Blade Runner 2049: Replicating the Irreplicable

Posted: October 24, 2017 by patricksponaugle in Movie Review
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This is not necessarily going to be a full review of the movie Blade Runner 2049.

Oh, I’ll give my official thumbs up or thumbs down at the end of this article- or maybe before – but there are interesting ideas in the movie that I think are worthy of a blog post or two. Will this blog post be worthy of your attention? As usual, I make no promises.

I’m assuming that you’ve already seen the movie, or are willing to have some plot points spoiled. I might administer a Voight-Kampff test as well. (I won’t. Or will I?)

Replicating the Irreplicable

Despite how the title of this post might be interpreted, I’m not implying that Blade Runner shouldn’t have gone sans sequel, a one-and-only. I enjoyed the original with Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer, and even if I don’t consider it a cinematic masterpiece, it’s certainly an influential film and solid science fiction. Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy successor.

Blade Runner 2049 is a more complicated film, and brought multiple ideas to the table, whereas I consider the original more straightforward, a story of replicants desperately trying to extend their lives and a human (I’m not in the camp of those who assert that Deckard is a replicant) trying to prevent that from happening.

Blade Runner would have been just an interesting and stylistic future-noir science fiction if not for the transcendent ending where replicant Roy Batty opts to spend the last few seconds of his abbreviated time on Earth by saving his enemy Deckard’s life, so Roy could peacefully expire with someone alongside him. Because dying alone is dreadful.

Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t quite hit the same emotional moment as Roy Batty quietly chatting with Deckard, whom he had been trying to kill minutes before on a rainy Los Angeles rooftop. But I think the movie does try and nearly succeeds early on.

Part of the success of the Roy Batty ending in Blade Runner was in the unexpectedness. Deckard and Batty were both trying to kill one another in a creepy old abandoned urban mansion. I expected Deckard to somehow get the drop on the homicidal replicant and a satisfactory B-movie ending would be had. I did not expect what actually happened.

I went into Blade Runner 2049 with very little advance knowledge, but I hadn’t expected that Ryan Gosling’s character K, or Joe as his hologram Joi names midway through the movie, would be a replicant. And not some bullshit is-he-or-isn’t-he that we’re stuck with in regards to Deckard. (He isn’t. He just isn’t.)

But that wasn’t the surprise I’m talking about, the unexpected twist that engagingly set up the spine of the movie.

It was the discovery that Rachael Tyrell from the 1982 Blade Runner had died giving birth. Emphasis on giving birth.

Baby Replicants? Or Just Babies?

The movie didn’t have to make a big deal about this, since this was obviously a big deal with big idea implications. Was Rachael and Deckard’s child a human, a replicant, or something else? (Let’s assume Deckard was the father.)

The biology of replicants is deliberately vague in these films. Really, almost all of the details of what a replicant is is vague. It’s clear that they’re manufactured humans, and by virtue of their manufactured origin are not granted the rights of personhood. Joe at one point brings up the idea of a soul, something it’s assumed that a replicant lacks, but the human beings on display in either movie aren’t really much of an argument for the existence of souls in rank-and-file humanity.

But everyone in the movie is shocked with the implication that Rachael could give birth. It’s declared by replicants in the know as a miracle.

The movie wisely avoids getting too metaphysical, and three factions with very practical goals gradually reveal themselves.

  • The conversative faction – represented by Robin Wright’s police chief “Madame” (she’s credited as Lt. Joshi, but I don’t recall anyone calling her anything but Madame.)
    Our protagonist Joe is ordered by Madame to track down and retire the now-adult offspring of Rachael and Deckard. Simply to short-circuit the chaos that would ensue otherwise if this impossible person went public.
  • The entrepreneurial faction – represented by Jared Leto’s creepy Niander Wallace and his dangerous right hand replicant Luv.
    Wallace’s interest in replicant replication is entirely motivated by business productivity. Rather than growing replicants in labs, he’d rather breed them the old fashioned way. Wallace early in the movie has a speech about the queasiness of humanity abandoning human slaves in favor of non-human labor. It seems he’s trying to get back to basics in more ways than one.
  • The revolutionary/evolutionary faction – represented by one-eyed replicant Freysa (played by Hiam Abbas.)
    This group makes its move rather late in the movie, but are more or less a background constant, with Dave Bautista’s protein farming replicant Sapper Morton starting off the plotline with his ‘retirement’ leading to the discovery of Rachael’s remains, a photo of Freysa holding Rachael and Deckard’s child, and the convenient tree-inscribed date of the child’s birth (and date of Rachael’s sad passing.)

