Previous attempts at watching Blade Runner (1982) have all ended in failure. As a self-proclaimed cinephile, should I feel ashamed by the fact that I cannot seem to get through this classic piece of science fiction? Who is to say? I am sure someone will, anyway. Hence, my recollection of the original consists of fragments of the film. I know that Harrison Ford is in it, and that it is set in the future. Oh, yeah, and there are human-looking robots known as replicants. I do not remember the plot at all. Still, I am aware that Blade Runner 2049 (2017) is set in the future of the, er, future. Given me hazy memory of its predecessor, perhaps I was the wrong person to be reviewing the new one. I watched the whole thing, and I am still quite unclear as to what happened and why. Maybe while describing the story some sense will emerge.
We are brought into the largely colorless world of Blade Runner 2049 as K (Ryan Gosling) lands his flying car at some kind of protein farm. As an officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, he is tasked with tracking down older model replicants and “retiring” them. It is a silly euphemism for killing them. This job makes him a Blade Runner. This mission is one Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), who is living out his life (if you can call it that) far from what passes as civilization in the future. Before he dies, he tells K that, as a newer model replicant, he cannot understand things like miracles. This, I guess, leads K to investigate Sapper’s lands further. Doing so turns up a set of bones. When he brings them back to the city of eternal night (and randomly alternating rain and snow), the analysis at headquarters is revealing. It shows that the deceased was a female who died in childbirth, but more importantly that the mother had been a replicant. This is the miraculous event to which Sapper referred. K is then tasked by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), to find the offspring and eliminate it. For extremely nebulous reasons, such a child would be dangerous to the replicant system. His search leads him to the Wallace Company, the maker of the replicants, in order to discover the mother’s identity. With the help of Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), an assistant to company founder Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), he learns that the mysterious female replicant is Rachael. This is found on a recording they have archived of her and a former Blade Runner named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). In looking into Deckard, K discovers that his predecessor and Rachael had fallen in love and ran off together, which takes him back out beyond the city limits. His first move is to return to Sapper’s farm, where he finds the ominous date of “6-10-21.” Seeing it triggers a childhood memory of a wooden horse hidden in a derelict factory where orphans dig through refuse looking for salvageable electronics. He demands that the caretaker (Lennie James) show him the records of children brought in around June of 2021, but finds those documents missing. Still, he is beginning to suspect that he might be the person he is supposed to find, particularly when he uncovers the wooden horse where his recollection told him it would be. In order to discover whether or not the memory is real or an implant, he seeks out a specialist. This is Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), who is kept in a hermetically sealed room due to having a compromised immune system. She is still able to confirm that the memory is, indeed, genuine. When K finally returns to headquarters and reports this all to Joshi, she gives him time to disappear. He uses this as an opportunity to look further into what he believes is his own past. The one clue he has to go on is the toy, and an analysis of it takes him to Las Vegas. There he encounters a still alive Rick, who finally tells K the child that had been born was a daughter, not a son. Unfortunately, this is when Luv, who had been monitoring this situation for Niander, catches up with them and takes Rick back to Wallace offices. Niander wants to know about Rick’s offspring as the businessman believes it the key to him creating more replicants. Rick claims to not know the child’s location, and Rick is then sent away to be taken off planet. On the way, they are attacked by K, who is mortally wounded by Luv in the process of rescuing Rick. He has figured out that Dr. Stelline is Rick’s daughter, and his dying act is to bring Rick to her. We close with K looking up at the gently falling snow.
Look, this was about the only thread I could follow in Blade Runner 2049, and I needed the assistance of the plot synopsis on the International Movie Database (IMDb). I left out the subplot of the relationship between K and Joi (Ana de Armas). I do not feel it is particularly germane to the story. She is an artificial intelligence (AI), and a holographic projection to boot. The only thing that separates her from Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) in Her (2013) is the image, and the dystopia. Because Blade Runner 2049 is a film of misery, the relationship ends, instead of in bittersweet acceptance as in the former, but rather with the small projector containing her essence being stomped on by Luv. I am sure there is some lexiconic irony there, but let us move on. I guess their interactions are meant to make K appear more human, even when he thinks he might be anyway. Joi even gives him a more proper name, Joe. Still, the biggest aspect of the film I left out in the previous paragraph is the notion that replicants are slaves, at least according to Niander. Actually, he says he creates angels, which is a little insulting to this Catholic. However, the opening crawl says that replicants are created for servitude, and whenever they deviate from their “baseline,” whatever that means, they are then retired. When K returns from seeing Dr. Stelline, his test reveals that he is way off his baseline, which also angers Joshi. Also, there is the potentially revolutionary concept of Rick and Rachael’s child. Hopefully I am saying this correctly, but if replicants can have babies, then that means they should also have rights, i.e., not be slaves. That was certainly not the logic in the nineteenth century when slavery was legal, unfortunately, otherwise there would have been nobody kept in bondage ever. Finally, what is supposedly the best kept secret ever is discovered by other replicants. At one point, K is helped by a group of replicants who want to start a rebellion to free themselves. In the end, this all goes nowhere.
In reflecting on how to include a Catholic angle to this review of Blade Runner 2049, I was reminded of a recent encounter. A few weeks ago, I was in line for Confession at a different parish than my own, and an older gentleman a few places behind me began asking rather loudly whether or not my fellow supplicants believed in aliens. One thing you rarely see in films set in the future, in space, or both, is religion, much less Christianity. Why is that? You definitely have no mention of God in this film, though Niander sees himself in that role. As I have discussed numerous times, usually Hollywood takes a dim view of Christianity. My sense is that the theory behind this lack of future Christians pertains to technology supposedly freeing people from such traditional mumbo-jumbo. With space, the notion of life on other planets would seem to contradict our concept of one God-created world. I have no idea whether or not there are other sentient beings out there in the universe. There could be, I suppose, but the opposite could be true as well. Until this is proved conclusively, I do not see it as a subject worth a ton of speculation. As for technology, I see it rather as a way of revealing God further. The wonders the human mind is capable of is exciting. The danger, of course, is when it distracts us from worshipping Him. God seems far from the world of the film, which makes it even sadder, if that is possible.
I do not recommend Blade Runner 2049. While it is nice that Rick is reunited with his daughter, the rest is pretty bleak. There is also a fair bit of nudity and violence. Aside from my criticisms above, my biggest frsutration is that it moves . . . so . . . slowly. A perfect example of this is when K finds the horse. Given everything that leads up to this moment, we know what is about to happen. But, in a painfully drawn-out sequence, he walks ponderously down a hall, carefully opens a grate, and gingerly reveals the toy. It takes five minutes for something that is utterly obvious. If that is your style for film, then have at it. It is a hard pass for me.