Blade Runner 2049 is what the original Blade Runner is often claimed to be. Unlike Blade Runner, it is a startlingly human film. It manages to pack in so much of what it means to be alive, to be human, in a film about a whole variety of people, robots and holograms. Their society is a layered one that’s as broken with inequality and prejudice as our own. It’s one in which being a member of a certain club is more important than the content of your character. Ryan Gosling’s officer K is science fiction’s Pinocchio. He’s a replicant (biomechanical android) who knows he isn’t human and feels that to be born is to have a soul. Unlike Pinnochio he’s not sure if he wants to be a real boy.
It’s not just K, however. Through the eyes of many of the characters we see glimpses of what it is to be human. How does it feel to love someone? To lose them? To be driven by emotion rather than logic or programming? To fight for your very survival not just because it makes sense, but because you desperately want to continue to exist. There is some violence in 2049, but unlike the original film, I found it more difficult to watch the scenes of tenderness. Unlike Blade Runner, the motivation to love another is there for all to see, including that spark we simply cannot understand: that which makes it so pleasant to be in somebody’s company. To love them so much that we want there to be more like them. The baser emotions are also explored. Not all beings in this world are created equally, but many of them show a feral need for self-preservation at the very least. Ultimately, if that’s what we’re all reduced to, that’s all that we are. Life is tenacious and wants to exist. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.
At around 2.5 hours, 2049 is a long film, but it doesn’t feel long. It does drift at times and perhaps even loses its way from a narrative perspective now and then. It always bounces back. Even when there’s a lull, the photography rarely relaxes and there’s usually something enthralling to look at. In a film as thematically rock-solid as this, everything else, including the plot, can take a back seat. It doesn’t matter. It’s all a set-up to explore the human condition. Who cares? Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t have answers, it has questions. It’s about the unknown and the unknowable. Life’s great mysteries will forever remain unanswered but that shouldn’t stop us from wondering, striving, living.
(The first Blade Runner should be watched before 2049. It really is essential to getting the most out of the film. I recommend the 1982 Workprint version or the original cinema release).