Blade Runner 2049

Source: IMDB.com

There is a serious question about automation that disquiets us. If robots replace humans, how does this change us, the humans and our society? There’s an upside, certainly; humans no longer work terrible jobs that robots now ceaselessly toil over. The downside, a variable quantity of humans no longer paid or occupied by the terrible jobs we had them perform in the first place. Secondly, at what end are we replacing humans with robots? And further, when are the humans being replaced by simulacra (And yes, there is already a conversation of sex robots you can hear in the background)? And if humans are replaced by simulacra, when will it all be simulacra? Or more actually, what is the new reality?

Are all of these addressed in Blade Runner 2049? No. But let’s talk about that instead.

In the year 2049, replicants (genetically engineered, synthetic analogues of human beings) are a slave class. They are mostly used as proxy soldiers and workers in the off-world colonies. Environmental cataclysms caused agriculture to fail, leaving it to mega-corporations (in this case Wallace Corp) to pick up the tab and engineer synthetic agriculture to keep the world ticking. Wallace Corp. has its effect all through everyone’s lives, from the food they eat to the technological mod-cons that entertain them. And their flagship product are replicants, which they picked up after acquiring a bankrupt Tyrell Corporation. Unlike the four-year lifespan of the Nexus 6 replicants from the first film, the new replicants are longer lived, but also completely obedient (or should be).

Agent K, played by Ryan Gosling, is one of the newer replicants, tasked by the LAPD to track down and retire older model replicants. His latest target uncovers a larger mystery, one which will have reverberating effects on both humans and replicants. This is that a particular replicant conceived of a child, and that child might still be alive. Someone, or many people, went to great lengths to hide it. Agent K follows the thread, joined by his holographic girlfriend.

Now, let us take pause on that. Agent K, played by Ryan Gosling (famously known for his intense stare in Nicholas Winding Refn films), doesn’t appear to have much empathy, it seems he is constantly disconnected with others. But to fill in this gap, he has Joi (Ana de Armas) a holographic artificial intelligence in the form of a hologram that K plays house with. Joi pretends to cook food, takes on almost any appearance and tells him anything he wants to hear.

Now before we talk about how creepy this is, or the lesson of “Don’t Date Robots”, this is the only company that K has. There are no pets (synthetic or otherwise), no partner at home or work. And no friends. He is largely reviled by both born and synthetic humans alike. So the holographic, computer girlfriend (that is carted around like an analog of an iPhone) is the only company he has, most of the time. That said, he brushes off contact from others. And the sex scene, where the hologram “wants to be real for him” and hires a prostitute to synch up with her for K’s sake, is all kinds of weird and creepy. And is something that totally happens in the film. You should never put your credit card into your phone. Thus Joi is much the ingenue of most of the film, being K’s moral support, and sadly, not a whole lot else.

Back to the show. Niander Wallace (played by an increasingly Jodorowskyan Jared Leto), creator of the new series of replicants is seeking the means of replicants reproducing so he can keep up with the demand needed by la société en général. Niander speaks of angels and the divine a lot, particularly around his lieutenant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). He charges her with bringing back the replicant child.

Now there are no spoilers. Everything has already been written and in the trillion trillion trillion years when the Universe collapses from heat death and the last Boltzmann brain conceives of the last summer blockbuster, the Cosmos may yet be born again from the cold ashes. And it will all happen again.

Now Luv leaves K to perform the heavy lifting of the search. And after K finds some compelling evidence, begins to believe that the memory implants he received are actually memories of him as a child. Meaning that he thinks that he is the replicant child. K goes to meet Rick Deckard in an abandoned Las Vegas to learn the whereabouts of the child to confirm his suspicions. Twist is, he’s not the miracle child after all, someone he met previously is. Luv kidnaps Deckard and K is left for dead, only to be picked up by the replicant revolution. The replicant revolution need the child to provide the continuation of their species/race and hopefully free them from servitude. But they do not provide K with much to finish the story. K tracks down Luv who is taking Deckard off-world to learn of where the child might be. K interrupts their transit, kills Luv while being horribly wounded and takes Deckard to see his child. And then K dies in the snow. Maybe.

