I absolutely love Phillip K. Dick. After having read five or so of his novels, I might even say he’s my favorite. He’s dark, intelligent, and humorous. Some of his plots are so masterfully subversive to a person’s awareness that if you do in fact come across that moment of clarity in a novel, it can be a frighteningly mind blowing experience. That being said and now aside, this retro review is more of a comparison to the story’s Hollywood counterpart, “Blade Runner.”
My inspiration for reading “Do Androids Dream…” came from the fact that, while in my twenties and having seen “Blade Runner,” but never having read Phillip Dick, a cinephile friend of mine who was also really into, ahem, Dick was obsessing over a book about the production of the film, “Blade Runner”. He introduced to me the idea that elements in the film implied that Deckard (the main character) was in fact an Android. This seems to be a very Dick-like scenario and would have several implications to the meaning of the story overall.
With this in mind, I began to carefully read the story in search of clues. What I found was something similar to the film I saw so long ago, yet also very different.
What struck me upon beginning the novel was the level of satire that Dick uses to introduce the human characters. The air of the novel is something comical. A biting grin at an exploded view of social struggle. What is your duty? How far will you go to fulfill it? Will you kill for your country? For your family? This is something that we do not encounter in the film. I believe this silly depiction of humans also attests to the fact that Deckard’s character is in fact intended to be human. There, I said it. Everything in the story implies that Deckard is human – his mundane social struggle, his tiring effort to abolish the threat of non-humans, and his religious experiences all imply that Deckard is in fact just a stupid human.
To be frank, this was a great novel – so good in fact that I read it nearly strait through in about seven hours time. This sort of feat is unprecedented for a scatter-brained mutant like myself. A great novel indeed. Guess what, though? This is probably a first for me, but…
The film was better.
The film was better because it cut out everything that made the novel unique and good – particularly the comical view of everyday life and the non-sequitur religious struggle that Deckard has – which bares no real weight in the story overall. It focused more on characters and their conflicts.
While in Dick’s novel these ideas are present, they are muddling around somewhere in the background. The characters in the novel are present to demonstrate ideas. They are paper puppets that don’t have much depth. The fast-paced plot is what is drives this story and the characters are clearly artificial – be it human or not – created to demonstrate a fallibility in identity and cognition. Classic Dick.
The film, however, draws upon – it must draw upon – the characters themselves to demonstrate the deeper philosophical ideas underlining the story. There is no other way for a film of this nature to be as successful and powerful as this one. The comical opening and the contrived religious demonstrations had to be cut out. The story had to be rewritten so as to demonstrate through character the fallibility of sentient existence. This required a shift from omniscient narrative to powerful monologue – particularly in the philosophical struggle of the replicants themselves, which was only hinted upon in the novel,and it was done masterfully in the film.
In closing this “review” I must say that I did some more research into the theory that Deckard was a replicant in the film version. What I found was that Harrison Ford stated in an interview that Deckard was in fact a human — otherwise the audience would have no one to connect with in the story. I think every other theory is bullshit. I see no evidence that Deckard is a replicant. I’d also like to note that I’ve always questioned the title of this story. Shouldn’t it be, “Do Androids Count Electric Sheep?” Because that’s what we are supposed to do, right? We are supposed to count sheep.
As for the origami unicorn and what it symbolizes? Another acquaintance of mine pointed out that Ridley Scott was in the process of putting the film “Legend” into production. It features unicorns. A coincidence? Who knows? There was no origami in the novel. Then again, we didn’t see an origami Tom Cruz now did we?