Inside the kaleidoscope mirrored heart of Blade Runner 2049.

You can get nearer and nearer, so to speak, to reality; but you never get near enough because reality is an infinite succession of steps, levels of perception, false bottoms, and hence unquenchable, unattainable. You can know more and more about one thing but you can never know everything about one thing: it’s hopeless. So that we live surrounded by more or less ghostly objects — that machine, there, for instance. It’s a complete ghost to me.

Valdimir Nabokov, BBC Interview, 1962

Blade Runner 2049 is a beautiful gem of a film.

Villeneuve’s previous film, Arrival (2016), wove in Max Richter’s sublime piece “On the Nature of Daylight” to bring the piece to life.

His latest film, Blade Runner 2049, is also concerned with the light and the dark, but draws instead on literary and poetic art for it’s inspirations.

The Blue Notebooks, Max Richter.

There are plenty of stunning elements to the film, which deserves to be seen on the big screen, but the most extraordinary aspect is in it’s story. The screenplay is co-written by Michael Green and Hampton Fancher. The later being the writer behind the original Blade Runner film.

In Harrison Ford’s words, “This is the best script I’ve ever read.”

The film is full of literary references, and in doing so the authors have created something magical, taking the interrelated strands of each these novels, and woven a hidden heart deep into the fabric of their story, full of biblical revelations, mythology, and deep lyrical mystery.

We’re going to dive into that heart.

Buckle up.


Spoiler warning: If you haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049 yet, stop! Read no further! We’ll be up to our eyeballs in spoilers. Go and see the film now. I’ll wait here for you.


Pale Fire

The first Novel to discuss is Nabokov’s novel “Pale Fire”, written in 1962. We meet this novel first in K’s baseline test. In the test, the replicant subject echos back lines that are designed to evoke an emotional response, and probe if any replicant is becoming too human.

The novel Pale Fire, is a kaleidoscopic vision of Vladimir Nabokov, that takes the form of a poem within a novel, both of which contain a maze of literary allusion and influences.

The lines in K’s baseline test are taken from the eponymous poem within the novel…

Cells interlinked within cells interlinked
Within one stem. And, dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.

The 999-line poem is presented as being written by “John Shade", revolving around the subject of his dead daughter, “Hazel”.

The work surrounding the poem is a commentary, penned by the fictional editor “Charles Kinbote", a friend of the poet. Kinbote is a mad Narcissus of a man, believing himself to be Charles II, exiled king of Zembla.

The novel’s unique structure, and Kinbote’s use of frequent interlinked references have been compared to hypertext.

The part of the poem that we find in 2049 describes a near-death experience for the poet. There’s a great piece of interpretation from Maria Bustillos, “Blade Runner 2049 is revealed through the novel Pale Fire”. You should probably read that piece before continuing here.

The novel is also present in K’s apartment. With its theme of the ghostly dead daughter, Hazel, it’s no surprise that K remarks to the ethereal Joi, “but you hate that book”.

Signed copy of Pale Fire, complete with illustration.

The Trial

The next novel for us to introduce is Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” (Written 1914–15. Published 1925). The link here is in our lead character’s name.

The blade runner, K, is later given a human name, “Joe”. The character that The Trial centers on is Josef K.

Blade Runner 2049 occurs 30 years after the events in the original film, similarly The Trial opens on K’s 30th birthday.

At the end of the novel, Josef K is stabbed and dies, as Joe K also is, by Luv.

Interestingly, Kafka is also thematic to Villeneuve’s “Arrival” (2016), which starts and ends with a piercingly moving piece taken from Max Richter’s “Blue Notebooks” album (2004), which draws inspiration from Kafka’s Blue “Octavo” Notebooks.


Interlinked

Our two novels here are tightly interlinked, which informs one of the core themes of the film. Nabokov deliberately mirrors Kafka in numerous ways.

Pale Fire is structured as a poem within a novel. The Trial contains a parable within the novel.

Pale Fire the poem is written by Shade, and unreliably edited by his friend Kinbote. The Trial is authored by Kafka, but posthumously edited and released by his friend Max Brod.

