Friday, October 13, 2017

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017, USA)

The first film concerns a man trying desperately to retain his soul; this one depicts a Replicant vainly trying to attain one. Denis Villeneuve directs this masterful sequel to one of the greatest science fiction films of all time by re-creating a sadly beautiful world of counterfeit realities and soul-crushing despair.
PLOT: The story involves a Replicant Blade Runner named K (which is short for his serial number) hunting down a rogue android and retiring it. Upon searching the residence he finds evidence that turns out to be a buried Replicant who died in childbirth many years ago. The first act plays like a police procedural as K tries to solve this mystery which could upset the delicate societal imbalance between ersatz slaves and their human masters. As the LAPD try to solve and suppress this secret another organization is at odds with the investigation: Niander Wallace has usurped Tyrell Corporation long ago and wants this secret to in order to breed more Replicants for use Off-World. K with the help of his hologram companion discovers that Rachel is the mother, the Nexus model that escaped with Deckard in 2017. So the task is now to find Deckard with Wallace's psychotic Replicant not far behind. Herein begins the narrative friction but there's so much more beneath the story's skin.
IN UTERO: If Rachel gave birth then where is this hybrid child? As the investigation deepens into the murk of memory, K soon believes HE is the child. What many viewers miss completely is that as he, a Replicant, begins to consider the possibility that he was born (not manufactured) he attempt to act like a human. In short, K hopes he has a soul. He fails his baseline testing with the LAPD, he begins to fall in love with his hologramatic partner (whom he can never touch), and he even makes love to what he believes to be a human girl. But this is revealed to be completely ephemeral.
K's memory becomes reality when he discovers a small carved wooden horse with a birthdate inscribed on the bottom. This date matches one found at Rachel’s' burial site. He has a distinct memory of hiding this toy as a child but cannot distinguish between faux memory and real experience. This is the subject of nearly every PKD story and novel! He soon interviews the woman responsible for creating emotional memories for Replicants and she determines that his memory is real. 
In an earlier scene, K visits Gaff (Deckard's aging partner from the first film) and Gaff avers that he knows nothing of Deckard's fate while lazily crafting another origami clue: a horse! Now things began to come together. Or do they? BUT, if Gaff knew of this memory then he knows of the child. Which makes sense because he also had access to Rachel's file previously. Though his fate is elided, we can deduce that Wallace would have eventually found and tortured him for information.
"She won't live. But then again, who does?" Gaff's mysterious comment from BLADE RUNNER now has an added significance: is he insinuating that he knows Rachel won't survive childbirth?  
THE UNICORN: This brings me to the Unicorn clue in the first film. A Unicorn is a mythical creature so it's not possible to have a memory of one, right? But it is a symbol of virginity; as in, Rachel's a prosthetic virgin! I believe the Unicorn isn't a memory but the name of Rachel's unique file/Nexus designation. So Deckard could be imagining a Unicorn when thinking about Rachel’s potential for love and Gaff would also make an origami Unicorn to tell his partner he knows about the file. After all, Gaff can't read Deckard’s mind! So the Unicorn is an objective fact not a subjective memory or dream.
THE TIN MAN: K is an intelligent creature of design. He is not human. The film leaves no doubt concerning this fact. But Ryan Gosling portrays our protagonist in seemingly one a robot. Again, this is misconstrued by many viewers: of course he seems heartless and soulless because he isn't human. He is a Tin Man that desires to be human. This is the key in understanding the entire premise of BLADE RUNNER 2049! When he tracks down Deckard in the ruins of Las Vegas, where the aged and all-to-human Deckard slowly lives out his life of unsplendid isolation, K believes he is meeting his father. Villeneuve leads the audience into believing this to be the most likely explanation too. But K is in for another rude awakening! K unwittingly leads Wallace's Psycho Nexus unit to Deckard who is captured and taken to Wallace. K is left non-functional in the rubble after the fight. Sometime later he is discovered and revived by a band of Replicants trying to break their programming and human bondage. This is the Rebellion. K is told that the memory of the toy horse is indeed an implant: he is a Replicant.
THE POWER OF MEMORY: It is intimated that other Replicants have this same memory and also thought, through their journey towards freedom and self-discovery, that they were Rachel's child. This leads to a really intriguing premise: that the surviving child (now a woman in her early 30s) has purposely shared her memories in order to help Replicants break free from slavery. So she must have access to people in Wallace's organization...or work for him herself. I can't stress this enough: she is designing memories from her own experience (she knows what she is) that may help Replicants become more human and less likely to be dominated. K is told that the closest thing to being human is self-sacrifice, so he makes the ultimate compassionate decision and not only saves Deckard but takes him to his daughter. K gains nothing from this except his own demise. Unlike Roy Batty's death, K's is silent amid gently falling snow...but no less powerful. K has gained his soul but lost his life.
FORM/STRUCTURE: The look of the film is quite different from Ridley Scott's masterpiece. Gone is the penumbral noir-ish lighting as Roger Deakins fills the screen with harsh colors and vibrant decay, garish illusions amid squalor. He doesn't recreate the world exactly; he reimagines it 30 years later. It's beautiful in its decomposition! Villeneuve also tells the story in a straightforward way utilizing only one flashback: K's childhood memory. This is shown because Villeneuve gives us the modern set-piece from the exact same angles so we know K is walking through a place he thinks he's already been. A Replicant with Deja vu! This also encourages the audience to believe what K is beginning to suspect which helps to surprise us later. The sound design and score is evocative of BLADE RUNNER utilizing many of the same effects and sound cues to set us firmly in Deckard’s world that is now 30 years older. There is no cross-cutting or convergent narrative just this tangible and violently transcendental journey. Editing and framing pays homage to the original without seeming like trickery. And yet, Villeneuve doesn't dazzle with style; he's quite reserved and a Replicant himself. It all comes together quite nicely. 
BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a masterful film and worthy successor to both Ridley Scott's seminal film and the spirit of Phillip K Dick's novel. This is a film that begins, like K, without a heart...before we discover that the Tin Man had one all along.
Final Grade: A+