The interplay between these groups’ goals are somewhat intertwined and at times contradictory. Madame’s fear that the existence of a naturally born replicant offspring would lead to chaos is in sync with the replicant revolutionaries’ belief that the child is proof that they can be more than biological machines. But Wallace’s fundamental business plan rests on the assumption that replicant offspring are not humans, just differently-manufactured replicants.

It seems like both things can’t be true: the child can’t be both the savior of replicants and the key to either a new form of slavery or a return to an old form of slavery. Unless it can. I mean, it depends who wins.

The movie doesn’t delve deeply into these implications, which I don’t mind. The best science fiction establishes its core speculative tenets and then chugs along, allowing the reader/viewer to derive meaning and complexity. Not having one’s hand held allows for some lateral thinking.

For example, I’ve recently come around to thinking that Madame’s fears might be more in reaction to Wallace’s plans than from the societal upending goals of the revolutionary faction led by Freysa. Madame might want to bury any proof of successful replicant reproduction to prevent inevitable massive forced-breeding slave labor manufacturing. That it’s better to have a sterile replicant workforce than human slaves.

The Girl in the Bubble

Although I enjoyed the thoughtful premise with the understated implications, laid out early and with appropriate stakes, I don’t know if I was entirely satisfied with the examination. Most of the movie worked on the red herring that Joe was the child of Rachael and Deckard. This seemed implausible for various reasons, mostly because Joe is a replicant.

It’s established that the contemporary replicants have serial numbers visible on the sclera of their right eye (which is why Freysa is sporting a rather Odin-like aspect.) I would be very surprised if as a child, K was born with a convenient serial number. In theory, K was no different than other Nexus 8 and later replicants. (I’m assuming Rachael was a Nexus 7, since she was a new model without the limited lifespan – Deckard in Blade Runner was busy tracking down Nexus 6 rogues, at that time the latest model.)

K, or Joe as I’ve also been calling him, appears to have obedience instincts that were bred into the contemporary models. Madame at times comes short of giving him an order to force his compliance, and that implies that this has been done in the past. Rachael’s child wouldn’t have had this Wallace corporation conditioning since the conditioning did not exist at the time.

But Joe eventually realizes the truth, that he’s not this miracle child despite having some memories of that child’s harsh upbringing in a San Diego orphanage. That can be a topic for some other post, but his research into these memories brought him into contact with Dr. Ana Stelline, a memory creation artist who lives inside of a protected environment, because of her alleged compromised immune system.

Joe deduces that she is actually Rachael’s child. During the movie, I accepted it – I mean the only other women in the movie were scary Luv and Mackenzie Davis’ Pris-analog Mariette (I had to look up her name… so many people in this movie either had no names, or I missed the introductions. I mean, I know that the medical examiner who gets killed has a name, it’s Coco, but Davis’ sexy replicant? I had no idea.)

So sure, I guess Ana Stelline could be the miracle baby, as a process of elimination.

But because she was in an enclosure and could not interact with the outside world, and spent her time entirely working with holographic features and creations, she might have not been any more real than Joi.

In fact, as far as I’m concerned – Stelline wasn’t Deckard’s child that Joe gave his life to provide  Deckard a reunion with, or even a human. Just a holographic program creating fake memories.

This’ll be my version of the Deckard-is-a-replicant crazy theory. You heard it hear first. (Maybe. I mean, I haven’t really checked.)

Oh! I give Blade Runner 2049 a thumbs up. I liked it roughly as much as the original Blade Runner, but for different reasons. Your mileage may vary. That’s cool.

Hey, if you’re a replicant, don’t leave a comment.

I’ll know.


(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! After suffering through this giant pile of words, you might not be that interested in any other of my movie-based posts, but I promise most are not as ponderously long as this one. How could they be? You can find the on my Movies page!)

Images are from 1982’s Blade Runner and the sequel Blade Runner 2049 

I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there. 

© Patrick Sponaugle 2017 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. I have half a mind……..That’s it, I have half a mind.
    I haven’t seen either Blade Runner, and I have never seen Game of Thrones, so why on earth do I follow your blog?

    Well, you write brilliantly. This report is superb.
    Occasionally, you write about things other than GOT and I enjoy those.

