Blade Runner 2049 opens with a close-up of an eye with an immediate follow-up image of someone looking up at a large silver coloured circular structure. Much like the opening shots of the original film, which illustrated the desire and sights of its central Replicant character (Bioengineered androids with identical qualities of a human being except for superior strength, agility, and an infinite lifespan), 2049 functions in the same way.
While Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) coveted more life with a fiery and poetic passion; K (Ryan Gosling) guilelessly gazes upwards like a small child looking up at the stars, wondering if there is more to their place in the world. The universality of this existential longing is at the heart of 2049.
Officer K is a Blade Runner (specially assigned cops that hunt and retire (kill) Replicants) who finds himself embroiled in a case that involves him questioning his own identity as his implanted memories could be real because he may be the long-lost son of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachael (Sean Young). The implications of such a miraculous event would mean that Replicants can reproduce.
Gosling’s assured silent and stoic performance impresses because it has a quality of touching youthful woundedness and loss. Throughout the film, there is a flashback to a painful memory from K’s childhood where he is running from a group of bullies who are trying to steal his inscribed wooden horse. In recollecting this occurrence, Gosling’s subtle facial expressions make him seem like he is morphing into that browbeaten boy.
In many regards, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 film resonates with the hermetically sealed innocence of a snow globe. In stark contrast to Scott’s picture, where perpetually downcast weather plagued Los Angeles, the city of Angels is now inundated with snow and looks closer to Soviet Russia as opposed to Japan.
Director Denis Villeneuve in collaboration with cinematographer Roger Deakins builds upon the canvas of Scott’s film with some stunning imagery. In particular, the smoggy brown and barren orange remains of Las Vagas impresses in subverting usual post-apocalyptic imagery.
At the same time, the picture has some fascinating examples of lighting. Niander Wallace’s (a terrifyingly serene Jared Leto) corporate headquarters has this wavy and refracted golden light that reflects off the wall. In a pivotal scene between Wallace and Deckard, the flourish accentuates the android tycoon as he comes across like Hades from Greek Mythology, presiding over the dead and holding the former Blade Runner in judgement.
If the original was a ghostly excavation of humanity that asked whether Androids have souls, then the thirty-five year follow up grapples with the purpose of life itself. Is it better to live a life with the knowledge of being the first of your kind and in turn a revolutionary figure for an entire race? Or is it better to aide an effort that is greater than yourself?
As a character says in the first half of the picture- “We’re all just looking for something real.” K may not have been the person he thought he was, but he at least got to look up at the stars and be responsible for the alignment of a few of them.