PEOPLE THAT ARE SENSITIVE TO SPOILERS SHOULDN’T READ ARTICLES IMO.
In reference to the title of this post, every movie would be better for having at least a small role for Jeff Goldblum to play, but he has nothing to do with Blade Runner or this review ; ) Also, for a film based on “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” there is a dearth of sheep (All I’m sayin’).
The ending. I get what the writers are trying to do, but one of the reasons that the original Blade Runner remained so loved in scifi circles is because of its ambiguous ending. Ridley Scott doesn’t spoon feed you the message or give away every motivation. It’s the mystery and the questions that keep it interesting. So yes, the end of Blade Runner 2049 neatly ties up the story of Deckard and the Replicants (which is a pretty cool sounding band name). He finds his long lost daughter who has an illness and is essential to the success of the whole Wallace conglomeration. K, or Joe, whatever we want to call him dies in a very human gesture having discovered that his “real” memory is not his own and the most “human” thing he can do is die in the pursuit of a just cause.
“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.” –excerpted from Catcher in the Rye. But from the first scene, you can tell this is a morality play of noble causes.
The writers were thinking this was the twist and hammered home the point that it is our actions and not a question of our birth that make us human. Killing off K and giving the Deckard character a nice little gift-wrapped happy ending was too easy for me and an otherwise gorgeous and well thought-out mystery, left me unsatisfied, but not in a good way. There were too many loose ends, no cliffhanger, almost if after 3 hours they had run out of time to tell the story and had to wrap things up.
The frayed loose ends:
Deckard asks Luv, “Where are we going?” “Home,” she replies. Where is home? Obviously not to where Wallace holds court. Breeding replicants, a factory, a secret underground of older replicants, a lab where they can extract Deckard’s older model secrets? We never get to find out because K blasts them out of the air.
Wallace. The fact that he has no eyes (or no sight) might reveal that he is a replicant himself. Is he in control or is Luv? We watch the obviously emotional scene as he clinically inspects and casually kills a new model replicant indicating that they lack what they need to be truly human. Is his motivation megalomania or is it something deeper? Is he motivated by the survival of humanity and creating a humanity that can survive? His deeper motivations are left unexplored and in the end for me he merely functions as a Tyrell Corp surrogate.
K or Joe. “Just call me Joe? Like you were one of those stupid 22-year old girls with no last name.”–from You’ve Got Mail. One’s a letter, the other’s a short name. “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” –Shakespeare. Here’s a missed opportunity if they wanted to call him anything other than K. The “Joe” name should have been motivated by his wish for humanity, a book, a movie, or a real person he identifies with and wishes he were, but in this story it is a name plucked from thin air at random and carries no emotional weight to me.
Ana. aka “the Unsatisfying story.” Here was a missed opportunity to tell a better story. The genetic records indicating that there were two children in my mind meant that K and Ana were twins, which to me better aligned with the death in childbirth mystery. Replicant or not, a woman giving birth to twins has a greater chance of complication and is more consistent with an emergency C-section. Now, I get hiding Ana in plain sight and making her think that she is genetically defective, but if that is the end of the story, then she is just a plot point and not a real character. Especially considering if she were the person in those memories that K remembers, then she has already endured a great deal of hardship outside of her biodome. I don’t get keeping her in a bubble if she had already survived to be a teenager. I still contend they were twins and she has no genetic deficiency. The other mystery here is if we assume that Ana implanted her own real memory into K, she would have done so directly and not as a random implant. If she had either directly implanted her memory to K or that the memory was accessible to many replicants, then he was a great deal younger than her and not her twin. I just don’t buy that this type of memory would be allowed to be implanted into replicants when the idea is to keep them compliant and provide them artificial memories that keep them settled. And again, the lack of exploration of the Ana character leaves a lot of unanswered questions.
The Replicant Underground. Isn’t it the Blade Runner’s job to retire these folks? If so, they aren’t doing a very good job as evidenced by Freysa and her Replicant Army.
Enough grousing. Let’s get on to the good:
A Beautiful World. The haunting dystopia is amazingly well done visually speaking. None of the special effects feel overdone to me. It is enough for this movie to be a work of art if nothing else. The crowded urban landscapes in the rain (always in the rain) with the incessant holograms advertising for primal needs and wants. It paints a reality that can only satisfy the basest needs. The eerie and desolate landscapes outside of the city, from the abandoned city, to the junkyard, to the biosphere farm where nothing grows. It is a hard world to live in, and feels as if everyone from the government, to the companies, to the underground wants you to be stupid, ignorant and unhappy.
The well done mystery. From the discovery of the coffin, 2049 is set up as a detective story and that is what engages me in the first part of the story. The hard thing to do with a mystery is to solve it in a way that leaves the audience satisfied, that answers the questions. The other way to do it is to seemingly solve the mystery, but leave some answers vaguely unsatisfying. This is arguably what gave the original Blade Runner such a cult following. Now, if Ridley Scott hadn’t gone one to direct some of the most popular scifi of the past 30-40 years, or if Harrison Ford had not gone on to be such a superstar actor, we might never have seen this sequel. For all my nitpicking complaints, I really enjoyed watching K follow each thread of the mystery.
Luv and Joi. I will take Luv over Joi every day of the week. I think there is some deeper meaning behind their names and some subtext we are meant to get out of comparing these two characters. When Luv cries over the death of a Replicant, it is difficult now to determine whether she feels controlled by Wallace and laments the death of a Replicant, or she shares his grief and feeling that they still cannot find the secret that allows Replicants to procreate. Would we then call them Procreants? Joi we see as a special companion to K. She provides him joy and maybe something akin to love, but nothing real or permanent. When he sees her giant naked body as just another program, I think it hammers home for K, that she is just a program doing what a program does, and makes him wonder “am I doing the same thing? Following my programming.”
What is humanity? The movie like its predecessor asks this question very well. What is real vs. what is artificial? What defines our humanity? Is it procreation, our actions, is it love? Exploring these questions across an incredible backdrop with a mystery in tow makes Blade Runner 2049 one of my favorite movies of the past few years.