Dr. Eldon Tyrell lives in a penthouse at the top of a giant pyramid—the headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation, the company responsible for manufacturing the replicants. In style, the pyramid is less Egyptian and more like a Babylonian ziggurat than anything else. This gives us a sense of the kind of dude Tyrell is: he's not just a humble scientist, toiling away in a lab somewhere—instead, he has the position and authority of a king or even a god (source).
In relation to Roy and the other replicants, Tyrell actually is a god—he's their creator. Tyrell and Roy have an enlightening exchange on the subject:
TYRELL: I'm surprised you didn't come here sooner.
ROY: It's not an easy thing to meet your maker.
TYRELL: What can he do for you?
ROY: Can the maker repair what he makes?
The answer to Roy's question is basically no—Tyrell can't give him what he wants, "more life." So Roy kills him. Considering that Tyrell is Roy's reason for being—father figure and god—this is a pretty audacious move on Roy's part. He's attacking the powerful technological forces that control his society, becoming a rebel in the extreme.
Since the pyramid seems pretty Babylonian, you can argue that the filmmakers want Tyrell to seem like a harsh pre-Biblical deity. In Babylonian mythology, the gods created human beings essentially to serve as slave labor to provide the gods with food in the form of sacrifices—they didn't love humans or intend to reward them in heaven. And that's exactly Tyrell's relation to the replicants he's created: they're just part of his business, a device to make money for him.
When Deckard pursues the replicant Zhora, a snake scale he finds in a drain eventually leads him to a cabaret where he finds her performing a seductive dance with a snake. (It's not a "real" snake: since so many animals have died out, it's a replicant serpent itself.) Zhora herself has a snake tattoo on her neck.
So what? Is that it? Maybe… But you could argue that the snake fits in with the mythological and biblical echoes in Blade Runner, along with the pyramid or ziggurat where Tyrell lives and the "Methuselah syndrome" from which Sebastian suffers. When an unseen emcee introduces Zhora at the club, he makes reference to "the serpent that once corrupted man."
Everyone in this movie is living in a corrupt society, polluted and filthy and dominated by greedy and unscrupulous people, and the replicants get the worst of it: they're the true victims of the movie, used as slave labor and then murdered.
The Christ-imagery at the end of the movie plays into this concept, too—for example when Roy drives a nail through one of his hands and then releases a dove as he dies. He's making up for the sins of his world, while he himself is guiltless. So, you could interpret the serpent imagery as something that shows that Zhora—and the other replicants—are bearing a burden unjustly forced on them by the world's corruption.
There's an owl in Tyrell's penthouse, but it's not an actual, natural owl. Like the replicants, it's artificial, even if it is an exact copy. You can tell that it's manufactured because the lenses in its eyes reflect light the same way Rachael's and the other replicants' do.
In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the book on which Blade Runner is based, owls are the first creatures to go extinct when nearly all animal life dies out on earth. So that might be one reason for the presence of the owl in Tyrell's office (Tyrell also has a statue of an owl).
Also, the owl is a classic symbol of wisdom and knowledge. Tyrell, after all, possesses the secret, genetic knowledge that has allowed him to become a corporate overlord and creator of replicants. At the same time, the owl is famously considered a bird of ill-omen in many cultures throughout the world—which hints at both the wickedness of Tyrell and his impending death at Roy's hands.
Leon and Rachael both have fake family pictures to go along with their fake implanted memories… and so, perhaps, does Deckard, if he really is a replicant himself. In Rachael's case, her memories and her pictures were actually copied from those of Tyrell's niece. As Tyrell explains, the memories help provide an emotional "cushion" for the replicants—instead of acting really weird, and having strange reactions and off-key ways of expressing empathy, the memories allow the replicants to behave in a more fully human manner.
The pictures also relate to the question of identity. If memories help determine what a person really is, then whois someone who has entirely fake memories? Does Rachael really have a self of her own, or has it just been borrowed from the woman who's memories she now possesses?
That's an interesting question, and it makes us think about whether we would really have an identity without our memories. Are we just the product of the things that happen to us, or is there something in us that exists beyond those experiences, something more essential?
Interestingly, when Roy comes to die, in his final words he says he cherishes his memories—and not apparently fake memories, either. He remembers moments from his real life, engaging in combat missions on the Off-World colonies. In this way, he's affirming his own authentic identity, even as it slips away from him in death. At the same time, by demonstrating real empathy and allowing Deckard to live, Roy is asserting his true humanity against the forces that have tried to make him nothing but a killer and a slave.
