and Bryant plays exactly the same role as he does in the film. Rachel (called 'Rachel Rosen' rather than 'Tyrell' in the book, as is the android company) is not at all described as intending to help Deckard in the book, as you say. Rather, we are led to believe that she wants to for much of the book, but all along she is trying to get Deckard emotionally involved with her so he is unable to continue his work as a bounty hunter.

It is clear in the book then that the androids do lack human empathy, and are always ultimately cold and calculating (where as in the film they seem to possess some form of empathy, as Rachel loves Deckard, and Roy saves his life before dying himself).
Another thing you fail to mention is that in the book, the world has become so horribly desolate because of a nuclear war, and the entire earth is plagued with radiation. This is not a feature of the film, although obviously it is a highly meaningful idea, and says much of Dick's vision of human nature, as well as being highly topical at the time of writing with the Cold War in full swing.
More importantly I believe you have missed out on some central thematic differences between the two.
Mercerism specifically induces feelings of empathy and unity, rather than just 'religious' feelings, and although shown to be a fake by Buster Friendly is given deeper meaning by Deckard's own experience of being Mercer without the aid of the empathy box. This relates to what I believe is the main theme of the book. It is not "what does it mean to be human?" as you say on the site, but rather "what does it mean to be real?"

What Deckard discovers in the book is that life and reality are not a matter of being proven to be real, but consist in thought and experience. In the film Pris says to Sebastian "I think therefore I am," the only real reference to this theme in the film. More evidence for this is in the last few chapters of the book, when Deckard's wife asks him if he believes Mercerism to be real (after it has been deemed a hoax). He replies "Everything is true. Everything anyone has ever thought." So although the actual images people see of Mercer were originally faked, the experience people have in merging with him has become real.
I could write a whole essay on the implications of this ...

It is interesting to note, however, that this is a theme running through many of Dick's novels, and relates to his own life. He was schizophrenic, and experienced complicated hallucinations throughout his life, culminating in a mental breakdown. He explores these experiences in the books 'Valis' and 'Radio Free Albemuth,' and touches on them in many others including 'A Scanner Darkly.' Although obviously aware they were hallucinations, he believes them to have as much meaning as what we normally think of as 'reality,' hence Deckard's assertion that everything anyone has ever thought is true.

So the film, as well as simplifying the plot, completely changes the philosophical issues in the book, and subsequently gives a very different feel to the whole story.

Tom Cleaver, February 2006.

Tom Cleaver wrote this after reading my page, and disagreed with some of what I'd written.

If you've read this page so far you might like to read his different view.

Think about the differences between what we have written. Which are differences of fact and which are differences of opinion?

Which do you agree with?

Write to Tom and Duncan and give your views!

DSG 8/01


Duncan Grey