There was a thought that I chewed over about a week before seeing Blade Runner 2049 (henceforth, Blade Runner 2).
I was sitting on the toilet and wondered—with enough self-awareness that I may seem like I had a bit of the stinky grass—
“Does your life end when there are no memories left or does it actually end if there are no moments left ahead that’ll be worth remembering?”
That thought was a byproduct of a dream I had the night before.
A dream of arriving at a hotel in the middle of the desert. In the hotel, murky, emerald water slowly rose at a steady pace. And like the few other occupants of this soon-to-be corpse aquarium, a wide-grin stretched across my face. I was so jubilant as the water slowly crept up above my lips sucking in its last breath. And I woke up in serene tranquility and felt enigmatically liberated.
Thinking back, I don’t really remember the transition from my white porcelain thinking chair to the gas station ran by an elderly Russian couple.
Getting gas was an excuse to be there; buying a lotto ticket was the true goal. I was convinced that the dream meant something. Something good. Maybe I wanted the money in some vain attempt at ensuring worthwhile memories in the future.
The urge was a ridiculous conviction probably deriving from my mother who believes in these sorts of superstitions. And as much as I persist away and criticize her for her unjustifiably-believing-in-supernatural-causation ways, I couldn’t help but buy that lotto.
The old man kept telling me, “This is the winning ticket!”
As if he knew of my dream.
“Bring me back just five dollars if you win!”
He kept asking me for that five dollars as I walked out.
It’s not that I thought I’d win—though I thought might. It just that felt like the event of the day that I had to make happen in reality.
If it wasn’t clear, this isn’t a review for the film.
It’s a blotch of my take on a film that made me want to share my thoughts on it enough to dust off this blog. So I’ll just do a quick run-through of the review-y things and move on.
Obviously, there will be spoilers.
Also, I’ve seen the film only once in theaters as I’m writing this piece.
The film is a bit longer than it needs to be. There are moments where subtlety is thrown out the window and the film feels condescending to the intended audience. Or, perhaps, the film wasn’t really certain who the audience was going to be. While all the performances are strong, not all characters ends up being fleshed out. The final act of the film felt too convenient at times. With all that said, Joe (Ryan Gosling) is one of the most well-developed characters I’ve seen in a long while and viewers caring for the character’s ending is the film’s greatest testament to its endeavors.
Do you need to see the previous film?
No. Absolutely not. It’ll add a lot to the experience but the film can completely stand on its own. You don’t need to know who Rachel or Rick Deckard are.
Did I think Joi in the China Dress was gorgeous?
Yes. Of course, I did. We all did, damn it. Why would you ask such a question all of a sudden?
Does the film have the same depth as the first film?
I enjoyed the first film immensely but never thought it had that great of philosophical depth as many of the cult followers would suggest.
However, I thought Blade Runner 2 had much more interesting pieces in play that provided a more substantial conversation for the topic it wanted to explore.
I’ve read some internet chatter that the film is a discussion of the philosophy of identity. Personally, I think that’s a bit off-mark.
The film is more like a simple program sequence to test the philosophy of being human. Each of the main characters is a different variable raising certain questions, and consequently, becoming a case of an anthropomorphic discussion of what it means to be human.
Joe (Ryan Gosling)
Protagonist for this film is one that I personally found most interesting in recent years. There are many ways the character could have gone wrong. Many ways where the lead character would have kept us bored and frustrated by design.
Joe, aka a serial number he goes by through most of the film that I can’t remember and apparently am too lazy to look up, is supposed to be as emotionless a person could be. That’s how he was built and if he acts otherwise it’s considered a malfunction and due for termination.
The movie opens up with him killing a fellow replicant with a recognition that he’s taking a life-of-sorts but doing so without an inkling of hesitation. Joe does his job well and with frigidness expected by his masters.
Great, the audience may think. Is he one of those “stoic, aloof, always-too-cool, killing machine” types?
And we’re certainly led to believe that until we see another side of Joe in the scenes that follow afterward.
The film had convinced us at this point that Joe is a badass replicant Blade Runner. But as he walks through his precinct, his fellow human officers are blatantly hostile to Joe. And Joe, unlike the tough killer we’ve seen him with the giant, brawny replicant (Dave Bautista), retracts into being a young boy bullied by his schoolmates.
This is the first step we see the film developing Joe into a human being in the audience’s minds.
