Replicants R Us: Thoughts on Bladerunner 2049”
I watched Bladerunner 2049 and have been thinking about it a great deal. I’m not sure that this blog will help me find answers to my questions, but I thought it worth the try. I also wondered if others might enjoy my questions and come up with their own. Movies that make me think satisfy me than those I merely enjoy, and I cannot help but sense that the replicants in the Bladerunner movies stand for us, people who view the movie now, in the same way that the rabbits in Watership Down deal with human issues, like courage, caring, altruism.
Now, the original theatrical release Bladerunner, based loosely on Phillip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, explored the importance of memories. Do our memories ‘gift us,’ as Mr. Tyrell says in the original film, ‘with a past,’ which helps us deal with the troubling events in our lives by retreating to childhood thoughts of an innocent time, a time of wonder? If so, the replicants of the Nexus 6 line, Roy Batty and chums, and those in the new movie enact struggles that we face or will face. I think that this has to do with the disposable society we live in. Cops called Bladerunners retire dangerous replicants when they get to be trouble, like wishing to have a normal life span, not just four years. Replicants live the reality of a device, a car, maybe, that its human owner can be rid of when it gets old or a newer, better model comes out. When it goes bad, junk it. Can this apply to people? I think in many troubling ways, the answer is yes. I often ask myself, why do so many social calamities get resolved by a gun? Overall, I’m told, the murder rate is lower per capita, but we are exposed more and more to the idea of shooting each other—over anything.
When I saw the first movie in 1982, I remember how hard it was to watch Deckard ‘retire’ Zora and Pris. Sure, call me sexist. But I had no notion that Rick Deckard was a replicant, too. This later came out, though, in The Director’s Cut and again in The Final Cut versions of the film. They take away the noir voiceover, splice extra scenes showing Deckard’s memories of a unicorn running through a forest, and Gaff’s origami unicorn all reveal Deckard as a replicant . This is the reality with which 2049 starts. So, if you only saw the original theatrical release, you are going to have a hard time with the new one. But isn’t Deckard’s job, like Constant K’s, suggesting that all of us things that look fairly much like human creatures are killing each other for reasons that we do not understand?
Knowing this, that Deckard is a replicant, like Rachael, and knowing that these replicants are used as Bladerunners, to kill other replicants who are problematic for the people that own them, creates a connection between the Bladerunner story and other anthropomorphized tales of creatures representing human struggles, like Watership Down, Animal Farm, Duncton Wood, The Book of the Dun Cow, etc. It’s subtle story-telling device, but it’s key is something else Mr. Tyrell explains to Deckard when the Bladerunner visits Tyrell Corp: “More human than human, is out motto,” he says to Deckard. Does this mean that replicants are more human than the people who use them as things? Replicants seek to do what all of us do: try to understand ourselves, who we are, what we are doing here, and hoping to find love and meaning along the way. And yet they, like so many folks now, kill each other.
Roy Batty, after hunting Deckard, symbolizes a sort of Wild Christ figure, saving Deckard from a fatal fall. He carries the dove of peace. The nail he drives through his hand cements the idea of a savior of sorts. It’s one of the more powerful spiritual images that I’ve ever seen, but I don’t need to drift into faith issues here. The fact is that Roy saves Deckard because Deckard is alive, still, and Roy feels the end of his 4 year lifespan coming to an end. I know. There are other interpretations available. However, it’s an heroic act, altruism at its best, as I see it. How is it self-serving for Roy to spare the life of the “man” who has just retired the replicant he loves? Roy teases Deckard, asking him, “Aren’t you the good man?” Since we begin 2049 with the the knowledge that Deckard is a replicant, Batty’s question posits the idea that they are both like us. One, Deckard, is the falsely labelled ‘good’man and Batty the ‘bad,’ but both have the same origins. Batty is only bad because he does what he is made to do, except in his last moments, in which he comes to value life. His is ending. All that he loves has ended. Roy passes on to Deckard a sense of the wonder of things he has seen, tiny snippets of his unique experience. It’s one of the most common desires of all people, I think: “Let me tell you what I saw.”
Here’s the troubling part of the Bladerunner mythos, though: if the replicants are us, struggling to do what all folks want to do, isn’t it showing us that we are in a world of hurt? Both replicant types in both movies continually show us acts of sacrifice and caring for others that seems far more human than the motives of those folks who make the replicants. Taken as a pretext for the new 2049 vision, it looks as though we are making a hell on earth. Is it not suggesting that we should not look for a big fix to social problems but a one-at-a-time solution that we can each do, simply by valuing human decency?
Bladerunner 2049 expresses a concern of mine that I’ve had for some time now: we are the commodities that business buys and sells. The replicant heroes of both movies serve the same function, retiring things that behave as humans. Male replicants are weapons that kill things like themselves. Female replicants are sex objects designed to serve the sexual appetites of others. Of course, that can go both ways, with pleasure oriented male replicants for women, but the Bladerunner movies do not offer that insight. We might think of ourselves as sovereign individuals, each with a responsibility to work for the good of the other members of the Republic, but that reality seems to erode in light of how and why we spend and make money. Bladerunner 2049 fascinates me because it underscores the necessity of altruism for a society as big and complex as ours. Both Bladerunner movies illustrate the truth of the words of William Sloan Coffin Jr: “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”
Bringing Coffin into this, though, might take me into a more spiritual discussion of Bladerunner mythos and open up the possibility of spoilers for those who have yet to see 2049. I urge you to see it, talk and think about it. Ask yourself, “Is this the world I want to give leave to my children and their children?” It isn’t for me, and after a time, I will get into the intrinsically spiritual issues this suggests in future blog posts.