The BackShop Journal

A Web Magazine of Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

Blade Runner 2049 (USA, 2017)

Thirty five years later, Blade Runner, in the words of Jonathan Rosenbaum "far and away the best SF movie of the '80s", has a sequel. And unlike most sequels, it is not a disappointment. The impression is that its creators have taken some of the best features of the 1982 classic and added enough original ideas to make this film into one of the most successful sci-fi movies after 2000.

Critics describe both the original and the sequel as neo-noir. No one can tell precisely what this classification means, but most agree it has mostly to do with the visual style: low-key lighting, striking use of light and shadow, and unusual camera angles with roots in German Expressionist cinematography. Used primarily to describe '40s and '50s Hollywood crime dramas, these "dark films" are also said to emphasise cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Their characters are often conflicted antiheroes, trapped in a difficult situation, and making choices out of desperation or according to their nihilistic worldview. So, one could say that this attitude came right out of the existential perspective, famously expressed in philosophy and literature of this period, which came as a result of atrocities in the two World Wars and the subsequent pervasive feeling of meaninglessness.

The description of the conflicted antihero is probably more true of Deckard (played by Harrison Ford), the main protagonist of the original film. While we know from the very start that Officer "Joe" K (played by Ryan Gosling), the hero of the sequel, is a replicant, or android, we are not sure about Deckard till the very end of the film, and then we only get a hint. The "Director's Cut", the 1992 cleaned-up version of the film that was also released in cinemas, renders the ambiguity even greater. One is certainly prone to an inner conflict when his principle job is to "retire" or slay his own kind, even if they are not human by definition, but Deckard does not seem to have moral dilemmas. His redemption comes in the form of love toward an especially clever and attractive female replicant, Rachel, and he terminates the last two fugitive androids only after they had killed their creator - the engineer and entrepreneur who designed them - in search of immortality.

K, on the other hand, is cynical and seemingly dispassionate until he realises his hopes of finding out he is human after all have disappeared. He is ready, however, for the last redemptive act. He saves Deckard's life and takes him to meet his daughter while he stays on the steps of the laboratory where the daughter works, and expires. Roy, the leading, charismatic run-away android from the first part memorably breathes his last shirtless on a roof in the rain, releasing a white dove he was holding, and Joe dies on the snow-covered steps looking upward as large, white snowflakes are covering his face and body. In the authors' commentary on our ethic motivations and behaviour, androids prove to be more human than humans.

The dystopian vision of the filthy, overpopulated, alienated and malevolent urban future continues in the sequel. The 1982 Blade Runner is one of the few SF movies from the last century in which futuristic technological inventions don't seem obsolete or ridiculous. The Babylonian mix of languages, the aggressiveness of sexual advertisement and the perpetually damp and misty air continue in Blade Runner 2049, with new additions of imaginative, dream-like virtual reality. And lastly, one would think that Vangelis' soundtrack from the original version could not be matched. Hans Zimmer's and Benjamin Wallfisch's part-ominous, part-nostalgia-provoking music sounds nevertheless like the perfect enhancer of the gloomy and tense atmosphere of the film.

Svetozar Postic

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