Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
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Ethical problems of artificial creation of humans have always been a fruitful ground for exploration in science fiction literature. Among the representatives of the genre, Philip Dick is considered to be one of the major visionaries of the present. His most known novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was written in 1968 and is believed to be a classic of the genre. But the ultimate recognition came to the author after the Ridley Stott’s film “Blade Runner” came out in 1982, which was an adaptation of the novel. Being based on Dick’s story, the film, however, stands apart from the novel in a lot of aspects and rather represents an independent work. In this essay the difference between the perceptions of the novel and the film will be explored as well as the emotional accents of the main characters.
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” takes place in San Francisco of 1992 (2021 in later edition) and is set in dystopian near future. The populations of the Earth have been greatly damaged by a Nuclear War and are in a danger of extinction. Because of that most of people have relocated to the colonies on Mars. Any life forms have become extremely valuable and important. Therefore, keeping one’s own real animal pet has become too expensive for the majority of the planet’s residents. Naturally, this situation served as a precondition for creation of artificial life.
The main character of the book is Rick Deckard, a “bounty hunter” who works for the San Francisco Police Department. His job is to find and “retire” androids who have escaped from Mars. The only way to distinguish an android from a human is a so called “empathy test” – a procedure designed to detect a true sense of compassion which only a human can experience. After finding his fellow bounty hunter seriously hurt in an encounter with an android, Rick becomes the chief of the department and is being assigned a task to find and retire the remaining Nexus-6 androids.
From the first chapter the difference in plot between the novel and the film builds up a different attitude to their main characters. In Scott’s work, Deckard seems rather apathetic and indifferent to the outside world. He is retired from serving in the police department and is brought back to the job routine against his will. He is asked to take one more assignment and retire six Nexus-6 androids that have managed to make their way from Mars to Earth.
One of the key differences between the film and the novel consists in the motives of the androids: the replicants arrive to Earth in order to find out how much time they have left before their “due date”. All their actions are nothing but attempts to survive and to extend their life’s period. In the movie, the main hero Roy Baty, impersonated by Rutger Hauer, seems to provoke more sympathy than the character of Harrison Ford, Rick Deckard. Especially it becomes evident in the final scene, when Baty saves Deckard’s life and accepts his own death. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain”, says Roy in this scene during his final speech, which leads us to doubt the conviction that replicants are not capable of experiencing human feelings.
Though, while the images of the androids and Rick Deckard in the book and in the film are outwardly similar to a great extent, stylistics and the key points of two stories make readers care for Deckard in the novel more. In Dick’s story replicants are represented as artificial human beings that know nothing about compassion and do not care even for their own kind. “An android doesn’t care what happens to another android. That’s one of the indications we look for”, says Deckard while interrogating another replicant.
One of the major themes developed in the film explores the fundamental differences between real and artificial life forms and suggests that Deckard himself is actually an android, though he does not comprehend this fact. In his version, Ridley Scott implies that the dreams about the unicorn Deckard is occasionally having, are nothing but false artificial memories. The possibility of Rick being also artificial is what makes a solid distinction between the film and the novel and makes the difference between replicants and humans much less obvious and clear to the spectators. Thus, in the film androids level with humans to a much greater extent than in the novel.
In Philip Dick’s book, Deckard is worried with the fact that he begins to feel sorry for androids as if they were humans. Rick comes to a conclusion that he can not be a bounty hunter anymore and, therefore, he eventually retires from the police department. In the end of the novel after finding an artificial toad, the main character realizes that he can love this creature as if it were real. “The electric things have their life too. Paltry as those lives are”, says Rick after realizing that the toad he found was artificial. In the movie these sides of Rick’s character were omitted.
The difference in the images of Rick Deckard and Roy Baty in the novel and the film adaptation consist mainly in different conclusions of the stories. The ending of the film remains open and raises multiple questions about the characters. Deckard’s image in the novel, on the other hand, is more positive and clear – an image of a man who appears to have lost a sense of selfishness and realized the meaning of true empathy. It is not unlikely that these distinctions are the main reason why this character seems to be more attractive in the novel than in the film.