Wow! What a film! After watching Blade Runner 2049 my mind was racing like Deckard after a replicant. Having scoured the internet, I’ve seen that the critics are awash with praise whilst the general public are rather lukewarm about it. Well, whatever is common has ever but little value – all rare things for the rare and all that jazz. So, I am glad it supposedly flopped at the cinema (it made $248 million at the box office thus far), after all, who wants to share what they love with every Tom, Dick and Harry?
For those of you who are ignorant of the original, the basic premise is that in a dystopian future, Earth is somewhat of a wasteland, and the discovery of other ‘M’ class planets has been fuelled by replicant labour. These replicants are androids, but they’ve been made to ‘be more human than human’ – they are almost cloned, but their DNA is synthetic. Consequently, they are stronger, faster, more intelligent and, in essence superior to their makers – except for their longevity. They only live for six years.
Thus, in the original, these replicants go rogue and rebel against their masters on these foreign planets, aching to return to their motherland, Earth, to, quite literally, meet their maker. It is the job of the protganist, Deckard, to hunt replicants who ‘run’; thus, he is a Blade Runner.
I don’t want to give an entire synopsis of the plot, but Deckard discovers something about his own humanity from the replicants, so he becomes a runner himself – ironically falling in love with a replicant himself. Thus ends the original.
Which leaves the audience itching to know what has transpired in the sequel.
Blade Runner 2049 is set 30 years after the original, with Harrison Ford slipping back into the role in an amazing piece of continuity. However, he is not the protagonist. That particular role falls to ‘K’/ Joe, a replicant himself. He, too, is a Blade Runner, hunting Nexus 8 models that have rejected their function as warriors to live a life of peace. In this dystopia, any replicant whom doesn’t obey their masters slavishly is deemed to be malfunctioning – they can be ‘destroyed’ (but they are murdered in reality, as they are sentient beings).
(K/Joe played by Ryan Gosling, right)
The plot revolves around his investigation into a Nexus 8 which spirals into something revolutionary, or perhaps evolutionary – it seems a replicant has given birth, something thought by the corporate Wallander (whom mass produces replicants) to be impossible; thus K/ Joe is assigned a role to hunt down the child of this replicant by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi. In essence, Lieutentant Joshi wants this replicant killed, because if replicants can give birth, they will be able to destroy humans. However, Wallander sees corporate potential in planetary colonisation with a product that can reproduce. Thus, there are two competing parties; they are equally morally dubious, but for different reasons.
It is in this assignment/ quest that K/Joe inadvertently searches for his identity in the film, thus becoming very interesting to the philosophically minded. Of course, both Blade Runner films are awash with such themes. What is unusual about these films, and science fiction in general, is that although the fictional concerns take place in an alternate reality, the questions raised couldn’t be more important.
The philosophical questions the audience are provoked to ask, in my opinion, in the first film are: what is life? How do we define what life is? What would it be like to meet your creator? If you met your maker, would you be satisfied with his/her answers?
The second film takes a slightly different, but similar tack: how do we define ourselves? Who am I? Are my memories my identity? Is your father the most important role model a man will have?
Many of the replicants have memory implants. I find this so interesting! The replicants know these memories are fake – yet they cherish them. One has to wonder why they do this. Perhaps it’s because the replicants are designed to be more human than human (or, as Nietzsche would say, all too human)…humans naturally create patterns and systems in their minds. A central pattern we create is an autobiographical narrative; this forms the very essence of who we are.
So, why should it be any different for a sentient, albeit synthetic, being designed to look and function just like us?
During the course of Blade Runner 2049, the audience discovers that K/Joe thinks he is Deckard’s son, but later learns he has been cloned to be a male genetic twin of his true born sister (Deckard’s authentic offspring). Despite the fact that K/Joe learns that he is inauthentic, he still very much yearns to be close to Deckard – he is, virtually, his son; K/Joe has his genetics and the memories of his true born sister. He loves Deckard and protects him from threats. In the full knowledge that he isn’t *real*, his emotions towards Deckard are. Consequently, the sincerity of these feelings have a true value.
Even falsehoods ring true, it would seem.
(Joi played by Ana de Armas)
Another interesting aspect to the film is the role of the character, Joi. Merely a hologram, she serves as a genuine love interest for K/Joe. From a feminist perspective, one could say that women have become obsolete to men who merely want pleasure from them…however, Joi can only reward K/Joe with emotional pleasure because she isn’t tangible (as holograms are obviously made of light). Perhaps, once we get past the objectification of Joi, for she is very beautiful, we see that she is very caring and attentive (which are sought after values in either gender). Nonetheless, she can’t be said to be free, for she is programmed to be as she is…therefore, her bondage lies in her lack of free will. She isn’t sentient at all. She merely is what she is – a computer programme emitted in the form of light, designed to be pleasurable for men in both an emotional and sexual sense.
Whilst this has been derided as sexist, I think that it poses an existential quandary – can two synthetic beings love one another? Do androids dream of an electric soul mate? Also, if Joi isn’t sentient and is merely a pleasure model (as her name would suggest), how is she different from a sex toy which so many healthy adults utilise today?
(Luv played by Sylvia Hoeks)
Moreover, with regard to accusations of sexism, Luv, the replicant antagonist who ruthlessly tries to stop K/Joe from realising his ambitions by any means necessary and with extreme prejudice, is a very powerful female character, physically, intellectually and more interestingly, morally. She commits the taboo of killing humans – Lieutenant Joshi* – and lies about so as to not implicate herself (the ambition of replicants becoming ‘more human than human’ seems to have been, at last, realised).
Weighing everything up, Blade Runner 2049 is a brave attempt at a sequel to a film with such a cult following and legacy as the original. It neither totally distances itself nor tries to repeat themes from the original (unlike the new Star Wars’ films). It is perhaps a little too long, but it is also a genuinely authentic piece of art. The dialogue is fundamentally engrossing and the plot dynamics create genuine tension. Nonetheless, it is the film’s philosophical thematic that engrosses the audience, as long as they have the intelligence and creativity to appreciate it. If the audience lacks in those two qualities then this film’s brilliance will be lost, like tears in rain.
*I think Lieutenant Joshi is a very brave, if morally dubious, female character. She is authoritative and demanding as well as unflinching in the face of adversity.