Sequel to the 1982 cult classic fails commercially, succeeds artistically
In the summer of 1982, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was met with mixed reviews and mediocre box office numbers. The movie was too explicit for the typical family audiences of the day and not deep enough for the critics to embrace it. Ridley Scott’s future is a far cry from the idyllic worlds of Star Trek or Star Wars. In Blade Runner, by 2019, the wealthy have escaped earth and left the poor behind to live in over-packed tenements. Pollution has killed all animals and plunged earth into a permanent haze. Nuclear war has forced mass migrations to the west eliminating many distinct languages. Man’s “off-world” achievements are fueled by an army of bio-engineered slaves called “replicants” that look identical to humans.
The plot centers around a disillusioned blade runner Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) whose job is to hunt down and kill rogue replicants. Rick has a crisis of conscience when he falls in love with one of the replicants that he’s supposed to kill. The movie is a deep meditation on what it means to be human shrouded in a sci-fi noir style. Viewers see emotionless humans just getting by in their depressed lives contrasted with emotional “replicants” trying to understand their own existence. By the end of the film, the audience is left wondering whether Rick is human or replicant—and whether it matters. To make it more confusing, Ridley Scott, the film’s director, says that Deckard is a replicant. Harrison Ford and the author of the original novel, however, both say that Deckard is a human. This thirty-five-year long debate among die-hard fans kept the movie alive and spurred on a sequel.
Blade Runner 2049 follows up 30 years after the events of the first film. Humans have integrated replicants into all elements of society. Now even blade runners (replicant hunters) are replicants themselves. K (played by Ryan Gosling), a replicant blade runner, discovers the tomb of a female replicant who seems to have given birth to a child. The shocking discovery that replicants can have children, initially thought to be impossible, has the potential to start a slave revolt. K’s human superior, the icy Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), orders him to find and kill everyone involved, including the replicant child. K is in a race against the evil executive Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who wants to find the replicant child and use it to manufacture reproducing replicants. During his mission, K wrestles with the idea of killing a person who was born and not manufactured. As a replicant, K knows that his “childhood memories” are all “implants” designed by his company. Curiously, he finds a small wooden horse in a furnace, just like in his “memory.” This shocking discovery leads K to believe that he is the replicant child.
K seeks answers from Rick Deckard, now a recluse, living in the ruins of a nuked Las Vegas. When confronted by K about the past, the old blade runner admits to being the child’s father but doesn’t know the child’s identity. K unintentionally leads Wallace’s forces right to Deckard, leading to an explosive final act of the film.
Blade Runner 2049 is a complex film that requires a deep knowledge of the first installment to really enjoy the movie. The film masterfully twists at the end, setting up a sequel, all while leaving the 35-year-old debate wide open. The film lives up to the stylistic ambitions of the first film, incorporating dark noir elements into the landscape. The major box office trouble with the movie is lack of a target audience. This is not a family film, it’s not a date night movie, and millennials don’t know what Blade Runner is. Together, this means the film’s core audience are middle-aged men. Due to the abysmal box office performance, Blade Runner diehards may be waiting another 35 years for a third installment.
R. Alexander Arroyo is a first-year Political Science major. He enjoys jazz, seafood, and sketching. Contact him at Rarroyo@nd.edu.