Gaff the sorcerer

by Paolo Terno

Critics have studied very little Gaff, the character played by Edward James Olmos. Generally he is simply considered captain Bryant's assistant.

Probably the possible causes of this opinion are the few times he is present on the scene and the very small number of his cues. These are right arguments, but there is the danger to alter the real weight of the character.

Now we want to analyse Gaff from two different points of view: the point of view of the vision and the one of the sound.

The visual aspect reveals one special Gaff's peculiarity: his entries on the scene are always sudden and unexpected. Really they have the peculiarity of the apparition.

This is a trait that only Roy Batty shares with Gaff.

Gaff's apparitions always involve Deckard, who can only observe passively (when Gaff appears at Deckard's backs when he is at the Sushi bar; or after Zhora's retirement and also after Roy's death). In the same way Gaff disappears from the scene, for example he is not there when Deckard meets Rachel for the first time at the Tyrell Corporation, but he is present before and after this scene.

Another peculiarity links Gaff and Roy, besides this ability to appear and disappear: they are the only characters with blue eyes. This is very important, because the eye in which at the beginning of the film Los Angeles reflects itself, obliges us to consider blue eyes like a signal of something special.

The presence of this index urges us to make a new analysis of what is the only one of Gaff's traits revealed by the critics: his ability to make origamis.

Gaff makes three origamis: a chicken, a man and a unicorn. All these anticipate the things to come. They are like the responses of an oracle, dark in the appearance but absolutely precise if they are interpreted in the right way.

Gaff makes the first origami, the chicken, in Bryant's office, a few moments before Deckard submitted himself to Bryant's will. In this case the origami represents Deckard's fear of authority. The second, the man, anticipates Deckard's fall in love. The last, the unicorn, in the Director's Cut reveals to Deckard his replicant's nature, in the 1982 film edition it reveals Gaff's passage; in both cases the origami brings knowledge, but in two different ways that demonstrate the greater structural coherence of the 1991 film edition.

Gaff's ability to give respons, create symbols and his capacity to appear and disappear are elements which make us think of him as a sorcerer.

Anthropology has revealed that magic is a symbolic system and so Gaff's origamis are in the magic sphere.

Besides we must consider the power of his voice; he can obtain Deckard's subjection with just a few words and the voice is one of the most typical expressions of magic power.

All the three components of the magic activity are present: the spell -the words that he pronounces ("captain Bryant" or only "Bryant")-, the ritual that in the film is the act of touching and the ritual condition for the practising the spell, that in the case of Gaff is his role of agent for the "System".

Also the characteristics of Gaff's body are similar to the classic literary figure of the soothsayer (like Tiresia for example), also his walking stick is a typical attribute of sorcerer and shamans.

His abilities are at the top in the "Director's Cut", where he shows his full power with the capacity of penetrating Deckard's mind and giving him a cue to realize his real replicant's nature.

The Gaff's character is a guide on the way that brings Deckard to the knowledge and also the audience; his mission is really important for this.

On the ground of these remarks we can come to the conclusion that Gaff is not a secondary character but gives the audience the key to interpret Deckard's journey, like Virgil in the "Divina Commedia", but in more hidden and subtle way.


This article is a translation from Italian. It is part of chapter four of my thesis written in 2000, with the title "Analysis of the visual stratification in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner".
The complete thesis (in Italian) is available in this site.
You will find a complete bibliography at the end of the thesis.