While Deckard and Gaff are investigating Leon's apartment, Gaff creates a little stick figure out of some matchsticks and leaves it seated on a table. It's a symbol—and perhaps a clue to Deckard. The replicants themselves are like matchstick men (or matchstick women): they're made to be disposed, having a four-year time limit on their lives. Gaff might just create the figure out of restlessness, but in the movie, it seems overtly symbolic. Why else would you put it on screen?
In a way, it might be a hint to Deckard, as well. At the end of the movie, Gaff leaves behind a little origami unicorn—indicating (if you see the Final Cut or Director's Cut versions of the movie) that Gaff can read Deckard's dreams… because Deckard is a replicant. So when Gaff creates the little matchstick man, he might not just be commenting on Leon and the other rogue replicants… he might be giving Deckard a secret message about his own true identity.
The unicorn didn't actually appear in the original theatrical release of the movie; it only appeared in later versions, like 2007's The Final Cut. All we see in the original is the origami unicorn that Gaff leaves for Deckard to find at the end of the movie. This kind of ruins the whole point of the unicorn symbolism though, as it was first intended, and it apparently wasn't Scott's intention to cut it from the theatrical release.
So, in case you didn't see one of the later cuts, allow us to explain: in the middle of the movie, Deckard gets drunk and looks at family pictures while sitting by the piano in his apartment. In the original theatrical cut, that's all that happens. But the later versions reveal that there was actually a brief dream sequence at this moment, in which Deckard sees a running unicorn.
The fact that Gaff then leaves behind a silver origami unicorn is meant to the indicate that he knows Deckard's dreams… indicating that those dreams were perhaps implanted, just like Rachael's memories… which would mean that Deckard may actually be a replicant.
That's what Ridley Scott himself said he intended—though one of the screenwriters, Hampton Fancher, said he wanted it to be more ambiguous. On the other hand, Harrison Ford said that he portrayed Deckard with the belief that Deckard was a human, which kind of throws a small wrench into this discussion. (Source)
Also, earlier in the movie, when Deckard is trying to refuse his new assignment, Gaff sets down an origami chicken, indicating that he's too chicken to accept the quest. Sure, that's as deep as the unicorn, but we thought it was worth mentioning.
Eyes show up a lot in Blade Runner. We get to see the fake lenses shining in the eyes of the replicants—and in the eyes of an artificial owl. We see the hellish L.A. landscape reflected in an eye. And we see Roy and Leon take a trip to the lab of a dude who designs eyes (and who made their eyes, specifically), where Roy comments on the subject: "Chew, if only you could see what I've seen with your eyes!" (source)
Maybe the reason eyes come up so frequently is because they're traditionally thought to be the "windows to the soul"—they're the main organs we have for experiencing reality. Whereas the humans treat the replicants as though they were just machines or tools, which can be "retired" without ethical compunction, they actually experience reality in a rich and conscious way—their eyes aren't empty.
In a lot of ways, Roy seems to be more alive than many of the authentically human characters. When he talks about the things he's seen with the eyes Chew has manufactured, he's really talking about how astounding his experiences have been, and he's denying the notion that he's just some lifeless automaton.
There's also the Voight-Kampff Test, which measures the fluctuations of the subject's iris and pupil in order to determine whether he or she is a replicant or not. This strikes at the heart of what makes humans and replicants different: the way the replicants see the world, in emotional terms, isn't "normal." They'll end up feeling empathy for oysters before they feel empathy for dogs—things like that. (The shining lenses in the replicants' eyes also highlight the fact that the replicants are perceiving things differently.) But the false memories Tyrell has given Rachael help her have more or less normal reactions, seeing the world in a way closer to the way humans perceive it. So what makes her different from a human?
When Roy and Leon arrive at the eye lab run by Hannibal Chew, Roy quotes the famous British poet and visionary William Blake—or, actually, he misquotes him: "Fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rolled around their shores; burning with the fires of Orc." (In Blake's actual quote the angels rise from the fires of Orc rather than fall.) By identifying with these fallen angels, Roy says something about himself—he's a rebel. And he's rebelling against the state of things in a fundamental way, challenging the man who created him, Dr. Tyrell, just as some of the angels rebelled against God.
But even though Roy identifies with the fallen angels and kills his own creator, he ends up assuming Christ-like symbolism at the end of the movie. He goes from being a guy who wants to upset the status quo to a guy who accepts his own mortality and suffers for it in a redemptive fashion. He's also angelic in the sense that he has powers and abilities that go beyond the human—Roy's not so much an inhuman robot as he is a superhuman, a person who's passion for life is transcendent.
