Widely lauded with wall to wall 5-star reviews, Blade Runner 2049 looks set to become the new reference for dystopian science fiction film-making.
I beg to differ.
The new Blade Runner provides an opportunity to reflect for a minute on what film-making is really about. Most cinephiles, as well as people who simply like going to the movies will agree that good films are ‘moving’ in some way – that they elicit emotional responses. Under the surface of what we think of as ’emotional power’ are invariably the conundrums, whether funny, horrible or poignant, thrown up by the conditions of our existence – clashes between moral imperatives and practical opportunities. All good films really explore the same things, just in different ways. Science fiction and fantasy films provide more flexibility in the rules of existence, making it easier to explore existential problems in novel ways. In Lord of the Rings for example, we at one point have to consider the unavoidable impossibility of a human, with a lifespan of perhaps 80 years, falling in love with someone of the Elvish race, beings with 500 year lives. The great futuristic films have all been about the human condition in all its forms: Metropolis, 2001, Solaris and Blade Runner, the original.
Films with no emotional offering struggle to affect us or be truly memorable, but can be saved by form: interesting characters, witty dialogue, decent narrative, a funny story. Most crime thrillers have little emotional depth but the good ones are made so by a twisty plot that rings true at the end: films like like Rear Window, The Usual Suspects and Gone Girl for example. On the comedy side, films like Four Weddings and a Funeral, the films of Roberto Benigni (except Life is Beautiful, which could not be more touching), Les Visiteurs and Ghostbusters are not in the least bit memorable, but are hugely enjoyable due to being genuinely funny.
What happens if you have no exploration of the human condition, weak characters, flat dialogue of the high school essay variety, and plodding characters? And a giant budget?
You get films like Blade Runner 2049.
Hyperbole of the ‘worthy successor to the original’ and ‘instant classic’ variety has been thrown around in recent weeks, including by people who should know better like Peter Bradshaw and Mark Kermode. At least David Stratton only gave it 4 stars, although he appeared to not understand much about it going by his review.
The film I went to see left me not in the last bit moved, and to be honest, somewhat bored by the end. Yes, the visuals are stunning, and there’s no doubt director Denis Villeneuve knows a thing or two about turning high concepts into something engrossing on the screen. After all, Arrival was genuinely thought-provoking, and it’s probably the closest attempt I can think of to take the problems of ‘first contact’ seriously (the other being the film Contact.) But moving? Not really…
In the end, Blade Runner 2049 just has no soul, and Villeneuve and his team have entirely missed the point of what the first film actually was, and what it was about. Even having done that, they might have created something new and moving. But they didn’t.
Blade Runner is about life: its value, sacredness, and fragility. Every one of the characters and every relationship they have is an exposition of the many ways to understand the question of what it means to be alive, living, and human.
Consider. The nexus 6 replicants (Roy Batty, Pris, Leon and Zhora) come to Earth for one thing only, which is very simple, as Batty explains to Tyrell when he goes to see him: I want more life. In the scenes with Batty and Pris, we see two complex beings; by turns playful, calculating, worried, and hopeless. They may be replicants, but these are no mindless robots: they are quite aware of their limited time and desperate to extend it. Indeed, Batty is genuinely worried about Pris, since she is closest to the end of her time. Surely only a conscious, self-aware being can love life and want more of it?
Zhora and Pris are both killed by Deckard while desperately trying to outrun their likely fate. Both much stronger than the average human, they are scared to death of death, just like us. The way they die is grim, Zhora in a slow-motion frenzy of shattering glass, neon and blood; Pris thrashing in a dark corner. This is not how soulless automatons expire.
When Deckard meets Rachael, he knows she is a replicant, although more advanced than his quarry. Initially he affects disinterest, but it is not long before he realises he wants to be in love with her. Would a man really want to love just a machine? Only if the machine is not a machine, but as human as any human. And then of course, there is the unasked question: is Deckard himself a replicant? How can he be, he thinks, his memories are real, his feelings are real. He really needs to drink that whiskey.
What can be more touching than Rachael’s expression when Deckard tells her that her memories are not real? Or when playing the piano, she says I didn’t know if I could play. It’s not being human as we know it, but it’s not inhuman either. She, like Batty and the rest are real conscious beings who can taste life, but are unmoored from the real pasts that true humans have. But it doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings or their own albeit short real personal histories beyond the implanted memories.
Even Tyrell, when confronted by Batty, explains how hard he tried to build replicants that would live longer. You can tell he would have done better if he could have. At least, he says in commiseration with his wayward son, the fire that burns half as long burns twice as bright, and you, Roy, have burned so very very bright. Batty kills him in rage and despair; now there is truly no hope. Only a self-aware being could be capable of such an irrational act.
And then there is the finale. In the end-game, Roy Batty’s character is the very incarnation of doubt, fear, dark humour, and lust for living – there is no-one more human in the film – and he intends to show Deckard what this life thing is all about. Rutger Hauer’s performance is one of the greatest in science fiction film history. In the final moments, he saves Deckard from falling to his own death. Why? Because he values life? He hates to see it wasted? Probably, but mainly because he needs to make Deckard understand what he is, and what life is.
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.
It has to be said that it’s not often that a modern film succeeds in producing a truly poetic moment, but this is one right here, and justly famous because of it (the final words were thanks to Hauer, who changed the script). It even parses. Just before he dies, he releases a dove.
What’s Deckard thinking? He’s watching Batty, stunned, injured, when it seems to dawn on him that this is a person dying, not a replicant being retired. Someone who loves life very dearly. Perhaps he is rethinking his actions in retiring the others. Is he a murderer rather than a cop?
He finds his own love story, or at least he hopes so, when leaving with Rachel in the final scene to go on the run.
The backdrop of all of this is an arresting vision of LA, a vast citadel of grime, neon, and multi-lingual street life. It was a remarkable achievement at the time with the relatively limited CGI (back then we called it SFX), and the obligatory maquettes for close objects such as police vehicles.
One last element: the languorous music by Vangelis was clearly designed to reflect a mood of dark hope and beauty, the very opposite of what the facts of the story told us. It’s moodiness turns what might have been Deckard and Rachel simply being in a room together into an unspoken meditation on love and life.
Blade Runner the original is all about doubting one’s right to live and one’s right to feelings on the one hand, but nevertheless being alive, having feelings, and desperately wanting to keep both. The concept of the replicant gives us the chance to consider what life is worth in terms of gradations – the idea of being partially human, with more advanced models being more human. The fact that even the nexus 6 generation evolved feelings is alluded to early on, so it’s a given that no human, not even Tyrell the creator, really knows who is more ‘human’ and who has any more right to life than anyone else.
So … back to the new version. Only out of duty, mind you.
