This article contains spoilers
In 1982, “Blade Runner” gave us a future where the nature of what makes us human was in question. Over thirty years later, “Blade Runner 2049,” directed by Denis Villeneuve, has ushered in a new vision of dystopia. It is the rare sequel worth seeing that expands upon the themes of the original.
The film takes place in Los Angeles in 2049, where a new generation of replicants (bioengineered humans) are—once again—second class citizens. Following the “blackout” of the 2020s, the environment on Earth, including all its ecosystems, has been destroyed. Endeavoring to rebuild, tech visionary Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has manufactured a type of replicant designed to obey humans. Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is one of them, employed by the LAPD as a “blade runner” to hunt down old models. He becomes privy to a world-shattering secret which leads him on a mission to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
Like all great sci-fi, audiences will read into “Blade Runner 2049” in a myriad of ways. No matter the takeaway, this is a film that—despite a murky plot—is visually stunning, melancholic and undeniably beautiful. One of the film’s observations involves our treatment of the environment, which serves as the bleak backdrop. This is a world made of technology: where a yellow daffodil is a rare specimen, and the entire city of San Diego is used as a garbage dump.
All that’s left is the project of continuing humanity in its ambiguous state. It’s difficult to tell who and what is real; K’s hologram girlfriend can give him everything he wants emotionally—indeed that is her commercial selling point—and yet he must live with the reality that she is only ones and zeroes. This is a hallucination of the future where everything we’ve ever wanted is available for us to consume, but at the risk of losing grasp of what’s real.
Wallace talks about wanting to “own the stars” using his corporation’s might. It’s not absurd in this universe, where people themselves have become commodities. “Blade Runner’s” inhabitants are separated by a wall that differentiates between the devalued slaves and the “real” people who matter. The replicants—considered to not have souls and expected to behave as such—are produced and released like new iPhone models. The film turns our consumption on ourselves; we are trapped as the supplier, the product and the consumer. And yet, “Blade Runner 2049” ends on a note filled with hope: for the perseverance of memory, and for the possibility of authentic connection where it seems the most impossible.