Friday, December 29, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2017) is powerful and sometimes moving. It's not perfect. And it may be one of those films that will work better for viewers who have seen the 1982 Blade Runner because it really is a continuation of that film. It's tied to the original in a number of ways, and characters from the earlier film, including Agent Deckard, reappear.

At least in the theater where I saw it, Blade Runner 2049 was incredibly loud. Maybe the sound should have been turned down a bit. But it's a film that relies on sound, on atmospheric and abstract and desolate sonic landscapes. The visual landscapes are often desolate as well. And it is moody. There were moments when it seemed too moody, moments when the characters seemed to get lost. But these were moments, and the film always came back to itself.

The main character in the film is himself a replicant, an artificially created human and computer cyborg, an android.  He works for the LAPD as a “blade runner” who hunts down and "retires" other replicants, especially ones that are 30 years old or more who managed to survive an environmental disaster some years in the past. His name is K. Ryan Gosling as K is extremely effective. In the original film Harrison Ford was inexpressive and stoic. Gosling follows in that vein, but in his own way. He rarely alters his expression, but as the film progresses his inexpressive face conveys much. Maybe the audience learns to find expressiveness in his face. The film is about K’s dawning awareness of himself as an individual with interests and emotions and questions. It becomes his search for his own identity, for his own sense of self and of humanness.

The basic concerns of this Blade Runner film are consistent with those of the original: are replicants human, are they individuals with their own rights, do they have souls? Blade Runner 2049 adds the question of whether the ability to reproduce makes them human, or more human. The film centers on the search for a baby born 29 years in the past. It's the only baby ever born to a replicant. Obviously, if replicants can reproduce, their whole relationship with the human beings who created them changes fundamentally.

Ryan Gosling's character begins to wonder whether he is in fact that baby. I'm not going to ruin the movie by revealing what K discovers or the role of Harrison Ford's character.

Ryan Gosling's character loves a woman who is the creation of artificial intelligence and a computer. She’s his virtual romantic partner. She seems to have a completely developed personality. Gosling can turn her on or off, but he does seem to love her. There is a moving scene between her and Gosling just as she's about to be terminated by one of the many people who are trying to hunt him down. We could say that she's an extremely advanced sex toy, which is not entirely untrue, and we can say that she's the artificial creation of advanced technology, and in a sense that's true. But she seems to have her own will, her own self, and whether or not these are simply part of her programming, they seem real. (She’s also aware of the artificial nature of her being). Who's to say that the actions and thoughts and emotions of replicants are merely the product of programming? Who's to say that the emotions and thoughts and actions of human beings are merely the product of evolutionary programming? These are head-spinning questions. My head is spinning right now.

The final scene is powerful. It dovetails with the ending of the original Blade Runner. I was tempted to find it more powerful, more moving, than the original.

The 1982 Blade Runner had novelty and unexpected moments. Blade Runner 2049 still inhabits the same world of the original film, though 30 years later. And, therefore, certain elements of surprise and novelty are missing. Though I find this sequel flawed in certain ways—it’s long, there are a few non-sequiturs, it's difficult to follow the plot at moments, and the film overindulges in atmosphere and mood--I still found it compelling and emotionally powerful.

Does Blade Runner 2049 exist as a work independent from the original? I can't say. I've seen the original numerous times and count it among my favorite films. It's impossible for me to view Blade Runner 2049 and separate it from my experiences with the 1982 film. I certainly cannot say how I would react to this film if I'd never seen the original. My reactions might differ somewhat, but I hope they would not differ significantly.

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