Blade Runner 2049

I saw Blade Runner 2049 last night. I have very complicated feelings about it — I can’t say whether I liked it or not. I mean, I liked it, but it’s not like I can say it was a fun evening, or wheee, let’s get on the roller coaster again, or gosh, I sure wish I could have one of those flying cars. It was also simultaneously unexpected and exactly what I should expect from this movie.

The trailer is not representative. It sets it up as an action movie, when it’s not. Not really.

It is remarkably slow paced. There are fight scenes, but there’s more weight in scenes of Ryan Gosling slowly walking through a bleak dystopian landscape. The Earth is a dead world, and you’re made to feel it. At the same time, there is an ongoing struggle for identity: who is human? What is human? Is that disembodied AI that is present only as a hologram a person? She shows more emotion than many of the “born” humans — Jared Leto plays the head of the evil corporation as a visionary but soulless techno-futurist — and some of the replicants are angry and passionate. Your theory of mind gets a workout in this movie. The key conflicts are all in your head.

Go into the theater in a meditative mood, and you’ll probably enjoy it. Walk in expecting a slam-bang thriller, and you’re going to leave thinking “WTF did I just see?”. Or you’ll fall asleep somewhere in the middle.

Other things of note: the imagery is gorgeously depressing. The world is a high-tech garbage heap where people scavenge like rats in the neon-lit debris. The score is amazing. It’s got echoes of the old Vangelis score, but at times it rises into this industrial howl that has you wondering whether that was music, or a sound effect? It’s effective either way. I noticed that the patriarchy isn’t dead in 2049, either — there are weird landscapes with monumental, crumbling statuary, all of nude women, and roaming the streets are multi-story glowing holograms of, of course, more naked women. I don’t think it passes the Bechdel test, either, unless two women, at least one of whom is a replicant, talking about another replicant, who just happens to be coded male, counts. There’s also a cold-blooded execution of a female replicant for having the wrong eye color, and another newly created replicant, naked, shivering, obedient, and female (of course) is casually stabbed and bleeds to death so Niander Wallace can make a point about the disposability of individuals. I get the point. It’s part of the theme of the movie. But that it is always women who get disposed of so vividly steers it in the direction of misogyny.

Don’t worry, though, lots of men get offed, too — it’s just that they tend to be masked and in uniform or blown away at a distance so you don’t have to think about their humanity. The disparity is distinct enough that I was wondering if it was intentional or just a thoughtless reflection of conventionality. Just like it had me wondering whether the characters were robots pretending to be people, or people who just happened to be robots. It’s the kind of movie where you’ll tie your brain into knots trying to think about what’s going on, and whether you’ll like it or not depends on whether you enjoy that sensation.

Unfortunately, it seems a lot of people don’t like getting their brains twisted up (which is OK, I like a good popcorn movie, too, and this is not a popcorn movie), and the box office is disappointing. I guess it might be a “disaster” or a “flop” if all you count is how many tickets it sold, so the accountants might be unhappy. All I care about is that I bought one ticket and got personally challenged for a few hours by a movie with high ambitions.


  1. rietpluim says

    I guess this qualifies as “good”.

    I’ve always wondered how the 1982 movie had little success eventually and then became a cult hit, even among people who weren’t even born then.

  2. says

    I’m glad to see it is at least trying to live up to the scope of the original.

    I had a feeling Denis Villeneuve could pull it off after I saw Arrival. That was another gorgeous cerebral sci-fi movie.

    I do like that in the past 10-15 or so years, despite the schlock of Superhero Blockbusters, we’ve actually gotten quite a few thoughtful, meditative science fiction movies, a lot more than we had in the previous time span of the same length. It gives me a bit of hope that the kids who were watching Alien, Blade Runner, Terminator, Robocop and so on are growing up and putting their spin on the industry and science fiction. We can only be better off for it.

