Tropic Sprockets / Blade Runner: 2049

By Ian Brockway

Who better to ponder what it means to be human than director Denis Villeneuve whose film “Arrival” dealt with symbols and the power of language? In his latest, “Blade Runner: 2049,” Villeneuve takes on the world of Phillip K. Dick and Ridley Scott in a sequel to the original film that does great service to its predecessor while also being a thoughtful meditation on memory.

Here Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is in charge of terminating old replicants, a version of an android. It is a thankless job. Day after day K, himself a replicant, does what he is ordered to do and then returns home to his simulated girlfriend, a kind of ambulatory Siri.

He has an assignment to hunt down a replicant farmer Morton (Dave Bautista). Once there, after a fight, he finds human remains though it is thought impossible for a replicant to have a child. The human remains are that of a woman who had an emergency c-section. 

At Morton’s farm, the officer finds a date inscribed on a tree, which jogs a memory of a childhood toy horse during a bullying incident. But is it a real memory or a simulation? K’s vexing questions put him in the path of a power-mad inventor (Jared Leto) and a sociopathic replicant (Sylvia Hoeks) who loves to execute orders.

Gosling is terrific in his role, paying fine tribute to the Blade Runner role while making the character his own. He projects a unique mix of shocked sensitivity and dispassionate calm. When confronted by humans, K is like ice and yet when faced with something of the synthetic world as in his holographic love (Ana de Armas) he becomes almost pained. Like Alice in Wonderland, Officer K is constantly rebuffed or ignored with his questions.

K runs into an obsessive creator of memories named Stelline (Carla Juri) and at first she is mesmerized by her own simulated birthday party and can’t be bothered. Later when the solemn K confronts Deckard (played by Harrison Ford, reprising his iconic role) the older officer answers with a scowl and his fists.

The young life form is vexed at every turn but can only display an expression of resignation. K never smiles.

What does it mean to feel love for another person or to have the tactile sensation of rain on your skin? In “Blade Runner: 2049,” we feel the want and the frustration of not just android forms but of humans as well. In the future, desire is not a natural or synthetic condition, only a living one. Perhaps the message is to take comfort in Deckard’s slow half smile, an empathetic antidote to a world gone gray, buried under a neon light that is either titillating or accusatory and sometimes both.

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