The visuals and score to this film are brilliant. The colours and absence of such is near perfect. Every piece of music is droning, synthetic horns, foreboding voluminous spaces of noise. The future is a grey ruin, an age of twilight for Humanity under natural light. But at night, it’s a technicolour palette of neon teal and orange and purple and pink. Niander’s headquarters are bathed in a perpetual golden hour of dawn or dusk. It’s raining and then snowing, and you don’t know what season it is, or if any of it is toxic. The natural world is moonscape, devoid of life. Everything with life is utterly plastic, the interior and object design is fitting for the spaces people occupy. And everything is a mess. Most live cluttered, chaotic lives, hoarding almost anything because of its potential use for the future, or sentimentality from a lost past. And there are those like Niander, whose spaces are voids, bound by clear and clean lines against the chaos, like God the Geometer. Every set is distinct and fit together seamlessly.

Just look at it. Source: IMDB.com

And despite the visuals and the score, I find myself wanting. It took me a while to process the film I saw. It was bugging me what I thought was off about it. And then it came to me. There is a moment when K believes that all of his memories are real. That he might be a replicant born. But it turns out they’re implants anyway. It begs the question over who implanted them. Surely not the memory designer, because of her connection to the conspiracy, might have given her away. And if not her who? Why implant memories of such an event? It didn’t make much sense to me. Certainly, there’s an idea of creating a false trail, but this false trail caused the plot to happen. And out of sheer luck. K only happened to find end of the thread of his mystery at the start of the film. Eventually, he might have hit a dead end and called it a cold case and closed the lid on it. Likewise, the replicant revolutionary movement didn’t do much, despite their numbers. I don’t know, they’re a servile race, but it seemed with their strength and the fact that most of them fell through the cracks of society that they might have had more agents around. The third act takes a long time to get where it needed to be: at the final conflict between K and Luv.

One thing I reflected on was Metropolis, where some real societal asymmetry going on. The Master of Metropolis is an engineer; a cold, atheistic, believer of facts and numbers, constructing a seemingly perfect system where everyone has work within in the city, despite how fruitless or laborious it may be. On the opposite end is Maria who runs an underground church, much like early Christianity, prophesying that a messiah will appear to solve their problems and make everyone equals in the labour. Realising that this could undermine the order of the city, the Master obtains the dark services of a mad technologist (with obvious occult symbology), who has plans of his own. And thus with sides in opposition set, the story really begins.

And this is what I felt was lacking from the film, with all of Wallace’s preaching of his own divine acts, it would have been good to have a stronger counterpoint to that. The obvious choice would be the replicant revolutionaries. It could have been a replicant that fell from Wallace’s good graces (hint hint) and tempts K to upset the order of things. Or perhaps a replicant that is deeply religious. If born humans are all guilty of original sin, then what are replicants if they are manufactured? A second sin, perhaps, of humans playing at God? Hell, K’s boss straight-up says replicants don’t have souls. That’s cold as ice.

Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford are fine. Jared Leto was fine as well. I find that he tends to be not the best part of a film, but there you go. What stood out for me was Robin Wright. She needs to be a hard-as-nails boss lady in more films.

End of the day though, I’m nit-picking. Watch it. It’s probably the best film I’ve seen all year.

Addendum
This film had some shorts on the lead up which I recommend watching
2036: Nexus Dawn
2048: Nowhere to Run
Black Out 2022

There is also a short fan film that is set earlier than the first Blade Runner
Tears in the Rain

There’s been a comic-book (or graphic novel) adapation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I bought mine off Comixology, but it’s down halfway of the reading pile. So I guess I’ll get to it soon.

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