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Blade Runner seems to be unable to decide whether Nexus 6 Replicants are easy or hard to identify using the Voight-Kampff test. I'm wondering if there is a story explanation for this.

  • Case 1: Leon (Brion James)

Leon is being tested in the first scene of the movie. Leon does very poorly: he interrupts with so many clarifying questions that the test administrator can barely get the first question out, and then he shoots the guy dead when the second question proves challenging.

Score: 1 question answered (probably failed that question)

  • Case 2: Rachael (Sean Young)

Deckard tests Rachael at Tyrell's insistence: "I want to see a negative before I provide you with a positive." Even though Tyrell essentially states that Rachael is human, and Deckard says the test only needs 20-30 questions to identify a Replicant, he inexplicably asks three or four times as many questions. And when the test finally leads him to the answer that he was told not to expect, he's still uncertain enough that he states his conclusion as a question rather than a fact: "She's a Replicant, isn't she?"

Score: 100 questions answered (possibly 70+ answered satisfactorily)


Both Leon and Rachael are Nexus 6 Replicants (probably):

  • While he briefs Deckard, Captain Bryant's computer screen states explicitly that Leon is a Nexus 6
  • It is implied that Rachael is a Nexus 6, although the movie leaves enough wiggle room for her to be something else (Tyrell concedes that she is a Replicant and says she is "an experiment" but does not mention which generation, and Bryant's statement that "there is a Nexus 6 [at Tyrell's]" might refer to someone other than Rachael)

If Rachael is representative of Nexus 6 performance on the V/K test, then Leon should have performed similarly. Or, at least better than crashing and burning spectacularly.

Or, if Leon is representative of Nexus 6 V/K performance, then nobody should be worried that Nexus 6 models are difficult to detect, because they would not be. I actually think the movie gives us no choice but to believe that Leon did worse than a Nexus 5: since Nexus 6 is new, Deckard's expectation of 20-30 questions would be based on blade runners' experiences with older models.

It seems like the movie cannot make up its mind whether the Nexus 6 is comically handicapped like Leon, or supremely life-like (in the way that would be necessary to motivate the film's philosophical concerns).

Am I misinterpreting the evidence, or overlooking something? Is there a story explanation for this?

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    I'm not sure we are meant to think Leon has failed the test (yet). The questions are not intelligence tests, but designed to illicit an emotional response. He's meant to be impersonating a low level worker at Tyrell Corp, not someone of great intelligence. Yes, he gets frustrated and decides that shooting his way out of the test is better than risking eventually failing it - but I'm not sure we are meant to assume Dave Holden has already decided that he's a Replicant after only asking about his thoughts about his mother. A question that he doesn't even answer.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 5:02
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    Leon is designated as "Military/Cargo loader" - so he is probably only equipped emotionally to perform that more limited role. Doesn't necessarily mean that it would be easier to spot him than Rebecca. Just because he sounds unintelligent and doesn't 'get' what the questions are about - that might fit the kind of person he is impersonating at Tyrell corp.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 5:06
  • @iandotkelly thinking that way, because he's military maybe he would also react more violently if he merely suspected he was going to fail the test
    – Luciano
    Commented Feb 17, 2022 at 9:19

3 Answers 3

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It's harder but not impossible to catch them using the VK test

As you state in the question, its clearly seen that Deckard correctly detects Rachael is a replicant, but it is significantly harder than usual:

 Deckard:   She's a replicant, isn't she?
 Tyrell:    I'm impressed. How many questions does it usually take to 
            spot them?
 Deckard:   I don't get it Tyrell.
 Tyrell:    How many questions?
 Deckard:   Twenty, thirty, cross-referenced.
 Tyrell:    It took more than a hundred for Rachael, didn't it?

However, I think you are mistaken in the assumption that Leon was failing the test badly, or is 'comically handicapped' in taking the test. With 20-30 questions normally needed, even a previous generation replicant would not have been found after 2 questions.

I think you are mistaking his behavior (confused, rambling) with behavior that would fail the test. It's not an intelligence test or a comprehension test, but one that tests for a human emotional response, both verbal and involuntary (skin conductivity and pupil dilation).

Leon is a model used for military and manual labor. He has infiltrated the company and is impersonating a "waste disposal engineer". His apparent confusion, lack of vocabulary (not knowing what a Tortoise is) may be genuine, but it is also possibly correct for him to be 'in character'.

He wouldn't fail the test not knowing what a tortoise is, or fail it by being confused, but he would fail if there was a consistent pattern of him not responding correctly (verbally or via the sensors detecting his physiological response) to 20-30 questions designed to provoke an emotional response.

Leon however clearly decides that he's going to be caught eventually and decides to surprise Holden and shoot him when he is not expecting it. Leon also may have already got enough information from the company and an opportunity to kill one of the people sent to find them would have been too good to miss.

I don't see this scene as being inconsistent with the premise that the Nexus-6 are harder to spot than previous generations of replicants.

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Not all Nexus-6s are alike. In particular, Rachael has something that Leon and the others don't: memory implants.

TYRELL: Rachael is an experiment, nothing more. We began to recognise in them a strange obsession. After all, they are emotionally inexperienced with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or pillow for their emotions — and consequently we can control them better.

DECKARD: Memories. You're talking about memories.

As a result of this, while Leon and the others know they're replicants, during the test Rachael doesn't:

DECKARD: She doesn't know?!

TYRELL: She's beginning to suspect, I think.

DECKARD: Suspect? How can it not know what it is?

The effect of those memories would seem to explain why Rachael was so much harder to identify; as Tyrell says, they give her much more experience with emotions (even if that experience is second-hand), and so her reactions to emotion-provoking questions are likely to be very different, and much more human-like, than those of replicants such as Leon who don't have them.

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  • +1. While I do agree that Rachel has additional 'emotional' support from her memories, the original question implies that Leon was comically easy to spot - which I don't think is true.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Feb 19, 2022 at 19:59
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    @iandotkelly Oh, I agree. Leon — never the intelligent one — got angry before there was any need. But the question is comparing Leon with Rachael, and while your answer addresses the first well, I thought there were some important points regarding the second :-)
    – gidds
    Commented Feb 19, 2022 at 20:54
  • If Rachael's custom memory implants are what allowed her to withstand the V/K for so long, then it follows that all other Nexus 6 models would not be hard to identify, which negates all characters' concerns about detecting them via traditional testing.
    – Tom
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 19:56
  • If it normally takes 20–30 questions to identify a replicant, as Deckard says, then I wouldn't call that easy… Memory implants appear to make it significantly harder, but even without them, blade runners clearly have a difficult job.
    – gidds
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 22:00
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    @Tom .. it is a little vague still. Deckard is sent to Tyrell to find out whether the Nexus 6 is any less detectable. They give him a 'special' N6 who doesn't know she is a replicant. Its unclear how much difference that makes.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Feb 26, 2022 at 15:12
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You are misinterpreting.

Rachel was NOT Nexus 6. She was a new prototype model. In the sequel, it is revealed that the model line was Nexus 7.

The new model features were false memory implants to cushion the emotional volatility and, possibly just for Rachel, no termination date (which I assume would be added back into the production models, but this way they could study the prototype and not start over from scratch multiple times).

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