When Pris and Roy seek out the genetic designer J. F. Sebastian, they discover that he has a glandular condition called "Methuselah Syndrome," which causes him to age prematurely. Naturally, they see that he's in the same boat as they are—since they also have a set time limit on their lifespans—and they try to leverage that for aid and empathy. Sebastian ends up helping them, though probably more out of fear than anything else. It doesn't work out well for him, in the end: Roy kills him, off-screen.
The fact that Sebastian's disease is called "Methuselah Syndrome" fits in with some of the biblical echoes in Blade Runner, since Methuselah is the character in the Hebrew Bible who is said to have lived the longest, hitting the ripe old age of 969. This makes the title of the disease somewhat ironic, since it involves dying sooner rather than later.
At the end of the movie, Roy Batty goes from being an apparently haywire maniac to being a Christ-figure. He pushes a symbolic nail through one of his hands before sparing Rick Deckard's life, and then he dies due to his expired time limit.
In the voiceover to the original version of the movie, Deckard provides a hint of Roy's motives: "I don't know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life, anybody's life, my life. All he'd wanted were the same answers the rest of us want. Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? All I could do was sit there and watch him die."
Batty is a victim of society, created to be a slave and doomed to die at a set time. At first he responds to the injustice of his condition by seeking out the people who created him—and when they claim to be unable to extend his lifespan, he kills them. Okay, on the whole, that's probably not very Jesusy. He also breaks two of Deckard's fingers as punishment for killing Pris and Zhora—which is probably fair enough, but still not something ol' J. C. would probably have done.
Still, when it comes time for Roy to die, he flips out and drives a nail through his hand. After this, he achieves the fullest expression of his humanity by letting a dove go and showing mercy towards Deckard. Symbolically, the nail may represent all the suffering and the difficulty he's gone through in his life. Ultimately, those things have taught him compassion instead of just making him an unreflective killer, and this is what allows him to save Deckard's life as the movie comes to an end.
Now, the dove is a traditional image of the spirit or the soul—which is something that the replicants aren't supposed to have. They're just meant to be tools, mere objects and instruments, according to the company that made them. But Roy manages to contradict the Tyrell Corporation: he demonstrates that he has a soul by showing mercy towards Deckard at the end of the movie, refusing to kill him. Then, as he dies, he releases a white dove he's been holding. It soars into the sky like his soul rising into heaven.
Interestingly, this wasn't originally in the script. The actor who played Roy, Rutger Hauer, actually suggested releasing the dove as a symbolic act. He also wrote his own dying line: "All those... moments will be lost in time, like tears... in rain."
If you're in the mood to start a serious Internet flame war, step into any science fiction forum, drop this question, then run away fast:
Is Deckard a human or a Replicant?
Movie geeks of all stripes have argued about whether or not Deckard is himself a Replicant, and at the end of the day, the movie never provides an answer. That means the debate fires can smolder for literally years. We have our own ideas to put out there, but you're never going to get a definitive answer.
The theatrical release seems to confirm that Deckard's birth didn't involve a bar code scan. Key scenes are cut and subtle clues simply don't show up. You can make the assumption that he's a Replicant, but there's not a lot of evidence to back you up.
However, with the various director's cut versions, the question gets a whole lot trickier, and some very tasty clues crop up to suggest that Deckard is also a product of the Tyrell Corporation.
Let's review the evidence;
1. Glowing eyes. At various points, Batty, Pris and Rachael all display weirdly glowing eyes, like raccoons in headlights. Human beings in the movie don't have that…except Deckard, who flashes them briefly after spending the night with Rachael.
2. Pretty, pretty people. Notice how the various real human beings in the movie are all physically damaged in some way? Gaffe has a limp. Sebastian has an accelerated aging disease. Tyrell's wearing glasses the size of an industrial mixer. And Bryant? We're pretty sure Bryant just oozes Crisco oil out of his pores. (It's suggested, though not stated, that all the pretty people have decamped to the off-world colonies, leaving Earth for the ugly kids to inhabit.)
