Blade Runner (2049) (2017) Director: Denis Villeneuve
“You’ve never seen a miracle.”
In my view, Denis Villeneuve hits the nail squarely on the head with Blade Runner 2049, a visually-arresting sequel to Ridley Scott’s masterful original film. Mr. Villeneuve has directed other excellent 21st century science fiction pictures like Arrival and Dune (parts I and II). Given the current state of recycled franchises in Hollywood, expectations were understandably low for a new Blade Runner film, and sadly it was not a box office success. However, after decades of legal battles over Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and other issues around casting and directing (at one point Christopher Nolan was rumored to direct a Blade Runner sequel), a sequel was finally released and it far exceeded expectations. If Hollywood must continue to crank out sequels for old classics, we can only hope they look something like this –a well-constructed film which fits well with its original while still expanding upon the universe in new compelling ways– the antithesis of the lazy, hackneyed Star Wars sequel movies.
Blade Runner 2049 does an impeccable job of capturing the slow-paced, neo-noir world of its decades prior predecessor. Amidst hazy and orange-colored ash-fallen skies, we meet a replicant named KD6-3.7 or “K” (Ryan Gosling). He works in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles as a “Blade Runner” –an employee of the police department who hunts down rogue replicants for decommissioning. K is married to Joi (Ana de Armas), a synthetic person. One day, he encounters the remains of Rachael –the replicant from the original film– who apparently delivered a child via caesarean section. This comes as shocking news because replicants are supposedly incapable of reproducing. Fearing a war between replicants and humans over this news, K is tasked with hunting down the child and terminating it. Along the way he learns of Rachael’s romantic involvement with a former Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), meanwhile the Wallace Corporation, which is successor to the Tyrell Corporation, is now helmed by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who sends his replicant named Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to follow K to discover the child, and with it, the secret to replicant reproduction.
However, the replicant child would now be in his thirties and K soon starts seeing old memories from his childhood. He visits a woman with a reputation for creating the most believable replicant artificial memories named Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) –and she confirms K’s memories are in fact real. Frustrated and alarmed with the knowledge that he was a born replicant, K goes rogue and ventures to the dystopian wasteland of Las Vegas where he meets Deckard who confirms the truth of the child –these are some of my favorite scenes in the film, seeing the grotesque kitschy opulence of Las Vegas contrasted with the dustbowl air quality. However, Luv soon tracks K and kidnaps Deckard, but K is rescued by the “Replicant Freedom Movement” who confirms that Rachael did deliver a child but that it was a girl –the dream-maker Dr. Ana Stelline. Thus K was actually not born, the memory was merely implanted by Dr. Stelline. K now must face the task of killing Deckard to save the replicant freedom movement, while Deckard is brought to the Wallace Corporation where he is interrogated and then sent off-world for torture and imprisonment (this was a bit contrived in my view). Nevertheless and somewhat predictably, K intercepts the ship, kills Luv, and rescues Deckard while staging his death to protect Deckard from replicants and humans alike. In the end, a mortally wound K dies on the steps outside the facility housing Dr. Stelline while soft snow falls all around him. Deckard slowly enters the building to meet his daughter for the first time.
Blade Runner 2049 explores themes of compassion, empathy, boundaries of humanity, and the blurred meaning of new life. In a grey world of ambiguous morality there is still an opportunity to do the right thing, even if neither the police, nor the replicant freedom movement, nor the Wallace Corporation are the good guys. Both the problems as well as the opportunities posed by artificial intelligence are explored and expanded upon in Blade Runner 2049. Appropriately, the film opens with a single eye as it opens and perceives the world. Allusions to images of eyes are replete throughout the film and its predecessor –an appropriate symbol for a motion picture about soulless androids. To what extent do we become what we see? How do we locate the boundary between organic and synthetic?
Another important theme I picked up on is the legacy of the post-industrialization degradation of the natural environment. After an environmental catastrophe, humanity now survives on mass-produced protein farms and the climate now exists in a near-permanent state of nuclear winter where no crops can grow and no trees or flowers are in bloom. In the same way that the original film conceived of our forthcoming digital future and its myriad problems, the sequel imagines a bleak and brutal future resulting from a presumed-human caused environmental act of environmental destruction.