Much as with the Star Trek TV series, the first BladeRunner was not immediately appreciated. Sometimes, society does not immediately recognize itself in the mirror that Art holds up to it. The fact that as time went on, both efforts became epic and sacred for TV and film implies that they had tried to share a vital human experience that we didn’t recognize yet. But after another decade and the emergence of the Digital Age, it grew clear that within a generation we would be presented with choices and changes to our existence that would redefine what it meant to be human.
Then, when these prescient films held up the mirror a second time, we recognized ourselves.
The first thing to say about the sequel to what has been for years my favorite film is that it, too, is an Art film: for me this means that the movie isn’t over just because the credits are rolling: violence and sexuality are only necessary props or plot points, it provokes thought—and perhaps action.
While the first BladeRunner examined the conflicts that came with advanced robotics and AI—and even more acutely the evolution of “AE” (Artificial Emotion) and self-awareness, BladeRunner 2049 considers an even deeper integration of the digital into the organic in term of both flesh and ontology.
The themes, the tone, and pace of the movie are loyal to the original: the future is stark and less hopeful, Vangelis creates the eerie score, and the characters are constantly making trade-offs between belonging and surviving (sound familiar?). But the quality of Art is measured only how well it shows us ourselves – not how it accomplishes this. In the same way that we stumble around in dark nights or dark rooms, BladeRunner 2049 projects a future that need not be interpreted as terribly dim, but in this early days of AI merely very dimly lit. It offers us samples of the demons we might bump into as we squint and grope for the safe path into the next human phase of experience, one that threatens to remake or even unmake us.
The cast and acting are excellent, and the shots are carefully framed–as it was with the original. The music was over-loud where I watched it, and it affected my ability to hear the dialogue. It might have been a local error.
There remain questions, but that’s part of the template, too. It is a film that like its predecessor must be seen again and again. They made room to extend the story into a world where the subordinate beings will challenge the dominant ones. It’s an old human story of course; the subordinate beings eventually win. But this time, as the next film’s vision will no doubt insist, the conflict could play out more like Frankenstein’s Monster where the creation destroys the creator.
Bladerunner 2049 is not epic or classic yet, but it’s early. We do not yet have to decide if it’s a sin to kill a robot.