Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049 is an artistic triumph, but perhaps a commercial flop. Its financial success is riding on hopes of a positive international response, as in the USA it has attracted far from the record crowds that punters had envisioned. The movie which cost more than $150 million to make is visually stunning, but far from a crowd-pleaser.
Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to 1982’s cult classic Blade Runner. The story centres around K (Ryan Gosling) who uncovers the possibility that a “replicant” (human-like robot) may have conceived a child. This development threatens a world in which people and robots co-exist due to the former’s ability to control the latter. K is tasked with eliminating any evidence associated with the replicant. Harrison Ford reprises his role as Rick Deckard from the original.
When I went to see the movie with Amit, who hadn’t seen the first movie, we had simultaneously different and varied reactions to the movie. We were both somewhat stumped by how to assess it, given how long and unwieldy the whole saga is. However when we did start talking, we had rather different responses; Amit commented on how slow and long the movie was, while I commented on how visually beautiful it was. While he agreed, Amit said that he wasn’t convinced; meanwhile I agreed that it was plodding and overlong, but I found myself reluctant to criticise the film. It seemed we had very similar experiences, but reacted in different ways to the same emotions.
I got to thinking about why we could feel so differently about something on which we largely agreed. My first reaction was to consider the fact that Amit hadn’t seen the first Blade Runner, whereas I studied it in depth (and loved it) as part of a unit on dystopian fiction in high school English classes. I approached the original film as part of a comparative text analysis with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; I watched it to analyse the way that the director, Ridley Scott, imagined a dark, world of dehumanised people living a mundane, spiritually eviscerated existence. I didn’t approach the Blade Runner 2049 in the same way, but once I settled into the rhythm of the film, it all came flooding back; the cold, bleak cityscapes, the moody, aggressive-yet-unemotional social interactions, the completely stripped-back, despairing dehumanisation of the characters. And I understood the film.
Therefore, part of the difference in our responses must come from expectation. To understand Blade Runner 2049, I feel that one must see and understand the original Blade Runner. Such is the cultish fan-based adoration surrounding the original film that its difficult to separate hard truth from rose-tinted nostalgia. To cut through the hype, let’s be clear: the original Blade Runner, as one reviewer has said, was a “two hour commercial flop in which not very much happens”. It was visually beautiful, artistically revolutionary, laden with meaning, but it was also slow, painstakingly detailed, based around a rather simple central story line, and definitely not a quintessential sci-fi action movie. The thrills came not from a fast-paced plot or explosions or car chases; they came from being allowed into Ridley Scott’s imagination, into a world so visionary it drew you in, and stayed with you long after you had left the cinema.
And Blade Runner 2049 is exactly the same. Visually impressive? Yes. A cultural monolith? Possibly, time will tell. An action film? Hardly. Slow? Yes. It’s dark and brooding, artistic, brutal, visionary. There are plenty of elegant, indulgently gratuitous scenes where the star is not the actor, but rather the setting and framing. It’s a complex, slow burn; it it builds subliminally and then leaves you nowhere. That is sure to disappoint many cinema-goers, but the more I think about 1982’s Blade Runner, I think that’s exactly the point.
Like the original Blade Runner, those who spend time thinking about it are rewarded, as there is more to it than meets the eye. When I left the cinema and was chatting with Amit, I wasn’t sure if I really liked the new instalment, but six days after seeing the film, it has somehow stayed with me. And the more I think about it, the more I love it.