Film review: Blade Runner 2049

ryan-gosling-blade-runner-2049-harrison-ford
Ryan Gosling as Agent K (Source: melty.fr)

If you haven’t:

See it–for Ryan Gosling’s surprisingly engaging and moving performance, for a dark and uncanny world at least continuous with the spirit of the original (if lacking a little of the sheer weirdness and analogue authenticity), for an effective immersion in a future dystopia some specifics of which may be unlikely but the general thrust of which seems pretty plausible.

If you have (spoilers):

The best thing about Blade Runner 2049 is Ryan Gosling, “Agent K” (or later, “Joe”) and that was not what I was expecting. He’s not cutesy (no “hey girl” even if he has a girl who would evoke that kind of thing). He’s a guy trying to do a job, and you feel for him.

He’s a “good” (obedient) replicant who is a blade runner, which means he’s supposed to kill “bad” (disobedient, or even potentially disobedient) replicants. The movie opens with K killing a replicant–a worm farmer–who from all appearances would never have caused any trouble for “real” human beings. K is not eager to kill–he perks up when his target misleads him to think he might be able to “take him in” alive but when necessary carries out the ‘retirement’ professionally. He surveys the property and through some sort of xray drone photography discovers something buried beneath the single dead tree on the grounds, which he reports. Afterward he passes a bizarre psychology evaluation which seems to consist of staying cool while sitting in a white room and being forced to repeat oddly unnerving words and phrases. He’s congratulated for his even keel. He goes home to his hologram girlfriend with whom he seems to enjoy some genuine intimacy.

The “something buried” turns out to be the remains of a replicant who appears to have birth (her pelvic bone is cracked and there are signs of an emergency c-section). K is tasked with tracking down her identity based on her serial number. He goes to the Wallace Corporation (replicant producing-successor to the Tyrell Corporation) and learns that she is Rachel, which means much to the audience but nothing to K.

The point at which all this starts to disrupt K’s cool is when he discovers a date written on the dead tree which is the date also inscribed on a toy in one of “his” childhood memories, which he believes to be implanted as with all replicants. K starts to suspect he may really have had a childhood. He starts to suspect he may be the child he’s looking for. He seems to confirm this when he visits the best “memory maker” and she confirms that the memory was not fabricated but belonged to a real person. After this K begins to go rogue. He deceives his handler, “Madame” (Robin Wright), leading her to believe he found and killed the child. He fails to pass the psych test. Having thus shown signs that he might cease to be an “obedient” replicant he becomes a target.

There’s a bit of a “magic feather” effect here. K starts to disobey because he believes that he might not have been created to obey. Or self-fulfilling prophecy–he thinks he has discovered something about his past that implies he has a destiny, that his is special. He turns out to be special because he believes this, but–in the most brilliant twist of the film–not in fact to be the child.

All of this gets somewhat lost in the sumptuous sci-fi panorama and the periodic shoot-outs and fight scenes, as Ebert thought the “human story” did in the first Blade Runner as well. The movie did not do what it might have done with K’s situation–the struggle with identity, that mythic movement from being a rule-follower to a rule-breaker when one discovers–or thinks one discovers–one’s unique destiny. Then again, if it had tried it might have been too heavy-handed.

Much has been written about how the original Blade Runner and, now, its sequel raises the question of what it means to be human. I frankly don’t think either much does, at least not in a very profound way. The replicants are obviously human–at least the “troublesome” ones are. (This, I would say, not “having emotions,” seems to be what makes one human–to It may raise some interesting questions about what point the world ceases to be a world in which one can be human. I would see it again to find out.

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