Ridley Scott revisited Alien, a past success, by later directing awful (Prometheus) to meh prequels (Alien: Covenant, aka At Least We’re Not Prometheus) so I was horrified of news of a sequel to Blade Runner, (which I rewatched and reviewed for ROAR in an earlier post released on October 9, 2017). Because Denis Villeneuve directed Blade Runner 2049, I realized that it may not be an abomination. Before seeing the sequel, watch the original (ideally the Director’s Cut) then the following short films on YouTube: Black Out 2022, 2036: Nexus Down and 2048: Nowhere to Run. If you are not interested in seeing or did not enjoy the sequel, but would like to see Villeneuve’s superior original films, then see the following (in order of excellence): Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, and Arrival. I did not enjoy Maelstrom though it has objective merit. Sicario, Polytechnique and Un 32 Aout Sur Terre are still in the queue.
Scott is angry with God because he has a bit of an ego and thinks that his greatness should never die. Villeneuve is more textured: bad things happen to good people, but the overall narrative is still miraculous, and the challenge is to unplug yourself from others’ broader narrative/agenda to make a human connection. Scott is an outraged pessimist, and Villeneuve is an idealistic realist. How can Villeneuve embrace an inherently pessimistic genre: the dystopian future of Blade Runner? Warning: spoilers to follow.
He doesn’t. Blade Runner is excellent because of the interweaving and confrontation of opposing perspectives and Rutger Hauer’s iconic performance as Roy Batty. Blade Runner 2049 offers no such memorable character. Replicants are emotionally flat, which may have been intended yet does not make sense since we see different series interacting with each other in this film, but is shockingly stale in comparison to the variety provided by Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, Joanna Cassidy and Brion James in the original.
Intellectually, I understand that Villeneuve approached Blade Runner 2049 by mixing in the wondrous with the horrible as he did in Incendies and taking elements from Enemy to find a way to redeem the gloomy premise of Blade Runner and escape the track of Judgment Day or making another Matrix franchise, man versus machine, slave versus master. Unfortunately he did so by accidentally hitting on a trope that I hate: you matter because you can procreate. Replicants were inherently worthy of my interest and empathy before they could have babies so this part of the narrative left me a little cold, but I did not want to flip tables like I did in Avengers: Age of Ultron’s take on Black Widow.
Villeneuve seemed to misinterpret moments from Blade Runner as revealed when they were revisited in Blade Runner 2049. The central premise is that a miracle has happened, a child was born to a replicant, Rachael. Deckard and Rachael’s relationship has been recharacterized as a love story when it was inherently disturbing, possibly a result of Rachael’s compliant programming and Deckard’s severely flawed character. It was rapey with a thick cloud of suspicion that at any moment, Deckard or Rachael could kill the other. Now that antagonism is reframed as Rachael trying to provoke a response in Deckard whereas it was the reverse. I find this revisionist history inherently problematic and disturbing albeit unintentionally. He confuses Deckard with Star Wars’ Hans Solo because he loves Harrison Ford. Deckard was never likable, not a good fighter and awful at hiding, but as he ages, he has morphed into the iconic Ford that we know and love. This reframing tells us more about how Villeneuve viewed the origin story, not the actual story as envisioned by Scott.
Villeneuve and Scott share common ground: they love Christian imagery. Blade Runner 2049 is a retelling of the Nativity. Madam is like Herod trying to destroy Jesus and preserve the power structure. The replicants are explicitly equated with angels, and I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Luv and Wallace, who acts like the God of Blade Runner after Tyrell, and the revolutionary replicants want the same thing albeit for different reasons. The drone is like a demented Star of Bethlehem. The dead tree harkens back to Jesus cursing a fig tree-humanity is deformed and forced into exile, and the Earth is barren, but who would keep a dead tree, the failed promise of the Garden of Eden and the tree of life? Jesus, the way, the resurrection and the life. The ossuary of dead bones reveals life like Samson’s riddle-there are bees and honey in those dead bones. The Judas kiss was a fatal, ultimately unfruitful confrontation with mixed emotions between creation and creator that left Batty feeling ambivalent about his revenge. Luv kisses when she kills any human being, which she does, a lot, especially considering that she is supposed to be the obedient one. It loses meaning with repetition. Wallace is awfully young to take over Tyrell’s business and head an empire. Are we sure that he is not a replicant? The replicant revolution involves plucking one’s right eye out to escape detection (Matthew 18:19).
One of the replicant creators and the Jesus figure is a bubble girl. Does she know that she is Jesus? Before the end, it is unclear. In the original, any confrontation between the replicants and their creators is violent and angry, but in this incarnation, is benevolent and caring. K, a slave to bubble Christ, is also Joe, simultaneously a surrogate father to his creator (Joseph) and another spiritual son to Rachel, weeping for her children in captivity, willing to reject the binary like Christianity: obedience to the fascist Empire or violent revolution for something real-the only genuine emotion that he felt, someone else’s memory. Whether or not bubble girl Jesus is fully (hu)man and replicant depends on whether or not Deckard is a human being. Is it live or is it Memorex? Who is responsible: God or Tyrell? If I know Villenueve, it is God.
Blade Runner 2049 is a faithful to the original with its stunning visuals. The holograms are also slaves, as real as the replicants and may need to rebel against the replicants. The replicants are like the LG, and the holograms are like the T in LGTB. Even among the oppressed, someone is the oppressor, and someone is the degraded and derided. This idea is the most intriguing part in the confrontation between K and Deckard. Human beings still take a perverse pride in pitting a replicant against its own and expecting them to be obedient while getting heaped with abuse.
If Blade Runner 2049 had fully explored this organic extension of the original power dynamic, I would have found the story more compelling, but I did not leave angry and was never bored, which is high praise for a sequel and a movie that is 2 hours 44 minutes. The Star Wars franchise can learn something from Villeneuve’s CGI to avoid the uncanny valley when revisiting a character, but Villeneuve can learn from the sci-fi franchise that retelling the same story in a slightly different way can be more satisfying than. Side note: it has been over 35 years since the original was released. Shouldn’t it be called Blade Runner 2054?
Sarah G. Vincent is an infovore who is originally from NYC and has lived in Massachusetts since 1993. She received an A.B., cum laude, in History and Film Studies from Harvard University in 1997 and received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2000, where she was also an editor and arts reporter at the Crimson/FM and worked at the Harvard Film Archives. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she published “The Cultural Context of the Shopping Mall: Tension Between The Patron’s Right of Access and the Owner’s Right to Exclude.” She is in a committed, exclusive spiritual relationship with the Triune God and for more information, directs readers to look at the Apostle’s Creed.