Now look at the Replicants. They've got it going on: strong, healthy, launching back-kicks at the drop of a hand, and generally vamping it up like supermodels when they aren't finding people's eyes to punch in. There's a pretty clear distinction between human and Replicant…
…except for Deckard, played by Harrison Ford in his Maximum Hunk era and looking good enough to eat with a spoon. Hmmm…
3. The Unicorn. The biggest piece of evidence in the "Deckard's-a-Replicant" theory comes at the end, when he discovers Gaffe's origami unicorn lurking outside his apartment. Why is this important? (You know, besides the fact that Gaffe was there and didn't fill Rachael with more holes than a whiffle ball?) Because earlier in the film, Deckard had experienced a dream about a unicorn. That suggests that Gaffe knows something about Deckard's dreams, which further suggests that those dreams are factory standard.
4. The director says so. Did we mention the biggest piece of evidence? We forgot the part where Ridley Scott ruins everyone's fun by coming out and straight-up stating that Deckard is a Replicant. Way to kill those Internet flame wars, Ridley.
Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
As the movie begins, Rick Deckard is trying to eat some sushi in peace. He doesn't get very far: he just starts to order it at the roadside stand when his past life reaches out drag him back in. He's been trying to retire from his life as a blade runner, a guy hired to "retire" (or, you know, kill) escaped replicants.
But guess what? Deckard's about to get forced into a new assignment. Another blade runner, a guy named Gaff, shows up and tells Deckard that he's wanted down at the police station, acting almost like Deckard's under arrest. Although he pretends, at first, not to understand Gaff's multi-lingual street slang, Deckard agrees to go.
At the station, Deckard's boss, Bryant, presents him with the mission: he has to kill four escaped replicants who hijacked a space shuttle, killed the crew and passengers, and came to earth. Deckard tries to wriggle his way out of the assignment, suggesting another blade runner named Holden. But Holden's already faced off with one of the replicants and has been injured in the process. Bryant informs Deckard that he has no choice: he needs to kill the replicants.
Gaff doesn't say that much, but Bryant suggests that he should be Deckard's role model, since he's a super successful blade runner: "You could learn from this guy, Gaff. He's a goddamn one man slaughter house." Later, Gaff helps provide a possible clue to Deckard's identity—the origami unicorn he leaves behind might indicate that he knows that Deckard is really a replicant.
Deckard crosses the threshold when he goes to visit Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the creator of the replicants and the head of the Tyrell Corporation. Here, Deckard meets up with Rachael, a replicant who has fake memories and thus seems more human-like. He hears Tyrell's views on the replicants: they're just tools, and Rachael herself is just an experiment.
Deckard's first big test is to track down one of the replicants: Zhora. A snake scale he finds in Leon's shower eventually leads him to the club where Zhora is working—she performs an exotic dance with an artificial snake. After she tries to escape, he chases her down and kills her. He also tangles with Leon, another replicant—but Deckard's new ally and potential girlfriend Rachael blows Leon's brains out. Back at his apartment, Deckard ends up sleeping with Rachael.
Deckard tracks the two remaining renegade replicants to the somewhat creepy apartment of J. F. Sebastian, a genetic designer. Pris (the first of these remaining replicants that Deckard encounters) attacks Deckard, but he ends up killing her in the process. When the other replicant, Roy Batty, arrives to find his lover dead, he flips out and breaks two of Deckard's fingers before chasing him around the apartment.
Roy seems ready to kill Deckard. When Deckard hits Roy with a pipe, it has little effect, and it becomes clear that he's severely overmatched. After a chase sequence during which Roy acts increasingly nuts, Deckard finds himself hanging off a roof, prepared to plummet to his death below. Roy jumps over to where Deckard is, apparently coming to push him off the edge.
Strangely, Deckard never really "seizes the sword." He doesn't defeat Roy. In fact, Roy could have easily killed Deckard if he had wanted too. But he doesn't. Instead, he shows Deckard mercy, which provides him with a moment of illumination. Roy pulls him up from where he's dangling and tells Deckard that he (Roy) is about to die, thanks to his limited lifespan as a replicant. Deckard is left as the living witness to Roy's graceful and forgiving demise.
Armed with this new knowledge, Deckard heads back to his apartment. He's worried that Gaff has already killed Rachael (who went on the run and has also been marked for death). Before he leaves the scene of Roy's death, Gaff arrives, telling Deckard, "It's too bad she won't live. But then again, who does?"
Fortunately, Deckard arrives to find that Rachael is still alive. Gaff visited the apartment but decided not to kill her, leaving behind a silver origami unicorn as a token (and a message perhaps indicating that Deckard is a replicant himself, if you're watching one of the versions of the film with the unicorn dream sequence). Deckard wakes Rachael up to tell her they need to leave. The head into the elevator, probably to split town.
