This movie is two hours and forty-four minutes long. I needed the bathroom for the final ninety minutes, but could simply not leave my seat.
Welcome to Earth, à la 2049. Consumption has left the planet a shadow of its former self, ecosystems having been annihilated en masse. What grim, leftover placenta remains is painted over by high-tech bread-and-circuses, no more so than the dreadfully overpopulated Greater Los Angeles, it a veritable womb of existential despair.
Meet K, the Blade Runner. Charged with eliminating replicants (the same android breed from the original film), he stumbles across a secret that threatens to unravel the fabric of society. Niander Wallace, the industrialist whose mastery of synthetic farming has made him a messianic figure (as well as the richest, most powerful being alive), intends to use this revelation for his own purposes.
Cinematography that leaves you silently weeping from the opening frame. The scope of a world-gone-to-ruin, tragic in the sense that it isn’t all that unfeasible. The Zimmer/Wallfisch soundtrack, it the shadow of K’s heartbeat as he sets down a dark, twisting road. Blade Runner 2049 registers as more an event than a film, its carefully-woven tale akin to a Joseph Conrad-like voyage into the soul. Director Denis Villeneuve has taken all Ridley Scott did with the original and expanded upon it, most notably in the philosophical issues it raises.
What am I?
This question is at the heart of the film. Identity, as per K’s world, as well as our own reflective reality. Via the protagonist’s wild, varied dealings in a world gone-to-ruin, we’re offered an endoscopic view into our own zeitgeist’s fight-for-its-soul, spotlighting isolation, apathy, and empathic numbness as central tenets. Blade Runner 2049 somehow manages to carry this insurmountable load moment-through-moment, and through a combination of futuristic oddness and character-driven vulnerability, the audience cannot help but become entangled in the wonder of what they’re viewing.
As per the film’s performances, Ryan Gosling as K does his rising star no harm. He’s perfectly cast as 2049’s Blade Runner, a bundle of unsmiling-yet-endearing complexity that resonates with all our inner anxieties. His predecessor (Harrison Ford as Deckard) offers an acting masterclass, his own insecurities and grievances almost palpable such is the strength of his performance. Jared Leto as the megalomaniac Niander Wallace resonates with farcical-yet-terrifying aplomb, and his assistant Luv (played by Sylvia Hoeks) is a nightmarishly brutal force of nature. K’s ‘girlfriend’ Joi (Ana de Armas) acts as a metaphorical lament for all that’s been lost, and the supporting cast adds only value and nuance to an expertly-devised narrative.
Yet the real star of the show is not flesh and bone, nor is it digitally soulless. Epistemology… please take a bow. While K and Niander Wallace do justice to the archetypal manifestations of good and evil, it’s the meta-forces of knowing and not knowing that drive the story so unremittingly into the heart of the viewer. To be constantly left guessing as to what constitutes reality is a challenge the film does not let up on, which in turn forms the movie’s dark undercurrent from which slivers of light subsequently shine through.
Speaking of light, another aspect Blade Runner 2049 excels in is scope. How the production team crafted something so concurrently pioneering, retro, sensitive and damning is beyond admirable, and the resulting humanity that ekes through its masterfully-rendered CGI world is close-on miraculous. I can assume with reasonable confidence they were fully cognizant of their skills, as the concept of miracles is central to the story. Yet to have balanced things so skillfully, to have attempted (and succeeded) at running along a blade with such all-encompassing intensity, and at the same time having heralded our wonderful, mutilated humanity in spite of the nightmarish neo-future we willfully created… genius.
As mentioned above, Blade Runner 2049 is more an event than a film. I cried as the final credits rolled, not because I was utterly desperate for the bathroom, but because we as a species are able to produce such unimaginably insightful works of art while at the same time commit atrocities of the gravest, most depraved sort, both measures of which contrast against each other throughout the film. Blade Runner 2049 is a cultural-and-film watershed, an experience that lives with you long after you exit the movie theater. It’s as close to a complete work of art as I can imagine, and should be seen by anyone dreaming of a world somewhat more… human.