Sunday, October 8, 2017

God's Lonely Replicant: Blade Runner 2049


Blade Runner (1982) moves at a slow pace through its perfectly established film noir construct, but the story carries a sense of brooding, ominous dread that makes this hour-and-fifty-seven-minute a compelling experience throughout. This gripping, ominous dread comes primarily from the performance of Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty, the advanced model synthetic human who strives to be a real human, and the film’s dark, congested setting,

Blade Runner 2049 (2017), however, strolls along throughout its two hours and forty-five minutes without much that I found very compelling. Sure, there is mystery, but the mystery seems nothing newer than the questions established in the original film, and I felt no sense of ominous dread.

I love science fiction films, so I tend to be lenient in my critique of flawed sci-fi films that I like, but I felt little enthusiasm for this film beyond its visuals. The opening sequence in the desert establishes the mood and K’s character well. Then K flies over the low-lying outskirts of the metropolis, and as the buildings get taller, I felt a modicum of thrill, but then the high-rise cityscape is not nearly as dazzling or interesting as the city in the original. I loved Joi, K’s holo-girl friend, and I was very sorry that she gets deleted. In my favorite scene in the film, Joi melds her image with a prostitute’s body so that K can imagine holding and kissing Joi as though she were a real girl.

I get the heady philosophical questions posed by the film, but none of them seem any more compelling than the original film’s rather basic quandary: if you have feelings, are you real? The whole Pinocchio syndrome works well in the original film. We especially feel Roy Batty’s urge to live and be a real boy.

In 2049, this paradigm is inherent in the story as K, a synthetic programmed for obedience, searches for Deckard and Deckard’s mysterious offspring. Ooh, ah, is K a sci-fi Ethan Edwards on an existential search - God's lonely replicant? Okay, that's cool, but lets get down to some compelling obsession or lust for vengeance. Instead, the conflict seems flat. Where are the shocking revelations? This slow, tedious search seems directed toward the same questions we already know.

In the end, nothing happens with the revelation of Deckard’s daughter, even though there is an underground movement of replicants raring for rebellion. Unfortunately, rebellion never comes. Instead, we arrive at a flat climax. Deckard had a daughter, and K finds her.

Rachael gave birth to a daughter? How? Well, I guess that makes her as real as robots can get though I guess if Tyrell can create Roy to be the strong, emotional, philosophical being he is, then I suppose he can create a female synthetic who can get pregnant. The technology can be pushed to the limit; it's all fictional.

Meanwhile, not much is done with this premise, and it’s not very compelling – nothing more than the whole belabored question about the point at which a synthetic being becomes human (even though the answer seems simple: no matter how real technology gets, it’s still technology and not human). I guess you can go a step further - if you accept Rachael as human, then I guess you don't believe in God, so what's the worry about a soul? In a sense, perhaps we are all soulless fabrications.

Yep, I get all the great questions posed by this film but, even though I love to worship at the altar of Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins, I guess I need a film to be more than just a thought experiment.