Kinbote introduces Shade as he destroys his draft copies “burning a whole stack of them in the pale fire of the incinerator with bent head like an official mourner among the wind-borne black butterflies”. Kafka burnt huge amounts of his work, and ordered Brod to burn his works rather than publish them.

Kinbote interprets the poem “Pale Fire” as being unfinished. Claiming that at 999 lines, it is missing its final line, a repetition of it’s first. Kafka’s The Trial was also unfinished in part.

Nabokov was deeply influenced by Kafka. “the greatest German writer of our time. Such poets as Rilke or such novelists as Thomas Mann are dwarfs or plastic saints in comparison with him.” In Pale Fire, the reflection is evident.

This hidden interplay, echoing and mirroring, is a central theme that runs deep through the film.

Two films. Two authors.

Mariette within Joi. Ana within Joe.

A piano, with a hidden memory.

A book with missing pages, concealing a child.

A Trojan horse, with a secret inside.

A Gingko Press edition of the Pale Fire poem, published alone, freed from its parent novel.

What this means for our characters

By tapping into a deep wellspring of universal themes within fiction, poetry, myth, and scripture, the authors have breathed a soul into their characters, leaving them with a chimeric inner world, humming with the transcendental.

Each of them is woven through with mysteries that they can never be fully aware of…


The beetle

Through the film both Joe and Joi undergo a transition, as they each become more empathically aware and “human”. Each with their own final most spiritual moment.

There is reflected in Nabokov’s writing on Kafka’s “The Metamophosis”.

The beauty of Kafka’s and Gogol’s private nightmares is that their central human characters belong to the same private fantastic world as the inhuman characters around them, but the central one tries to get out of that world, to cast off the mask, to transcend the cloak or the carapace … the absurd central character belongs to the absurd world around him but, pathetically and tragically, attempts to struggle out of it into the world of humans

Nabokov goes on to suppose that the insect that Gregor Samsa is transformed into had a hidden fantastical element, of which neither Gregor nor Kafka was fully aware.

Commentators say cockroach, which of course does not make sense. […] he has a tremendous convex belly divided into segments and a hard rounded back suggestive of wing cases. In beetles these cases conceal flimsy little wings that can be expanded and then may carry the beetle for miles and miles in a blundering flight. Curiously enough, Gregor the beetle never found out that he had wings under the hard covering of his back. (This is a very nice observation on my part to be treasured all your lives. Some Gregors, some Joes and Janes, do not know that they have wings.)
Nabokov’s annotated copy of “The Metamorphosis”.

The beetle figure here is a revelatory image to Nabokov, representing our own often unrecognised abilities to transcend what we normally perceive as reality, and discover higher truths and meanings.

One viewer has discovered a vintage VW beetle hidden in the film, but there’s a more visceral moment too.

When Joe first meets Dr Ana Stelline she is weaving the memory of a lush forest, absorbed in the details of one of its inhabitants.

A beautiful, iridescent, green beetle.

Ana and K meet.

With it’s doors both raised, K’s vehicle is also evocative of the beetle motif. This publicity image for Empire magazine is particularly resonant.

This beetle has wings.

Coming back to The Trial, the novel is bookended on each side by a significant date. We enter the world on Josef K’s 30th birthday, and leave it when he is killed “Like a dog” on his 31st birthday.

We don’t see any obvious indication inside the film of what day our Joe K is left bleeding out under the falling snow, but we do have some other reflections.

As K and Ana are talking, she works on the memory of a birthday party. The candles on the cake illuminate the scene, and as they are blown out the picture falls into a very final kind of darkness.

There’s a further clue if we step outside the fourth wall. The release date of the film is 6th Oct. In some sense this is K’s birthday.

The 06–10–21 date carved into the tree and the wooden horse is 6th Oct, 2021. (Reading the date in European, not American style.)

The allusion here could be the open possibility that perhaps K actually is Deckard’s son, and Ana’s twin brother.

A double helix, double twist. Cells. Interlinked.

