I already posted my initial review of Blade Runner 2049. I’d recommend reading that first, and you can find it HERE.
BR2049 releases on Bluray/4K tomorrow. In celebration of what I considered to be the best film of 2017, this will be my full-spoiler in-depth review/analysis of the film. As such, if you’re interested in this movie and haven’t seen it yet, steer clear of this post. Full spoilers follow. Also, some spoilers for Alien: Covenant.
*FINAL WARNING – SPOILERS*
In Blade Runner: 2049, we have the inverse of the first film. In the original Blade Runner, we followed a human who may or may not be a replicant. In 2049, we follow a replicant who may or may not be human. Or more accurately, he may or may not be manufactured, but born, the natural child of Rachel (a replicant) and Deckard (who may or may not be a replicant).
In this, the central conceit of the film is the most important thing of all – life itself. The ability to create new life. This is one of the primary themes of this universe. It is reflected in Tyrell (in the original Blade Runner) – the creator god of the replicants - and his rival and successor Niander Wallace (in BR2049), who, while retaining the ability to create replicants, has been denied Tyrell’s final secret – replicant self-reproduction, the ability to give birth to new life from an artificial womb.
If you choose to include numerous easter-eggs that all but confirm that the Blade Runner universe and the Alien/Prometheus universe are one and the same, the over-riding theme grows even more clear. We know that Weyland Industries exists in the Blade Runner universe, Weyland being the man who created the androids we see in the Alien and Prometheus films. In Prometheus, both humans and androids (created by Weyland) encounter the Engineers, the beings who supposedly first created humankind. And Alien: Covenant’s android David is shown to be the one who bio-engineered the Xenomorph using the raw material left behind by the Engineers, the same Xenomorph that the crew of the Nostromo encounter in the original Alien (1979).
In a very real way, the theme of this entire universe is the battle for and musing on the importance of life and the ability to create it. Many of the character relationships are those that convey the significance, mystery, and gravity of the relationship between the creator and the created. And like Frankenstein and Genesis before it, the weighty notion of the creature turning on its creator, as well as the responsibility of the creator towards its very creations.
The lingering question left open at the end of the original Blade Runner’s Final Cut (whether or not Deckard is himself a replicant) is thankfully left unanswered. That is not a question that we need resolved. That question needs to exist in the audience’s mind. But whether Deckard is a replicant or not, Rachel was– that is not a matter of dispute. The child of Deckard and Rachel is at least partially replicant.
So there are two possibilities: First, if both his parents are replicants, he is the first replicant to be born of the womb. If Deckard is human, then the child is the first human/replicant hybrid – something entirely new, the birth of a new form of being, one that could possibly bridge the gap between natural life and artificial life.
This child – this “miracle,” as Dave Batista’s Sapper Morton terms it – holds the key, the secret to replicant self-reproduction in its DNA. And that is a secret that Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace – reclusive head of Wallace Corp – desperately desires. Wallace has grand ambitions: he wants the stars. He wants to see a great diaspora of humankind throughout the heavens, conquering infinite space. He believes the heavens are his for the taking, using his replicants. He is frustrated at the meager expansion into only nine worlds, and believes the only way to achieve this great conquest is on the back of a disposable slave-labor force – the replicants themselves. But no matter how wide his manufacturing pipeline, Wallace cannot produce enough replicants to get the job done. He needs them to reproduce naturally, thus exponentially increasing his workforce. And when his new model shows the same defect as the older ones – namely, the inability to reproduce with the womb – he slices her open.
The idea of Niander Wallace as a kind of frustrated god is a fascinating and frightening one. Wallace’s view of life is a double-edged sword. He lusts to bestow the ability to create life, while simultaneously disregarding a life that he created. He speaks of conquering the heavens and the firmament, he calls his replicants “angels”, and created them to be completely subservient. And he speaks to a guest as one “coming before the throne of god.” He fancies himself a deity. But if he is a deity, he is an impotent one – he cannot truly create life, only manufacture it; the secret to true creation eludes him. It is altogether appropriate that he is blind, as he is a blind god – unable to see that the very thing his replicants need to be what he wants them to be is the one thing he will not and cannot give them – namely, the ability to reproduce (create life), and in the case of his “angels,” their very freedom. Wallace very much reflects how many people view god – a cold, unfeeling creature who wants his automatons to mindlessly obey. But a god like that is bound to fail, because he doesn’t really understand the nature of living things, and that, as we see in the film, makes for a very poor god indeed. His failure is not one of power, but of understanding; understanding that the very thing that makes a living being worthwhile is freedom – freedom to choose using a will of its very own. Not only is that his personal failure, it matriculates down to his angels. It’s the reason why they ultimately fail him.
