Notes on Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Don’t read if you intend to see the film.

1. The postmodern city. If the future of the first Blade Runner can be described as romantic, or erotic (by virtue of the fact that an advertiser’s eye is practically eroticizing everything and everyone), then Blade Runner 2049’s future seems more rigid (architecturally) and draconian (socially) and to be honest (despite evidence of reproduction and cohabitation) a little bit sexless. The cityscape (the Los Angeles of 2049) is truly vast, the outlying provinces grimly logically repetitive (which isn’t a criticism), but I didn’t ‘see’ a visual or stylistic continuity between this and the original film. The neon advertising notwithstanding, there’s little to gaze upon, no material culture/architecture to fetishize, much like the unremarkable interior of Stelline Laboratories which is a featureless arena, a playground for perceiving digital apparitions; or for that matter, the Wallace Corporation which despite being the most reminiscent of the Tyrell complex in terms of its lighting style just looks big and dark and empty against the ancient Mayan or Aztec temple influences that Ridley was aiming for . . . I was wowed by two memorable images: first, the reveal of the ghostly Tyrell buildings, now darkened and featureless in the shadow of Wallace Corp. which looms above it; and second, by the cut to Gosling’s K as he takes his first steps into the brilliant orange dust bowl that is the Las Vegas ‘desert’. But the one image offers merely angular lines and abstract imperious forms, while the other is notable for quite literally its emptiness. What does this architecture, the city geography, say about power relations and social class in 2049?

2. I wasn’t quite there with the drama of K’s death. I mean, I shed a tear because . . . it’s Ryan Gosling, and Gosling is bae, and it’s ‘Tears in Rain’ on the soundtrack, and his character has done something truly honorable (for a character we also love). But story-wise, it felt a little empty: he’s a Nexus 9 and comes to believe that he’s the son of Rachael and Deckard, only he isn’t, and he finds out that he isn’t; he loses Joi who is his holographic girlfriend, but later, in an encounter with an advertisement for the Joi brand, he realizes that her affection, devotion and yearning were all an illusion (‘EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO HEAR’); so to redeem himself, and to avoid civil war between Wallace and the last surviving replicants, he fakes Deckard’s death, then unites him with his daughter. And this merits a ‘tears in rain’ end-sequence?

3. I think the K and Joi love scene, which results from his meeting with Mariette, a pleasure model replicant who consents to a body meld, was extraordinary. The detail of them holding hands, of Joi leaning in to kiss him before her ‘real’ self (Mariette) does the same, reminded me of a similar scene in Spike Jonze’s Her.

4. Is Deckard a replicant in BR 2049? Unless I missed something, or it was too subtle for me, Villeneuve leaves this fairly open, right? Ultimately, we’re not sure if ‘the miracle’ moment at the heart of the film (the birth of Rachael and Deckard’s child) is miraculous because Deckard is a human and Rachael a replicant (which I think Villeneuve likes as an idea), or they are both replicants and the birth of their child marks an evolutionary leap for Tyrell’s last ‘batch’ of experimental replicants . . . Also, the question: why has Deckard aged? We know from Blade Runner that the Nexus 6 don’t age. Is Deckard Nexus 5 (an early attempt at creating lifelike replicants that do age)? Or a Nexus 7? I think we’re told in this film that Rachael is Nexus 7. So if he’s also Nexus 7 (a tantalizing prospect, since the number is omitted in the BR 2049 opening crawl; did I miss for what reason?), this has implications for the original Blade Runner: was he superior, rather than inferior, in design and engineering terms to Roy Batty? (I think the fact that Deckard’s body routinely fails him and breaks down throughout Blade Runner suggests he’s the beaten-up Oldsmobile to Roy Batty’s premium EV. But maybe this is actually the point: his body fails because he is more human. The more lifelike Nexus 7 isn’t designed to be a slave like Batty, but rather a sentient being with human frailties and whose capacity to build friendships with others and to fall in love (which we see in the Nexus 6 replicants) is rewarded with a longer lifespan.) So moving on, how do the Nexus 8 replicants tie into Nexus development history? If Rachael was an experiment in terms of replicant reproduction, was Deckard also an experiment? Together, do Rachael and Deckard bridge the gap between Nexus 6 and 8? (There was also a nice little moment when K asks if Deckard’s dog is real and comes the reply: ‘Why don’t you ask it?’)

5. I felt the death of Joshi was one of the film’s weaker moments: the prosaic framing of the two (her and Luv) from outside the office window as Joshi’s body slips backwards; the sense that we are repeating the confrontation between Batty and Tyrell in his chambers, it didn’t really work for me. To the point that I felt sorry for Robin Wright, who had so little to do on such a large-scale and important American film (I think she was even limited to the same three sets: the morgue at Police HQ, her office and K’s apartment). Wright is such a formidable actress and screen presence, I wanted more of her character. But well.

6. Lastly, and this is a difficult one, the romantic connection between Deckard and Rachael in BR 2049. I wasn’t convinced and that’s possibly because the film is reliant on Harrison to convey their very private (and unknowable) personal history. I would think (or like to believe) that Deckard loves Rachael deeply and that his entire existence, the quality of his morale and so forth, hinges on the vitality of his memories, those cherished moments he shared with her. (As Presley intones, ‘Oh let our love survive, or dry the tears from your eyes, let’s don’t let a good thing die’.) Yet, Deckard is still a survivor, he is still fighting (he boobytraps the casino, he keeps a companion, he surrounds himself with pre-blackout American luxuries and the perks of commerce), which feels inconsistent. I think I wanted something different, a different cadence. I know that if I were in that position, dependent on fragments of memories of my one serious lover, someone who was at the forefront of my thinking each and everyday for years, I’d be defeated inside without her. The shock of loss fades certainly, but the pain, the despair that accompanies loss becomes worse with each passing year, it pushes and pushes until you tire of existing . . . Perhaps this best describes K’s fate then, instead of Deckard’s? K seems to be the defeated one at the end of this, fatigued by discrimination and bigotry, dehumanized by his maker and endlessly frustrated by a capitalist system that turns desire, love and comfort into cheap commodities. And in that sense, it’s poignant that Sinatra plays on the soundtrack not for Deckard and Rachael, but for K and Joi. ‘All summer long we sang a song and then we strolled that golden sand, two sweethearts and the summer wind’ . . . ‘Then softer than a piper man, one day it called to you, I lost you, I lost you to the summer wind’.

25 October, 2017


Taezali said...

Nicely put, Dude, as ever. Thought-provoking thoughts.

You remind me, pleasingly, that there is (or was) art behind these things, as well as commerce. Or perhaps the melancholy of the movie, and of your recollection, touches me a bit too...

Post a Comment