Conversely, read the date in American style, as 10th June, and we have the Zodiac sign of Gemini, The Twins.

Castor and Pollux, the twins, granted shared Godhood in death.

The two identical DNA records that K finds couldn’t possibly be a one boy and one girl, though, that’d be impossible, right? Actually no. Monozygotic boy/girl twins have been recorded, in exceedingly rare circumstances. During development of two identical male twins, one twin loses a Y chromosome and becomes male.

In cases where this occurs, the female child will present Turner Syndrome. Stelline mentions the reason for her isolation being as a “compromised immune system”, which fits with one of the symptoms of Turner Syndrome.

It’s also worth watching the birthday memory scene carefully. The very last child introduced seems noticeably different to the others, much younger, and less healthy. Another symptom of Turner Syndrome is growth defect in infants.

Turner Syndrome is also typically characterized by infertility. If K and Ana are twins, then any further descendants would need to be from K, not Ana. Mariette, perhaps?

Both K and the audience are led to believe that his memory was an implant, of Ana’s creation. However we only have Fresya’s word that only a single female child was born, and at the time she tells him that she’s motivated by needing to use him to kill Deckard.

In Luv’s words to Lt. Joshi. “You’re so sure. Because [s]he told you. Because we never lie?”


The butterfly

The 999 line poem of K’s baseline test, Pale Fire, centers around the death of the author’s daughter, Hazel.

It’s opening lines could be interpreted either as being voiced by the fictional author, Shade, or as being voiced by Hazel herself.

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane
I was the smudge of ashen fluff — and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky,

Is Ana Stelline’s windowed imprisionment reflective of the leading lines here? Wings clipped, a life almost unlived?

What, also, of Dr Stelline’s name? Is there any hidden significance there, as there is with Joe/K?

One aspect comes through in the Hebrew translations of some of the character’s names.

Her mother, Rachel, is “Ewe”. (We’ll take a look at this later.)

The character Mariette, is “Rebellion”. (Possibly also alluding to Marionette.)

Her own name, Ana, is “Grace”.

But there’s a second part too. Stelline. Stellina. Little star.

There’s a link back to Pale Fire here.

Nabokov twice uses the imagery of “A dark Vanessa”, a red admiral butterfly. Once it is used as a petname for Shade’s wife, another time, in the poem’s finality, to evoke his dead daughter.

A dark Vanessa with crimson band
Wheels in the low sun, settles on the sand
And shows its ink-blue wingtips flecked with white.
And through the flowing shade and ebbing light
A man, unheedful of the butterfly —
Some neighbor’s gardener, I guess — goes by
Trundling an empty barrow up the lane

Nabokov uses and then re-uses the name “Vanessa” partly as a literary trick, in allusion to two loves of the eighteenth-century English writer, Jonathan Swift (Author of “Gulliver’s Travels”, 1726.).

We know that Nabokov knew Swift well: Pale Fire is full of Swift allusions. Vanessa butterflies flutter about the story of John Shade, who is himself a scholar of eighteenth-century English poetry.

— Sam Schuman, “Satiric Travel Narratives in Chaucer, Swift and Nabokov”

Gulliver awakens, bound.

We see Swiftian allusion in 2049, too. Luv’s “You tiny thing” to Lt. Joshi, and the gigantic towering holographic versions of Joi.

“You look like a good Joe”

The two lovers alluded to by Nabokov’s repeated butterfly motif are two Esthers.

Esther “Vanessa” Vanhomrigh, and Esther “Stella” Johnson.

Vanessa. Esther. Stella.

If Stelline is one of the two butterflies here, perhaps she could be interpreted as Shade’s dead daughter. Her lines “I was locked in a steel chamber at 8” might just be literally what happened to her former self, buried in a box like her mother.

The records could be right, there were twins, Joe and Ana. Ana later died but the resistance kept her memories alive and gave her a holographic form, which they hid in open view behind a glass wall.

It’s an interesting possiblity.

We never see Stelline touch the glass in response to Deckard’s movement. And the final moments of the film, as Joe feels the snow falling on his hand, have Ana also in a flurry of snow, the flakes passing through her.

