Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Warning: Spoiler Alert. (WTF - why haven’t you seen it yet?)
Ok, let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of the original. Sorry, that’s a slight understatement. I’ve seen the movie at least once or twice a year since its release in 1982. I own the Director’s Cut and the Final Cut. So it's been a long wait for this sequel. Plus, I approached it with trepidation. Sequels are a risky option, it could all go wrong. Especially when you are dealing with a movie of such standing. The god-awful Star Wars prequels are the best example of a franchise going off track.
Thus, I went into the cinema expecting disappointment. I expected a cheap cash-in, modernised and sanitised; dumbed down for the masses. No clue about what the original was trying to say. This was everything I didn't expect it to be. I couldn't believe how good it was. It is with some relief, I can attest that Blade Runner 2049 is faithful to the original.
Yes, it’s a homage, but without being sentimental. Then, it pays respect by expanding on the themes. The tone, design and characterisations are spot on. Granted it’s long, plus the pace slows at times. Yet, for me, it worked.
It's 2049, with the planet in ecological collapse. The massive conurbation of San Angeles spreads across California. It's protected from the encroaching sea by a massive wall. Having said that, the cityscape is Hong Kong. Vistas, sights, the manufactured mayhem, are all recognisable to the Hong Kong audience. As I stepped out of the cinema last night, I was back on the set. K’s small cabin-like apartment, with its tiny kitchen, is my home. A resonance of a wet day in Hong Kong vibrates through the city scenes. Even the last tree has a doppelgänger in Wong Chuk Hang. It's a dismal, acrid, brutal world that serves as a warning. We are messing up the planet.
There is some backstory. Seeing the original movie helps. Besides, you need to know two replicant exploded an EMP bomb in 2022 to wipe out digital records. This allowed them to go undetected. A backlash against replicants resulted. Meanwhile, humans and skin-jobs live in an uneasy peace. The Tyrell Corporation is no more, replaced by the Wallace Corp. At its head is the messianic Niander Wallace, who appears to be a human hybrid of sorts.
Newer replicants get tolerated, whilst the older models are 'retired'. Wallace has built his empire on acclaimed compliant models. These creations even commit suicide on request. All replicant models after Nexus 6 have a full history of implanted memories. This gives them human features, whilst helping with their stability. Well, that’s the idea.
Nexus 6 and earlier models only have four years worth of implanted memories. This exposed them to detection because they have no distant memories to fall back on.
K our main protagonist is a blade runner and a replicant. He is good at his job. We first meet him as he retires a replicant hiding as a farmer. That job leads to the discovery of bones that suggest a female replicant has given birth. That’s not supposed to happen. This sparks a hunt for the child. In a twist, the bones get identified as those of Rachel (remember her?) with the suggestion two children came forth. And guess who is the daddy?
If the replicants can reproduce, what's the purpose of humans? The child or children must be eliminated to avoid the collapse of human society. K is assigned that task.
We are introduced to K’s domestic arrangements. He has an artificial intelligence hologram girlfriend called Joi. She’s a product of the Wallace Corp. She even christens K giving him the name Joe. Something is going on with Joi that I can’t put my finger on. She is guiding K with subtle hints. That much is plain. Later, K comes to suspect that his infatuation with Joi is bogus, questioning his emotions.
Wallace gets involved by sending Luv to gather the bones. He’s intent on creating a new order of replicants. Luv is an advanced replicant who does the bidding of Wallace. She is one mixed up cookie. Struggling to control her emotions as she kills without question. There are deep conflicts within her. She is beautiful, controlled, tearful and outright ruthless. This is no Rachel.
Cut to the chase … K sets off on his quest to find the child or children. This takes him to Dr Ana Stelline. She provides memories for the Wallace Corp to implant in replicants. In the process, K is trying to establish his identity believing he may be one of the children born of Rachel. A wooden horse with the date 6.10.21 plays a role. Stelline indicates the memory is hers. Nonetheless, K has hope clinging to a belief he is a chosen one.
K finds Deckard holed up in the remains of Las Vegas. A dirty bomb has depopulated the place. Deckard is then seized by Luv. Wallace then tempts him with a copy of Rachel. He hints that Deckard's feelings could be implants. This prompts… ‘I know what’s real.’ The ploy fails when Deckard points out that the eyes are wrong. Rachel had green eyes.
To clarify, the question of Deckard’s nature goes unanswered. By the end of the movie we still don't know. And I kinda like it that way. Ambiguity works well. Harrison Ford insists Deckard is not a replicant. Ridley Scott affirms he is. Take your pick, then let's argue the point.
K should kill Deckard. In the end, he rescues him after joining a replicant rebel movement. K takes Deckard to Stelline, who is revealed as the child. An injured K then lies down. Whether he dies or not is debatable. The scene has hints of Roy Batty’s final moments, without that wonderful lament. There is definitely a sequel there.
For me a couple of the characters are redundant. Lt. Joshi, K’s boss, played by Robin Wright doesn't spark. She sets the scene by filling in some narrative detail, but other than that is excess baggage. Except for hints she wants to bed K, she's a two-dimensional figure.
Gaff makes a brief appearance in a retirement home. He's still making origami animals. I'm not convinced he contributed much to the trajectory of the story. He produces a paper sheep for K, the significance of which is debatable. I guess it could be a reference to the source story ‘Do Androids dream of electric sheep’.
There are many overlapping, weaving themes throughout the movie. Let’s see if I can summarize them. It's certain the replicants are heavy with tragedy and pathos. We’ve given them life … a short life. They’re sentient beings, who have an upwelling anger at humans. They know they have limited time, whilst conditioning restrains their actions. At the same time, some transition to lying and killing, those most human of traits. The replicants become more than molecules in motion.
An existential unease permeates the whole movie. Our protagonist K becomes convinced that inanimate objects encroach on his ability to define himself. What is central is the way a slow sense of uneasiness consumes K. Not so much 'Am I a robot or not?' as 'Do I exist at all?’.
Biblical themes intertwine with issues of identity. What is a human? What defines us? Wallace is seeking to upgrade humanity by taking it to the next evolution. The human race has messed up, whilst a new hybrid is emerging to take over. At the same time, old replicants struggle for their place at the table. Wallace seeks to manufacture the perfect specimen. Of course, under his control.
To him, the early replicants are fallen angels, who cannot enter heaven. The sweet Rachel is the new Eve given of a miracle birth. Wallace perceives this vanguard of trans-humans will take mankind to the stars. He needs the child to further his aims.
Yet, someone is pulling the strings from the shadows. K is not the other child, more likely a decoy. He is used. The hologram Joi prompts his actions at times. She awakened him to his quest in the manner that Roy Batty awoke Deckard. K achieves a realisation by making a moral judgment to save Deckard. He has earned his wings with redemption through an act of humanity. Furthermore, this is the second time Deckard gets rescued by a replicant.
To sum up, a battle is coming. The sentient replicants, humans and Wallace’s angels will face off. There is Blade Runner 3.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.