Where to start? I struggle to think of even a moment at which the film was about any character’s internal state of mind. Let’s look at the characters. The main protagonist, K, is played by Gosling as unfeeling and duty-bound. He does what he’s told. He’s a replicant, but apparently one without any particular interest in life. I don’t think at any moment I worried that he might be in danger, be unhappy, have any needs, or even be killed.
Wallace, played by Jared Leto is a kind of Daniel Craig-era Bond-villainesque replacement for Tyrell. He says that replicants are very hard to make and that they really need to make them breed, so they can take over the galaxy on their own. Or something like that. Nevertheless, he kills two of them in cold blood (both females) just for amusement. It’s hard to imagine Tyrell doing that.
How about Luv, Wallace’s emissary, ordered to find the replicant child? It turns out she’s a soulless assassin. She’s ruthless, programmed and apparently invincible until the point where she is killed herself. There is a tear at some early point, but otherwise she’s just a serial killer.
Then there is Joi, K’s 3-D hologram lover. She’s not even a replicant, she’s some sort of programmed love projection that will freeze when the wifi goes down, and can in any case be turned off permanently with no consequences. For sex, she has to be projected onto/into a real person so that K can imagine he’s making love to her for real. That seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to. She doesn’t have anything interesting to say, certainly nothing not expected of your average selfless, fawning, ego-boosting love-hologram. There’s no thought process or inner conversation, no doubts or fears and no humanity.
Robin Wright’s LAPD Lieutenant Joshi is a hard-bitten senior cop who rants when things are not going right (most of the time) or affects deadpan cool-cop attitude for when everything’s fine. Not a moment of emotional engagement there, nor one interesting line. A wasted character in every sense.
What about Deckard? My reading is that it is now assumed he is a replicant, and the fistfight he has with K who turns up unannounced in his secret giant theatre hideout in a radiation zone (that is no longer radioactive, apparently) seemed to be of the invincible robot variety, rather than the one-sided affair one would expect for an old man fighting a young cyborg. The problem isn’t that Deckard might be a replicant, it’s with what the idea of what a replicant is this time round.
There’s a thread about K dealing with a memory of having hidden a carved wooden horse when he was a child, but that’s what a replicant implanted memory is meant to be: realistic. We know it’s not real, so we don’t care about it, and he himself does not seem overly worried. The character whose job it is to spin dreams for the minds of the non-human is an abstraction, until near the end when she turns out to be the daughter that Deckard and Rachael managed to have 20 years earlier. He goes to meet her finally, but there’s no heart-rending reunion, there’s just a sheet of glass, and anyway, as the film has made very clear for two hours, they’re all just robots.
There’s another minor story thread about an underground army which aims to sink the current power structure, but this goes nowhere and seems entirely misplaced in the film.
The background, an even grimmer version of LA, while visually impressive is not really convincing. It’s just too extreme. Everything is either post-apocalypse grey or nuclear urine-stain yellow. Villeneuve reuses the menacing foghorn sound effect from Arrival, but… why? It would have been better to have manufactured some normal city sounds. There’s a super-realistic feel to every outside scene, which is a sign that they’ve mastered CGI properly, but the makers seem to have forgotten that no film is about its CGI.
The overall arc of the story, as I read it, is more or less: how will K stay alive, and then starting at a later point, how will Deckard stay alive? That’s it. K isn’t someone you’ll care about, and Deckard seems to be reduced to an android, nothing like the angst-ridden human-or-replicant from the first film, so you won’t really care about him either.
The film is clearly intended to be a slow-burn sci-fi-noir kind of affair, but unfortunately, it destroys its own credibility early on, by treating all the replicant characters as machines, not humans, and the humans (inasfar as we know anyone is human) as machine-like. The question of the sacredness of life just never comes up.
Give me Roy Batty any day.
If you go into this film looking for another Blade Runner, then this is a justifiable response. But I have to say I went in expecting much, much less. And why not? The first is lightning in a bottle. The best thing Ridley Scott has ever done or likely will do, and I agree with you entirely about the import of the themes and the poetry. That death speech from Roy Batty is — I watch the film yearly, and still have trouble avoiding tears of my own.
Nevertheless, that’s the heart of the problem with this film: the long shadow cast by the first. I think it’s best exemplified by the score. Zimmer echoes Vangelis, and invokes Vangelis, and at the death of Kay even repeats Vangelis, but provides no new themes of his own. He doesn’t dare go farther.
It’s a fine score which works for the film (except where it got too loud) but it’s not the original score.
Reading your review, that’s more or less what I’m seeing.
If this wasn’t a sequel… Firstly, you’d probably give Gosling’s low-key Kay a pass. You’d say: he’s a replicant. He knows it. He has memories he knows are false. He has emotional responses he knows are programmed. He is an outcast among humans, and unwanted among his own ‘kind’ as a killer. As a matter of necessity, his emotional responses are going to be tightly controlled and directed inward. There is NO external outlet available to him. So for my money, Gosling’s Kay was actually pretty damned well done. Just once we see him crack — when he realises that no, he’s nothing special, that the memories that might have been his are someone else’s. He cracks just at that one time: when he realises that all the dreams he had finally dared to consider are nothing more than delusions.
I’m more than happy with Gosling’s performance.
If this wasn’t a sequel… you’d probably be happier with the technical stuff: lighting, sets, visuals of all kinds. And why not? They’re beautiful. But it’s a sequel, and the original laid out the blueprint. Villeneuve stays true to that original vision — but dares not overwrite it. (And how could he? Who would forgive him.)
If this wasn’t a sequel… actually, the plotline about a potential replicant uprising is, I think, the weakest link. I believe Talleyn correctly identified it as ‘sequel-bait’, put in place for the studio in case this film made them enough money to demand more. It should have been cut out altogether.
If this wasn’t a sequel… the themes of humanity in the first film are awesome. No, Deckard isn’t a replicant. He can’t really be without fucking up the necessary arc of growth and redemption both of himself and Batty. But that’s neither here nor there. Both those characters go through arcs which are harrowing and wonderful. And Rachel — played by the visually splendid but mostly talent-free Sean Young — is all the more perfect for the precise but wooden nature of Young’s portrayal. Lightning in a bottle. Young was a hot name at the time, but her career didn’t do a whole lot afterwards. I never saw much of an emotional range from her… which made her absolutely perfect to play the machine-woman whose confidence was annihilated by discovering she was a machine.
If it wasn’t a sequel — see how we keep coming back to talk about the original? If this film was an original, we’d be considering it on its own merits which are not inconsiderable. Unfortunately, we cannot give it credit for originality of vision, only for attention to performative detail. And again: those powerful themes from the first film — what good would it have been to rehash them?
