A Conversation about the Unicorn in Blade Runner

“The restored dream to my mind unarguably leads to the revelation of Deckard’s true nature as a replicant; Gaff’s origami unicorn shows his otherwise inexplicable knowledge of Deckard’s most unknowable inner thoughts. I’ve always been very happy with that (I was never entirely happy with the original cut and was blown away when I first saw the Director’s cut) and haven’t ever felt the need to look much beyond that, as aesthetically for me it sounds the perfect balance between revelation and beautiful ambiguity, ditto Ford’s wonderfully understated reaction at the end.

But, that said, the image of the unicorn itself is so striking, mysterious and unexpected, and so wisely left utterly ‘unexplained’, that it’s fair to wonder at. You can say on a prosaic level that it was simply more interesting and striking than showing a dream of, say, Deckard picking flowers with children, or some such, but there’s clearly a deeper resonance than just that. A key element in the book that the film rather strangely skims over is why there are artificial animals (owl, snake) at all, which is that pollution and nuclear war have wiped them almost all out, leaving people with a spiritual void they try to fill through owning artificial animals. That spiritual reverence for animal life might manifest itself powerfully in Deckard’s dream of what to us would be a mythical creature, whereas in his world all animals possess a certain mythical status. But that’s more an idea in tune with the book; it doesn’t fit well in the film, where I think it may more be an allusion to the ideas of Man as god and creator and the uncertain nature of his creation: are the replicants a doomed imperfect child or a new being that may grow to be greater than man the creator himself? They are semi-mythical creatures themselves, just like the unicorn, and as such is Deckard’s dream an image or half-grasped symbol of his growing unconscious awareness of what he really is? Such independent (un)conscience would seem to be at odds with the revelation he’s just broken to Rachel that all replicants’ memories are second hand, and Gaff’s knowledge of his dream.

So whose memory or dream of the unicorn would it be that Deckard was given? I wonder if it was a image given to him by Tyrell himself, as a whimsical symbolic ‘gift’ from his creator alluding to his true nature? I rather favour that. I think I’ve even seen someone posit that it might be Gaff’s memory/dream, but that’s too neat a fit which ignores how that just doesn’t work in every other respect.

I must say Rina, you’ve got me thinking much more about it than I thought I would when you initially asked! Such is the power of great art, I guess, which the film definitely is for me.” – TM

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