I Have Seen Blade Runner 2049
This is What It Felt Like (massive spoilers)
I first watched Blade Runner as a teen, some time in the late 80s. By then it was on VHS but this was before the re-cutting started and was on the old CRT televisions that pre-dated even flat screens, much less the flat panels of today with their theatrical quality and crisp resolution. I liked it, as long as I could stay awake through the whole thing, but I didn’t love it.
Then two things happened. The first Director’s Cut appeared and the DVD format became available. At this point I watched it again based on the recommendation of a friend. In the interim I had also started reading William Gibson, which helped give the film additional context although they are completely unrelated. I even read the unrelated Blade Runner book, about a dystopian future where medical care was allowed for the rich and used to keep the poor subjugated.
Blade Runner soon became that go to film I could sit alone at 4am and watch unfold like a gift being unwrapped by unseen hands. Although you know it is hopeless, you never stopped hoping the characters would discover some sort of salvation. Its the same feeling that you get watching The Great Escape and hoping that maybe this time Steve McQueen will make that jump on his motorcycle or Tess of the d’Urbervilles’s will find some happiness. Whenever I needed to feel bleak and broken Blade Runner’s questions about the nature of humanity were just what I wanted.
I come from the viewpoint that Deckard had surrendered all hope and was walking into Gaff’s waiting ambush so that he too could be “retired”. Given that viewpoint, the Blade Runner 2049 plot requires me to alter some of the ways I viewed the original to match later interpretations.
HERE ARE THE SPOILERS
The most obvious is that Deckard isn’t dead. Human or replicant with an natural lifespan we are left to debate but that requires some time to adjust to. More importantly to me the new film sweeps away the claustrophobia of the original, where you got narrow views of the alleys, bars, and streets of the Blade Runner’s world. In BR2049 you get landscapes and vista’s of massive cities, both teeming with life and crumbling into dust. Where the original film allowed you room for hope that the amazing world we glimpsed would lead to a bright future, the sequel leaves no doubt that you are watching humanity in decline.
Take the time to watch the three short films that offer more backstory to help you understand what you are seeing. Not only are they excellent in their own rite, they allow you to draw so much more from many of the scenes.
Dave Bautista is probably the most enjoyable discovery in the new film. As replicant combat medic Sapper Morton, he is given a backstory in a short that sets up the initial scene of the new film.
One of the shorts in particular is telling, as the antagonist Wallace (Jared Leto at his creepiest), addresses a small group of magistrates 12 years prior to the start of the new film to make the case that humans and the Earth are dying. He essentially blackmails them into allowing the construction of new replicants. A terrifying new version of replicant slave that he demonstrates to them with calculated brutality.
Nothing in the film leads us to doubt Wallace’s assertion. The bleak, dead skies and steel covered shores offer no respite from the belief that the time of humans is over. The only hope we are offered is the revelation that the rebels that perpetrate an event known as “The Blackout” (portrayed in another excellent short from Shinichiro Watanabe and set just after the original film in 2022) still exist as a small but growing army of rebel replicants. We learn that the blackout was part of a larger effort to hide the first child born of a replicant (and yes, the parallels to another Harrison Ford franchise are there but this is a very different story). Here we gain some glimpse of a brighter future but it is nothing more than a faint glimmer of a far off future in which humans no longer have a place. Even that is uncertain, as is so much in this film.
Deckard’s true nature is left unanswered.
Our hero may have sacrificed himself.
Wallace is still out there seeking to replace all replicants with his new slaves
In the end Blade Runner 2049 leaves us broken, nearly hopeless, and with more questions than ever before.
Just like we wanted.