That’s the weakest element of the film, for me. The first film was about being human. This one attempts to discuss how to be human — to die in the right cause, for example. That’s a much weaker direction to go. But it doesn’t mean the film lacks strengths. Look a little to the left, past the Blade Runner dreams, and consider the interaction between Kay and Joi. A man who knows he is artificial. A woman who is even more artificial than he is — and yet the relationship he develops with her is the most meaningful thing in his world.
That relationship — there should have been much more screen time. Much more development and consideration. I’ve thought about the film often enough since, and I keep coming back to questions about that relationship. What does it mean? Certainly, it’s a missed opportunity. Developed properly, that relationship could have asked questions of similar depth and power to the first film.
But then, the film wouldn’t have included Deckard… and it wouldn’t have been a sequel.
I’m pretty happy with the movie. I came in expecting painful garbage. Instead, I got a respectful revisit which took pains not to damage the legacy of the first — and the first film being what it was, that was far more than I had any right to expect. I’m a writer and creator, and I’m telling you right now I would personally not have accepted the commission to create a sequel precisely because I think the best I could have done would be something similar to Villeneuve: a respectful revisit, with the ugly possibility of an exploitative disaster in the wings.
It isn’t Blade Runner. But it’s beautiful, and it is elegant, and if you can free yourself from the shadow of the first film it has merits of its own. I’ll watch it again sometime, which is much more than I give most movies.
But it’s always going to be a sequel.
Good analysis. I still don’t buy the idea though that replicants don’t really have emotions and don’t really care whether they live or die. The opposite is more or less the premise of the first film: you can be ‘human’ without being human. The most prominent emotion among the replicants of the original is fear, then self-doubt, then something resembling hope. Rachael is wooden in some sense (remember, she lights a cigarette when first encountering Deckard, and doesn’t seem to know how to do it), but she does care about her own existence. This time around we get a guy who is dead to himself, and a beautiful, black-hearted assassination machine.
I also can’t buy the idea that Joi can be considered alive in any sense at all, given that she is a projection from a device (and she gets frozen pretty easily). No AI can work in that fashion (an ’embedded mind’ organism is the minimum requirement). But maybe that’s me being too much of an engineer. Are we supposed to just swallow the idea of Joi being somehow real, like all the nonsense space hops in Star Wars or noise in space you get in dumb sci-fi films? For me, that kind of thing is on a par with movies / TV about 17th C Russian or French nobility, spoken in accent-English – it’s a non-starter.
I think you must be right about Deckard being human though, otherwise it makes even less sense than it already doesn’t make …
BTW: Deckard’s not a replicant. That fistfight in Old Las Vegas? Kay just lets Deckard throw punches. He never once raises a hand against the old man, and barely shows a response when Deckard hits him with (presumably) everything he’s got. It’s a really good screen fight because it illuminates both characters: Deckard, still struggling against unbeatable odds. Kay, tightly wrapped emotionally, reserved, unwilling to attack even in his own defense because the old man in front of him is the closest thing he will ever know to a father.
I rarely enjoy screen fights these days. Most of them are crap. This one actually extended the narrative and helped develop the character of both participants.
I’ll have to watch that bit again, maybe I was too close to the screen the first time around!
I realize I’m responding to a 5 year old review, but I’ve never in my life read a review that excelled in the art of missing the point as much as this one. Plus I’ve got nothing better to do this afternoon.
This movie is not perfect by any means, but most of the criticisms in this review are just completely invalid if not flat-out wrong. Honestly, after reading through it, the impression I get is that you formed your opinion of this film before you even sat down to watch it. So when you did watch it you, either consciously or unconsciously, didn’t pay attention, and only saw everything that was on the surface or that you wanted to see. That’s the only way I can make sense of this review, because it’s otherwise baffling how anyone who understands the exploration of the human condition through the medium of science fiction, which you obviously do, could miss so much of that happening in this movie.
“What happens if you have no exploration of the human condition, weak characters, flat dialogue of the high school essay variety, and plodding characters? And a giant budget? You get films like Blade Runner 2049.”
I’m going to address each one of these criticisms one by one to explain why they are invalid, particularly the rather insane assertion that this film has no exploration of the human condition.
Honestly, it feels like we watched entirely different films.
“The film I went to see left me not in the last bit moved, and to be honest, somewhat bored by the end.”
Then you and I must have seen different films.
The first problem I have with this criticism is that it assumes, rather presumptuously, that everyone who watched the film had the same experience as the reviewer. In fairness, this seems to be an assumption a LOT of art critics make.
I’ve never really understood this mentality. “My experience with this art was X. Therefore, everyone’s experience with this art will be X – and if not, then those people are wrong.” It’s a very myopic way of thinking but, as I said, it seems to be par for the course in film criticism. The unspoken implication seems to be that the film critic’s experience is more valid and “correct” because the film critic is, naturally, more intelligent than the average viewer. If someone had a different experience watching the same film, that person must obviously be less intelligent than the film critic. Film critics rarely ever come out and say it in these terms, but that seems to be the implication that oozes from many critics’ reviews – and indeed, your remarks about other critics who “should know better” seems to fall in line with this.
The issue I take with this criticism in relation to Blade Runner 2049 is a purely subjective one, but since this particular criticism itself was purely subjective and not backed up by any evidence beyond the reviewers own feelings, I feel like I can refute it with nothing more than my own: I was personally extremely moved by Blade Runner 2049. From empathy to pity, anxiety to jubilant joy – there wasn’t a moment in this film that I wasn’t emotionally engaged on some level, especially the final 15 minutes, which was almost transcendent (and I’d say about 50% of that was Zimmer’s excellent score). And I certainly wasn’t bored at any point.
And I am someone who was convinced I was going to hate this movie going into it.
As far as being moved goes, I had the exact opposite experience with this film as you, so which one of us is “correct”? I guess you are, because you’re the film critic, and I’m just obviously not as intelligent as you….
“In the end, Blade Runner 2049 just has no soul,”
Again, I beg to differ. I seriously have no idea what film you were watching, because it certainly wasn’t the Blade Runner 2049 I watched.
Also, I don’t know if you were going for a joke with that line, what with the entire theme of the movie being a man unsure whether he has a soul or not, but it made me laugh either way.
“and Villeneuve and his team have entirely missed the point of what the first film actually was, and what it was about.”
Oh, really? Did they? That’s funny, because I’ve been informed by countless film critics that a crucially important aspect of the original Blade Runner’s success is it being open to interpretation, so it’s kind of funny to hear someone state emphatically that it had a clear, unambiguous meaning and a single “correct” way to read it.
At this point I’m going to suggest that, perhaps, you’re the one who actually “missed the point” of Blade Runner 2049, and you simply failed to grasp how it relates to the themes of the original movie, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
“Even having done that, they might have created something new and moving. But they didn’t.”
Again, I completely disagree. I and everyone I watched this movie with were all extremely moved by this film (one of my friends actually claimed he found it more moving than the original Blade Runner – but even I find that hard agree with. I’ve got to draw the line somewhere.)
