Let’s get this out of the way quickly. If you’re not a fan on the original Blade Runner, you will likely not be particularly interested or impressed by its sequel, Blade Runner 2049.
If you, like myself, are a fan of the original, however… maybe everything has led to this.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival), Blade Runner 2049 picks up 30 years after the original film. Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, a bounty hunter tasked with ‘retiring’ the final remnants of the old edition Replicants, androids in human form created to serve society. However, when a routine raid uncovers a box containing the remnants of a deceased replicant, K begins to unravel a mystery that threatens the divide between humanity and machine.
Admittedly, when this film was announced, the idea was met with disbelief. After all, Blade Runner is now largely heralded as a cinematic achievement as one of the most influential science fiction films ever made. Known for its in-depth exploration of humanity and its stunning visuals, Blade Runner was a film that was not in need of a sequel. Unbelievably, Denis Villeneuve seems to have done the impossible. Amazingly, 2049 actually manages to expand and enhance the world first created by Ridley Scott over 30 years ago. Rather than simply offer a retread of the original film as so many reboots have done in recent years, 2049 builds upon its predecessor’s themes and takes the story in a new direction. In fact, it somehow even feels… necessary. Fans of Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard should be aware that his role is much smaller than the trailers would have you believe. Still, Villeneuve makes good use of Ford and his appearance is worth the wait. (Approaching three hours in length, the film does feel a little long so be warned.) Visually, while the color scheme is much brighter than the original’s focus on shadows and darkness, Villeneuve and master cinematographer Roger Deakins succeed in making even the lightest tones feel claustrophobic and menacing.
Whereas the original Blade Runner is preoccupied with what it means to have life, 2049 takes the conversation further with its discussion of what it means to have a soul. Even though he is a replicant, Officer K is in search of what is real. Despite his love for his digital assistant, he also understands the limitations of and falsehood within that relationship. When approached by a prostitute, he resists her, causing her to accuse him of “being afraid of real girls”. While he seems at peace with his android life, he wonders what life would be like if there (or he himself) were more. He continues to be drawn to things that are ‘real’, albeit nervously. In a subtle homage to Pinocchio, K too seems caught within the ambiguity of his own existence. Is he a replicant? Could he be more? These are the questions that he needs to answer. In many ways, this bookend to the original [or potential middle piece of a trilogy?] has within it a sense of hope that is missing from the first entry. Whereas Deckard in the original film feels like a man who is lost, 2049 presents K (and, potentially, Deckard) as a man who is found (or, at least, wishes to be). 2049 recognizes that humanity has something that no android can imitate.
They are missing something.
Interestingly though, 2049 also suggest that the replicant Creator himself is dissatisfied with his achievement. While other recent films have portrayed the Creator as relentless (Noah), distant (Alien: Covenant) or reckless (Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2), 2049 reveals him as restless.
As designer of the new breed of replicants, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) remains constantly frustrated by his inability to create self-sustaining life. Although he has produced a being of perfect obedience, Wallace is unable to crack the code of procreation. As a result, 2049 presents humanity is viewed as something to withhold. Wallace wants to see life flourish (as long as it follows orders) but he struggles to find the formula to make life actually grow. There is a miracle to life that remains just out of reach. In this sense, while one could look at Wallace as god-like within the film, he remains largely ineffective. This is a Creator who doesn’t understand how to create… and he knows it. As a result, Wallace holds no love for his creation, despite his talk of it. He speaks of his creations as Angels but they still seem to pale in comparison to the reality of humanity.
In 2049, life itself is a miracle.
Herein lies the real heart of Villeneuve’s argument. Although Wallace believes himself to be the ultimate creator, the miracle of life is outside of his understanding. Despite his knowledge, there remains something greater than he. While the film never engages the question of what that something may be, it is a seed of humility that points to a much larger Creator in the end.
Blade Runner 2049 is a film that will require multiple viewings. While it is a little long at almost 3 hours, it’s a dense and beautiful piece that could spark conversations for years to come.