What does it mean to be human? Auteur Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario) answers this and other existential questions in the mind-blowing sci-fi thriller ‘Blade Runner 2049.’ This spectacular follow-up to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic is a near-perfect film that is a detective story shrouded in mythology. The story is set 30 years into the future. Villeneuve has masterfully turned this deceptively simple detective neo-noir into a deeply philosophical journey about identity, memory, evolution and revolution. ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is one of the most cerebral films to come out of Hollywood in a long time. Without revealing any spoilers, lets dive into some of the meaning behind this masterwork.
Our hero is Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant who works for LAPD. His job is to hunt down and “retire” older-model replicants that pose a threat to the new world order. In the opening scene, he tracks down a replicant trying to eke out a living as a worm farmer. It’s what he finds there that leads him to solve the mystery of his own past and the history of the replicants. As you have seen in the trailers, he eventually meets up with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). Despite the fact he’s one himself, K is a newer model replicant that always obeys his lieutenant boss (Robin Wright). K has no friends or family. He lives in a cell-like apartment where his only real companion is Joi (Ana de Armas), a holographic girlfriend. Although she is artificially created, K’s love for her is real making their relationship the most heartwarming in the film.
Gosling clearly carries this movie on his shoulders and it is by far the best performance of his career. The complexity that he brings to his character is incredible. Even though he is a replicant, he has been imbedded with memories. The main plot point of the story is that K’s childhood memories might be real. That’s the clever twist of ‘Blade Runner 2049.’ The character that is a robot is questioning whether he is really human. All that needs to be said here is that you need to pay close attention to a MacGuffin in the film. Remember the Rosebud sled in ‘Citizen Kane?’ Explaining anything further would spoil it for you. Needless to say, the MacGuffin introduced is quite savvy. Besides Gosling’s stellar performance, there is a strong female cast. The stand out is Cuban actress Ana de Armas as Joi who plays Gosling’s holographic girlfriend. Other notable performances are from Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, Canadian actress Mackenzie Davis as Mariette and House of Card’s Robin Wright.
Do replicants deserve to be treated like humans? It’s the age-old debate between humans versus machines. The irony is that in some respects the replicants act more human than their cold creators. Billionaire CEO Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) took over Tyrell Corporation and makes the next generation replicants. His innovations at creating an obedient workforce solved global famine. He brags, “I make good angels.” Essentially replicants are mass-produced slave labor for the privileged class. Is Officer K an important piece to the puzzle or just another cog in the wheel? He certainly wishes to have a higher purpose than to just serve mankind as a Blade Runner. We see signs of a slave labor society living off of discarded electronic circuit boards in a huge junkyard of scrap metal. K does his job without complaint in a cold dystopian world but are his memories implanted or does he really have a soul?
The visually stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins perfectly captures a decadent futuristic metropolis. It’s a bleak cityscape from the rain soaked neon skyline of Los Angeles to the foggy grayed out wastelands of California. . If the 13 time Oscar-nominated Deakins, doesn’t take home the Oscar for ‘Blade Runner 2049,’ the Academy needs their head examined. The moody soundtrack by Hans Zimmer also adds to the magnificence of the film. It is one of those films that you can view several times and still come away with something new. Villeneuve has created a beautiful and terrifying world that stands alone as a cinematic work of art. Put ‘Blade Runner 2049’ on your must-see list.