Like the imagery of the holographic Sinatra in his jukebox bell jar, Ana could be a starlet. A woman-born replicant, who died and now lives on in holographic form only, singing her memories inside a glass prison.

In her words… “It was a new life for me”

Let’s come back to near the end of Pale Fire, with Shade talking on reality, the divine, and of his daughter.

I feel I understand
Existence, or at least a minute part
Of my existence, only through my art,
In terms of combinatorial delight;
And if my private universe scans right,
So does the verse of galaxies divine
Which I suspect is an iambic line.
I’m reasonably sure that we survive
And that my darling somewhere is alive

Carla Juri gives us a beautifully restrained, moving performance as Stelline. In particular, here, in perhaps the most poignant moment of the film, as Joe shows her his memory. Whatever secrets her character holds, she keeps them to herself, as she sees inside Joe. Allowing only tears.

Sometimes to love someone, you have to be a stranger.

Echo & Narcissus

In a beautiful layering, there are also elements of the myth of the nymph Echo and the hunter Narcissus here. Ana in her private grief, and the self-absorbed K, reflected, stepping through the door (to the afterlife). This brings us back again to Pale Fire, with K staged as the unreliable deeply narcissistic Kinbote, with delusions of himself as central to the poem.

There is imagery of K drowning in his own reflection too, in K’s drowning of Luv, another hunter character that darkly mirrors his own. K as Kinbote brings us around in a mobius strip, with a wonderful contradiction of interpretations.

Woven into this still further, is the synchronicity between Kinbote’s narration of the inner poem, to the original edition of Blade Runner with it’s Harrison Ford narration, removed in the Director’s cut.

Echo in her private grief, with Narcissus drowning in self-reflection.

The story of Echo & Narcissus comes to us through the Roman poet Ovid’s “The Metamorphosis” (8 AD). Again, a link back to a recurring theme, with Kafka’s novel by the same name also playing a part.

This in turn was influenced by the mythological epic, “The Heteroeumen”, by the Greek poet Nicander (2nd Century BC), a name which we find hidden in the character Niander Wallace.

Stelline as a character with a holographic afterlife, symbolised by a caterpillar to butterfly rebirth is yet another metamorphosis story. We also see the caterpillar symbolised in passing, in the grubs farmed by Sapper Morton.

We perhaps also see Dali’s interpretation of the Metamorphosis of Narcissus appear in the dreamlike desert scene, as K approaches a cracked head. (Note in particular the position of the crack at the top, just right-of-center.)

“When that head slits / when that head splits / when that head bursts, / it will be the flower, / the new narcissus”

In the myth Narcissus the hunter is reborn and immortalised as the Narcissus flower. That the bees, as pollinators, appear in the same dreamlike scene also resonates with this imagery.

The symbolism of K placing his hand into the hive is significant there, as is the bright yellow colour of the flower left on Rachel’s grave.


The sheep

The Hebrew translation of “Rachel” as “Ewe”, mirrored in Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, and in Gaff’s origami sheep, gives us another angle onto the hidden inner world of our characters.

Rachel’s motif.

Our Rachel can be found in the Hebrew Bible.

The biblical Rachel has two children, and dies in childbirth. Sound familiar?

Her tomb is now a sacred site. We’ll take a look at it through this 19th century illustration…

19th century illustration of Rachel’s Tomb, as it was then.

Holy mackerel. The image comes straight out of the film.

There’s our tree, Rachel’s Tomb in 2049, right there, with Sapper Morton’s house in the background.

The name of the biblical Rachel’s first child? Joseph.

Her second child, Benjamin, later has a daughter, Esther.

With a Persian etymology of “Esther” meaning “Star”, and our previous link to the name through Pale Fire, we find our distant shining star once again, Stelline.

Note too, that the “has two male children, one of whom then has a girl” matches up with the developmental stages of the female child in monozygotic boy/girl twins.

Echoing the film’s themes of hidden treasure, the biblical Rachel is also a keeper of secrets, hiding a Teraphim in the seat of a camel.

