Thoughts On: Blade Runner 2049 - To Build A Soul


Blade Runner 2049 - To Build A Soul

Thoughts On: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

A Blade Runner learns of a child born of a Replicant.

When I first saw Blade Runner 2049 in the cinema, I fell asleep - not because of the film, but because I was exhausted. Having finally seen it properly, I regret this even more. I can't say that this is a masterpiece, but I do think it is an incredibly brilliant film. The primary weakness of Blade Runner is its attempt to be both art and entertainment; I think its attempt to entertain and incorporate Hollywood genre-isms into itself aren't too strong at all - maybe not even necessary - and so only feel like fat on an almost 3 hour long film. Without so many rather meaningless world building shots and prolonged action set-pieces, this could have been far more succinct and effective. I want to be cautious when voicing this belief, however, as the world building, action, and aesthetics in general, are clearly attempting to support the story with a subtext of their own. I nonetheless hold fast to the idea that the action sequences could have been better - which is not to say that they were bad - and that the aesthetic spectacle could have been more powerful.

The core Hollywood genre-ism that I wish could have been better executed by Villeneuve was the romantic relationship between K and his A.I hologram, Joi (who appears to be a reflection of his subconscious desires almost as much as an autonomous entity of her own). Joi and K's bond really made this film for me, pulling me into its emotional insides and evoking some profound ideas. For instance, I'm fascinated by her role in the film as the archetypal bearer of meaning. Some feminist film critics dislike and criticise this archetype, but I believe that there is truth and power in this idea that females come to encapsulate meaning for a male counterpart that is rather lost. A perfect expression of this comes from De Sica's Bicycle Thieves with the wife, Maria, of our main character, Antonio, being the family's only real tie to religion - to hope, belief and faith - and the person who really forces things forward, pushing Antonio to work by representing a life worth struggling for.

As De Sica is seemingly conscious of, this archetype is far older than his 1948 film; he takes the archetype from biblical stories and, most probably, Mary, mother of Christ. With Mary as the bearer of a saviour, she is imbued with, quite literally, meaning. More than a mother, however, Mary is almost nature itself; the femininity of the universe and the canal through which all matter, good and bad, emerges. Without delving too deeply into this, Joi is, partly, this archetype. However, as her name implies, she is not fully autonomous; she seems to be a toy of sorts. Within her is then the core conflict of the movie; she is the bearer of meaning for K, but also a contrived, holographic entity. Is the meaning she represents to K then just as fake and contrived as her translucent image?

Such a profoundly brilliant question is why I found the heart of Blade Runner to be in the bond between K and Joi. However, I don't think Villeneuve gives this relationship its fair due; not only is Joi not given enough screen time, a strong arc and general purpose in the film, but she isn't given enough humanity. This isn't to suggest that she shouldn't represent contrivance, just that the sparks of humanity that are given to her could have been brighter.

It is for these reasons that I can't say that Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece: it lacks that something extra that it tries to have. Despite this, there is an awful lot that could be said about this film, and I suppose the best place to start would be as close to a conclusion on what this whole film means. We shall need to jump to this rather than building to it because the questions that this film asks are so complex you'd have to write a whole book if you were to try to catch most of the details as they unfold across the film.

With that said, Blade Runner 2049 asks one question that can be, and is, voiced in a plethora of different ways: Is meaning created, and, if so, what does this mean? We see this question asked across the narrative with, as we have already explored, Joi. We also see this with the focus of the plot being a child birthed by a Replicant. This child means something - something very big, so big that its ramifications are almost incomprehensibly vast. It is then because this child could possibly mean the end of humanity, the start of a new race, new culture, new world, new society, new everything, that it is then so coveted and despised. This is a savior child, and like most saviours it will be loved and hated. There are then four parties attached to this child; humans who want it gone so it is not a threat; Replicants that see it as their saviour; humans who want it as to enslave Replicants; and Replicants who want it to remain in obscurity so that no conflict arises. In essence, this child is the bringer of Ragnarok (the potential twilight of the Gods - humans - and the end of all things) and everyone wants to manipulate it so that the end of everything operates in their favour; so that what is born out of the destruction of society is themselves. Leto's character wants the end of everything to result in humanity being reborn as Gods and Replicants being enslaved. The radical Replicants want the end of everything to be the end of their oppression and the end of humanity. The Blade Runners who want to destroy the child want to stop Ragnarok, and so does Deckard; they want the child destroyed/forgotten so that Ragnarok never comes and there is no destruction. It is K that is to decide who is to prevail and dictate what Ragnarok is to descend. He, of course, opts for the latter option; Deckard's subversion the end of everything.

There is conflict in this final decision. Can Ragnarok be avoided, or can it only ever be prolonged? Will there have to be an end of the Replicants and/or humans eventually? I think Ragnarok is inevitable, however, it doesn't have to be the literal death of either Replicants and humans; with a symbolic death of who each group is will come the birth of new, peaceful societies. Now, is this at all possible; can both co-exist peacefully?

This line of thought is slightly deceiving as it does not reflect the goals of this narrative precisely. The child must be understood before we can guess what happens in Blade Runner 2083. And thus we come back to the question: Is meaning created, and, if so, what does this mean? To ask this, we must realise that the child is a representative of truth in Blade Runner. Moreover, she is a miracle; a curious spurt of (potentially) positive chaos from the universe. This is why she is the crucial symbol of meaning for everyone.

