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Just saw a video which highlights this line:

Was this meant to be significant?

To clarify, I am in no way implying that Zhora meant anything other than, "Are you serious?" — I am just saying the choice of words by the writers is extremely interesting.

3

When I first saw this question, my immediate response was that Zhora's question was not supposed to have any particular significance—that it was just her expressing her surprise and exasperation with Deckard. It's a pretty reasonable reaction; he does, after all, follow her into her dressing room and watch her change clothes—which she does not particularly seem to care about, but it makes Deckard seem both clueless and hypocritical.

Moreover, some the suggestions that Deckard might be more (or less) than he seems were supposedly only added by Ridley Scott at a fairly late stage, mostly in post-production. There would seem to be little reason for there to be such a suggestion in the script, if Deckard possibly being a replicant was a relatively late addition to the story.

However, I went and looked at the script, and I changed my mind. The opposite is true. That line was definitely there to provoke some thought—if not necessarily about whether the protagonist was a replicant, then about the overall theme of the ersatz-ness of practically everything in the Blade Runner future and the assumed but dubious superiority of humans over replicants.

The reason I changed my mind is that the shooting script actually has the scene play out slightly differently.

DECKARD: Like to get this job... did you or were you asked to do anything lewd or unsavory or otherwise repulsive to your person?

SALOME: Are you for real?

DECKARD: Oh, yeah. You'd be surprised what goes on around here. I'd like to check the dressing room if I could.

SALOME: What the fuck for?

DECKARD: For holes.

This guy might be an asshole, but he's funny.

SALOME: I don't believe this.

She shrugs and they go in.

INT. DRESSING ROOM — NIGHT

Musty, cramped. A portable shower, a dressing table and not much else. On the dressing table lies a snake. Deckard watches it undulate into the warmth of the lights.

DECKARD: Is that mother for real?

SALOME: Of course he's not real. You think I'd be working here if I could afford a real snake?

Besides some reordering of the scene, the script seems to envision the setting as even significantly more tawdry than what actually appears in the movie. (For example, Deckard soon finds that there actually is a peephole in the dressing room.) More important here, however, is the repetition in Deckard's question about the snake: "Is that mother for real?" The similar phrasing, although the apparent meaning of "for real" is quite different between the two questions, seems very unlikely to be a coincidence. The scriptwriters, Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, almost certainly put that echo in there on purpose.

Now, as I said above, this may not have been meant to suggest specifically that Deckard might be a replicant. It may have been intended more as a thematic gesture—pointing out how practically everything in the film's dystopian setting is, to some degree, fake. Deckard himself has adopted a false persona for this very scene (a persona of which Zhora is rightfully suspicious); and there are many other examples. (J. F. Sebastian is young but seems middle aged; Gaff leaves origami facsimiles of animals to indicate his presence; Rachel does not even know whether she is "real" herself.)

In the scene as finally shot, Deckard phrases the question about the snake differently: "Is this a real snake?"

This breaks the parallel with the earlier line, but maybe Ridley Scott actually wanted to tone down the suggestiveness of Zhora's line. However, it certainly seems, from the shooting script, that the phrasing of that line was indeed intended to be suggestive of something.

  • Thanks for the details from the script. (I never liked the thing about expensive real animals (or in 2049, what the replicant hooker says about trees) -- I understand why they are there but they feel contrived. The stuff from Dick's novels about humans loving real animals does not fit in Blade Runner.) Anyway, I think the script indicates that the line must have meant more to the writers than, "Are you kidding?" If she always intended to kill Deckard, she could have said, "Are you for real?" but that might have been unsubtle. – releseabe Jul 19 at 4:34
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That line only seems significant because it is being taken out of context.

In the scene immediately prior while he is waiting for her, we hear an announcer in the background saying:

"Ladies and Gentlemen. Taffy Lewis presents Miss Salomé and the snake. Watch her take the pleasures from the serpent that once corrupted man."

The conversation you are asking about takes place with her still completely nude after her performance. While we don't see her actual performance as Miss Salome, it is clear that her job is to do "lewd and unsavory" things in front of an audience. She laughs and asks if he is "for real" because she considers his question absurd.

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    Had forgotten that, very good point. +1, and congrats on 1k :) – Jenayah Jul 18 at 18:58
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I don't think it is. The whole dialog goes like below; notice how uneasy Deckard appears to be, unlike Zhora:

Deckard: Have you felt yourself to be exploited in any way?

Zhora: How do you mean, exploited?

Deckard: Well, like to get this job. I mean, did you do, or- or were you asked to do anything lewd or unsavory or otherwise, uh, repulsive to your person, huh?

Zhora: Ha. Are you for real?

Deckard: Oh yeah. I'd like to check your dressing room if I may.

Zhora: For what?

Deckard: For, uh, for holes.

Zhora: Holes?

Deckard: You'd be surprised what a guy'd go through to get a glimpse of a beautiful body.

Zhora: No, I wouldn't.

Deckard: Little, uh, dirty holes they uh, drill in the wall so they can watch a lady undress.

Deckard isn't very confident, and hesitates a lot, as the questions he's asking are a little bit "private". Of course he's in disguise, but that lack of confidence comes with the character he's impersonating. Zhora on the other hand, is rather fine in this scene. This "are you for real" is just an expression meant to poke at Deckard, like "are you seriously asking me this?".

I get where you're ​coming from, with the "Deckard is a replicant" theory (which, for what it's worth, wasn't an impression I had upon watching the movie and even less so in reading the book), but really I think this is just it... Zhora making fun of Deckard's (apparent) awkwardness.

  • There is more than one way to ask the question; that she chooses, "Are you for real?" is sort of amazing if the writers had not considered it -- in fact, it is far more interesting if it was unintentional or subconscious choice of words by the writers. If it was intentional, it is also great since few viewers this early in the film would have perceived the significance -- I first saw the film almost 40 years ago and it had not occurred to me before today despite seeing the film many times since then. – releseabe Jul 18 at 14:19
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    @releseabe Perhaps "Are you for real?" was a more common expression when the film was released, so people didn't really recognize the line as anything special until years later where that specific word choice now appears significant because the phrase is used less. – JMac Jul 18 at 16:25
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    No. Deckard's voice was absurd. Don't know why he had to change it. – Randy Zeitman Jul 18 at 19:27
  • @RandyZeitman: Change it? – releseabe Jul 19 at 0:30
  • @releseabe Yes, when Deckard pretends to check is "Zhora exploited", he speaks in much higher, nervous voice. He is pretending to be someone who is far from his comfort zone – Yasskier Jul 19 at 1:21

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