    I may, at some time in the future (2049?) catch up with the rest of the world, but, there again, I have half a mind!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed reading this (as I enjoyed the movie, too). As for some of your conclusions/speculations:
    Despite Sir Ridley’s protestations (and subsequent statements/re-edits) I’ve always viewed Deckard as human. However, I like that it was always ambiguous (in the original cut, and even here in 2049) whether or not he was a human or a replicant. The plot with the child makes sense either way: she was either a product of two replicants, or a human and a replicant. Both portend some type of “miracle” or “anomalous” creation. It doesn’t necessarily matter to the motives of the Replicant “Revolutionaries” (nor does it matter that much to Wallace – the important thing is that no matter the father’s “species” a replicant can become pregnant and give birth). I liked the reveal of K as a replicant right off the bat, and also got sucked into the “is he the child of Rachel and Deckard” red herring right along with him.
    Where we diverge is on the nature of the Ana. I think the movie played straight with us on that, and that she is indeed the born child of Rachel and Deckard. If she’s not, I think both movies lose some of their thematic resonance, and it would make most of 2049 lesser as a story. But hey, we’ve argued about Deckard for 20+ years…these things are fun to talk about. Can’t wait to rewatch this at home knowing all the implications and reveals ahead of time. Plus, it’s stunningly gorgeous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree that Deckard’s status isn’t important for the movie (some people claim that because he’s older, he’s definitely human but I don’t consider that a slam dunk, since replicant biology is so sketchy – but as I said, I prefer Deckard to be human)

      My crazy statement that Ana Steline is a hologram is largely a joke, but I would have greatly preferred there to have been some basis to Joe deducing her role. I think you are right that the movie is playing things straight.

      I will probably bring this up again, if I get around to a post about Joi.

      Thanks for your insightful feedback, man!

      Like

  3. Whether Deckard is a replicant or not doesn’t matter at all in the first movie. Whether he is or isn’t is irrelevant because it’s pretty clear that replicants are human beings with human rights. Deckard is treated like a disposable slave whether he’s human or not.

    It matters a whole lot more in the new movie because the whole basis of the “miracle” is that replicants have the potential to reproduce independently. But no one has been able to crack that code since Rachael died.

    If Deckard is a human and is the father of Rachael’s child, then their offspring is a mule. That could mean that replicant reproduction is a stalled project and that replicants can’t aspire to be more than surrogates for human reproduction or it could mean that the future of the human race is replicants interbred with humans.

    If Deckard is a replicant then the scenario laid out in the film (though not realized) is more likely: replicants can become the next human race, supplanting us. And we’ll gleefully encourage it as an industrial innovation that allows us to colonize millions of worlds without have to manufacture trillions of replicants.

    So now the status of Deckard and his daughter has a tremendous impact on how this story will play out, and it’s equally interesting whether he’s human or replicant. One way or another, his daughter represents the future of the human race. And if she really is just a hologram, that future is as much an illusion as Joi.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Jason! I appreciate you checking out the post.

      Replicant biology is vague, but so is the biology for Ana Stelline.

      Your speculation that she might be a mule if Deckard is human certainly is a factor to consider. But it would make this sterile hybrid race roughly the same as replicants, in that their future is constrained and they couldn’t reproduce by themselves. Replicants normally require manufacturing processes to make more, this new race will exist as long as humans and replicants exist, which would make for some complicated loyalties. Maybe. (I am making some assumptions here.)

      Replicant-Replicant reproduction, creating unmanufactured humanoids who could reproduce with their kind, or replicant partners, would probably signal the end of humanity.

      I have questions about replicants in general, like why the four year lifespan was engineered out, why they even want them on Earth… but that will be for another post.

      Hey, thanks again for the comments!

      Like

  4. ghostof82 says:

    I love this movie. I’ve seen it three times at the cinema (and I NEVER go see the same movie twice at the cinema). I think it’s a worthy sequel to my favourite movie, and practically the very definition of an Anti-Blockbuster. Of course, it’s troubled box office likely proves me right on the latter. One for the ages, though, I think, rather than the fickle audiences of the ‘now’. At least it’s had some love from critics (an improvement there on Blade Runner anyway) and maybe Awards season will get some success too.

    You raise some interesting points. And yes, ever since 1982 I’ve always thought Deckard is human. Ridley is plain wrong, bit I also appreciate the ambiguity. It’s something you just don’t see in most modern movies.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Cinematographically-speaking, this movie is probably the best ever made.

    I also enjoyed the pacing, it gave all of the scenes lots of room to breathe. My teenage kids thought it was slow. My 14yo daughter and I watched the original the week before, so we had a strong refresher. She liked 2049, but not as much as BR. I’m of two minds.

    On one hand, it is gorgeous.

    On the other hand, it feels very arbitrary and piecemeal. Too many things forced into the film in order to move the plot forward, without any logic or motivation to explain them. Too many coincidences (why, out of all replicants, does Joe have Ana’s memory of the horse?) .

    Honestly, it felt like the director was trying to establish a new franchise, with a promise of a string of sequels, all exploring different aspects of life in Los Angeles.

    Having said all of that, I don’t regret seeing it, and am certain that the theater experience will be much better than watching it at home

    Liked by 1 person

  6. erinb9 says:

    My husband remains scandalized that I never saw the original Bladerunner, so I’m guessing we’ll eventually be seeing them back to back, lol

    Liked by 1 person

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