What makes Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” such a memorable entry in science fiction movie history is its depiction of the future. No movie before has painted a future society with the level of depth, grit, and believability that permeates Scott’s sci-fi noir. Now, with the release of Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049,” we can look at how this series’ depiction of the future has evolved, and how much still remains the same.
One of the defining characteristics of the world of “Blade Runner 2049” is the effect of The Blackout, a mass wipe of all digital files. This neatly plays into the series’s paranoia over technological progress and calls into question our reliance on digital software. Much of the technology in the original “Blade Runner” seems strictly analog, probably because it was more a product of its time. Its vision of the future didn’t rely on software but rather enhanced hardware. The original film seems to state that this reliance on analog technology is slowly destroying our society, but “2049” suggests that an over-reliance on digital technology could prove to be even more disastrous.
One of the more interesting differences that I just noticed in the two movies was the look of the protagonists’ respective apartments. Deckard’s apartment in the original film was rundown, cluttered, and decrepit, emulating the living quarters of the private detective. In contrast, Joe’s apartment is pristine and clean, almost clinical looking. However, just outside his front door is an apartment building filled with decaying infrastructure, graffiti, and criminals. “2049’s” architecture alludes to the isolationist way we live our lives today. With our obsession with social media and our own personal devices, Villeneuve suggests that we are much more concerned if our own personal space is pristine, even if it separates us from the rest of society.
The Evolution of Prejudice
In the original “Blade Runner,” rogue replicants often felt like boogeymen. They lived on the fringes of a society that seemed afraid to associate with them in any way. According to many people, they were violent, unpredictable, and not to be trusted. This is why many Blade Runners had carte blanche to murder them in public.
However, in “2049,” with the creation of a new model of replicant that’s able to coexist with humans in our society, we now see the evolution of prejudice. Villeneuve’s film shows how a conservative society reacts to even the slightest amount of social change. The new replicants aren’t being hunted on sight, but that doesn’t stop them from being on the receiving end of death threats, prejudices, and harassment. The term “skinjob,” referenced only briefly in the original film, is now seemingly a pervasive part of many people’s vocabulary. It’s as if the humans in this future world can sense the changing treatment of replicants and are trying to find ways to violently counteract it.
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was eerily predictive in its depiction of how advertising would affect the world we’re living in. Transforming Los Angeles into what’s essentially one giant Times Square, the world of Blade Runner is filled with massive video screens, neon lights, and booming voices, all trying to sell you stuff. 2049 expands upon this thesis in a really interesting way, showing how advertising not only affects our environment, but also our personal relationships. This is shown through the character of JOI, a holographic AI that acts as K’s “girlfriend”. When you think about it, this is basically an enhanced form of slavery. JOI isn’t given a choice on whether or not she loves Joe as her emotions are programmed to fit Joe’s preferences. She’s basically kept on a leash, either remaining in the confines of Joe’s apartment or kept in his pocket with a projection device.
The real gut punch comes in near the end of the movie when Joe sees a massive holographic advertisement for the JOI AI’s. Here is essentially a relationship that felt real to Joe repackaged for mass consumption. The fact that this hologram is a giant, purple, nude version of JOI shows how the corporation is able to conflate emotional connections with an almost cartoonish depiction of sexuality.
Control Through Memory
Memory plays a key component in the original “Blade Runner,” implemented by the Tyrell Corporation as a way to control replicants going rogue. The theory is that, if a replicant thinks that they’re human, they’re less likely to snap and turn violent. However, the film shows that this tactic doesn’t work. When Rachel finds out that her memories are implants, she still ends up running away.
“2049” takes this idea and shows a way that it can be effectively used as a means of control: through simple honesty. The new model replicants have implanted memories, but the key difference is that they know they are implants. As a result, they are told from day one that their entire persona is artificially constructed. Therefore, there’s little chance of any sort of revolt because they’ve been inundated with the idea that they are no longer their own person. If they’re told that every aspect of their history and personality has been pre-programmed, they might question whether going rogue just plays into their own programming.
“Blade Runner 2049” paints a chilling version of the future. It creates a society that’s entirely corporation owned, and where our personal lives can either be controlled or used against us. “2049” makes no efforts to soften the original “Blade Runner’s” grungy dystopia. Instead, it turns its social commentary further towards the future, creating a world that is terrifyingly honest about where we are as a society today.