  3. microraptor says

    I’d probably be more interested in going to see it if I’d ever managed to watch the entirety of the original movie. Every time I tried watching that movie, I got to roughly the same part and was simply too bored to continue and ended up doing something else instead.

  4. consciousness razor says

    Spoilers ahead, since they’re already abundant in the OP…

    But that it is always women who get disposed of so vividly steers it in the direction of misogyny.

    Two things. The first man/replicant who died on the farm was quite vivid. It was a brutal fight, and in the end, his eye was unceremoniously carved out of his head. It got even more emphasis as it was recalled a couple of times throughout the movie. The main character’s death was rather tragic, and it was awfully slow and painful considering how long it must have taken. So I don’t know how you came up with “always.”

    Also, if by “it” you mean “the evil character’s actions,” then okay… But I would not say (as you seem to be) that the movie as a whole goes in that direction. A whole lot of it (the movie) is obviously crafted to make you feel sympathy for the victims and to make you shocked/appalled/depressed by what it is presenting to you. Similarly, Schindler’s List doesn’t go in the direction of Nazism, while of course the Nazis characters in the movie certainly do. I don’t think this one is any less ambiguous. For that matter, it likewise doesn’t go in the direction of anti-environmentalism by showing desolate, polluted landscapes. It’s very clearly expressing, in just about every way a movie can, that those things are bad, and we the audience are made to feel that. That’s more or less what you’ve got to do for an effective tragedy.

    Think of how different that is to a movie which itself is problematic. For example, one in which misogynistic jokes are made at the expense of women (verbally or otherwise), and the audience is encouraged to find it funny or to believe that they deserve it. This is not that movie.

  5. Hairhead, Still Learning at 59 says

    The misogyny in the movie is clearly the logical extension of present sexist trends, including the ongoing destruction of the environment by self-deluding members of the patriarchal industrial establishment. Yes, the misogyny is ugly and disgusting, but it is one of the very likely near-future worlds that we will inhabit. (Of course we, PZ Myers et al., hope to inhabit a much different near-future world, with a lower population, less biosphere destruction, more sexual equality, etc. — and if we want it, we need to work hard to make it happen.)
    I recommend this movie highly, because it does, in fact, DEMAND that you think.

  6. consciousness razor says


    Similarly, Schindler’s List doesn’t go in the direction of Nazism, while of course the Nazi characters in the movie certainly do. I don’t think this one is any more ambiguous.

  7. emergence says

    I saw it last night too. I liked how the the details of the central plot hook were slowly pieced together over time, and how it throws unexpected curveballs at you. Seeing my home state reduced to a barren, lifeless wasteland hits fairly close to home too, especially with the direction that environmental issues are going these days. Then there’s the set design. In addition to the blasted out ruins and utilitarian mechanical structures, you have all of these minimalist neon-lit skyscrapers and weird interior environments, like Wallace’s offices. I have to say, it’s nice to see a movie that balances action with thoughtful drama. The movie knows how to use action scenes when they’re necessary for the plot without making them excessive. I like fast-paced action movies just fine, but 2049 felt refreshing.

  8. anchor says

    Hmmm…what a lovingly and well-maintained dystopia. There must be industrious multitudes of specialized replicants that have that responsibility. Perhaps they are conveniently hidden by their invisibility cloaks as a matter of cosmetic taste, so as not to wreck the grandeur of the view for any remaining humans.

  9. says

    As I said on twitter: sometimes it was like one of those dreams that sticks with you all day, then other times I was just sitting in front of a screen.

    Thankfully I knew it was a mixed bag ahead of time, so I just rode out the poor parts without really feeling disappointed.

    It won’t hold up to any scrutiny, but I am glad I watched it.

  10. castaa says

    Some SPOILERS below:


    I liked the new film but I thought them aping a key Battlestar Galatica plot point (also a plot point the TV mini series ‘V’) was lazy or a concession to dumb it down for a general audience. Especially considering how many different ways filmmaker could have advanced the idea of the natural (selection) tension between humans and advanced synthetic humans.