Stelline’s character shines through here, too…

Esther’s ability to remain silent in the palace of Ahasuerus, resisting the king’s pressure to reveal her ancestry, was inherited from her ancestor Rachel

That the Book of Esther is read twice during Purim, is also thematic.

Just as Esther becomes queen of Persia and thwarts a genocide of her people, might Stelline be destined to be her people’s savior?

A 13th/14th-century scroll of the Book of Esther.

Hidden treasure

What of Unicorn-dreaming Deckard, ambiguously human or replicant?

A literary clue comes in Deckard’s opening few lines to K, which are taken from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” (1883)…

You mightn’t happen to have a piece of cheese about you, now? No? Well, many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese — toasted, mostly — and woke up again, and here I were.

The clearest symbolisms are in the hidden treasures throughout the film’s landscape, and the island on which Deckard has marooned himself.

…many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese…

There’s also a more subtle clue here, though, one which again brings us back to Rachel’s part in the Hebrew Bible…

The character who speaks the lines is named Ben. An allusion perhaps to Rachel’s second child, Benjamin, father of Esther (Stelline).

Perhaps best to gloss over the passing Oedipal image, and focus instead on Benjamin, as Esther’s Father?

One other striking line from the same section of the novel, just a few paragraphs prior to Deckard’s part, comes as Jim sees Ben clearly for the first time…

Yet a man it was, I could no longer be in doubt about that.

There’s also brief reference to this section earlier in the film. Coco’s heartless comment “Perhaps he ate it” (the child), which is relevant to the line which immediately follows in the novel’s text. “I began to recall what I had heard of cannibals”.

We don’t necessarily need to read this literally of course, but we can’t be in any doubt that Deckard’s character has a soul under his skin.


The hive

One other important hidden literary reference is to the author and poet Sylvia Plath.

The most clear reference to Plath is in a moment in the Casino. K finds an old jukebox, which begins to play a miniature holographic Sinatra, enclosed within a Bell Jar.

The Bell Jar

Plath’s novel “The Bell Jar” (1963) has echoes of two characters in particular, Stelline living a life trapped behind a glass wall, and Joi, the holographic housewife, permanently trapped within the four walls of K’s house.

There’s that name again, too. The name of lead character in the Bell Jar, which we suppose has resonances with Stelline’s life is, is one we’ve seen before, Esther.

We see Plath also in Stelline’s line “I was locked in a steel chamber at 8”. There’s an echoing to Plath’s inner life there, as her Father, Otto, died when she was just 8 years old.

Plath writes of her years then as having “sealed themselves off like a ship in a bottle — beautiful inaccessible, obsolete, a fine, white flying myth”.

The symbolism of the Beehive within the film is also relevant. Plath’s father was an entomologist with an expertise on bees.

The beehive, deeply significant to Plath.

Plath and her husband took up bee keeping, and Plath used the bee motif extensively within her poetry, in particular the “bee poems” within her poetry collection, Ariel (1965) — “The Bee Meeting,” “The Arrival of the Bee Box,” “Stings,” “The Swarm”, and “Wintering”.

It’s also pertinent that her domineering husband, Ted Hughes, posthumously edited her bee poems away from the finale of the collection, and into the middle, changing the tone of her work. This finds parallel in at least two of the other thematic works built into the film. Nabokov’s poem in Pale Fire, posthumously edited by the fictional Kinbote, and Kafka’s works, posthumously edited by Max Brod.

The poem in Pale Fire, centering on the Shade’s daughter, dead by suicide, again ties Plath (who committed suicide at 30) in as a central voice to be heard within the film.

The Bell Jar also resonates with the holographic character Joi. Her dislocated, ethereal state matches Esther in tone and circumstance. Her opening “I was beginning to get cabin fever” could have come straight out of the novel.

Or else, in Plath’s “The Applicant”:

A living doll, everywhere you look.
It can sew, it can cook,
It can talk, talk, talk.

Her car crash with Joe parallels Plath’s own car crash, which she described as a suicide attempt. Joi’s broken, flickering, and looped cries to K through the window are particularly poignant viewed in this light.

