I knew every line to Roy Batty’s final monologue before I had a favorite song, a best friend or even a graduation certificate from third grade. I have these distinct memories of my father and I driving together on sun-soaked afternoons, listening to the Vangelis soundtrack from Blade Runner, and having my mind soaked in the awe of that score. These memories define a part of my childhood for me; a permanent recollection from an impermanent source, that of time.
These two things, memory and time as a extension of humanity, define Blade Runner for me. They work their way into every part of the film: the rain-soaked future noir of the buildings, the washing of synths and the yearning in every gaze. It would have been easy to conflate and confuse these themes and whittle them down to their most banal level, nostalgia, in crafting a sequel to Blade Runner; I am elated to say that Blade Runner 2049 subverts and surpasses this expectation in nearly every way, as Director Denis Villeneuve pulls together a science fiction masterpiece that can plant itself firmly next to the original.
Without spoiling anything, Blade Runner 2049 follows Ryan Gosling as Officer K, a replicant police officer of the titular distinction tasked with finding a specific, mysterious, individual potentially tied to his murky past. K is a new model replicant, one designed to follow orders without pause or question and as he progresses throughout his journey, bullet holes and all, as his greater core beneath his synthetic structure is also exposed to the audience.
In a series of stark, tense interrogation sequences, K is forced to prove his lack of humanity by answering a series of bizarre questions designed to illicit a reaction. Gosling does what he does best: repressing the scattered tremors of an intense, emotional reaction everywhere in his body except for his eyes. Gosling’s performance is just one of the perfect cogs in the machine of the film.
There’s a love scene between K, his holographic wife (Ana de Armas) and a surrogate (Mackenzie Davis) that so beautifully illustrates the faint power of intimacy breaking through the future. Holographic hands clasp desperately over flesh, three are two and two are one.
Roger Deakins’ cinematography is a visual astonishment, moving with purpose and reason, guiding the viewer throughout the cracks in the wall separating technology and humanity. Deakins shows the alienation present in Blade Runner’s L.A. from a bird’s eye view, almost like a partially shaved topographic map, and then explores the dense, caustic bustle of future Los Angeles. Time and memory portray themselves most vividly through Deakins’ camerawork and Villeneuve’s direction; one is reminded of the portrayal of paranoia and loneliness present in the original and how little has changed in both the film and in the greater context of our lives.
Poignant images are present throughout Blade Runner 2049 and are allowed by the story to be in service of the greater plot/message at hand (instead of dumped haphazardly). In this fashion, K’s journey of meaning, memory and self-discovery becomes our own. I have never been so aware of my phone’s weight than I was during the nearly three-hour runtime of the film. My device, designed to connect, has never made me feel anything close to what is depicted through Blade Runner 2049. If the original film’s warmth beneath the cold metropolitan’s structure came from Deckard’s love for Rachel, Blade Runner 2049 extends this ethos to a love and understanding of the self in the greater context of others. In this, Villeneuve makes the most important choice for the film.
Blade Runner 2049 is not a sequel that remakes the original for the glow of nostalgia, but rather as a response to Roy Batty’s final famous last words. If time has the power to render every structure and memory as null, then here are the moments that define humanity; here are the moments that we hope to remember.
Justin Micallef (@justinrmicallef) is a critic who loves nothing ironically. Find his work at The Outhousers, Loser City, Detroit Music Magazine and your nearest bathroom stall.