“Where to start? I struggle to think of even a moment at which the film was about any character’s internal state of mind.”
I struggle to think just how to even respond to that.
I can only assume that you took a LOT of bathroom breaks during this movie.
Just about every scene in this movie was about a character’s internal state of mind (usually K’s). I could seriously write an essay on just how wrong that statement is. K spends 90% of the movie ruminating – in silence – about his situation. In fact, if any valid criticism of Blade Runner 2049 could be made at all, it would be that, if anything, the film spends too much time focusing on K’s internal state of mind. Whether it’s the first scene with Sapper, where we see that, although a duty-bound goose-stepper, K is not cruel or without compassion, willing to let Sapper finish his meal before taking him in for termination. Or his reaction to Joshi’s callous remark about him not having a soul. Or his meeting with Mariette, who is presenting herself as a simple working girl trying to flirt, a façade that K can see right through – he knows that she’s trying to get information on his investigation, he knows that she is somehow involved but doesn’t know how or why. Or how about the entire drawn out sequence where he finds the wooden horse by retracing his own memories, and the life-altering revelation, in equal parts wonderful and terrible, that he is, in fact a “real boy” and all that entails (frankly, I didn’t rate Gosling much as an actor before this movie, but that scene convinced me he does actually have talent). Or his discovery that his memories are real, and the violent reaction to this news. Or the bit immediately after, when he goes outside and stands in the snow, feeling it fall on his hand – that whole scene is about his internal state of mind – I interpreted it as him thinking “This is actually the real feeling of snow on a real hand, not some simulation of the feeling by artificial nerves” though I could be totally wrong about that – the point is, the very fact that people can have different interpretations of why K is marvelling at the snow on his hand at that point completely proves your assertion that there were no moments in this film about a character’s internal state of mind wrong.
And what about the climax of the movie? The “You look like a good Joe…” moment where K’s entire world comes crashing down, the last vestige of K’s sense of worth – his love for Joi – confirmed to be nothing but a farce. We see him utterly crushed, if you look closely you can see him throw Joi’s broken projector into the abyss of the city, and we hear lines of dialogue from other characters in the film, obviously what’s going through K’s mind at that moment “Dying for the right cause is the most human thing we can do” and “Because you’ve never seen a miracle.” This whole scene is about K’s internal state of mind – it’s probably one of the ultimate “internal state of mind scenes” ever made. It’s the moment K finally comes to terms with who he is and who he wants to be, deciding that his love for Joi wasn’t real but Deckard’s love for his daughter is, and the truly “human” thing to do is die trying to preserve it. What K goes through here is similar to what Roy Batty goes through in Blade Runner when he decides to save Deckard’s life, only this is about love instead of life.
And how about the other characters? Like Joshi, who we are first led to believe is a cold, uncaring police chief, blindly devoted to the establishment, but it is later hinted she has some degree of fondness for K when she drinks with him in his apartment. This is later confirmed when K goes on the run and we see Joshi smile as she watches his spinner speed away on the tracker on her computer – before quickly turning the computer off when Luv enters the room. Joshi may be loyal to the establishment, but if it’s a binary choice of terminate K or allow him to escape, she would prefer the latter, is happy that he has a chance at “life” and even gives her life to prevent K’s enemies from finding him.
Or how about the scene between Deckard and Wallace. That entire scene is about Deckard’s internal state of mind – there’s even an unconventional editing choice on Villeneuve’s part at one point to keep the camera on Deckard instead of cutting to a reaction shot of Wallace – which is how a scene like this would normally play out – so we can see the emotions on Deckard’s face as the implication of Wallace’s words sink in. I seriously cannot fathom how anyone could watch this scene and conclude it WASN’T about any characters internal state of mind. The only possible explanation I can come up with is that you simply weren’t paying attention.
And the scene where K and Luv play back the audio relevant to K’s case, which turns out to be Rachel’s Voight Kampf test from the first movie. K doesn’t know what to make of it, but Luv does. She glares at the machine playing the audio, desperately trying not to give away any emotion in front of K because she knows what this means: this officer in front of her is tracing the eponymous “child,” the one that her boss – who she sees as her father and desperately seeks the approval of – has spent his entire life searching for. All of this is conveyed purely through Luv’s eyes in that moment.
The last thing I’ll say about characters’ internal states of mind concerns the character Joi, which is ironic in that this character actually has no internal state of mind because she is not “real” in any meaningful sense. Clearly an artificial intelligence, the audience is left to assume she has a “real” consciousness like K’s and the other replicants, that AIs, in the Blade Runner universe, are simply another form of artificial life, complete with their own feelings, emotions and thoughts. But we learn at the end of the movie that this is not the case: Joi is simply a computer programme – she even tells us as much directly earlier in the movie “…just ones and zeroes.” The Joi product is a sophisticated computer programme that reads the mind of its owner (probably through facial and verbal cues) and projects what the owner wants to see and hear. In every scene with K and Joi we are actually seeing into the mind of K to some degree because Joi is a reflection of his inner desires at any given moment. In the first scene where we meet Joi in K’s apartment the “Joi” projection is constantly changing appearance, constantly moving from activity to activity trying to interest K – this is the programme cycling through pre-sets trying to find the correct thing that K’s subconscious wants at that moment, but failing.
“Why don’t you read to me?”
“You hate that book.”
“(tosses book away and moves onto next thing) I don’t want to read anyway…”
The purpose of this scene and what is actually going on in it isn’t apparent until the end, and even then might only be understood on repeated viewings. The character Joi does not exist, it’s just a simulation projecting K’s innermost desires back at him.
Incidentally, the book Joi picks up is Pale Fire by Vladimir Nobokov, a novel that deals with themes of identity, false histories, and the existence or non-existence of the soul. The bizarre lines that K has to repeat in the “baseline test” are actually lines from this book, specifically a passage where a character who has had a near-death experience describes what he saw in the apparent afterlife when he “died.”
“The main protagonist, K, is played by Gosling as unfeeling and duty-bound. He does what he’s told. He’s a replicant, but apparently one without any particular interest in life”
Again, I don’t know what film you were watching.
Unfeeling (seemingly) and duty-bound, does what he’s told, yes. But without any particular interest in life? Are you serious?
He is literally obsessed with life, and he is tormented by his inability to truly experience it. When K isn’t working he’s spending every minute of every day desperately trying to simulate a “real” normal life. He owns a product called Joi, which we are first led to believe is some kind of artificial girlfriend for lonely people – what you could even call a slave – that has apparently genuinely fallen in love with her owner and who K has fallen in love with, but we later learn is in fact simply a computer programme designed to project whatever the owner “wants to see” and “wants to hear.” K’s Joi unit simulates a loving wife, sometimes in almost comically stereotypical fashion. The bland, ration-like food sludge K eats is overlaid with the holographic projection of a home cooked meal. K even pours a drink for his simulated “wife” and promptly drinks it himself so the illusion that she drank it is maintained.
