Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049
(This review is spoiler-free.)
Blade Runner 2049 is an adult film, but not because of sex scenes or violence. The sci-fi action would probably earn a PG 13. Nudity of “replicants” (the film’s word for androids) abounds, as does nudity in digital advertisements. Yet it does so in a manner that should repulse rather than titillate. Running almost 3 hours long at a fairly slow pace, Blade Runner 2049 immerses audiences in urgent questions about modern society and timeless ones about what gives human life meaning.
As a stand-alone film, it captivated the two people who watched it with me, even though they had not seen the first one. They did leave the movie a bit confused though, wishing they had seen the original first. In 1982, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner did not face the modern dependence on non-stop action, jokes, and explosions. Villeneuve’s sequel continued in the pace of the original, masterfully expanding on the first film’s eerie soundtrack and ambiance. Somewhere near the one-hour mark, it felt too slowly paced; but perhaps only because I thought I knew where the film was going. Knowing now how it ends, I expect to revel in even that part of the film when I see it again; and I will definitely experience this one again. It is a film to experience and think through, not simply to watch as mindless entertainment.
Blade Runner 2049 earned an R rating with an onslaught of digital and robotic nudity that ought to evoke a meaningful dissection of the modern pornography crisis, a crisis which gravely threatens real relationships and the core of what it means to live humanly. When women become objects of consumption, men act on a sub human and animal level. Every instance of nudity in both Blade Runner movies depicts something that looks human, but is fabricated. In 2049, sexual interaction only occurs behind nearly opaque glass and only on one occasion, leaving the viewer wondering if it is really happening, or if it’s just another advertisement to seduce potential buyers into a storefront business that offers androids as prostitutes.
Only once in the movie is there an allusion to a meaningful sexual encounter. The director then shows no nudity. Even their kiss is obscured (unlike the first film), and there is no intimacy scene beyond the kiss. If the films had wanted to actually sell eroticism, they would have done so at the most opportune moments between the respective protagonists in each movie and their true loves. The decision to remove the camera from the most intimate scenes powerfully invites the viewer to recognize the overt sex industries in each film as sub-human, a more subtle theme of the original than its sequel.
The main protagonist of 2049 gets accused of preferring his digital image of a woman over what one character calls “real,” an android prostitute. In another scene, the film uses a novel sci-fi invention to consider how a fabricated fantasy of a woman can debilitate the pornography consumer. The film also presents Las Vegas as a ridiculous pretend-land, hopelessly offering gigantic images of “women” for purchase and as décor. Blade Runner 2049 asks what love is (as did the original), and blatantly rejects the objectification of women by presenting that objectification in hyperbole.
QUESTION OF LIFE’S MEANING
Speaking of love, Blade Runner 2049 states at a climactic moment that dying for the right cause is the most human thing that anyone can do. Christianity claims that dying for humanity is divine. Almost every character subtly offers their own definition of what it means to truly live, and the film refrains from taking sides in that debate. One character claims “I am the best,” while triumphing physically over her peers. Another points to intellect, telling her smarter peer that she’s been inside her mind, and that it did not impress her.
Since androids abound in both Blade Runner films, the contemplation of God as life’s designer and creator runs rampant, with characters in both films openly calling replicant-designers “God.” 2049 adds to the first film the thought that being wanted by one’s creator makes life most meaningful. Unsurprisingly for modern movies however, the character who quotes Scripture in 2049 is an evil lunatic.
Blade Runner 2049, like the first film, does not sell to packed audiences. It moves at a methodical pace that invites the viewer to think deeply. This sequel expands so well on the original, that we are tempted to think it had been planned all along. What does it mean to be human? What is love? What defines a life worth living? What do the sex industry and other consumer industries really sell, and how do they detract from human life? Who can liberate me from the pointless and robotic existence, which society has forced on me?
The sequel is bleak, but less so than the original. It portrays huge questions like the original did and better than the original, yet without definitively answering any of them. More so than most popcorn flicks, it impressively demands multiple viewings and important conversations.