In the end, Joe dies. Well, at least I like to believe that he died as it gives the movie the most poetic finish. And the audience cares because the film had successfully convinced us that he was a person. A person who’ve felt something, who’ve lived a life with happiness and pain, and a person the loss of whom was a loss on all of us who’ve gotten to know him.
Joe, in a sense, is an appreciation of a life of being human. A rough and succinct definition of being human.
A replicant near the end of the film tells Joe along the lines of: “Isn’t dying for something the most human thing that you can do?”
They tell him this as they comission Joe to kill Deckard to prevent any chance of having their plans foiled.
But Joe had found something hauntingly more human than the other replicants could ever know. He understood the intimate, selfish, and devastatingly powerful relationship of a parent and a child. A relationship tied by blood and birth of life.
He chose that human relationship over a revolution and ideals of his species. Even after he realized he had only experienced the bond and its definitions artificially.
In other words, to give Deckard and his child a chance to celebrate that relationship, Joe sacrificed everything that he had left of his past, everything that could have been his future, and even his own chance of having a father and being a child.
In some sense, Joe’s appreciation of parent-child relationship probably exceeded that of many humans who take it for granted. Both ways.
Joi (Ana de Armas)
Joi became my favorite character after thinking about the film and the topic at hand.
She’s an A. I. hologram that’s so sophisticated that she fools you into thinking that she’s human.
But isn’t she human?
At what point does an A. I. stop being just lines of codes and pre-programmed responses to having enough of those to be human?
It reminds me of the old Chinese room thought experiment.
To simply put, if you tell a computer to translate a word in Chinese to English or vice-versa, does it actually understand the languages and the definitions it’s translating or is it simply mimicking the ability to understand?
When Joi flirts with Joe, feels intimacy with Joe, asks Joe about his day, does she actually understand what she’s doing or is it something else?
If an A. I. has enough responses, can create enough responses for any particular and peculiar types of situations, does it eventually reach the point of being human?
Or does it still lack the fundamental consciousness, the awareness of understanding the responses, to be considered human?
Before Joi ‘dies’ in the film she tells Joe one of the most powerful, mysterious, and most human phrase one could communicate to another.
“I love you.”
But as her memory stick is crushed under Luv’s (Sylvia Hoeks) feet—effectively killing her—Luv tells devastated Joe, “I hope you’ve enjoyed our product”.
Next time Joe meets Joi is in the city.
She’s not his Joi but an advertisement for other Jois for willing customers. She can be whatever they want her to be.
She was whatever he wanted her to be.
We don’t know what Joe’s thinking as the ad speaks to him. Seeing his once properly dressed wife being offered as almost a sex object for lonely city dwellers.
Maybe he’s regretting ever have fallen for her.
Maybe he’s reconsidering what a relationship even means. A very artificial and invented relationship of the future versus the primal relationship that Joe felt he had when he thought he was a child with a parent and not a product that was born without one. And the camaraderie of a romantic relationship Joe felt with Joi as a real human would with a loved one.
Maybe he’s now just understanding true loneliness.
He and the other customers like him aren’t anything special from the perspective of those who are providing Joi for them. Though to many of them, their Joi would be their one and only Joi.(No pun intended)
Oddly, this does sound awfully similar to how one may view their exes after a break-up.
I recall a class discussion about a picture of a unicorn. When you think of a picture of a unicorn you’re not thinking of a unicorn but a picture of it. And if you’ve never seen a unicorn in real life, then that’s all a unicorn is to you.
But if a unicorn doesn’t exist—and as far as I know it does not though I wonder what made narwhals so special—does it really matter if that picture is all you have for a unicorn?
Or is our quest to define the unicorn properly, after a certain point, simply our desire to quench the need to be as intricate as possible with our definitions.
Because at the end of the day, what good is a reality if our definitions of it are as blurry and undetermined as that of a dream.
Niander Wallace (Jared Leto)
Beauty of the character comes from the fact that his shame for being a mere human manifests not necessarily with melodramatic monologues but from his appearance and demeanor.
A man who invented replicants, a superior species in his mind, is a mere human.
To escape from his own mediocrities and failings he augmented his physical attributes with cybernetics and perhaps the insecurity is also a quiet motivation for him to play Jesus for a species that he doesn’t belong to.
His mannerisms are probably the most inhuman of anyone in the film. Though oddly frustrating to watch at times, Wallace was memorable in his own right.