If K was human he would be considered broken. He’s living an absolutely tortuous existence one day at a time, desperately trying to simulate real life experiences with the knowledge that he will not, and cannot, ever truly experience them.
Seriously, how did you not get this? It couldn’t be more spelled out for you. If anything it’s a little too on-the-nose. To say that K is a replicant without any particular interest in life is possibly the most inaccurate reading of a character I’ve ever seen. His entire personality, his character, is that of someone who desperately wants to experience life and love but knows he cannot. In that respect he’s the classic android archetype. You could even argue there’s something of a Pinocchio quality about him.
When K discovers that his memories of being a child are not artificial, that they are, in fact, real memories, he concludes that he was, therefore, born, not made, and therefore he is actually “real” and there’s nothing stopping him from experiencing real love. He starts to question his loyalties, we learn from the Baseline Test that his personality is literally changing, he adopts the human name affectionately (or maybe not) given to him by his AI girlfriend, and he abandons his post and goes on the run to find who he believes to be his father. This is not a man who has no interest in life. This is a man who desperately wants to experience life, but until recently was resigned to experiencing a simulation of it because his nature prevents him from ever being able to experience the real thing. When he discovers that he may have been born, not made, this changes everything for him.
I’ll say it again, it baffles me how anyone could miss all this.
“Wallace, played by Jared Leto is a kind of Daniel Craig-era Bond-villainesque replacement for Tyrell. He says that replicants are very hard to make and that they really need to make them breed, so they can take over the galaxy on their own. Or something like that. Nevertheless, he kills two of them in cold blood (both females) just for amusement. It’s hard to imagine Tyrell doing that.”
Er…no. He doesn’t.
He doesn’t kill them for amusement.
The first he kills because he’s trying to recreate what Tyrell managed to – a replicant that can procreate. He kills that female replicant immediately after her creation because she was a failure – probably the latest in a long line of failures. He killed her because, although a failure, her DNA and her body likely contain extremely valuable information that a rival corporation would kill for, or the government would kill to cover up. What Wallace did there was the equivalent of a corporation destroying a failed but highly illegal weapon or vehicle rather than let information about it get out. In fact, we don’t even need to use analogies here – I would be very surprised if corporations killing prototype genetically modified or engineered lifeforms they no longer have a use for doesn’t happen somewhere in the world every day.
The second one he kills is the replacement-Rachel he made for the sole purpose of bribing Deckard into giving him the information he needs. Deckard didn’t take the bait, coldly informing Wallace that “her eyes were green.” Once again, Wallace no longer has a use for this replicant, and having a near-identical clone of Tyrell’s most important creation walking around freely likely isn’t a very smart thing to let happen.
He killed both not out of any sadistic amusement, but because he no longer had a use for either and the threat their continued existence posed was no longer outweighed by any potential gain.
And he’s not trying to “take over the galaxy.” The process for creating a single replicant is simply extremely expensive and time consuming. Replicants that can be bred are significantly more profitable, but Wallace is also something of a “visionary” and believes they are also the key to humanity’s true technological advancement.
There’s valid criticisms to be made of Wallace as a villain, for sure. For starters, he only appears in something like two scenes. If I had to speculate I’d say this is because he’s played by Jared Leto, who is awful in about 99% of everything he’s in and is known for “doing his own thing” and largely ignoring direction. But to say he’s some clichéd sadist in the style of a bond villain is just wrong.
“How about Luv, Wallace’s emissary, ordered to find the replicant child? It turns out she’s a soulless assassin. She’s ruthless, programmed and apparently invincible until the point where she is killed herself. There is a tear at some early point, but otherwise she’s just a serial killer.”
Once again, no.
There’s more going on with this character than you apparently observed.
“Luv” is not actually her name. It’s a pet name Wallace uses for all female replicants. She pretends that it’s her name so she can pretend that Wallace has some special affection for her, when in reality he does not. This mirrors and contrasts with K’s experience being named “Joe” by his AI girlfriend, Joi.
K and Luv are actually very similar in terms of their situation and predicament. They are both artificial humans who desire love above all else. They each desperately try to simulate the experience in their own ways but each fears they cannot ever truly experience it. Luv desperately seeks the fatherly love of her creator, Wallace, and everything she does in the film is in service of that goal. Her ruthlessness is motivated by her desire to please Wallace and receive his praise. There’s something of a “daddy’s girl” quality to her character. But she isn’t soulless – not any more than any other replicant, anyway. She senses he shared suffering with K which is why she tries, unsuccessfully, to flirt with him upon their meeting.
Luv is a tragic replicant who, like K, is desperately trying to experience human connection, but she goes down a very different route to achieve it than K does.
“Then there is Joi, K’s 3-D hologram lover. She’s not even a replicant, she’s some sort of programmed love projection that will freeze when the wifi goes down, and can in any case be turned off permanently with no consequences.”
The true purpose of the character, Joi, is not apparent for most of the movie but is revealed towards the end in something of a “surprise twist” which makes a second viewing of the film even more enjoyable.
At first Joi’s role in the story appears to be to convey to the audience that replicants are not the only form of artificial life in the Blade Runner universe. There are AIs that, apparently, are just as sentient and conscious as their replicant counterparts and, if anything, their lives are even more tragic in that most of them are housebound and “owned” by someone, even replicants. There also appears to be something of a “**** rolls downhill” pecking order when it comes to artificial life as most replicants in the film seem to look down on AIs with contempt.
Regardless, we are led to believe that the relationship between K and his Joi unit is different, and perhaps unique: they are in love. K doesn’t see his Joi unit as a possession but a person, and Joi doesn’t see K as her owner, but a lover. The circumstances of how K came to possess a Joi unit are never made clear, but I speculated when I first watched the film that K was actually given his Joi unit by the LAPD as a kind of pacifier. In any case, we are led to believe that K and Joi are in love and Joi encourages K on his journey of self-discovery. Most people I know say they liked Joi and felt a level of attachment to her (and I’m sure the fact that she’s played by the beautiful Ana De Armas didn’t hurt that).
Most people found it gut-wrenching when she was apparently murdered by Luv, I know I did. But this is dwarfed by the revelation toward the end of the film. K, after learning that he never was “the child” at all, that while his memories are real they do not belong to him and are in fact shared by thousands of replicants, is crushed. The entire reason he went on this journey in the first place, sacrificing his career, his home, becoming a fugitive, and getting his lover murdered, was all a lie. He’s been lied to by every faction: the police who he once worked for, the Wallace corporation who’ve been manipulating him into finding the child for them, the replicant resistance, everyone. He’s lost, has no idea what he should do, and has no loyalty to anyone. The one thing he’s hanging onto is the love he had for his deceased AI girlfriend.