If you're watching the "final cut" or director's cut versions of Blade Runner, this part isn't included. But at the very end of the original theatrical version, Deckard reveals that Rachael doesn't have the four-year time limit on her lifespan that the other replicants do. She'll be able to live a normal life, as long as Deckard's. As they drive out into a beautiful Western landscape—totally different from the movie's L.A.—it seems like they're set for a classic, happily-ever-after kind of ending… which is not necessarily what you would expect from this kind of movie, and (spoiler alert) it wasn't actually what Scott wanted.
Even when critics didn't like Blade Runner, they usually complemented the filmmakers on creating an amazing setting. Los Angeles in November 2019 is a dark, mysterious, decaying, and chaotic muddle. While it seems like a hellscape most of the time, it also has a weird, terrifying majesty to it—it's like some ancient Sumerian Empire, founded on slave labor. This is particularly true of the scenes where we see the expanse of the city—gigantic torches burning, Tyrell's ziggurat rising in evil splendor, huge electronic billboards hawking Coca-Cola, and Deckard's car landing on the police station.
But when the cameras take us down to street level, we get a different perspective. This future version of L.A. is a truly global city—people from all parts of the world are gathered together, and the city's street language is a mixture of many different tongues. However, the filmmakers don't make this look like a paradise of diversity; it's more like a world of struggle, with various groups all competing in a giant underclass.
The smaller, micro-settings add a lot to the movie too. The décor in Deckard's apartment is almost uncomfortably technological—like living in the tomb of a futuristic movie. The club where Zhora works, the sushi shop where Deckard eats at the beginning, and the cold eye-design lab where Hannibal Chew plies his business all showcase the city's diversity and sprawl. All different varieties of people are visible on the street—from people wearing traditional Chinese garb to punk rockers.
There were a bunch of artists responsible for the innovative set design and general look of the movie. Ridley Scott sought help from Syd Mead, a pioneering futurist who became the movie's lead designer (he also worked on Aliens and Tron), while also citing "Hong Kong on a very bad day," the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks, and the work of the French artist Moebius as important visual inspirations. A guy named Douglas Trumbull did the special effects. Critics have also noticed similarities to Fritz Lang's silent sci-fi classic Metropolis (source).
For the record, the movie actually was filmed mostly in L.A. (including in the actual Bradbury Building, where J. F. Sebastian lives) and in Warner Bros.' studios in Burbank.
If you happened to watch the credits (and who doesn't, right?), you might have noticed that Vangelis composed the music for the film. That sounds like a band name—but it's not. It's actually the stage name of a famous Greek composer whose full name is Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou. Like Cher and Madonna, this guy only needs one name. He tends to compose music with synthesizers and electronic instruments—but in a refreshingly not corny way.
Vangelis's most famous composition might be the immortal theme for the Oscar-winning smash Chariots of Fire. Feel free to run on a beach while you listen to this. When you've hit it that big, you can pretty much cash in and go home—but Vangelis stuck around. He composed the music for Oliver Stone's Alexander and Carl Sagan's TV Series Cosmos. But Vangelis's Blade Runner soundtrack is considered one of his greatest accomplishments.
Thesoundtrack to Blade Runner deliberately heightens the mystery of the movie. Vangelis doesn't really focus on the gloomy and decay-ridden side of the movie's world; he edges towards something like "teasingly mystical." He uses soaring synths and tinkling chimes to summon a feeling of eternal mystery, which helps give dimension to the pursuit of "more life" and true humanity that make up Roy Batty's quest.
At other times, Vangelis uses his score for more noir-ish purposes, for example when he gets into Rick Deckard's melancholy universe on "Blade Runner Blues." Take a listen—you can just feel the world of Blade Runner coming through.
The narrative technique in Blade Runner is pretty straightforward—although the producers still wanted a voiceover track to explain what was going on. There are basically two main arcs in the story: we get to see what the replicants are doing in different sequences involving Leon, Roy, and Pris, and we also get to see Deckard as he tracks them. Their strands converge and diverge at different points.
For instance, we see Leon alone at the beginning getting interrogated, and then we see him later on with Roy. After that, Leon ends up entering Deckard's storyline (and dying in the process), although Deckard still hasn't encountered Roy yet. Similarly, Pris starts off alone and hangs out with J. F. Sebastian before she eventually reunites with Roy. Roy's and Pris's storylines calamitously converge with Deckard's for the movie's climax.