    I thought Ryan Gossling’s performance a next generation replicant was perfectly understated but subtly emotional and very well done.

    Given the state of modern big budget movies, it was about as good as one could expect it to be.

  11. says

    Go into the theater in a meditative mood, and you’ll probably enjoy it. Walk in expecting a slam-bang thriller, and you’re going to leave thinking “WTF did I just see?”. Or you’ll fall asleep somewhere in the middle.

    I never really expected it to be a big action flick or anything, but it is good to have some confirmation that it isn’t all about that, as that is the kind of film I really have little interest in seeing. So slow is good. I still shy away from big budget sci-fi as it rarely seems to give me anything I’d want to see, but I did enjoy Villeneuve’s Arrival, and that gave me some hope that fairly expensive, interesting, thoughtful films can occasionally be made.

  12. Gregory Greenwood says


    The movie had a strong score (that was consistent with the universe, even if not quite as iconic as the Vangelis tracks from the original movie), and at times a darkly and depressingly beautiful, almost ethereally depicted visual representation of a dystopic future society having undergone irreversible environmental collapse. The movie also explored a lot of interesting themes about what it means to be human and how our usual definitions of such things are probably overly narrow.

    Even Leto’s villain, Niander Wallace, that a lot of people seem to dislike, I found effective as a take on a callous sociopath with an overwhelming god complex – not a million miles away from some prominent contemporary industrialists and CEO’s of major corporations

    Unfortunately, we also had a heaping helping of deeply misogynistic objectification, and I for one don’t buy the argument that it was intended to further the story or as a commentary of contemporary society. Notice that the sexually objectified characters were all women – all the prostitutes at the Replicant house of ill repute were female, and the only version of the AI ‘companion’ programme we encounter, or even ever see advertised, was also female. Given that the Bladerunner universe depicts a hyper-capitalist future society, I doubt that the ruthless corporations that run the show would just give up on half their potential market for synthetic ‘companionship’. It doesn’t begin to make business sense apart from anything else, and it is not as though the setting has a problem treating male Replicants as de facto slaves for other purposes,as the lead character K/Joe demonstrates since he effectively starts the movie as a programmed killing machine with no alternative other than to do other people’s dirty work.

    Ironically for a setting that is predicated upon the idea that the root of much of the suffering in its fiction is the greed and unfettered power of corporations and the people who run them, it seems that a lot of artistic decisions with regard to exactly which characters are treated as sex objects in the narrative were driven by economic concerns and that long standing sacred tenet of the bottom line – sex sells, especially if you don’t care about the consequences of depicting women and female coded characters as sex objects first and foremost. Once you acknowledge that this movie – along with most of Hollywood’s output – seems to have been aimed primarily at straight men, then these decisions suddenly make sense. I had hoped for better from a movie that is otherwise fairly observant about society.

    And it isn’t just sexual objectification – as PZ observes, the movie doesn’t pass the Bechdal Test, and if you look at the narrative closely, none of the female characters ultimately have much in the way of personal agency. Joi is an AI programmed to play the role of the ‘perfect’ girlfriend (for some rather worrying values of ‘perfection’ in relationships, at least) and literally has no other purpose in her existence outside K/Joe.

    K’s boss thinks she is in charge, but actually has no real clue what is going on, has no where near as much power as she thinks she does, and is then summarily dispatched by Luv in any case.

    Luv herself is ultimately just a tool of Wallace’s agenda (and arguably also a victim of it, though the movie seeks to make her unsympathetic to the audience). She follows her programming and his instructions for the most part, and while it is hinted at that she might be a true believer in his vision for the future, and may even have some kind of unrequited affection for him, none of that is developed. In practice she is no more than a weapon Wallace uses top eliminate obstacles in the way of achieving his goals.

    The female Replicant prostitute is just a tool of the Replicant resistance, and while the most senior figure in the Resistance we see is another women, her character has barely any screen time and we don’t even know if she is the leader of the enterprise.