Then he encounters a 3D holographic billboard commercial for the Joi product – a giant hologram that resembles his deceased lover. He pauses to affectionately engage with this rudimentary version of the Joi AI designed solely to advertise the product because it reminds him of HIS Joi, but then something awful happens: this commercial-version of Joi starts uttering lines of dialogue that HIS Joi said earlier in the film. Finally, it calls him “Joe.” The commercial-Joi then steps back into the billboard which reads:
“Joi: Everything you want to hear. Everything you want to see.”
We learn here that Joi was never alive. It was never a “she.” It was just a computer programme designed to project whatever its owner’s desires are. K wanted to experience love, so his Joi unit simulated a loving girlfriend, but it was never real. K’s Joi unit told him he was special, encouraged him to identify as an individual and named him “Joe” in this vein, which K perceived as an act of true affection. Turns out calling their owners “Joe” is something all Joi units are programmed to do, even the rudimentary advertisement.
It’s unclear just how delusional K was when it comes to his farcical relationship with an AI – did he believe it utterly and completely? Or did he always know in the back of his mind she wasn’t really sentient? What is clear is that having it confirmed to his face is the catalyst that makes everything clear in K’s mind: he finally realizes in that moment who he is, and what’s important. He’s done following orders, whether it be from the police or the replicant resistance. He’s done living a lie. He’s done with simulating human affection and love.
“Dying for the right cause is the most human thing we can do,” “because you’ve never seen a miracle…”
He might not ever be able to experience real love but there’s a father and daughter out there who can, and in that moment he decides to give his life trying to preserve that love. Of course, ironically, this is precisely what makes him “human” in the end.
And personally, with futuristic billboard-like neon advertisements being such a huge part of the original Blade Runner’s aesthetic, I think it was a stroke of genius on the part of the writers to have the big revelation in the sequel be communicated by one of these advertisements in an interaction with the protagonist. Just my opinion.
“For sex, she has to be projected onto/into a real person so that K can imagine he’s making love to her for real. That seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to.”
It’s heavily implied that they’ve never actually done that before and this is the first time.
We’re led to believe that the emotional connection that’s taking place in that scene is between K and Joi, with Mariette merely serving as a vessel for Joi to project herself onto so it can feel real. What we learn from the end of the film is that Joi was never alive in the first place – the emotional connection that’s taking place in that scene is actually between K and Mariette. This love-making scene is actually capped off by a giant clue as to what’s actually going on with the Joi character by cutting to a billboard advertisement “Joi – everything you want to see/hear.”
“She doesn’t have anything interesting to say, certainly nothing not expected of your average selfless, fawning, ego-boosting love-hologram. There’s no thought process or inner conversation, no doubts or fears and no humanity.”
If “missing the point” was an Olympic sport, you’d take the gold medal with that statement.
As I’ve explained, that is, in fact, the entire point of her character. Although it seems maybe in this instance you were actually ahead of the average viewer – most people don’t realize until the end that “Joi” was never a real, thinking being. You seem to have clocked it immediately and, as such, it spoiled your experience somewhat.
“Robin Wright’s LAPD Lieutenant Joshi is a hard-bitten senior cop who rants when things are not going right (most of the time) or affects deadpan cool-cop attitude for when everything’s fine. Not a moment of emotional engagement there, nor one interesting line. A wasted character in every sense.”
Sorry, but you’re quite simply wrong.
If you didn’t sense Joshi’s affection for K at any point then that’s your failure. She clearly has something of a maternal concern for him (which is kind of weird because at one point she seems to be flirting with him. Hey, I’m not saying the emotion on display is healthy, just that there IS emotion on display…) When she’s angry at him for failing the second Baseline Test, her anger isn’t from the fact that he’s failing her as a blade runner, it’s coming from not wanting to have to terminate him. She cares about him to some degree, but she’s not willing to admit it.
When she sees on her computer that K has chosen to go on the run she’s not angry, she’s smiling. She’s loyal to the state, but she would rather K have a chance at “life” on the run than have him come in for termination. When Luv enters her office she immediately switches the computer off to protect K from her.
The emotional engagement from this character is there, you just didn’t see it. Again, that’s not the film’s failure, it’s yours.
“What about Deckard? My reading is that it is now assumed he is a replicant, and the fistfight he has with K who turns up unannounced in his secret giant theatre hideout in a radiation zone (that is no longer radioactive, apparently) seemed to be of the invincible robot variety, rather than the one-sided affair one would expect for an old man fighting a young cyborg.”
I had the exact opposite reading.
Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the “Deckard is a replicant” theory. I think it’s kind of silly. I think Blade Runner works so much better as a story about a human who falls in love with an artificial human than a story about two artificial humans falling in love. If Deckard is a replicant then most of the points made in the film are, well, pointless. But I do believe there’s value in Deckard posing the question to himself at the end of the film, and for that reason the question should never be definitively answered – but if you’re going to answer it, you should go with human. In my opinion.
I actually thought Blade Runner 2049 was written in such a clever way that either answer could be true. If Deckard is a replicant than he and Rachel are the first replicants to procreate, and their child is the first replicant to be born. This is extremely dangerous to the status quo because the law classes replicants as THINGS and not people on the grounds that they were made, not born. If replicants can now procreate just like humans, it negates that law and could cause absolute societal chaos, which is why Joshi is so desperate to terminate the child.
But if Deckard is human then the child wasn’t just a born replicant, it’s a human-replicant hybrid. This is even MORE dangerous to the status quo, as replicants being able to procreate with humans proves once and for all that replicants are, in fact, fully sentient and conscious beings – ergo “alive.”
It should be acknowledged at this point that this latter premise is lifted wholesale from the 00s Battlestar Galactica reboot, and I’m pretty sure one of the writers of Blade Runner 2049 openly admits that was a big inspiration.
So again, Deckard could still be either a replicant or human and Blade Runner 2049 still works, but there’s far more evidence to the latter than the former, not to mention the story is just overall better if he is human. For a start, if Deckard is a replicant, he’s the first and, apparently, only replicant so far to be made to age. Every other replicant stays visibly the same age until they die, so if Deckard is a replicant you have to come up with some contrived reason for why Tyrell would have made him to age.
Regarding the fight with K, K is clearly holding back. He doesn’t want to hurt Deckard, he’s just letting Deckard get it out of his system. Deckard also gets exhausted very quickly, and he’s easily subdued by Luv’s forces.
Not saying you’re “wrong” to have read it as Deckard being a replicant, just strange that you assumed it was meant to be read that way when a lot of people read it the exact opposite way, myself included.
The radiation thing I actually agree with you on somewhat. The film makes a big deal about Las Vegas being uninhabitable due to radiation but then it turns out Deckard has been living there in isolation for 20 or 30 years. If it did explain it then I missed the explanation.
