Blade Runner 2049 Review: Beautiful, Brilliant and Captivating.

Blade Runner
Photo: Blade Runner

Blade Runner 2049



Denis Villeneuve



Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright & Jared Leto



Science Fiction



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What is the purpose of Science Fiction? According to Ted Chiang: Science fiction is very well suited to asking philosophical questions; questions about the nature of reality, what it means to be human, how do we know the things that we think we know. Chiang is the author of Story of Your Life, a short story Eric Heiserrer and Denis Villeneuve adapted to create the magnificent Arrival. But, as Dennis took on Blade Runner 2049, the philosophical investigation of what it means to be human was already performed by Ridley Scott in the first movie. So what does Denis bring to the sequel? He does two things here: firstly, fleshing out certain important ideas from the first movie and secondly, expanding on the old setting with a new philosophical exploration; melding both into an emotionally powerful narrative which surpasses the first Blade Runner.

Blade Runner 2049 takes place 30 years after the events of the first movie. In 2022, the Tyrell Corporation creates a new model of Replicants called Nexus 8, who revolt and destroy the digital infrastructure of United States in an event known as Blackout. All Nexus production is banned and those living are "retired". In 2025, the world is faced with a food crisis and a brilliant scientist called Niander Wallace (Jerod Leto) saves the world by sharing his Genetically Modified Food patents for free. He acquires the bankrupt Tyrell Corporation and creates a new line of Replicants that are genetically designed to be obedient to their masters. The older rogue Replicants, however, are still a problem to the humans, for which the L.A.P.D reinstates the Blade Runner unit. K (Ryan Gosling) is one of the Blade Runner.

Denis constructs the world that looks to have organically evolved from when we last saw it. It is still bleak, but the technology offers to plug in the emotional gaps. Giant ads cover the buildings encouraging materialism (there's a Sony placement ironically), where most people look like they live close to the brink of poverty. There are neon lights everywhere, but the streets still feel dark and unwelcoming. There's a lot of rain, but there's no growth. Outside the city perimeters, the world is literally a wasteland. As the cinematographer shows the contrasts of the world through the contrasts of the camera, the visuals are jaw-dropping! There is beauty hiding in the depictions of an ugly dystopia. A lot of people are praising Roger Deakins and I am jumping on the bandwagon too. Give him an Oscar already.

So how does the movie re-evaluate the question of Human identity? In Blade Runner 2049, it is through memories. Now that both Humans and Replicants live natural lives, one way the Humans find a distinction for themselves from the Replicants is through the idea that their memories are gained from lived experiences. The Replicants are planted fake memories when they are built, but does that make their humanity or experiences any less important? What if the fake memories trigger a free thought, breaking the subservient control? Then there is the question of AI, which stores its memories as data, and using it, projects emotions as complex as that of a human. The lines of separation surely get blurry.

Denis could have played it safe under the pressure to deliver a sequel to a cult classic. Judging by his abilities, he would have still made a great movie out of it. Thankfully, for all of us, he took the riskier approach of carrying forward the original story with great creative insights from the screenplay writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. In the end, he tells a powerful tale of a hero finding his purpose and his humanity, but with far more nuance and depth than the original.

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