This piece contains spoilers for BLADE RUNNER and INCEPTION.
Two of the most iconic Science Fiction films of all time, two distinctive and revolutionary directors putting their vision on screen, two of the biggest questions we as a species can ask ourselves. Blade Runner. Ridley Scott. Inception. Christopher Nolan. What does it mean to be human? What is reality? Audiences have their own queries over the layered plots and characters as well, and the debate over these can be heated. You just have to ask the right questions. Here’s my take on the most persistent unanswered questions of these movies.
BLADE RUNNER (1982/2007) Mr Director’s Cut’s most frequently tweaked work got a cinematic re-release last year in its supposedly definitive form. THE FINAL CUT, as with all versions of this quintessential sci-fi-noir, provokes as much debate as ever. Ridley Scott’s vision of the future may not have come to pass quite yet, but a world controlled by China and Coca Cola is an amusingly spot-on prediction of what the mainstream film industry looks like today. We may not yet be living in Chinese-American hybrid cities, but ever-increasing globalisation and the increasing prominence of territories like China and South Korea to anyone producing forms of entertainment makes it seem like we can’t be that far off. It’s a world so rich and full of subtleties that you’ll never run out of things to spot when watching it again. Aside from the central ideas of advanced robotics, free will, immortality, memory, what is the soul?, there are references to globalisation and the dissolution of nations, off-world colonisation, designer fabrication of animals and human organs. You might groan at the thought, but it’s no wonder there’s a sequel in the works – there’s so much to explore!
Of course the area of debate has always been is Deckard (Harrison Ford) a Replicant? Of course he is – Ridley Scott has confirmed it. What I found odd after seeing the Final Cut again is that nobody seems to be asking whether Edward James Olmos’ character Gaff is also a Replicant. Deckard has a recurring dream featuring a unicorn, Gaff makes origami animals and leaves a little foil unicorn outside Deckard’s apartment at the end of the film. Gaff knows even if Deckard doesn’t what he is. It’s established with Rachel’s (Sean Young) revelation of her own origins that memories can be implanted to convince a Replicant of their humanity (which could easily have happened to Deckard as it did Rachel), but nothing is specifically mentioned about dreams. How would Gaff know about a specific Replicant fantasy unless he’d also seen it? Is it a known Replicant identifier or was it Gaff’s own dream that he thought Deckard might have shared? I might be going up a blind alley here, but I do find it odd that Gaff’s origins aren’t as closely scrutinised as Deckard’s.
INCEPTION (2010) It may be a spring chicken compared to granddaddy Blade Runner, but ever since it hit our screens five years ago, Christopher Nolan’s dream heist extravaganza has (quiet intentionally) left a lot unanswered. We have a vague idea that this near-future is dominated by big manufacturing companies, that espionage facilitated by military grade dream-training technology is a huge threat to anyone with power and influence. We know Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a wanted man in exile, fled from the USA and his family after his wife died in suspicious circumstances. He is a seasoned dream “extractor”, he has been digging through many people’s minds including his own very messy one, but the key argument that still rages among fans is “from what point is he dreaming?” The most common theory seems to be that Cobb is dreaming from the point when he tests the potent sedative in the room of ailing patients. While regaining his composure he knocks his spinning top totem to the floor and therefore never finds out for certain if he has woken up. I certainly buy this, that he is certainly still dreaming at this point, but I think we can go deeper still (yes I’m thinking of that meme as well).
When Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explains to Ariadne (Ellen Page) the importance of having a unique totem – a small item only you would recognise the feel and weight of to check if you are dreaming – Ariadne asks to have a closer look at Arthur’s totem, a loaded dice, to which he responds amused “That would defeat the point”. Only the dreamer should know their totem and only the totem’s owner can use it effectively. Cobb constantly uses his spinning top to check that reality is reality, as any experienced extractor would. The problem with this train of thought is, if we take into account Cobb’s explanation to Ariadne later, his spinning top was once Mal’s (Marion Cotillard). He kept it as a memento, a constant painful reminder, of when his dear wife committed suicide in an effort to “wake up”. So if he is using someone else’s totem, no matter how close to her he was, how could he use it to accurately judge what is real? His tool is flawed and so is the conclusion he is drawing from it, so I don’t actually think anything he is going through is actually happening. The film from start to finish is an illusion and Mal was right – Cobb is dreaming and he doesn’t know it. At least, that’s my take. SSP