“The problem isn’t that Deckard might be a replicant, it’s with what the idea of what a replicant is this time round.”
I’ve already addressed why your reading of what this film is saying about replicants is completely off.
“There’s a thread about K dealing with a memory of having hidden a carved wooden horse when he was a child, but that’s what a replicant implanted memory is meant to be: realistic. We know it’s not real, so we don’t care about it, and he himself does not seem overly worried”
This is just….a bizarre thing to say.
Seriously, this is bordering on wilful dishonesty. I can’t even wrap my head around that statement as it’s so incongruent with the facts.
He doesn’t seem overly worried when he believes it’s just a manufactured false memory. But halfway through the film he finds himself standing in a place from those memories and is able to retrace his steps to the wooden horse, where he finds it and holds it in his own hands. This throws his entire life and perception of reality upside down because it means not only are his memories real, but that he was once a child, and he must be the very child he’s been searching for. This is the catalyst that motivates K’s actions for the rest of the movie. To say that we, the audience, still know the memory is not real and that K doesn’t seem overly worried is just…wrong. I seriously can’t make sense of what you’re saying there. Did you take a bathroom break when K learns from Stelline that the memory is real and freaks out, destroying a chair?
Remember, it’s established in the Blade Runner universe that giving a replicant real memories from a human is illegal. Only manufactured memories are allowed – so if the memory is real it’s natural for K to assume they are HIS memories, and therefore HE is real.
“The character whose job it is to spin dreams for the minds of the non-human is an abstraction, until near the end when she turns out to be the daughter that Deckard and Rachael managed to have 20 years earlier.”
Yes, because Blade Runner is, after all, a film noir, albeit in a sci fi setting. A good film noir always gives clues about what’s really going on before the reveal. All the clues needed to deduce that Stelline is in fact Deckard’s child and not K are all there.
“He goes to meet her finally, but there’s no heart-rending reunion, there’s just a sheet of glass, and anyway, as the film has made very clear for two hours, they’re all just robots.”
I’ve already explained why, in my opinion, there’s a wealth of evidence that they are not, in fact, all just robots, and personally I think the evidence that Deckard is human greatly outweighs any that he’s a replicant. To say that the film makes it clear Deckard is a replicant is, again, just a bizarre reading of this movie.
If Deckard is human then Stelline is actually a human-replicant hybrid which, if anything, makes her the most important character to the world of Blade Runner than any other character in either film. Her existence proves that replicants are alive, living, thinking beings.
As for there being no heart-rending reunion, that’s because the film ends right before there is one, not because one doesn’t happen. The movie ends when it does because it was, after all, K’s story, and K had just died moments earlier outside in the snow. We’re given a little glimpse of Deckard’s reunion with his daughter just so we know it happens, but it would have been very weird if the film had continued on for another few minutes with a teary, emotional reunion scene between these two characters when the protagonist of the movie had literally just died.
This is subjective, but I personally like the way the film ends right before Stelline learns her true identity and the identity of the man in front of her. I don’t need to be spoon-fed everything, I like it when films leave things like that to the imagination, and after the emotional rollercoaster that came before it – with K rescuing Deckard and being mortally wounded in the process – I didn’t find it unsatisfying at all.
“There’s another minor story thread about an underground army which aims to sink the current power structure, but this goes nowhere and seems entirely misplaced in the film.”
Now THIS is a criticism I can get on board with.
I also didn’t really care for this element of the film. It came across to me as sowing the seeds for a third movie, and I’m really not excited about a Blade Runner 3 that depicts some sort of clichéd war between humans and replicants.
I also don’t trust those replicant resistance members as far as I could throw them.
Both Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 appear to make the point that replicants are, or are at least capable of being, just as human as any real human. Part of being human is the capacity for both good and evil. I’m therefore not interested in any story that depicts humans as being ultimately evil and replicants as being ultimately “the good guys” (or vice versa, for that matter.) If replicants are just as human as humans then they’re just as capable of being evil as humans are. Even the first movie doesn’t depict the Nexus 6s in an entirely sympathetic light. Batty kills Sebastian even after Sebastian had done everything he could to help him. Incidentally, I always find it weird the way everyone overlooks like that fact when it comes to Roy Batty as a character, instead focusing on his spasm of mercy at the end of the film.
“The background, an even grimmer version of LA, while visually impressive is not really convincing. It’s just too extreme. Everything is either post-apocalypse grey or nuclear urine-stain yellow.”
I also don’t entirely disagree here.
I personally think the city itself during the fly-by and aerial scenes looks amazing, and the rain effect looks great but it actually gets a bit much after a while and actually gets in the way of the awesome effects on the city itself. FYI the city is actually a giant, hand-painted model, not a purely CGI creation and the model itself looks so amazing you actually find yourself questioning why Villeneuve chose to obfuscate it so much.
I also found the scenes in the city streets look a little off. To me they look like they’re clearly set pieces on a soundstage, whereas the city streets in the original Blade Runner looked totally convincing in every way.
“Villeneuve reuses the menacing foghorn sound effect from Arrival, but… why? It would have been better to have manufactured some normal city sounds.”
I think you’re referring to the actual music, not the sound effects. At least, that’s what I hear when I listen to the soundtrack CD (yes, I still use CDs. Problem?)
Villeneuve wanted a synthesized soundtrack like the original but he didn’t want to just totally mimic the style of Vangelis and try to ape it. Instead they went for a sound that was similar but different enough to have its own identity. I wasn’t sure about this approach but I was quickly won over by it.
Whether the film’s score is good or not is going to be subjective but personally, I loved it.
“The overall arc of the story, as I read it, is more or less: how will K stay alive, and then starting at a later point, how will Deckard stay alive? That’s it.”
Then you read it wrong.
The overall arc of the story as I read it is: IS K alive? Is he the human-replicant hybrid? Can he ever experience love like he desperately wants to? Is he Deckard’s son? What does it mean if he is? Then, at a later point, If he’s not Deckard’s child, then what’s K going to do? Where are his loyalties, if any? What SHOULD he do? Is he going to kill Deckard like the resistance wants, or is he going to attempt to free him?
To me, philosophical questions the film raises are as follows:
What do replicants do when they don’t have to worry about running out of life? How do replicants actually LIVE? How do any of us live? What do the choices replicants make to do with their lives say about us humans in the real world? We know a human can love a replicant, but can a replicant love us back? Is love itself even real? Is there are difference between a replicant and an AI and, if so, what is it?
It’s also worth pointing out that the original Blade Runner was, as I’m sure you know, based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? While Dick never wrote a sequel to his novel, a central theme found across Dick’s books was the concept of false memories and their implications on who we are as individuals. In fact, he was obsessed with the idea of false memories. In that respect, Blade Runner 2049 is actually very in keeping with the themes of the original novel’s author.
