Blade Runner 2049 continues tradition

by Bob Collins

I remember sitting in the theater with my wife when I first saw the trailer for Blade Runner 2049 come up. Intrigue at the thought of a sequel, as well as a sense of dread, came over me as the permutations of what a sequel would entail for the original Blade Runner ran through my head. Would we have another procedural that involves hunting down rogue Replicants? We looking for Deckard and Rachel so many years later? The initial trailer did nothing but say the movie would be coming October of 2017.

SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.

More information of course came out over the following months. We would see Deckard again, some form of replicants are being made still, and Blade Runners are still a thing. Before we get too far into Blade Runner 2049 though, let’s take a look at the original Blade Runner released in 1982, just in case anyone out there needs a refresher on what 2049 is following up.

November, 2019, Los Angeles. Humanity has managed to create synthetic people, called replicants. Specifically, the Tyrell Corporation being the manufacturer. What makes replicants different from any other machine is that they are biological. A product of genetic engineering. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what they are. We aren’t introduced to any that are what we would think of as mechanical automatons. They are used mostly for various duties offworld that include, but are likely not limited to, manual labor, military duties, and pleasure.

The original movie contains a plethora of themes. Religion, economics, and slavery are all immediately identifiable ones, and there are many articles that talk about what Blade Runner ‘means.’ I won’t rehash those particular ideas for the original movie, but rather I would sum up the driving force behind all those conversations as asking one simple question: What does it mean to be human?

Eldon Tyrell’s answer to this would seem to be that our memories are what make us human, as alluded to in a conversation with Deckard with regards to providing a support cushion for replicants in the form of memories. Replicants didn’t have any of their own memories to fall back on since they were manufactured instead of born. No childhood to allow for the learning experiences and socialization that just about any adult takes for granted. Which if that’s true, what is to differentiate then a replicant that has implanted memories from a human with memories they accrued naturally? It’s a larger question that I don’t have the answer to.

Blade Runner 2049, as the name suggests, picks up thirty years after the original film. Our protagonist, Officer K (Ryan Gosling), himself is a newer model replicant created by the Wallace Corporation. A sort of Tyrell Corporation 2.0. The original Tyrell Corporation went bankrupt after there was some sort of replicant revolt. Wallace Corporation comes in with a superior product, replicants that have to obey humans, and buys up the remainder of the Tyrell Corporation. Their new replicants are a hit on the market, as we have replicants now hunting down older models that aren’t conforming to society. Though it’s pretty clear that there’s no shortage of bigotry aimed at replicants.

The new movie doesn’t shy away from pushing the same themes forward as it’s predecessor, but with a few twists.

In the original movie, we had Roy Batty meeting his God (Tyrell), asking essentially for what he has. A normal human lifespan, or at least more life. While Tyrell couldn’t do anything for Roy, it seemed as though Tyrell was already working on improving the replicant recipe by way of Rachel. As we discover in 2049, Rachel was apparently given the ability to procreate. Our behind-the-scenes villain, Wallace (Jared Leto), puts forth to Deckard that his meeting with Rachel was entirely engineered in an effort to get both of them to produce offspring for this experiment. Given the events of the first movie, I’m having a hard time believing that’s exactly what happened. You could make a case with Bryant pulling Deckard out of retirement as evidence for this engineered meeting, but it’s still weak. Rather I think here that Wallace is winding Deckard up. For what I don’t know, but I’m getting ahead of myself as far as movie pacing.

What we find out in the first part of the movie is that Rachel’s remains are found, and there’s evidence that she had a child. Course this makes everyone lose their shit in different ways. The authorities, as embodied by Robin Wright’s character Lieutenant Joshi, want this quashed, and tasks Officer K with finding this child and putting it down. Wallace wants the child found so as to improve his own replicant creations, as the ability for them to reproduce would be beneficial.

Wallace I think is one of the movie’s major themes, which is obsession and perfection. He comes as a bit esoteric in his dialogue, which to me is an indicator of his desire to play god like Tyrell did. And not just like him, but to surpass him. The end result he wants is to produce a replicant that can also produce offspring. Why he would want that I’m not sure, as replicants that can produce their own children would seem to be counter to the economic model for his corporation. Perhaps there’s another market here I’m not aware of that Wallace is, but on it’s face, it seems to me like he has a compulsion to move towards becoming a better god than Tyrell.

Though this god doesn’t have the same sort of respect that I think Tyrell did for his creations, instead having disdain for them due to his own inability to produce what he wants most from them. As he guts one of the replicants after one is immediately “birthed”, giving one of his pretentious speeches with regards to his replicants not being as good as the Rachel model that Tyrell produced.

K’s our next one up, being of of “god’s” creations, I think representing our desire for things to mean more than they actually do. During the course of his investigation to find the child of Deckard and Rachel, he uncovers evidence that he might be that child. While he turns out to not be that child, it becomes apparent that he very badly wanted that idea of him being special to be true. I can’t fault him though, as this is a very strong compulsion for us as humans to see what we want in particular patterns of information. Even the conversation with Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) seemed to confirm that the memories that K had were his own to the audience, as we’re given exposition that it’s illegal to program replicants with real memories. Course we find out later that the memory K replays for Stelline actually belongs to her, and her tears during the initial scene were in response to seeing a memory of her own.

It’s a strong compulsion that we have, wanting to be special. We try finding that meaning in the world around us in various ways, succeeding or failing along the way. K’s particular catharsis for him not being the child comes in the form of reuniting Deckard with the real child of him and Rachel. The particular thematic element here, I think, is suggesting that we should be prepared to face the possibility that we’re essentially nothing in the grand scheme, but can still aspire to pull together some meaning through our actions. It may not be a comfortable idea for a lot of people, but the important thing here is that we pull together a some level of humility in the face of realizing that it’s not about us, and soldiering on to ensure the right thing happens before it’s finally over.

On a more superficial level, the movie is excellent. The soundtrack is a great addition to Vangelis’ score for the original movie, and the visuals are fantastic. It certainly looks like the world has developed further thirty years on from 2019, and the shot of seeing the Wallace Corporation building towering over the old Tyrell buildings cements this. I’m sure if the original Blade Runner was made today, we would be seeing many of the shots of Los Angeles done up to the same standard of detail. Not to say that the original movie wasn’t already visually very impressive (which it is).

The movie does a good job of showing us the investigation of Officer K as he looks for the child of Deckard and Rachel. Giving us hints along the way as to what the outcome really is, while providing enough misdirection in the mystery that you won’t be sure of your supposition until the reveal is made.

One section of the movie that really felt out of place was the introduction of the replicants that were plotting another rebellion. It comes late in the movie, and doesn’t go anywhere. It might be leaving things open for a third movie, seeing what this rebellion does with the reveal of Deckard’s child. My sense is that there was a larger part of the plot that initially hinged on a replicant rebellion being a thing, but it hardly feels necessary for the movie. There’s some exposition that in the intervening years between the original movie and 2049 that there was a replicant rebellion, but we’ve already wrapped up the impacts to the plot with that event. Not sure why we’re dragging it back up.

If you were ever left with the thought of “What happened to Deckard and Rachel?” from the original movie, then I’m confident you’ll enjoy Blade Runner 2049. The visuals, sound, and themes are all there, providing a wonderful display for anyone that’s a part of the Blade Runner following.

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