A Thought about Unicorns


In 1981 one of the films I most eagerly anticipated was Blade Runner. The movie magazine which first brought  my attention to the movie contained  some of Syd Mead’s beautiful concept drawings of Blade Runner’s futuristic city.

Around the same time Philip K. Dick author of the source novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep after reading one of the first script drafts referred to the project as Philip Marlowe meets the Stepford Wives. However, this initial hostility weared off when he came to see the first scenes from the movie. He even came to endorse the screen adaptation  and described his impressions in an interview with Gregg Rickman as follows.

And they had numerous freaks walking around in Mohawk haircuts. And these were not actors, these were actual punk rock people they had cattlecalled in. They were real! And the air was all mucked up with mist and haze and smoke and grit and dirt, and all these garish neon signs. (…)

And there’s millions of signs, information everywhere, do this, buy that. Half of it’s in Chinese, or some strange alphabet. It was so real, that I had the feeling that they had created a new art form.
“They Did Sight Simulation in my Brain” in Retrofitting Blade Runner

Philip K. Dick’s excitement clearly indicates that there were many trends and subcultures which were heretofore virtually absent from movies. In Berlin, London, New York and Los Angeles there were plenty of people walking around as in this movie. Wasn’t the clientele of Taffey Lewis’ nightclub quite similar to those Blitz Kids, wasn’t J. F. Sebastian a squatter? This future Los Angeles was so meticulously constructed and so appealing in its mono no aware way that it made one wish one could explore what lies outside of the film’s frame, just as Harrison Ford  examines Leon’s photos with his Esper machine. What would it be like to slender through Animoid Row and skim those magazines from its newsstands or to further explore the Mayan patterns on the facade and the interior of Deckard’s apartment building?

Blade Runner was  a movie which really called for an extension, especially as one knew some very nice production stills of scenes which didn’t make it into the film. Hence  there was a lot of excitement among  Blade Runner fans when a workprint was made available in the early nineties which contained a lot of additional scenes. The movie theatres which showed it, were for this short timespan the top-grossing theaters in the US. In Paul M. Sammon’s book Future Noir film preservationist Michael Arick, who unearthed this workprint tells of an odd occurence during a special screening for Ridley Scott

After the screening, Ridley thought he’d seen the unicorn in this print. He hadn’t. It wasn’t there. He was a little insistent about that, though.

When eventually Ridley Scott’s first Director’s Cut came out, the only significant addition was the unicorn dream sequence which suggests that Deckard is himself a replicant. According to screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples this idea wasn’t in any of their screenplays but a concept purely by Ridley Scott. But why a unicorn? Fancher and Peoples both uttered their bafflement about this scene.

Recently I found a clue in the satirical conspiracy novel Illuminatus. One of the novel’s many subplots concerns detective Saul Goodman’s  investigation of a kidnapping.  During its course he becomes himself a captive of members of the secret society. By means of drugs and hypnosis they try to induce psychosis to Saul. Some props they use as an aid to accomplish this goal are, among other things, faked photographical evidence and some drawings made by him of a unicorn.

Those sketches I made the other day, Saul thought . . . but the screen asked him:


. . . and he suddenly understood for the first time what the words “a real thought” meant; what Hegel meant by defining the Absolute Idea as pure thought thinking about pure thought; what Bishop Berkeley meant by denying the reality of the physical world in seeming contradiction of all human experience and common sense; what every detective was secretly attempting to detect …
Robert A. Wilson; Robert Shea: Illuminatus – The Eye of the Pyramid

The unicorn question comes up in various parts of the novel. The following passage triggered in me an association between the unicorn dream sequence and another crucial scene of Blade Runner.

You are not aware of the long psychoanalytical literature on the unicorn as symbol of the father’s penis?

I refer to the scene where Batty confronts his creator Tyrell and requests a prolongation of his lifespan. Batty’s line –  “I want more live fucker” – was considerably altered for the workprint.  Here the original fucker was replaced by father.

I wrote this post after reading Prometheus Unbound: Ridley Scott & Me on Cinebeats.

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