John Pistelli

writer

A Note on Blade Runner 2049

[I posted this to Tumblr a few days ago and didn’t post it here because it doesn’t quite meet the more essay-like standards I’d prefer to maintain on this site. But I do think I have two different audiences on the two different platforms, so why not share with both?]

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A good, thought-provoking short essay by Christian Lorentzen.

I disagree with his interpretation of Blade Runner 2049, though, which he sees as schmaltzy and simplistic. I certainly had problems with it—too slow; too lugubrious; too much spectacle and not enough story; at times while watching it I worried that “2049” might designate not the year the film was set but rather its running time, whether in minutes or hours I wasn’t sure—yet I thought in the end it was intelligent, thoroughly ironic and self-critical, like the ouroboros or Möbius strip of a novel it persistently references, Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

To wit, with spoilers: the replicant liberationists’ belief that biological reproduction will save them is undermined by Wallace’s plan to use their reproductive capacity to breed them as chattel; the AI porn product Joi is looked down on by the replicants and told she is herself emptier than she thinks by the replicant sex worker Mariette, thus showing oppression to be a universal cycle wherein all members of a society aim their contempt down the social scale; the film subverts its own ethical status—any film is an industrial product constructed in inegalitarian conditions—with its figuration of the murderous Wallace as the likeliest surrogate for the filmmakers; even the utopian possibility that the replicant daughter Ana Stelline, living in isolation with Galatians Syndrome (i.e., Christianity), might be the true artist of the future, with her beautiful sensibility and devotion, is undercut by her own complicity in the system of enslaving replicants as well as her literal unworldliness; finally, the film’s ostensible protagonist, K or Joe (or, to give Kafka his due, Josef K) is shown to be a hollow hero, ludicrous in his self-aggrandizing belief that he is the chosen one, until he sacrifices himself at the conclusion to save Deckard and bring him to Ana. The most compelling character in the movie is its villainess, Wallace’s replicant assassin Luv, who weeps as she carries out her appalling duties not at all unlike Ishiguro’s own Kathy H.

No, Blade Runner 2049 is scrupulous in its ethical design, properly ironic and properly tragic as a serious work of narrative art needs to be. Still too long though, and overly focused on the least interesting of its characters, as dictated, ironically, by economic demands rather than aesthetic ones. Probably more a noble failure than a masterpiece. I prefer Ridley Scott’s more playfully nihilistic, if nowhere near as visually arresting, Alien: Covenant: just as Lorentzen compares BR 2049 to Ishiguro’s fiction, so I compared Covenant to César Aira’s fiction earlier this year. It answers the question Lorentzen asks at the end of his essay, wishing for an alternative to the exhausted humanism of 2049:

What if, once they arrive, clones or replicants or superior artificially intelligent beings don’t want to kill us or fuck us or even be like us? What if they don’t find us interesting at all?

 

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