Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the 1982 cult classic teaches us of the dangers we face as we continue to mass produce unnecessary technology.
“What do you mean, you’ve never seen Blade Runner?” asks Alex Turner, in the opening song of Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquillity Base Hotel and Casino (2018); such is the status of Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic. For me, however, and for a legion of sci-fi lovers and cinephiles, the real deal is the sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (one of the only examples I can think up of a Hollywood movie which excels in every single one of its features). The film is by all accounts a fiercely visionary tale of ethics, honour, and importantly – as captured in its title — the future.
In sci-fi cinema, we tend to see two different types of depictions of the future, which function as polar opposites: 1) Wildly futuristic, technologically advanced societies OR 2) Deeply regressed societies decayed by technology.
In my opinion, the latter type (an excellent example being Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, which will be discussed later in this series) is far more accurate and harrowing, containing the potential for much more evaluative insight with relation to the climate crisis, capitalism and the course Planet Earth may soon take. Yet the former is the stomping ground for the expression of a peculiar kind of visceral beauty, one that works seductively well on the big screen. And of the former type of sci-fi film, the undisputed king is Denis Villeneuve’s (Dune, Arrival, Prisoners) 2017 magnum opus.
“What do you mean, you’ve never seen Blade Runner?”
In Blade Runner 2049, we are introduced to K (Ryan Gosling, in his magnum opus also), a deeply isolated individual in a society which thrives off the isolation of its subjects. From the get-go, we see a miserably horrid world, predicated on the mass reproduction of unnecessary technology that has clearly been the cause of ruin. The exteriors are decaying and always wet, and the interiors are either wildly advanced aesthetically — think TikTok reel style state-of-the-art ultra-modern show homes — or rundown chicken coops but for humans, similar to those images of overcrowded skyscraper-living-quarters in Hong Kong. Every scene is predicated on this; the duality between rich and poor alongside the unity of global destruction.
The Blade Runner world is one in which the production of technology has run amok. Sci-fi has often played around with the danger of artificial intelligence becoming more intelligent than humans and thus destroying us all. But what happens when the systems that underpin technological production (see Ted Kaczynski’s — aka the Unabomber — 1996 paper Industrial Society and Its Future), the structural drives and motivations within capitalism and the political need to conquer and steal destroy us anyway without the involvement of higher intelligence? This is the world Blade Runner 2049 is presenting to us.
The film is ultimately the story of K’s attempt to prove his own humanity in a world that has become so irredeemably inhumane. How strange, that in the middle of the most ‘un-human’ world shown on screen lies the most telling story of humanity. On second thought, maybe it’s not so strange after all…