Then we have Ryan Gosling’s K. Here is a replicant who is just trying to do his job, just trying to get by, constantly experiencing prejudice and hate from the human beings around him. He has slurs hurled at him, such as “skinjob” and “skinner.” He is constantly poked and prodded to make sure he is keeping in line. He has to deal with outlandish claims (Ex: replicants eat babies) and is called soulless by his boss (which is ironic, seeing as how she comes on to him, citing her need to “look out for something real.” If K is not, in fact, real, then why would she seek something real with him?)
In K, we have someone whose life is so devoid of genuine contact that he felt it necessary to go out and purchase joy (Joi), as if it was something that could be bought and sold like a consumer product. That’s the kind of dreary world K lives in – one where, if you can’t experience the real thing (joy, happiness, relational fulfillment), you are encouraged to go out and buy it. This should sound very familiar to all of us.
Even when K purchases an eminator, an upgrade freeing Joi from her tether in K’s home, she remains elusive. Joi (joy) is the thing that K so desperately wants, but literally cannot touch. She (it) is beyond his grasp. Not that she doesn’t try. Joi arranges to have a surrogate body brought to K’s home, a body in the form of a mysterious hooker, through which she can make love to K. But as we know, purchasing something like that may gratify for a time, but it can never be mistaken for the real thing.
But unfortunately, neither can Joi. The film sets the audience up to feel that Joi is a real person, just as Wallace Corp sets up its consumers. She speaks passionately of love with tears in her eyes, she longs to fulfill K’s every desire, she even gives him a name – something no other person, including his creator, has ever bothered with. She calls him Joe. But in the end, Joi is revealed to be no more real than the prostitute. She is just a product, a few lines of code. And she does exactly what she was programed to do – make K fall in love with her, and make him believe that she’s the real thing. As K stands before the holographic advertisement for Joi near the end of the film, the marketing slogan says it all: “Everything you want to see, everything you want to hear.” K bought the lie, and in the end, the lie failed him. As the prostitute herself said to Joi, and as the film itself says to its audience about Joi, “Quiet now. I’ve been inside you. There’s not so much there as you think.”
So if artificial joy is not enough, what then? If you cannot purchase happiness, what do you do next?
You must find some other way to make your life mean something. And that’s precisely what K does.
Early in the film, K is set on the trail of a replicant child. He follows a dark and shadowy path to one Rick Deckard, the father of this mysterious miracle child, a child that holds the key to replicant self-reproduction – and the next step of life – in its DNA. As K circles around the truth, he is treated to a sudden blinding revelation – this child may very well be K himself.
If that seems too easy, too obvious, there’s a reason for it. Life is rarely that neat, or that simple, or that gratifying.
We all want to believe that we are special. That we matter. That we mean something. What many of us never consider is this:
What if we’re not?
When K finally tracks down the hollow, hiding figure of Rick Deckard in the haunting remains of Las Vegas, he believes he may well have found his father. In his eyes is the hope that Deckard, at long last, will be able to impart the knowledge that K so longs for, the knowledge that any creature requires from its creator; namely, what does his life mean?
But what he finds is not what he expects. Artificial happiness and purchased love have already failed him. Having been stripped of joy (Joi), and subsequently the hope that he is, in fact, Someone Important, K has nothing left to live for. It is finally, ultimately, up to him to decide what meaning will stem from his existence. It is a unique, heavy, and terrible freedom.
In the case of Rick Deckard, here we have a simple man, thrust into circumstances he could never have foreseen. But he does the hard and honorable thing, the thing that very few of us would be capable of doing: he suffers in silence. He keeps his secrets and disappears from the world in order to protect that which is most important to him. He gives up everything. He allows himself to be No One.
And when forced to return, presented with the very thing he wants the most – Rachel reborn, the woman, the replicant, that he fell in love with so long ago – he recognizes the lie for what it is. Because when you long for what is real, anything less is just not good enough. This in itself is telling: It is easy to tell what is real from what is false. Which makes the quandary of natural life versus artificial life in this story so important. If it is THAT difficult to tell replicants from humans…what’s the difference?
Which leads us to the close.
The miracle child is not K. It is Dr. Ana Stelline, the memory-maker, a being that bridges the gap between what is human and what is machine, between what is natural and was is artificial, a being whose dreams and visions are so real, so convincing, they make K himself believe. When K learns this, his hopes and his reality are shattered. And it is up to him to decide what he will do.
K decides to make his life mean something. Stripped of everything else, he finally has the freedom to discover purpose in his life.
Is he a replicant? Is he a human? Is he something in between?
This is a question to which the film does provide an answer: It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter who you are. What matters is the force with which you live your life, and what you do with it. What matters is what you fight for. And K lays his life on the line to protect something important, even sacred.
I have utterly no qualms with labeling Blade Runner 2049 as one of the best films, and one of the most meaningful stories, ever produced. It is a thing full of mythic figures contending with the biggest questions one can ask. It tackles themes of life, existence, and purpose, and does so with a subtlety, grace, and poetic sensibility that speaks directly to me.
Thank you for reading this. Thank you for reading anything that I’ve written. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you enjoyed the film. And I hope we all make our own lives matter.
Until next time.