Let’s get this out of the way up front:
I’ve never seen Blade Runner all the way through. I was nine in 1982 and it wouldn’t have been my thing. (My thing that year was probably Grease 2 or Annie. I was taken to see E.T. and I didn’t like it much.)
Nor have I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? because the 1968 Philip K. Dick novel was not in my parent’s SF collection. That’s it. If my parents had a copy, I read it. If they didn’t, I missed out.
Despite a lack of access to the original source materials, I entered the theater on this Cheap Movie Night Tuesday with all kinds of geek cultural associations and expectations in my head. The book is an SF classic, and the movie was a “cult classic.” I’ve seen at least a dozen “critical scenes.”
I knew Harrison Ford was the good guy, kind-of…maybe not…and had a confused identity. There was something about a twist ending where he’s an android too. The movie is bloody and violent, and poor Darryl Hannah has disaster makeup the whole time. Etienne Navarre, one of my favorite characters from Ladyhawke, was scary in it. (Sorry Rutger Hauer, but you were nobody to me until you worked with Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick. NOTE: SEE GREASE 2 ABOVE)
We had an hour between when we finished our burgers and the lights went down, so my husband filled me in on the basics. A policeman is supposed to hunt down androids and “retire” them, but falls in love with one and finds out he is one himself. Okay, that’s cool.
Turns out the first thing the film itself did was catch-me-up on the premise. In just three paragraphs, the prior film and story were summarized. Helpful!
After that, the film was pretty much a moving art gallery. An interesting art gallery. An art gallery with really cool stuff in it, that tried very hard to evoke emotional responses in me. But just a gallery of images, alluding to possible stories, possible relationships, but no strong, thorough threads of meaning.
If you want to get a coherent story from Bladerunner 2049, you are going to have to take everything thrown up on a screen in front of you and make one yourself. Use your own imagination. An enjoyable exercise. I just don’t want you to expect a movie. The entertainment value will be up to you, and you alone. (Or read the synopsis)
I liked what I will call the “tree” mystery. As a genre reader (if not a hardcore one), the flying car landing in the desolate landscape, near a dead tree clearly kept upright with cables was immediately relevant to me. “I wonder why that tree is kept standing?” I thought.
Officer K, the hero, played by Ryan Gosling, saunters past. Hey, what about the tree?Then comes back to the tree before leaving. And then scans the tree. Because: MYSTERY TREE!
Thus begins a pretty simplistic search for a mythological “born” android, a plot device that makes no sense from the first. Even after it is “resolved,” it makes just as little sense at the end.
The good guys and the bad guys are very clear-cut in this movie. Some of the 2 hours and 43 minutes of scenery you will watch as a moviegoer will give you small character arcs, themes, and threads of action. There are killings, births, and action sequences, but there’s really nothing movie plot-like to resolve. The hero goes places. Stuff happens.
I don’t do drugs, but I bet this movie would be good on drugs. Try not to think too hard. Let it just flow over you. Oh, the scenery! The meaningful…yet thematically unclear…yellow, watery lighting! Was it supposed to evoke the evil lair as amniotic sac? As a bladder, cleansing 2049 society of humankind in favor of androids once and for all? Or simply “golden” because the big evil guy is driven solely by gold? You decide!
The casual evil in the name of…well, I’m not sure why all the evil guys were evil, but there was EVIL! Surrounded by yellow!
Sometimes evil wore white and had its nails done (while spying on the hero of course). Sometimes the “good” A.I. heroine even wore yellow, just to remind us that it was possible she couldn’t be trusted.
I did find it touching that the android, Officer K, didn’t like “real” girls. The stereotype would have been for him to be all drooly over “the other,” so I’m glad the film didn’t go there. Better to stick with your own kind. (Stick pun completely intended for those who have seen the film.)
Gosling is set up as an android capable of a normal range of emotions and desires, though of course, being an officer, he has to keep his feelings shunted away to do his job. Because he is Ryan Gosling. Can’t waste that kind of I’m secretly tortured and deep sex-symbol on a movie where he doesn’t get a sexy scene or three.
So Officer K gets sexy with his A.I. girlfriend, and later with his A.I. girlfriend holographing over a willing, double-agent, sex worker. And I felt like his boss, played by the amazing Robin Wright, was even considering the ethics of getting sexy with her android employee. Instead, she got drunk and asked him about his childhood. In a sexy way. Whatever you need in order to blow off some steam, honey.
Officer K soon becomes “Joe” to the A.I. who loves him, and thinks he deserves a real name. It’s sweet! And because this movie has to make sense to the current generation, several lines refer to the fact that the androids all have a Pinocchio complex: wanting to be “real” boys and girls. Hoping against hope that they might be the one true “born” android. Because hope is what makes them human. Or not. That’s ambiguous. Maybe memories make you human? Again, not clear. But the point is that though any message or outcome of this film is unclear, that shouldn’t matter, because it was PRETTY.
The art design and production values were stunning. I believed that these characters were running around in a completely morally ambiguous world, living their emotionally ambiguous lives. The ones who had an agenda were believably committed. Much of the scenery was so beautiful that I totally wanted to GO to all those 2049 places. Briefly. For a visit. And with a unit of disposable stormtroopers, so I could be assured of escape. Rough place, 2049.