Blade Runner 2049, its biggest problem

Raving reviews: it was hallucinating, buzzing with questions, grim, overwhelming.

The situation during my first time: left of me a couple of guys who had been playing with their phones throughout most of the movie, right of me snoring sounds. This summed about up what I thought: boring.

Articles popped up about all the reasons why it didn’t do so well at the box-office; the psychological, the socio-economic, the cultural, Trump. One thing was clear: it had to do with the public, the public had problems. Because the movie was a master piece! Okay, okay, maybe the portrayal of women, maybe, #metoo etc, but still, a future classic!

So last week I went to see it again. You know, first times, they can be bad.

Again phones lighting up.
Again snores.
Again pained sighs.
And rightly so.

The Guardian published an article about the future of the smart sci-fi blockbuster, because Blade Runner 2049 couldn’t provide a box-office success. The problem: Blade Runner 2049 is not smart sci-fi. Quoting Nabokov’s Pale Fire and naming a character the same as the protagonist in Kafka’s The Trial doesn’t make it smart. It could provide subtext and hints for further interpretation, but that would work better if the film had a good story to begin with. Now it is more like someone instagrammed their copy of Ada with #Nabokov, #deep, #thoughts, #iPhoneX.

The story

Replicant K is a model made for putting down badly functioning older models. We meet K on a mission to kill replicant Sapper Morton. Sapper asks K: how does it feel do put your own kind down? And, more mysteriously: you can only do this because you have never seen a miracle. Outside K finds buried remains of a female replicant, and these remains show signs of childbirth.

The miracle.

K’s boss Joshi insta panics. If this comes out, there will be war! Nobody can ever know!

Apparently to be born gives you an extra essence named soul. A soul makes you special. (K would never kill someone with a soul.)

And this is the problem of the story: the only difference between humans and replicants is the soul.

And this soul does nothing to actually make you notice a difference between humans and replicants. As Joshi says to K: you have been doing great without one.

And indeed, the replicants seem to be exactly like humans. They are self-aware, have bodies that can be hurt, emotions, experiences, cells (cells interlinked, interlinked), memories (real ones from since they are activated, fake ones from before), they can make jokes, they eat, drink and they have a sex drive. (Although, to be fair, a high one: K. has a ‘threesome’ with his hologrammed partner Joi and replicant Mariette, while he is on the run for his live and busy changing the world’s history, because hey, a threesome!)

The replicants also live in a similar manner as humans do; they have jobs, houses, and entertainment systems. Joshi treats K as an employee, not as her property. At one point she seems to be in the mood to sleep with him, but she doesn’t go: ‘K, put that pleasure module that I bought to work, baby!’ She simply leaves when he doesn’t respond to her avances.

Are replicants exactly like humans, but engineered for certain qualities? Similar to how we breed dogs for certain qualities?

We can’t be sure, because we don’t learn much about them.

We do see the birth of a replicant. A new model drops from a plastic bag to the ground, felt up by replicant maker Niander Wallace. It looks like he is molding clay, shaping her like he wants. But, the scene concludes with Wallace throwing a tantrum, because she can’t make babies.

Blade Runner 2049‘s starts with an answer: the soul is the difference between humans and replicants. In the movie a soul is something that u cannot see, nor notice. It is a given. A belief. This soul premisse causes further questions to have no real urgency. The original Blade Runner doesn’t start with answers, nor for example the series Westworld. Westworld examines the difference between androids and human, and the memories and self-awareness of the androids open up a world of questions, about them and about us.

To start with an answer is not smart. Without existential questions to entertain your mind, the slow scenes in Bladerunner are beautiful but empty. Even the action feels empty at times.

It could work as a series, because Bladerunner does have a lot of likeable and promising characters that deserve their own storylines (Luv, Joi, Joshi, Mariette, Niander, Rachel, the file clerk, Decker, Joe, I like them all). The pilot could be about the religious component that was put in in all replicants since the blackout, that made them believe in the supremacy of the soul and the miracle of childbirth, as a safeguard to Asimov’s law.

Would make Niander Wallace more understandable and interesting too.


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