Having survived the bludgeoning and dumbing-down of almost all of the film properties I hold dearest to my cinematic soul, I approached Blade Runner 2049 with nothing but a deep skepticism. Early buzz had been good and the team behind it was rock solid, but still, even Ridley Scott himself managed to screw-up Alien: Covenant almost beyond recognition. Plus, Hollywood has gotten more and more risk averse as time goes on, so there was little to no hope that Blade Runner 2049 would advance the property in a meaningful way. Still, pessimism is a trait of Blade Runner’s proto-noir heritage, so it wouldn’t be the altogether wrong mood to see the film under.
A trait of film noir, neo-noir, and of course, the heavily noir-influenced genre of cyberpunk, is the search for a workable truth in a world that is filled with moral uncertainty, degradation, and outright deception. This genre rose to prominence in the wake of World War II, and was fueled by a creeping sense that, after the defeat of the Axis powers, maybe not all that is should be. Good had beaten evil, but what kind of good remained? The original Blade Runner took this noir-ish view of the truth, law, and violence and added another layer of existential reality. What was real? What was alive? What was natural? As the author of the inspirational novel Philip K. Dick asked, “Do androids dream of electric sheep?”
Blade Runner became legend, not hurt in any way by the multiple endings and interpretations of those endings. Key among the questions raised by the film was who among the characters were human and who weren’t. Was our hero, detective (“Blade Runner”) Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), himself a “skin job”? For decades, fans of the film have chewed the fat over this particular enigma.
Now we have an answer. No, I cannot tell you. Nor would I want to.
The answer to this question is covered fairly early in the film, and it soon moves onto larger questions of what that fact means for the current cast of characters, most notably “K” (Ryan Gosling), a “Blade Runner” who is quite certain of his own existential status; that is, until he very much isn’t. He is given an assignment that, in true noir fashion, goes straight to the core of his own identity and personal history. The idea of “more human than human” is drawn into contrast as each scene brings him closer to a truth among many, as well as deeper considerations of his own role in the world. His journey is powerful, and students of Blade Runner, Philip K. Dick, and Ridley Scott won’t be too surprised to hear that this journey reaches toward transcendent themes in a truly illuminated way. This is a film about coming to “light” that is told with all the shades and tones of light that the gifted Roger Deakins, ASC, could bring to it.
Reviews of this film are under a very heavy spoiler embargo, so there is much to praise in the film that needs to be left unsaid at this point. I will honor this embargo because each of these revelations do have a bearing on the experience, and to tip them ahead of time would weaken your enjoyment, I believe. The filmmakers have completely honored the world that Ridley Scott created many decades ago, and have expanded on it in a way that makes total narrative sense. Fans of the larger “Ridley-verse” will be pleased at the subtle nods to the nascent worlds of Prometheus/Alien that appear here and there throughout, as well.
The highest praise I can give a film is that you simply must see it to understand it. This is cinema of the highest order and does absolutely everything a film can do. Which isn’t to say it is perfect, of course; no art ever is. However, this is a deepening of a story that was already close to a religious text for many of us film fans. So, please, sit in the darkness, let the limited flickering light reach you in your dreamlike trance. Let colors fall with the rain, let tears disappear into the snow and let the avatars of possible truth shimmer in your vision.
Then tell yourself you know what is real.