    As PZ observes, Wallace’s version of a sort of reborn Rachael is killed out of hand when she isn’t able to manipulate Deckard to Wallace’s satisfaction because her eyes are the wrong colour, and again as PZ says, Wallace casually kills another unnamed female Replicant to convey the disposeability of Repliants in his worldview and his perception of the uselessness of a female Replicant that can’t bear children – he really is the voice of the Patriarchy given form. I don’t doubt for a second that the MRA’s and their fellow travellers will idolise him.

    Finally, we have Deckard and the original Rachael’s daughter, who is the first child born to a Replicant woman, may or may not be half human, and is the Replicant Messiah figure of the setting. She spends the entire movie isolated in a bubble with no direct interaction with the outside world and no control over her own fate, made special only by the accident of her birth, and desirable for the Replicant Resistance as a figurehead living standard (she hardly shows any leadership ability of her own), For K/Joe’s boss as a target to be eliminated to maintain the notion of the separation of Replicants and humans in the minds of the public (since she believes that is the only way to maintain order and avert war), valuable to Wallace only as a means to more cheaply and quickly produce Replicants by using her biology, and valuable to Deckard as an echo of his lost Rachael. She literally exists as a living story device McGuffin and precious little else, unless you count a sideline in engineering artificial memories to be implanted into Replicants.

    The total lack of meaningful agency for any major female or female coded character in the entire movie becomes truly glaring once you notice it, and I can see no story based or thematic reason why it should be the case.

  13. WhiteHatLurker says

    Before you see the movie, check out the youtube videos that fill in the gap (2022 – the blackout; 2036 – nexus dawn ; 2048 – nowhere to run) between the Blade Runner movies. I found them helpful for the backstory. And entertaining.

    I agree with PZ, mostly. It could have been paced more rapidly. Entire subthemes could have been reworked for better effect. There were a lot of deaths of the female characters. Though the first death is of a male character. It was pointed out to me that the majority of the statues (virtual and physical) were female (nudes).

    I would recommend it to Blade Runner fans. (I liked the original – I even was among the “few” to see the first run in a theatre.)

    However, I am outraged about the prices of tickets and popcorn these days. It broke the $20 barrier for popcorn and drinks. (Usually don’t get drinks, but it was loooong movie. If they were still in fashion, an intermission would have been appropriate.) That and there was what seemed like hours of advertisements.

  14. guido says

    I saw the film at its first showing here on Thursday night. I think I will want to see it again, at least in order to pick up more of the dialog (my hearing is not so good).

    I enjoyed the consistency with the visual atmospherics of the original film. However, I was not as moved by the sound track as I was by Vangelis’ score for the original.

    An earlier post mentioned the Battlestar Galactica remake, which had some pretty good music, to my mind. And … that show also shared some of the focus on the idea “what is it to be human”. (Although I also felt kinda off-put when I read that it may have reflected Mormon theology to some extent.) Actually, there seems to be an increasing number of movies and TV shows that invoke this concept. I think that phenomenon reflects the increasing thinking about AI.

  15. Matrim says

    Just walked out of the theater. Have to say I largely agree with PZ, the sound design in particular was phenomenal, blurring the lines of diegesis with the score at times. I didn’t much care for Leto, but then I can’t think of a time where I really did, and I wasn’t overly impressed by Harrison Ford (whose few performances over the last 10 years or so have seemed largely interchangeable), however the other performances were quite good. I didn’t go in with terribly high hopes, but I was reasonably impressed. There was definitely misogyny in the film, a boatload of it, but I think that was a product of the characters rather than the filmmakers (e.g. Hyper-Capitalists given essentially free reign would likely do what you see there, and not a depiction of the filmmakers personal views). I’ve no way of knowing this, of course, but it seems that way to me. I recommend giving it a watch. It’s a long film, but I think it was paced well. It’s the first film I’ve watched in a long time where I didn’t glance at my clock multiple times.

