Like a football match this post is a tale of two halves.
The original “Blade runner” is one of my favourite films. Because of watching it I discovered Philip K. Dick; proper, full on existential science fiction; and films that trust the audience with the intelligence to handle complex ideas presented in an oblique manner. Few scenes in cinema chill me and thrill me in equal measure as the opening view across the endless factories spitting fire while Vangelis’ score strikes up. So with all that said naturally I was nervous when they announced a sequel. How could “Blade runner” of all films have, want or need a sequel?!
But then the reviews of “Blade runner 2049” started to come in, and eager to avoid spoilers I had to trust headlines declaring the film a modern masterpiece and worthy heir to the throne. I feel that “Blade runner” can’t have a sequel in the traditional sense, it can have a follow up or a continuation but after 30 years what “Blade runner 2049” needed to do was recapture the feelings of the original today. It does.
It’s a shame that “Blade runner” is such a cult classic. For one it means that every hard sci fi film has pilthered it’s ascetic or soundscape, colour pallet, tone, musical style, pacing… You get the picture. As a result you could worry that the new film comes off as generic! It doesn’t. Every pause for a sweeping cityscape view with it’s accompanying musical sting thrilled me with cold chills just like the original. They have succeeded in producing a 2 and a half hour mood piece, just like the original.
One thing that struck me is that despite the overcrowded streets and tenement blocks of LA in “2049” there is a palpable isolation in the film. Like sitting in a crowded airport terminal, everyone around you is a stranger. Always. Ryan Gosling’s Detective K spends long stretches of his time flying high above the city, alone, where the city itself is obscured by constant sheets of rain. Other characters are physically isolated and yet ironically these individuals are content in there separation from the outside world, either by choice or circumstance.
The story contains traditional detective noir beats with a splash of, surprisingly, “Children of Men” for good measure. The story is secondary to the plot and themes which once again centre on what it means to be human and whether an artificial life can be. In a world where the artificial are flesh and blood, born as adults from plastic amniotic sacs complete with implanted memories the question is harder to answer than in most robot-with-feelings flicks.
“2049” makes an interesting contrast to my video game obsession of the year “Nier: Automata” which is about robots questioning their purpose and emerging humanity. “Neir”‘s soundscapes and landscapes are beautiful and melodic, in the distant future, natural has returned in force where as in “2049”, the landscapes are stark, the planet has suffered ecological collapse and a once mighty tree with roots grasping deep into the sterile soil is now held up by guy-ropes.
The reason why this isn’t a review and only thoughts is that my feelings on the original are deeply personal and I think the same will be true of “2049”.
Comment (with minor spoilers)
Before writing this piece I ran a search for the film title because I wanted to read the Wikipedia page now that I had seen it. What I found instead was the first search result, and it caught my eye: “You’ll love the new ‘Blade runner’ – unless you’re a woman”, let’s just say I have feelings on that! [the offending article (ha!) can be found here: http://nypost.com/2017/10/04/youll-love-the-new-blade-runner-unless-youre-a-woman/ ]
The thrust of the critic’s argument is that the women of the film get the short end of the wedge. This annoys me greatly because it once again presents the argument that women can only care about the fate of other women and that women cannot be active participants in a story but must be protected, held aloof to remain unharmed and blameless. Yes, several women suffer unpleasant fates but these women are all characterised, active players in the plot. One even concedes that her actions can and will put her in danger but she does so anyway despite objections. The choice was her’s to make and she made it. If we want to talk about getting the short end of the wedge let’s talk about the nameless grunts who get mown down by Detective K’s horrifically accurate sharp-shooting.
A central theme of the original could be considered to be fatherhood and this theme is replaced in the new film as one of motherhood. The male characters must grapple with the notion that for all the technology this world has to offer only women can create a “true” human. While a bit on the nose, K even states that he thinks that the human soul is formed through the act of child birth. It’s an interesting thought that without that human process, the pain, the risk of life by mother for child (sacrifice), and slow awakening to consciousness from new born to baby to toddler to child to adolescent etc, the soul cannot form.
The father figures of the piece understand their role in maternity in this future: protector, provider, arbiter but never creator. What are created by men (in this film’s version of the Tyrell Corporation) are treated as disposable, sub-humans precisely because they are literally “man-made”. These artificial humans are, however, thinking and feeling and so this treatment as casually disposable is horrifying.
And yes, the presence of naked female holograms, prostitutes and statues are naturally there to titillate the audience, after all sex sells and a movie wants to sell itself, but it also serves as a reminder that the sexual aspects of the female form are also that which creates and sustains a child.
Anyway, I as a women disagree with that critic’s assertion that my sex will determine my capacity to enjoy a film, this film especially.
To wrap up my thoughts, if anything I’ve said in this piece has sparked your curiosity, go and watch “Blade runner” and/or “Blade runner: 2049”, you won’t regret it.
The author would like to say, for the record, that someone can dislike a film because of their sex/gender. That is a totally valid, personal opinion and I cannot object to someone expressing a personal views even if I disagree (that’s basically the essence of free speech). But make sweeping assertions and speak for all women and we’ll be having words. I have a total disinterest in football but that doesn’t mean I can assert that all women are disinterested in football. Some women are uninterested in football, some are interested and some can explain the off-side rule better than the average bloke-in-pub-on-match-day.