Why I Love Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve and produced by Ridley Scott, is one of the most visually stunning, philosophically complex and emotionally satisfying Science Fiction movies of all time. Let's get that out of the way up front. It follows Prometheus and Alien Covenant, and of course the original Blade Runner, as an examination of what can be considered life, and the battle between the created and their creators. With Blade Runner 2049, Ridley Scott confirms his status as the greatest creator of Science Fiction of the last century. The film is one of the most beautiful I have ever witnessed, from its jaw dropping cinematography to the amazing emotional and philosophical depth of the story.
As with Prometheus and Covenant, Blade Runner 2049 is a film that deals with big issues. What is life? Why do we have a capacity to subjugate and enslave those who we don't understand? Why are creators so frequently capricious and cruel? The film follows the story of Blade Runner replicant K, who is tasked with uncovering the truth behind a long buried "natural" birth of a replicant baby. Like the original, 2049 is as much a Neo Noir as it is a Science Fiction. The film is quite dark, and capable of utterly ravaging your emotions. It is a detective story, where the stakes are high for all involved. I adore both of these genres and 2049 seems like it was made just for me.
I was very surprised to read and hear such depressing guff such as the assertion that 2049 sidelines women. First, consider the context in which the story is taking place: this is a dystopian future. Do you not think that *maybe* a future where slave labour is created and only the diseased and poor are left to suffer on a barren and environmentally destroyed Earth, might not be the most enlightened when it comes to gender roles? Second, it is entirely untrue to say that 2049 doesn't have interesting female characters. Robin Wright turns in a brilliant performance for K's boss, Madam, also known as Lieutenant Joshi. She is strong and capable and expresses so well the morally conflicted and compromised reality of the world. Her scenes with K are complex and satisfying, as they both try to relate to one another in a way greater than their environment allows for.
Sylvia Hoeks plays Luv, a replicant who is tasked with finding the location of the first replicant child, before it is "retired" in order to serve her boss Wallace's ambitions to create replicants that can breed, in order to exponentially increase the numbers for slave labour. Hoeks like Wright is shown to be just as powerful and intelligent as her male equivalents. Hoeks is menacing but also manages to touch the viewer, as she struggles with her own reality as a slave. Some words need to be spent on Joi, K's lover and partner, played by Ana de Armas. This is perhaps the most interesting and thought provoking element in the movie, and something that has been completely misunderstood by grotty sorts who see it as a confirmation of the film's sexism and hatred of women. Is it a surprise that such creations exist in a dystopia? This is not supposed to be a fucking blueprint of good, upstanding moral behaviour. It is a cautionary tale, and an examination of the prevalence of such beliefs in our world.
More than that though, you need to understand that K is considered something lower than human beings. That's why he has the job he has. Notice the number of times that K and Joi try to understand their relation to their environment, putting their hands out and feeling the rain and snow on their skin. The only person K loves is Joi, and she is considered in many ways even less "real" than he is. The relationship is not abusive or perverse, it is one of love not restrained by traditional notions of what life is considered worth protecting. This is a film about the struggle for identity and for a soul. K and Joi's love is one of the most important parts of the film, in order to get a handle on what 2049 is all about. That is, that we as a society only really prize human life. Just look at the atrocious manner in which we treat all other life on Earth, to see that this is not simply a concern of Science Fiction but all art that wants to actually say something. Those who missed this and simply wanted a film to echo their moral blueprint for equality in all aspects, regardless of artistic vision or context, betray themselves as rather dull individuals and pitifully equipped to understand art of this caliber.
Ryan Gosling is incredible here, displaying again just how good he is. Just like that thrilling and brilliant movie Drive, Gosling portrays a character who doesn't exactly wear his heart on his sleeve. K is reserved and adrift in a cruel, emotionless world. It is a sign of Gosling's ability that he can support a story that doesn't introduce the original Blade Runner Deckard played by Harrison Ford, until past the halfway point. You don't miss Deckard, though you are certainly happy to see him when he arrives. I love the scenes where K is investigating what happened to the replicant child, particularly his discussion with Barkhad Abdi's character Doc Badger, where Badger desperately tries to sell K a horse or a goat. As with much great Noir, 2049 tells a story about self-discovery, and the pursuit of true nature. This is a painful thing, but something that results in enlightenment and a mind that can rest easy without fear. Noir is about the realization that everyone has evil in them, and there is no better vision of this than the job of Blade Runner, which sees replicants tasked with killing their own kind in order to make humanity "safer" and better able to deal with life. There is no thought given to the emotional toll and moral turpitude that results from the willful slaughter of countless sentient life forms.
Deckard's story in 2049 continues on from the original, and sees our hero return to a world that he thought he had left behind. His love for Rachael and for his child makes for some seriously upsetting and emotionally moving moments. He has long forgotten the possibility of ever seeing his daughter, resigned to an isolated and lonely life. The final scene between Deckard and his daughter is one of pure joy, and relief that even in a dystopian future, there is hope. It is a neat trick that Villeneuve's film manages to work with both the original cinematic cut of Blade Runner, as well as the vastly superior Final Cut. This works with Deckard first because Harrison Ford is such a talented actor, but also because the story is one about life developing in ways unexpected by its creators. It is a movie that puts an eye on how we should value the variety and majesty of life around us, no matter how different from us human beings. Just like in Prometheus and Covenant, creators are seen as ultimately ignorant of the life they create. They don't appreciate the miracle of creation because it is every day for them. Instead of prizing the creation of new life with the replicant baby, they just think of how it could disrupt society's firm belief that our creations are just there to serve us. Just like the original Blade Runner, Prometheus and Covenant, creation is seen as morally problematic, no matter the rightness of the intentions. To create is to take on a grave responsibility, that if not respected can lead to terrible wrongs.
Blade Runner 2049 might just be the most visually appealing and unbelievably gorgeous film I have ever seen, including the original Blade Runner. The cinematographer was Roger Deakins who has done countless great films, including a lot of work with the Coen Brothers. That 2049 stacks up to the original is incredible, that it in many respects surpasses it is even more astonishing. The colours! Good God, the colours! The lighting, the relentless oppression from the environment, seeming to engulf and swallow up our heroes and villains in every moment, makes this a movie that will be seared into your brain and soul, long after you finish watching. If you were to consider Blade Runner 2049 a simply visual affair, and nothing else, it would still be one of the most astonishing films in decades.
Blade Runner 2049 is a superb piece of work. It is morally provocative, philosophically complex and capable of moving the viewer in profound ways. It is a movie that is important for our times, and raises serious questions about how we treat each other, and indeed all of the other life on earth that we share together. It raises issues about our history with slavery, just like the original did, and many other key moral issues about how society marginalizes those seen as below the norm. 2049 tells us that life is a thing that should be valued, even in its most unlikely and foreign forms. We must treat each other better. We must work together to avoid a future where the powerful are the only ones who can find peace in life. Snow on skin. I feel it. I am alive. This is a movie of rare quality. It deserves to be seen by everyone and earn Academy Awards, enough to pack a large backpack. What a time to be alive.