    A quick note, the film (barely) scrapes by on the Bedchel test when Joi and Mariette briefly speak to each other about each other and when Luv and Joshi speak (extremely briefly) about the child (whose gender at this point is assumed male, but is actually female) before the conversation goes back to K, but as always, the Bedchel test is a very low bar.

  16. guido says

    Oh, and more screen time for Jared Leto would have been good, in my opinion. I got stuck on him from his performance in “Mr. Nobody”

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    … an ongoing struggle for identity: who is human? What is human? … Your theory of mind gets a workout … where you’ll tie your brain into knots …

    The writer &/or director must’ve read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or something else on the Philip K. Dick shelf. They will probably get banned from Hollywood for life after violating such a cardinal rule.

  18. guido says

    As I recall, in the original movie, replicants were prohibited from being on Earth. In 2049, there seems to be millions of them. I don’t recall seeing an explanation for the change in policy. It strikes me that the original policy recognized them as a potential threat, so the change in policy makes me wonder why.

  19. jack16 says

    9 October 2017 at 12:52 am

    As I recall, in the original movie, replicants were prohibited from being on Earth. In 2049, there seems to be millions of them. I don’t recall seeing an explanation for the change in policy. It strikes me that the original policy recognized them as a potential threat, so the change in policy makes me wonder why.


  20. jack16 says

    Another point. Justification for Dekker’s job isn’t very clear. Why special detectives? Regular police couldn’t catch them?

    Does anyone know if Philip K. Dick saw “Bladerunner”?

  21. Matrim says

    The reason replicants weren’t allowed on Earth was the Nexus 6 rebellion, and the fact that Nexus 6 replicants were essentially undetectable without using the Voight-Kampff test (and even then it took about four times as long to pin down one of them with the test). The reason they were allowed back on earth was that the Nexus 9’s were considered perfectly controllable (though this proves to be false, obviously). Nexus 8’s and older models were still captured or retired on sight.

    As for why they had blade runners rather than beat cops after the replicants, presumably standard cops didn’t have the training, and investigation has always largely been the province of detectives, and detectives tend to specialize (vice, homicide, etc.).

    I highly doubt Dick saw the film, it was released almost four months after he died. I did find an interview, purportedly his last, in Twilight Zone Magazine where he talks about having seen parts of the final script and some of the effects on newsreel and very much liked what he saw. He apparently really hated the first script, and there were some heated moments about making a novelization of the film, but it seemed like he was fairly positive on the final approach, though had little insight on it.

  22. Dark Jaguar says

    I thought it was a beautiful movie, but it’s message isn’t “challenging” in the least. “Should some people not be treated as people just because of their origin?” No, no they shouldn’t. I didn’t need to wait 3 hours to reach that conclusion. I suppose in today’s climate, there are tiki torch wielding people who need a movie like this to make them question their beliefs. Some of us kind of already knew this going into the movie. I don’t care if it’s an AI or a replicant, if you are asking for rights, you deserve them. That’s how that works.

  23. nikolai says

    I thought it was a beautiful movie, but it’s message isn’t “challenging” in the least. “Should some people not be treated as people just because of their origin?” No, no they shouldn’t.

    Your mileage may vary, of course, but I don’t think that was the message. I think there were much deeper themes there. The movie seemed to indicate that replicants/AIs could act human, but started to think for themselves after a while; what is the boundary, and how can we detect it? (I can program a computer to ask for rights, after all. When does something move from sophisticated chatbot to a person, and how can outsiders tell?) What do we do with things that are incipient free agents? What systematic ways do we, here and now, keep free agents from being able to be truly free agents that are highlighted and/or exaggerated by this movie, and how should we change them?

    Movies like this, it seems to me, are helpful in showing us ourselves through a different lens, and illustrating how stark the difference is between our current state and our ideals. If we want to realize our ideals, or make progress towards them, we need to see ourselves clearly.

