“You newer models are happy scraping the shit, because you’ve never seen a miracle.” These are the last words of Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) an older replicant who would rather sacrifice whatever existence he has than squander it. But Sapper is no blond, wild-eyed Lucifer murdering his creators only to gift his pursuer with hints of everything he’s witnessed: “like tears in the rain.”
Instead, Sapper taunts his pursuer with what he doesn’t know, and with his final words, the film’s creators have just taunted the audience too. Are you happy scraping the shit, or do you want to look deeper?
If the first Blade Runner was about the created taking revenge through blood, the second is about the created taking revenge through surpassing their creators. Not only is this the goal of the characters, but it is the goal of the filmmakers themselves.
In BR2049, humans are not the point. They are soulless side characters, such as Gaff, an institutionalized madman, Lt. Joshi, a driven bureaucrat and Niander Wallace, a creator twisted and evil, more machine than man.
“You newer models are happy scraping the shit, because you’ve never seen a miracle.”
The point of the story is left to the Replicants and simulated projections to pursue. They struggle with the miracle of life and what it might mean. They covet the gift that the humans squander in their tightfisted attempts at control.
Shakespeare says that “Nothing, almost sees miracles but misery,” and that’s certainly true here. Our replicant heroes are gutted, gunned down, and buried in shallow graves. But what about their quest? Does Sapper Morton’s taunt get answered?
The strength of the film unquestionably lies in the bold questions it frames (as pictured by Roger Deakins’ utterly masterful DP work).
Is life a miracle, or is it meaningless? Is life memories or is it procreation? Is life found in fighting for truth and justice or retreating from the fray? Is there a messianic savior or is that just another illusion?
Yes, answers Blade Runner 2049.
It dodges and weaves to try to create an illusion of meaning where there is actually confusion. It begins with a poignant challenge, but in the end it too has never seen a miracle.
I didn’t walk into Blade Runner 2049 (BR2049) with much hope of it being more Blade Runner than Final Cut. I didn’t walk into the film with much expectation at all — mostly a wan hope for some kind of spark. A bit of the old Blade Runner. I was also curious how they would attempt a sequel to a movie that had so much edgy attitude. Like a replicant in a human world, the sequel was going to have to define itself as something more than a sterile copy… or die trying.
It turned out to be prudent not to expect a film in the neon vein of Final Cut. But did BR2049 survive on its own? That was much harder for me to say for certain…
It’s impossible to disassemble the themes of Blade Runner movies without dissolving into abstracts: memory, humanity, existence and death, vision. So I won’t attempt them. But I also don’t need to — the success of the original Blade Runner was not about which themes it chose, but that it threw them out with sustained action and suspense. Only the occasional metaphor was too obtuse, likely a slightly long awkward look. On the whole, as the plot spun inward, a staggered succession of metaphor, dystopian vista, and Grand Guignol sharpened all three.
This strategy was also intended in BR2049, although it was not obvious to me on a first viewing. Instead, what impressed me at the time and afterward was a complete shift in tonal atmosphere. Atmospheres, really.
The first movie was punk-noir, an alien hybrid fit for a strange future. Its single atmosphere was claustrophobic, tense, spiked. BR2049 is different. It is a world of soft, suffocating atmospheres: blood red deserts, oceans of trash, a circumferential sea. We move between them effortlessly, not by jumping from rooftop to rooftop.
BR2049 is different. It is a world of soft, suffocating atmospheres: blood red deserts, oceans of trash, a circumferential sea.
This may seem like a small difference — inconsequential, even. But I think it makes all the difference between the worlds. The inwardly winding mystery of Final Cut, the rapid violent blows of each new image and metaphor are now diffused away into a vast universe: sparks floating up into the night sky. The inward drama of the original is spread over more space, time, and incident. The tightly constructed plot of BR2049 appears flatter and thinner on a first viewing than it really deserves to be; the sharp edges of the movie are no longer concentrated and constrained into a tight can of tension.
What images and scenes do you remember when you leave? The scene of K in the debriefing room, returning to baseline? That’s probably the scene that most closely resembles the intensity of the orginal. What did you take with you? For me, I remember gorgeous landscapes of a small being in a vast world. This is very different from the first movie. For the first, I remember a small being expanding into a world even smaller than it. I don’t know that the new change in perspective adds anything to my understanding.
The movie also feels oh so long, which I think is also a function of the change in atmosphere and the slower pacing. On a close inspection, the script is tight. There are some mysteries left hanging, which is welcome (does each replicant have the same dream about the horse? Why?) The themese are not overhandled; indeed, the theme of generation and replication may not be developed enough and is handled so gently that it never develops any sting. But that BR2049 attempts so much over so long a time is tremendously impressive… in retrospect. Because it fails to develop much of an emotional logic, it has trouble engaging. And again, why? There are multiple scenes where it seems an emotional climax is not only intended but inevitable, for instance, Rachel’s reunification with Decker and K’s new vision of Joi, but the scenes fizzle out without much of a hold and it’s hard to tell why. Gosling’s more blank replicant relative to Ford’s may be partly to blame (Ford seems to have Bogart as a model for the original; Gosling seems to have an actual robot for his model in BR2049).
I don’t have the answers. All I know is that I probably should care more and I’m not sure whose fault that is: mine or the film’s. I await Blade Runner 3 for answers. Hopefully it does not follow Matrix logic and play out as noisy warfare over an exhausted landscape.