Joi, materialised by love.

That both Stelline and Joi separately evoke and reference Sylvia Plath could be important. If we accept the reading of Stelline as living a holographic afterlife, then perhaps the hive alludes to a kind of shared hidden communication between Stelline and other characters.

There are a few parts of the film that might touch on this, brief moments where perhaps Joi is communicating with other parts of the system, or Stelline is quietly watching. K at one point notices that Joi has been listening even tho she was visually deactivated. The beetle figure she is making moves into a scene seeming to evoke that it has camera vision, and there are scenes that could include replicant bugs. The star of Luv’s missile attack evoking a watchful eye. Stelline just happens to be making snowfall memories, as K lies dying in the snow.


The empty glass

If Ana is “the best memory maker”, with her glass overflowing, then what of Luv? “I am the best one.

For much of the film Luv is devoid of emotion, but it doesn’t start out quite that way.

In her opening sections, she is clearly absolutely terrified of Wallace.

As we walk into the room with the newborn replicant she is behind Wallace and allows herself to shed a tear. Has she seen what is coming next, before?

In his killing of a newborn replicant, he watches her closely with one of the drones. Is this her baseline test, as she has to crush the emotion out of herself and remain expressionless while she watches one of her own murdered?

A sacrificial newborn.

Luv has been brutalized by Wallace, left empty. Perhaps he has deliberately authored her with no stories. For his purposes he wants his replicants to be emotionless. This is his best, emptiest replicant, transformed from something beautiful, into a killing machine.


The wolf

Wallace corporation’s chime for Joi whenever she is activated or deactivated is the first few seconds of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”.

Again this ties back in with the author of Pale Fire, and the film’s theme of hidden secrets.

All art is deception and so is nature […] Do you know how poetry started? I always think that it started when a cave boy came running back to the cave, through the tall grass, shouting as he ran, “Wolf, wolf,” and there was no wolf.

Nabokov

The wolf is also important here, as representing the spirit animal of the dog in the film. With the relationship between a hunter and a dog being very oldest meaningful human/non-human relationship, we’re being challenged to empathize with the wider world around us, beyond just our human sisters and brothers.

Cave painting, Altamira, Spain.

The occurrence and recurrence of hidden animal symbolism for each of our characters, both replicant human or replicant animal draws in some of the deepest universal themes that are found in the very earliest human art we’ve yet discovered.

The Löwenmensch (lion-man) artefact. An ivory sculpture dated at an incredible 35,000–40,000 years old.

The moon and sun

Some of the Greek and Roman gods are also layered into the film.

The title of the Novel/Poem “Pale Fire” comes from a line of Shakespeare…

“The moon’s an arrant thief, And her pale fire she snatches from the sun.”

Ana Stelline’s name echos here, as Selene, the Greek Goddess of the moon. (Mirrored in her brother Helios, God of the Sun.)

Coming back to the theme of twins, the immensely historical figures Cleopatra and Mark Anthony had twin children that they named Cleopatra Selene and Anthony Helios.

An artifact believed to represent the twin children Cleopatra Selene and Anthony Helios.

In classical times Selene and Helios later find themselves becoming associated with the Roman Gods, the twins of Diana and Apollo. (Again, being associated with the Moon and Sun respectively.)

That reflection and re-reflection is found again in our own character’s name: Ana, Stelline / Diana, Selene.

The Roman gods, Diana & Apollo. Twins associated with the Moon and Sun.

The darkest memory

The film is also shot through with shades of the holocaust.

The shaven headed children in their “waste processing” work factory by the incinerators. Our characters, with their Hebrew names, treated as subhumans by their masters. The genocide theme of the book of Esther, descendant of Rachel. Footprints in the snow.

Franz Kafka links back here, as does Valdimir Nabokov’s brother, Sergei Nabokov, who died at the Neuengamme concentration camp in 1945.


The piano

The piano motif is used both in the original Blade Runner, and in 2049.

Joe and Deckard’s exchange “What are you doing here?” / “I heard the piano.” has both a shallow and a deep side.