But I’ve mentioned earlier that there are characters that don’t end up being really fleshed out.
This is a big one.
I never felt like he did anything to contribute to the film other than being the mysterious, all-powerful villain. Not to mention my general distaste for characters that I can’t ever imagine functioning in normal social settings. But I guess that’s a bit of an oxymoron to the praises I gave the character just a few lines above.
Niander Wallace is one of those guys you meet at parties who use eloquence and Oxford vocabularies to go on spiels to exude their supposed intelligence but never… really does anything to demonstrate it in a meaningful way.
Since he’s a movie villain he gives his monologues menacingly and hides in bad lighting to be frightening while throwing in a good literal stab here and there to remind the audience that this guy is cold-blooded corporate of the dystopian future personified.
But he feels surprisingly one note and it’s a note of cliche. Like a guy who sings Don’t Stop Believing at a karaoke and is pretending to be ironic about it because he’s so aware how overdone the song is at karaoke.
A human that’s the least human of them all. I wish there could have been a more discussion in the film regarding this character but the film was already almost 3 hours long. So I digress.
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford)
The straight man of the film. Almost unnecessary for it to be Deckard but is Deckard to provide us an intimate connection to the first film and for the fans to finally get some answers after all these years.
I only mention Deckard because I was the fan of the first film and he can’t go on unmentioned when discussing Blade Runner 2. Though integral to the central plot of the film, Deckard himself doesn’t really play a big role per say. Deckard could have been replaced with a completely original character and the film would have been no different.
He adds to the discussion of what it means to be human by being the father figure who sacrificed everything to fulfill his duty as a father.
In many ways, Deckard is also the most human character we meet in this world of humans living in urban destitute, humans that simply digressed to their functions, and beings that are up for debate whether or not they’re human.
There’s a lot the film does to connect Deckard to nature. Something closer to what humans once were compared to the world we see portrayed.
He’s found through his connection to a wooden artifact—a rare material in this bleak future.
He has bee farms and raises a dog.
He shows a variety of emotions and connection to history in a very unsubtle ways that unfold in the film.
Also, his daughter is first seen observing a rain forest.
All that and more is what makes Deckard the straight man to the film. The most identifiable character to the audience and perhaps the last bastion of humanity in the dystopian future while ironically also perhaps being the key to the end of it simply by being a father.
There are other explorations in the film that are probably worthy of discussion.
The religious notes, the dystopian future, and why no one else other than Joe seems to drive.
But for me, the main exploration of the film was being human; what it means to be human.
The level of quality of the film dawned upon me actually days after I saw it. I realized it when I found myself having intriguing conversations about the film with my date days after we watched it together. While engaging debates about the film with friends as we had lunch. And even finding myself engaging in fresh discussions with people at my gym.
There’s a lot more I wish I could gush out about the film. Perhaps I wrote this blog after not having written anything in so long because I just wanted to share my thoughts and have even more conversation about it.
Is this a film that was groundbreaking in terms of how it presented its topics? No.
Were there other films that have done it better? As one can infer from above, arguably yes.
But is it a film that’s worth watching and perhaps rewatching? Definitely. Especially for those with a creative itch and an eye candy itch. I’d considerBlade Runner 2 as much of a classic as its predecessor.
By the way, I won nothing from that lotto.
Sorry, old man.
Maybe the next ticket.
Minor Gripes + Praises
- ( – ) Maybe I’m getting old but the fonts were small. I get it’s stylish but they were so damn small.
- ( – ) It’s never established how strong Joe is through the film. The film sort of misleads the audience into believing that Luv was perhaps particularly strong even for Joe’s standards given how surprised Joe seems to be at how she opened the archive door. But as my date pointed out, perhaps he’s just surprised because he expected her to be a mere secretary? But the movie really doesn’t prepare people for the fact that Joe starts running through walls near the 3rd act of the film. Not to mention how he ends up killing Luv seems a bit farfetched given what was established. But perhaps that was a testament to Joe being human and demonstrating the majesty of the human will or something. I don’t know.
- ( + ) The film has more than simple nods to the previous film in regards to how cleverly it incorporates the world the franchise built in the early 80s into the imagining of the same world in the late 2010s.
- ( + ) I like how they included a variety of cultures and languages intermixed in this imagining of LA… even if it felt a bit nonsensical at times. In fact, there are some choices that just seemed nonsensical in general. Like what was up with the sex statues?