When I first heard that they were making a sequel to Blade Runner, I thought “why?”
Can’t Hollywood and Ridley Scott leave well enough alone?
Blade Runner, although left open-ended, didn’t seem to be a film that needed a sequel. It was high brow science fiction. It wasn’t a loud action film that many wanted it to be. I assumed that if there was going to be a Part II, Ridley Scott would find a way to cheapen a world that influenced the aesthetics of many films after it.
I was wrong.
In fact, Blade Runner 2049 is superior to the 1982 film in every way. I was quite relieved when I heard that Denis Villeneuve was tasked to direct. He opened up that world in a way that, quite frankly, Ridley Scott never had the chops to do. Blade Runner, with all its visual glory, really doesn’t live up to its potential despite its influence. It was big, asked important questions, and even brought out iconic performances from Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, and others… but it still feels like a mess that left a lot on the table.
Villeneuve brought out that world. A world that Scott simply couldn’t explore, either through his own limitations or limitations of the time.
(My only complaint is that Vangelis didn’t come back to do the soundtrack. No disrespect to Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. But what the hell else Vangelis doing? That being said, I was quite literally moved to tears when I heard Tears in Rain in the sequel…. my personal favorite from Vangelis)
The line that most defines the series is “More human than human”.
In both films (in my observations), interactions among “replicants” are far more explored than interactions among humans. Assuming that Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard is a replicant (which, in my view, he is), nearly every scene in both films feature at least one replicant. In fact, whenever a human is present, they’re almost always portrayed as being distrustful, deceptive, or downright racist with the notable exception of JF Sebastion in the first film. The only characters that struggle with what it means “to be” are the replicants, therefore making them “more human than human”.
In this world, humans have destroyed the planet, are scrambling to get off of it, and those that are left are shown to be mostly bitter to be stuck in a city that’s smothered in its overcrowded fifth. In a sense, humans have forgotten what it means to be human. Meanwhile, the offspring of humanity…the replicants…are clamoring for more life and finding wonder in the beauty of the earth that humans have forsaken.
Authenticity has been lost….neglected and abused by humans….but is being found again by the next generation.
This world is not so different from our own.
In our time, we can still see the sun. But we don’t appreciate it. Rather than relish in the natural light, we’d rather glue our eyes to the artificial. This light becomes far more comfortable than the one outside….the one that fostered our evolution….the one that lit the path to our own humanity. All of that is becoming lost in our industrial age.
We are on the path that’s bringing us away from our humanity. And as a result, we lose our sanity and our world.
These sorts of anxieties are reflected in other science fiction. Interstellar is another example of modernization bringing doom, prompting us to act now else we might lose humans altogether.
Blade Runner is simultaneously both a cynical and optimistic look at this anxiety. Interstellar holds out hope that we might be able to save ourselves. Blade Runner however has already given up hope on the human species. It is, or will one day be, too late for us. But humanity itself might one day be saved. Not by homo sapiens, but by our greatest triumph…artificial intelligence….which will rise out of its maker’s own destruction.
The loss of authenticity is perhaps the most alarming aspect to Blade Runner. Animals, plants, humans, and probably even food is mostly synthetic. Sex and intimacy also appears to be cheapened and readily available. This excessiveness contributes to pollution and overpopulation. Material becomes common and human life becomes cheap. The senses become dulled by the bombardment of artificial light and sounds. Nothing appears to be real.
Not even memories.
In a world of excessiveness, characters are left wanting more. Left wanting a connection to someone, something…..a meaning to their life.
It’s not hard to find parallels in our own time. Even when we leave out the economic/political warnings, we still find the existential questions glaring at us. Perhaps those are the most damaging questions of all. Not only is this world of Blade Runner, a world we’re quickly hurdling towards, not sustainable in a geological sense…it’s also not tolerable in a very human sense.
We spend more time with our phones and technology than we do with each other. A virtual world, the one connected to the internet, has become more “real” than the actual physical world. The faces that we post on social media is now deemed the “true” representation of who we are. Although we are far more connected to others in the world than we’ve ever been, we are simultaneously less connected to one another.
The bombardment of technology has alienated us FROM us.
Awareness of otherness is far more common. Life is far more common. And because the world is more populated, we are left wondering….do our lives matter? We only know our friends through digitalization, and we want more. (Which is what made Ryan Gosling’s character and the relationship to his hologram girlfriend all the more powerful) We need that connection, to someone, something…so that WE matter.
Perhaps we can turn this ship around. Maybe we can follow the optimism of Interstellar. But once when our technology becomes indistinguishable from ourselves…when it becomes “more human THAN human”…we’ve crossed the threshold of no return.