Brave New World depicts a world dominated by super powerful technologies, which is similar to what Blade Runner presents—but Brave New World is much more pleasure-based and superficially nice, whereas Blade Runner's L.A. is overtly gritty and bleak. 1984 depicts a totalitarian government, and Blade Runner has the excessively powerful Tyrell Corporation in it. At the same time, Blade Runner's society seems kind of anarchistic and out of control, in a way totally different from what you see in 1984. As for Fahrenheit 451, well… L.A. has always been oriented more toward movie theaters than libraries.
Blade Runner is also a new, revamped a version of a film noir. How is it revamped? Well, for one thing, it puts a radical sci-fi spin on the genre. It's still got the heavy-drinking Philip Marlowe-style detective wandering around a dark and violent urban underworld, with questionable characters at every turn. But Deckard and the others have a cyberpunk look to them, and the whole setting has been transposed to the future.
And why is this flick a thriller? Easy peasy: there are thrills, there are chills, there are replicants getting gunned down, there's a dude hanging off a roof, and there are totally eyes getting gouged out. It's thrilling, folks.
Before settling on Blade Runner, the filmmakers considered a number of titles. Apparently, the title of Philip K. Dick's book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was never really on the table: too long. Originally, Hampton Fancher, one of the screenwriters, wanted to use the title Mechanismo. Yeah, cringe. The producers rejected it, and one of them, Michael Deeley, suggested Dangerous Days. Yet that wasn't to everyone's satisfaction, either.
Finally, Fancher found a screenplay by the famous beat writer, William S. Burroughs, entitled The Bladerunner, which was itself based on a book called The Bladerunner,by Alan Nourse. In these works, a "blade runner" wasn't a cop tracking down biological androids but "a person who sells illegal surgical instruments."
None of this had anything do with the plot of the movie, of course, but it sounded pretty cool, so Ridley Scott bought the rights to the name, and Fancher and the other screenwriter, Peoples, redefined Deckard's job description as that of a "blade runner" (source).
Ah, but which ending?
Yeah, there are multiple endings to Blade Runner. In the original release, Gaff spares Rachael's life, allowing her and Deckard to escape the nauseating confines of Los Angeles. They drive away into a natural landscape, and Deckard informs us that despite what Gaff had said ("It's too bad she won't live. But then again who does?"), Rachael didn't have the built-in four-year limit to her lifespan that the other replicants had. So, somewhat surprisingly, everything wound up okay. Ish.
And that origami unicorn Gaff left behind? Eh, that was just a sign that he'd visited the apartment and decided not to kill Rachael.
In the endings to some of the other versions—like Ridley Scott's "Final Cut"—the implications are different. Deckard has a unicorn dream sequence earlier in the film, and Gaff's silver paper unicorn at the end signifies that he is aware of the content of Deckard's dreams because they're implants… meaning that Deckard is really a replicant. Ridley Scott said this is what he intended, but one of the screenwriters, Hampton Fancher, said he considered Deckard to be a human, though he wanted some ambiguity.
In these versions, we just see Deckard and Rachael get into the elevator. We don't know if they'll even get out of L.A. alive, and no voiceover cheerily informs us that Rachael has a special, lengthened lifespan. The "Final Cut" and "Director's Cut" end on an uncertain and ambiguous note. In fact, if Deckard is a replicant, then it may very well be that his lifespan is just about up, too.
Also, we should probably address Roy's death scene, since it's the climax of the movie, if not the resolution. Roy unexpectedly shows mercy towards Deckard, sparing his life even though Deckard was just trying to kill him. When Roy dies, remembering the amazing things he's seen in his life, he recognizes the full value of human life—his and Deckard's. He dies holding that value supreme, while poignantly considering his own mortality: "All those... moments will be lost in time, like tears... in rain."
Witnessing Roy's death changes Deckard, who acts as an enlightened witness. It transforms Deckard from being a blade runner to being the guy who runs away with a replicant to try to live a life of peace.
There's plenty of violence in Blade Runner: Deckard guns Zhora down in the street, Rachael shoots Leon in the head, Roy crushes Tyrell's head and jams his thumbs into his eyes, Roy drives a nail through his own hand and breaks two of Deckard's fingers… So we're clearly shooting for R territory.
There's also a fair amount of nudity: when Deckard goes into Zhora's dressing room, she appears topless as she gets dressed. Also, in the later releases of the film, more blood is shown, and the scene where Deckard and Rachael first kiss veers more definitely into a sexual encounter.