The challenge that Dennis Villeneuve set for himself when directing the Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049, was undeniably huge. To have the courage to take a cult film made in the 80s by the incredibly talented Ridley Scott and set it thirty years later within the same ‘Film Noir’ inspired, dystopian world is commendable to say the least. I think it is safe to say that many people, including myself, had high expectations for this film. Something which intrigued me in the original Blade Runner which is also prevalent in Blade Runner 2049 is the focus of technology in a dystopian setting and the way in which it reflects our society today.
Blade Runner 2049 is set in a polluted, dark Los Angeles which looks more like urban China, with towering billboards and suggestion of mass poverty. It is a world that is coming to an end but also acts as a futuristic, dystopian parallel of our world where most of the characters have, “never seen a tree”. It is difficult to avoid the obvious environmental connotations that Villeneuve uses as a reflection of the effects of global warming that we are feeling in 2017. It is no lie that this a recurring public topic, and with the strong, heterodox opinions on global warming held by the United States’ government, it feels frustratingly out of our control.
Prior to the release of Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, I was particularly intrigued to see how technology would play a part. Our world has seen such huge technological advances since the release of the original Blade Runner, where Ridley Scott subtly pointed towards the technological dangers that loomed on the horizon. Villeneuve does a fascinating job of taking us by the hand and showing us the potential damage that our dependence on technology may cause whilst in the midst of an exquisitely filmed, emotional epic.
I’m not suggesting that Blade Runner’s Replicants (androids almost indistinguishable from humans), or its flying cars are a near reality. However, we are living in a world where artificial intelligence is no longer a far-fetched figment of science fiction movies and our dependence on technology is somewhat concerning. In Blade Runner 2049, artificial intelligence is not only present amongst the Replicants but also in the character, Joi.
Joi, played by Ana de Armas, is a holographic woman designed and sold commercially to the masses. Ryan Gosling’s character, K, begins to form a serious relationship with her, a relationship which echoes the complex relationship in Her. I think the issues raised with Joi’s character are potentially more prescient and more uncomfortable than that of the moral issues surrounding the Replicants. Everything about Joi’s character conjures fears of the power and limitations of technology, and the bizarre sex scene between Joi, K and the ‘pleasure model’ Mariette is a memorable and disturbing example of this.
For K, Joi is almost as real as any real woman. He obviously knows that she is computer generated and programmed to be everything he wants in a companion, however out of sheer loneliness he finds himself falling in love with her. In my opinion, this is the most terrifying aspect of her character and though it may seem ridiculous to us that someone could fall in love with a computer, it is surely a phenomenon that seems less and less implausible every day. ‘Internet Addiction’ is becoming a commonly used phrase and while we think we can live independently from our smart phones, when was the last time you went a week without using yours? Of course, we don’t today see anyone falling in love with holograms, but this doesn’t seem quite so farfetched when considered alongside our growing physiological dependency on social media, as demonstrated by the recent discovery that a like on Instagram triggers a release of dopamine in the brain.
Themes of dystopia and apocalypse are currently dominating the science fiction genre in film and television. If you just take a look at the past two years of new releases you can see the recurring themes emerge. We have seen Passengers where Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are aboard a space ship on a mission to populate a new planet, and the release of the ninth ‘X-Men’ film, X-Men: Apocalypse and Logan, the latter of which is set in a morally ambiguous future pervaded throughout with a sense of defeat and confinement. Also, it’s arguable that Netflix’s popular Stranger Things may be marketing the happier world of the 1980’s, a world without smart phones and social media. In this sense we are looking into the past with happy, nostalgic eyes and looking into the future with fear. Are we deliberately blaming this change on the development of technology, or is it just a coincidence? It is difficult to disassociate this trend in film and television from the sense that these ideas and anxieties about apocalypse are already floating around in the public’s consciousness, and Blade Runner 2049 is merely the newest manifestation of these fears.
I hope Villeneuve’s film encourages people to think about the direction our society is heading. Though K’s world in Blade Runner 2049 is not our world, I think it could be an important catalyst in the conversation that needs to be had our current situation. That said, the film is also a vibrant and deeply moving adventure and I would urge everyone to go and see it.