This is a difficult line of thought to follow. However, it makes perfect sense. Replicants are created by humans. But, whilst they are given purpose by humans, they are not given meaning by them; this is why there is a conflict: the Replicants are merely slaves or servants. The child is created and it can be given meaning; it doesn't have to be a slave bound to humans, but an entity of the Replicants' own creation and will. Replicants in Blade Runner 2049 are then Adam and Eve archetypes. Adam and Eve were the first humans, but they weren't real humans. They lived unconscious, shameless lives, almost like animals, in the Garden of Eden. God gave them jobs: they were essentially caretakers of Eden who named animals. The parallels between Adam and Eve and the Replicants are clear; they represent the first of a people. The first people, the first humans and the first Replicants, are not real people as they are creations of something that is not human; Adam and Eve were part divine just like the Replicants are part humans: they are not free. For there to be freedom and the first real humans, truth has to be uncovered. Thus, Adam and Eve eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; the Replicants must know how to betray humans like humans betrayed God to know the truth and to find a soul. A soul in this case is then a breath of life that will one day be lost; it is life that will end. By taking the divinity out of Adam and Eve, God left them out in the world, frail and destined to eventually die; will the taking of a soul mean the same for the Replicants; will they become mortal?

This commentary certainly proves true to Joi; she and K find their greatest shared meaning and truth when she is free from the home and when her core memory is in one device that, if it is destroyed, will be her death. Interestingly, this device is a little like a rib - from which Eve came - that was given to K by his overseers (God). This rib is a reflection of the fate of humanity; men and women can only exist when together; the woman needs the man and the man is incomplete without the woman. This is what could have been explored further with a better arc and relationship given to K and Joi.

Alas, to come back a step, this question of mortality doesn't have to be literal. To walk out of the Garden of Eden with a soul means that you will live a hard life of responsibility and suffering. This is the meaning of mortality; responsibility and suffering are what kill us and what we give our lives for. Moreover, this signifies the birth of meaning and a people. By taking on this burden and leaving God, you then become your own being who knows the meaning in their suffering.

The child of Blade Runner is the apple that will see the Replicants cast out of Eden. It then also represents the Replicants taking responsibility for themselves and no longer being slaves to humans who gave them mere purpose (jobs) and prevented them from creating their own meaning. What the child ultimately says is that meaning is created; it is born from rebellious people about to bear the burden of a soul. K discovers this through many avenues along this narrative; he finds out that Joi is contrived meaning, that he made himself believe he was meaningful through a false memory, that he can give others meaning through his own actions. But, whilst he discovers that meaning is created as such, the question that sill haunts K is one of reason. If you can create meaning, then can anything be meaningful? Where is the reasoning in the creation of meaning? Why should selected, contrived meanings have any weight and be paid attention to if they're just arbitrarily manifested?

We see such an idea echoed through a motif of will throughout Blade Runner; there are constant signs saying that people can have anything anywhere, constant reference to meaningless sexuality and blind worship (Luv's worship of Wallace for instance). We know, however, that having anything, anywhere and following whoever orders you doesn't amount to meaning. True meaning is not created from just anything, from just anywhere or by just anyone. True meaning - truth (that which the child represents) - comes from struggle and an alignment with Tao: The Way; the essential truth that is in balance between yin and yang, male and female, dark and light, chaos and order. Being aligned with The Way of the universe is being the best possible person, is making the best possible decisions for as many possible beings as possible. Being aligned with The Way is being a force of preservation and creation simultaneously. K aligns himself with Tao in the end of Blade Runner by doing the best thing he can, by struggling to save the child and also save Deckard. This is a grand gesture of preservation - the preservation of present and past, father and daughter, creator and created - and of creation - the creation of a new future, a new relationship between father and daughter - as it will stop the child from being killed and it should also prevent a tragic Ragnarok from consuming all as, with Deckard by the child's side, hopefully humans and Replicants won't want to destroy one another.

The child then becomes ultimate meaning for K as she represents Tao propagating through time; she is a force of good who has great memory, who knows the past, yet is trapped in Eden, who is the first true Replicant, born with freedom, who has the potential to bring a positive Ragnarok that will see the positive death and rebirth of humans and Relicants alike. Because this child, who is a reason to do things, who is meaning, is also Tao, it becomes clear that meaning can be created, but that the creation of meaning isn't arbitrary. Whilst meaning is created, it does not come from nowhere; if meaning is true and good, it comes from Tao, The Way of the universe which has survived longer than all that is; a greater wisdom and truth than any of us can ever conceive of, only follow. If The Way is allowed to propagate through your selected meaning, you then know that it is a foundation worth building from.

It then seems that Blade Runner is aware of the fact that meaning is then not just created. Whilst it is contrived by people, it is most specifically built. In such, you can't just perform one act of good and think you have found the grand meaning of life; that act of good must propagate through time and so be part of a system of Tao propagation that is transcendent of your concpetion. This is what the child could possibly be. K is the force that could let Tao flow through the bodies of Replicants, putting within them souls. And this itself suggest that a soul is the meeting of autonomy within a body - of will that is free, that chooses to bear worthwhile burdens - and The Way of the universe. Such is Blade Runner's most poignant slice of profundity.

But, these are my thoughts on Blade Runner 2049. They are certainly sparse and abstract, but this is all I can give. I'll then leave things with you. Have you seen Blade Runner? What do you think of everything we've covered today?

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