“K isn’t someone you’ll care about”
Again, subjective, and I disagree entirely.
I cared a great deal about K and his predicament and I found his tortuous existence at the start of the movie truly tragic.
“and Deckard seems to be reduced to an android, nothing like the angst-ridden human-or-replicant from the first film, so you won’t really care about him either.”
I’ve already explained why Deckard is by no means a mere “android” in this movie.
His change in personality seems to be a deliberate attempt to show how much his experience in the original movie has changed and shaped him. There’s a subtle line when K asks him if the dog is real and Deckard answers “I don’t know. Ask him.” A seemingly flippant and obnoxious line, but if you look a little closer it’s more about Deckard no longer distinguishing between replicant and “real”. For him it’s no longer a question worth asking – which is how many interpreted the ending of the original film with regard to whether Deckard is a replicant. Whether he is or isn’t doesn’t matter.
My only criticism about Deckard in this film is that he doesn’t actually DO a lot. Even after he enters the story he’s a very passive character. I would have preferred it if he actually had some hand in Luv’s death at the end rather than just waiting for K to rescue him. So the film is certainly not without its flaws.
“The film is clearly intended to be a slow-burn sci-fi-noir kind of affair, but unfortunately, it destroys its own credibility early on, by treating all the replicant characters as machines, not humans, and the humans (inasfar as we know anyone is human) as machine-like.”
But the film simply doesn’t do this. The most “human” character in the film is probably Mariette, a replicant, and the human characters aren’t machine-like in any way, as I’ve explained in detail.
“The question of the sacredness of life just never comes up.”
Yes, it does. Throughout the film. You just didn’t notice it. Although this time around the question is more about the sacredness of LOVE, the thing that makes life worth living in the first place. I would argue that since the first film already addressed the sacredness of life, the sacredness of love is a much more appropriate theme for a sequel. After all, life is nothing without love.
As I’ve already said, the first film explores the sacredness of life by depicting artificial humans who are running out of it, and their attempts at extending it. The sequel explores the sacredness of life by depicting what artificial humans DO with it when they don’t have to worry about running out of it. The sequel expands on the original’s question by delving into what it is about life that makes it so worth living.
You say that critics like Mark Kermode “should know better.” May I suggest that they actually do, and that it’s you who simply didn’t understand what this film was actually saying or how it was saying it.
As I said at the start, I suspect that you made up your mind about this film before you sat down to watch it. You therefore read every aspect of this film in the most uncharitable way, saw everything in the most unflattering light, and simply didn’t even notice the questions about the human condition at the heart of the film.
You explain, correctly, in my opinion, the central theme of the original Blade Runner being the value and sacredness of life, explored through the Nexus 6 characters in their desperate pursuit to prolong it (probably the most “human” desire of all time) but you completely fail to grasp how Blade Runner 2049 explores the exact same theme, just from a different angle. Blade Runner explored it through the lens of artificial beings with short lifespans, desperately trying to get “more life.” Blade Runner 2049 explores what happens when the artificial beings don’t have that problem. The Nexus 8s have “open-ended lifespans.” They don’t have to worry about running out of life any time soon. So what does a replicant, an artificial being, DO with their life when they don’t have to worry about it running out? That’s what Blade Runner 2049 is about. A long life is pointless if there’s nothing meaningful in it. A life without love, bonds, family, “human” connection etc. Blade Runner 2049 shows us replicants who have the privilege of time and what they choose to do with it, and most choose to fill theirs with some sort of simulation – or approximation – of the things that make life meaningful to us humans. Whether it’s K’s sad attempts to experience something resembling true love with a spouse, or the maternal love of his human female boss, or Luv’s attempts at simulating a father-daughter bond with her creator, Wallace, these replicants are tormented by the harsh reality that they may never be able to experience these things because they themselves are not, in fact, “real.”
In short, Blade Runner was about life, Blade Runner 2049 is about love.
Now, you can say you don’t like that. You can say you don’t like that theme, or that you don’t like the way Blade Runner 2049 explores it, or that it’s a silly theme for a sequel to Blade Runner etc, but what you cannot say is that Blade Runner 2049 has no theme. It does. It’s right there.
“Even Tyrell, when confronted by Batty, explains how hard he tried to build replicants that would live longer. You can tell he would have done better if he could have.”
Actually, I always assumed the limited lifespans of the replicants in the original Blade Runner was a deliberate design choice to put some measure of control on the replicants. I assumed they were deliberately designed that way, probably because of government regulations, and that once a replicant had been made that way there was simply no way to reverse or alter it. I do believe Tyrell would have helped Batty and Pris at that moment if he could have, but I never thought they didn’t have the ability to make replicants with longer lifespans if they so wished. I guess we’ll never know because it’s never actually stated one way or the other.
Anyway, that’s all I have to say. If I came across as overly harsh or personal at any point then I apologise. I’ve just never read a review for anything that was so uncharitable as to be completely off the mark (in my opinion). I hope you give the film another chance at some point. Not that it’s a perfect film by any means, I certainly have my issues with it. But for me the good things about this movie far outweigh the bad, and it’s just depressing seeing someone totally missing what’s great about it.
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I won’t reply to specific points (not today anyway), but .. great meta-review! I have actually watched BR 2049 more than once, but was still not moved the second time round (I am almost certainly wrong about Deckard being a replicant though). However, your defence motivates me to give it another go. There’s nothing better than a passionate debate on a serious film, this is why cinema is a great thing, is it not?
You might find these posts amusing as well:
Also, just want to clarify, when I say that “K knows he can never experience true love because he’s a replicant” what I mean to say is that’s what he believes. The whole point of his character and where his head is at is that he’s constantly told by humans around him that, as a replicant, he can never truly “feel” and that his emotions are just artificial simulations of the real thing. He’s told this so much that he believes it’s probably true, and so is resigned to settling for simulations of the real thing.
It’s when he learns his memories are real and deduces (incorrectly) that he is the eponymous “replicant child” that his life changes because this means it’s possible that what he’s experiencing IS in fact the real thing.
Of course, what he’s experiencing with Joi is NOT the real thing, because Joi is not real.
K probably assumed the reason his love with Joi never felt real was because he’s a replicant, and he believes replicants are incapable of feeling real emotions. It didn’t occur to him at any point that the reason it never felt real was because Joi herself was not real.
After he’s already learned he is not, in fact, the replicant child, and is just a standard replicant, he then learns that Joi was never real, and at that moment he realizes the real reason why his connection with another person never felt real. He was looking for human in connection in the completely wrong place.
I take his last moments at the end where he feels the snowflakes on palm to mean he’s finally realized that this is in fact what snow really feels like, and he always had the ability to truly experience it, just like he always had the ability to truly experience love – he had it all along, he just didn’t realize it.