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How BLADE RUNNER 2049 Expertly Expounds on the Meaning of Life

This post contains STRONG plot spoilers for Blade Runner 2049. We would very much recommend not reading until you’ve had a chance to see if. If you’d like our completely spoiler free review of the movie (hint: we loved it) please click here. If you’ve seen the movie and want to continue, please do!

Blade Runner 2049 shows us a world where there are no longer distinctions between races or classes or creeds, but there are walls between those who are genuine, born humans and those who are one of Niander Wallace’s new Nexus 8 replicants. And more than that, it shows us a world where artificial intelligence is just as emotional as that of living beings. The entire film is about what it means to be “real,” whether you are flesh or pixels.

The original Blade Runner‘s Nexus 6 models had heightened strength and speed and reflexes, but were cursed with a four-year lifespan, making the plight of the brilliant, thoughtful, soulful, and murderous Roy Batty all the more upsetting. They might have been touted by Tyrell as “more human than human,” but once they’ve run out of life, all of their experiences amount to nothing.

30 years later, newly crafted replicants have an open-ended life cycle, but because of an uprising in 2022 — halting replicant production for nearly two decades — replicants were made docile, cooperative. In the new movie, the replicant police officer K (Ryan Gosling) also has to pass a heightened version of the Voight-Kampff test to prove that he is “baseline,” meaning any intense emotions are not to be tolerated and make the replicant police officer subject to retirement (a nice way of saying death). We can assume this baseline test and their genetic manipulation is what allows humanity to keep control.

And beyond that, replicants are unable to procreate. Therefore the “skin jobs” are seen as less than human because they need humanity to continue existing. That is, until the discovery that sets 2049‘s plot in motion. Wallace himself has a rather psychotic monologue about how his replicants are angels but will never be quite human. If he could only find a child born of replicant, he’d have the key, which is of course the major thrust of the movie.

Rachael in the original movie had implanted memories that made her believe she was “real,” even though she’s a replicant. In the new movie, K knows he’s a replicant but has memories just the same. This seems especially cruel, but it also goes toward the idea that memories are the key to humanity, learning from past mistakes and experiences (the memories give replicants “believable human responses”). At the risk of getting way too philosophical, since we’re only living one moment at a time, the only thing we have are memories, and again, like Batty, if nobody cares, all the memories become like tears in rain.

Arguably, K would not be the person he is if not for that one specific memory he had, but then once he found out it wasn’t an implant, he’s compelled to uncover the truth. Is it manipulation, or is it just proof that these replicants are just as “real” as we are?

Blade Runner 2049 also introduces the idea of sentient holographic A.I. Joi (Ana de Armas) is a consumer program that can be purchased, but it’s clear she has desires beyond merely being K’s girlfriend. She fulfills the movie’s hopeful Pinocchio stereotype hinted at in other films, and while the movie never truly addresses it the way it perhaps ought to have, her desire to be self-actualized beyond her programming can’t possibly be unique to that particular Joi. It implies all Jois desire more autonomy, even if it’s simply being projected out in the world. Her death in the film is the movie’s most emotional loss, and the story is all the more tragic for it.

Blade Runner has always dealt with what it means to be alive, and 2049 takes it one step further by saying at a certain point, there’s no difference between synthetic and organic life. Both K and Deckard understand who they are through the eyes and experiences of people they’re trained to think of as unworthy of being. But in a future where life is cheap, any kind of connection is the only thing that matters.

Did you like Blade Runner 2049? What were your impressions of the way different tiers of life are expressed? Let us know in the comments below!

Images: Alcon/Warner Bros

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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