There are also symbolisms hidden in the music. Director Villeneuve talks about the significance of a few notes of a Brahms piano waltz; Opus 39 #15. “I chose this piece of music very very carefully, a very specific piece of music […] It means something about what the character is about to discover.”

The structure of the music resonates with the recurring theme of echoing and mirroring. Listen carefully to the piece and you’ll hear the binary form harmonic structure of mirroring within mirroring. Moreover though, the piece was composed for piano four hands (although also has a solo arrangement), which talks to this central theme of the film, and perhaps again hints towards the interpretation K as being twinned with Ana.

The piece is also, as editor Joe Walker describes, a lullaby, being suggestive both of a dream state, and of birth. It’s form has taken on a life of it’s own, with Brahms’s similar later piece, Wiegenlied (Opus 49, #4), finding its way into toys and music boxes everywhere.

The music box, a lullaby inside a machine.

The original lyrics of that later piece are deeply suggestive of elements in the film, too.

The piano

The piano motif is used both in the original Blade Runner, and in 2049.

Joe and Deckard’s exchange “What are you doing here?” / “I heard the piano.” has both a shallow and a deep side. I would read it as a more spiritual, “I Heard The Piano”.

The origami unicorn of the original Blade Runner, and the ebony and ivory of the piano which hides a cigarette box with a photo of the child both find themselves in Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

…there they were, aloof and mute,
Playing a game of worlds, promoting pawns
To ivory unicorns and ebony fauns.

One viewer notes a Bechstein piano. Could this been a quiet aside to Wladyslaw Szpilman, the Bechstein-playing pianist of the autobiographical book “The Pianist”, more well known as the 2002 Roman Polanski film? An story which mysteriously happens to include it’s own “Mrs K”, and a film with a dark link to Nabokov’s Lolita.

Bechstein poster from 1920. The imagery seems to be used in the scene where K first meets Deckard.

Incidental music

Elsewhere, there’s something about an brief exchange between Joi and K that could feel familiar. Joi sits down and looks K in the eyes…

“What a day.”

Joi: “What a day.”/ K: “It was a day.

The reflected wording, the timing, and the delivery of Gosling’s emotionless response seem perhaps to echo from somewhere else in the film.

Is Joi performing a baseline test on K?

If she is, then what hidden lyricisms might it contain?

For me, the lines evoke the opening of the short and intensely bittersweet song used at the start and close of the Album, “Bookends”.

“Time it was / And what a time it was, it was / A time […]”

Here it is in full…

Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.

“Bookends Theme”, Simon & Garfunkel

The lyrics fit so perfectly with the film, as does the way that the theme is used twice in the album. Artistic intent or beautiful serendipity?


Closing scenes

Nabokov butterfly illustrations, to Arieh and Rika Levavi.

Our hidden interpretation revealed through the literary clues woven throughout the film is the possibility that K and Ana were in fact twins, and moreover, that Ana died and was given a holographic afterlife, which is the form we see her in.

We shouldn’t need to accept that interpretation as canonically true, but instead allow it to exist in a quantum state of ambiguity, with Ana as our mysterious, paradoxical Schrodinger’s cat.

Nonetheless, the unspoken moments between the characters and the weight and tone of the ending scene in particular all play beautifully against this hidden reading.

This reading speaks too, of Philip K Dick’s own life.

Philip Kindred Dick and Jane Charlotte Dick were born as premature twins, on December 16, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois.

Jane lived to only six weeks old.

Philip purchased the plot next to hers before his death in 1982, and they now share a twin gravestone.

The grave of Jane C. Dick & Philip K. Dick.

Within the armor is the butterfly & within the butterfly — is the signal from another star.

— Phillip K. Dick.


What we have been gifted here in the Blade Runner 2049 is something extraordinary. By layering and weaving in deep universal themes that occur and reoccur throughout myth, scripture, poetry and literature, it’s creators have crafted a compassionate and lyrical film that not only talks to us, but sings.

Blade Runner 2049 is a living breathing film, with a heart and a soul of it’s very own.