  24. =8)-DX says

    The misogynoire (used that word because heavily ignoring black women, but mostly it just wanted to say that women are creepy and don’t exist…) was strong there. Human women as shown are only… oh wait there was only one, cynically disposed for no reason than…. (I guess it was beaurocracy!!!) All the other women are artificial, made to cater to male desires and only getting validtion from being useful. Oh wait! There was a revolutionary replicant! Yes wait. Because her entire lived purpose was to protect and propagate an artificially (whoknows?) birthed child. And to promote the idea that living is worth nothing if you can’t reproduce. And if someone could, you better die for it.
    Nothing the main character fought for, was worthwhile. Everything the film showed as worthwhile was: paternity. Having meaning as a “chosen one”? Yes then no.
    For me the biggest “give” of this film was an examination of the multitude of ways women and their bodies can be beneficial to men. As titilation, entertainment, prostitutes, wombs, femme-fatales. The only women who’s feelings were taken into account were a dead woman and an all-loving simulation.

    Fuck this film, hardly reached the original. That said it was much better than most movies and deserves taking the time to watch it.

  25. =8)-DX says

    @nikolai #23

    the movie seemed to indicate that replicants/AIs could act human, but started to think for themselves after a while; what is the boundary

    No shit Sherlock. This was a sequal where they made all the replicants physically more human, but otherwise less. Still that point of yours is moot, because it was addressed in the first film: replicants not only act human, but to your standard they ARE human. They have memories, desires, DREAMS (Like, the films are based on “Do Androids dream of electric sheep”). The problem in the first film was that they are like a short candle with a long wick: it burns so brightly, yet for so short a time, so short that the replicants themselves recognise they can’t experience lives of any longevity and so in their rebellion choose to die. Deckard (if a replicant) and Rachael are the exception.

    There was never any doubt (in my mind) in 2049 that replicants were people. They always acted like (and were) humans but the film added an element of control over that. Our main hero was not more of a human for finding the horse statue, he was always a person, as visible through his desire for a loving connection with the AI bot. He wanted to live a meaningful life the whole time. His job, his replicant conditioning, his indifference to physical pain, were always only barriers, what he wanted was to live his own life, finding his own meaning. But when he gets a new meaning, he panics because human-made meanings must be more profound than his own…. etc.

  26. brett says

    I liked the film, and the twist regarding K, but stuff bugs me the more I think about it. Los Angeles 2049 looks good in the film, but it just looks like a higher-budget-with-CGI version of Los Angeles 2019 that feels less lived-in than the original film (and has shinier and better advertisements). Nothing appears to have changed despite 30 years, replicants being allowed again in the city (twice!), a massive blackout, and so forth.

  27. bruce1 says

    #12, agreed traditional agency was hard to find, but that’s partly also the author’s point, that no one has any in this dystopia. How much agency can you have when all your memories may be fake and your choices are all programming? Agency detected in this dystopia, even so much as a replicant choosing to live, is a death sentence. But there are flashes, like Joi choosing love over life that you may have missed. And yes, that’s programming that makes her do that, and that’s the point, maybe.

  28. nikolai says

    replicants not only act human, but to your standard they ARE human. They have memories, desires, DREAMS

    Well, that’s true, and I’d certainly consider them human for that, personally — even as I admit that considering them human for that isn’t really logical at all and begs the question. Put differently: Are memories, desires, and dreams what make us human? Does the answer change if those memories, dreams, and desires can be implanted by someone else — are implanted memories/dreams/desires closer to programming than agency? In other words, does our humanity come from just the ability to have memories/dreams/desires, or is it that we must have our own, or does our humanity derive from different sources altogether? If we must have our own, to what extent are our memories/dreams/desires really our own, and to what extent are they shaped by external forces (like relationships and culture)? If our humanity derives from different sources than these, what does it mean that these are the means through which our empathy and sympathy for other humans are typically expressed?

    I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of your conclusions to these questions, and I doubt that any conclusions reached by anyone could be comprehensive and absolute, but I still think they’re interesting questions to ask.