MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto.
The future was bleak in 1982’s Blade Runner. It was an overpopulated and continually overcast 2019 America in which Rick Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) job was to track down and destroy androids (aka “replicants”) who had gone rogue. These lifelike creations were intended to aid humanity as slaves but were instead rebelling against their creators. It was implied that this resistance was fueled by the replicants’ growing awareness of their own mortality. It was a simple plot that still harvested much food for thought. And – alas – it was the prototype for dozens of films that followed that would depict a dystopian future.
Blade Runner 2049 moves the clock ahead thirty years and is that rare sequel that advances and expands the ideas of the first film while creating a somewhat different viewing experience. The film begins with a scene that mirrors the opening scene in the first film. Officer K (Gosling) is interrogating Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), a replicant who is trying to lead a peaceful life as an eco-farmer. There is a mystery about this farm that may possibly include a miracle; it most certainly will make things more complicated for K.
The world is both a brighter and a darker place than before. The current generation of replicants are programmed to be a positive presence in the world. The government agency that sends K out on his recovery missions appears to be beneficent, but Niender Wallace (Leto), creator of the replicants, is no more trustworthy than those who came before him. It’s hard to be a god.
As K becomes involved in his detective work, he struggles with his own identity. He has memories of an orphanage and is uncertain about his own origins. Can his memories be trusted or were they implanted into his consciousness? Although he is living in a world that offers hedonistic escape through drugs and prostitution, his most intimate and significant relationship is with Joi, a hologram companion (Ana de Armas).
One of the key mysteries for the audience in the first film was whether or not Rick Deckard was a human or a replicant. In Blade Runner 2049, it becomes personal. The primary quest for K is discovering the answer to this question for himself.
How much of your identity can you claim to be the “real” you? Are you a product of your environment? Are your viewpoints essentially given to you through family, church, or education? Since everything you know about the world is filtered through your senses and experienced on a personal level, can you trust that your awareness has not been tampered with? It is no surprise that the first question asked by Satan in the garden is one that doubts the trustworthiness of the Creator (“Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” – Genesis 3:1) It is a trustworthy relationship with God that creates a life of positive possibilities. In many ways, it is the moment after God casts Adam and Eve out of the garden – the moment when God leaves alongside of them – when love and forgiveness begins to fully engage humanity.
There are many surprises and moments of wonder in Blade Runner 2049, but you will need to be patient with it – it’s 2 hours and 45 minutes long. Although it is leisurely paced, it is thoughtful and provocative and one of the best science fiction films of this decade (along with Villeneuve’s remarkable Arrival from last year).
Three halos: An existential meditation in the guise of a science fiction film.
Three pitchforks: Scenes of nude replicants (which just happen to resemble naked people), brief strong swearing, violence, despair, duplicity.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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