Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049
Okay, I have something to admit: I don’t love Blade Runner.
It’s not that I think Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic is a bad movie, necesarily – not at all, in fact. I can appreciate the grungy, grubby vision of it’s future, the excellent Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer performances, the iconic and influential direction and cinematography, it’s innovative exploration of classic sci-fi themes. But something about the movie has never connected with me. For a movie about what it means to be human (take a shot, by the way, for every time that sentence turns up in a review), it’s always left me cold.
So I wasn’t going in to Blade Runner 2049 as a fangirl. I mean, I love Harrison Ford, I adored Denis Villineuve’s last outing, Arrival, and I am always in for a dense, sweeping sci-fi movie with a cast that includes Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, and Lennie James. Even with my mortal enemy Ryan Gosling in a starring role, I was in for this long-awaited sequel. Even if it was an absurd 164 minutes long.
And, look, in all fairness, there is a reason that this movie is getting all the insanely adulatory reviews that it is. This is perhaps one of the most visually stunning movies I’ve ever laid eyes on in my life; Arrival displayed Villineuve’s flair for the artistic visual, but the budget and scope for Blade Runner 2049 just allows for him to come up with some honestly breathtaking images. In some ways, it reminded me of Scorcese’s Silence, also out this year, in just the sheer, sweeping enormity of the world that it depicted. The world-building, too, was exceptional, the film touching on various little foibles and characters every one of whom could have carried their own movie (Lennie James, in the five minutes of screentime he had, might as well have been dunking Gosling upside down into a sudsy bucket for all he was wiping the floor with him, and Robin Wright commands the screen as Gosling’s police chief). The sound design, with Hans Zimmer’s portentous, bone-shaking score, was exceptional enough that I actually noticed it. In terms of the technicalities behind 2049, it’s hard to think of a movie this year that has delivered with such aplomb. It’s not often I would argue a film is worth seeing solely for the way it looks and sounds, but 2049 might just be that movie.
And yet. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been a die-hard fan of the original, but the characters and the story in 2049 left me wanting for much more. I think what frustrated me most was seeing this brilliantly constructed world and watching the filmmakers choose to follow a character strikingly similair Ford’s Deckard in the first film; a straight, white, male leading man who may (or may not) be a replicant and who does a lot of pondering on What It Means to Be Human. There’s nothing inherently wrong with stories about straight white blah blah I have no interest in pandering any further, but in a world that diverse it felt like a missed opportunity not to pick a different perspective, to explore a different kind of story within this ostensibly diverse world. We know what the experiences of a straight white male Blade Runner are in this universe – how about something different?
(just an aside, too, but the woman stuff left something to be desired: though the film, like movies like Ex Machina and Her before it, seemed to want to explore questions about the commodification of female sexuality and affection, it merely posed the question and left us without a decent answer. Not to mention the fact that 2049 seemed keen to reframe the relationship between Deckard and Rachel – which, in most cuts of the first movie, includes a scene where he rapes her – as romance, depicting it only through the romanticised lens of Deckard’s memories of her. Which is a shame, firstly because it put the movie in the uncomfortable position of trying to pretend that scene never happened and making that rape part of a romance plot, and partly because there was an interesting story to be told about our ostensible protagonist and hero, Deckard, committing sexual assault and how that effects his view of himself, Rachel, and his relationship with morality and humanity, a big part of the thematic elements for both movies. Considering how important the concept of free will and autonomy are to both films, it would have been interesting to see them explore this through the lens of this rape scene and how it stripped Rachel of her autonomy.)
2049 also felt distinctly like it was deliberately leaving some threads hanging for a future movie, too – I don’t want to spoil too much here, but there were a number of storylines that either seemed to end too abruptly or be left obviously open-ended to be picked up on in later films, which I really bloody hate; I don’t mind if there’s got to be a sequel, but at least be upfront about it when I’m going in. And there were other problems with the plot, too – notably, Jared Leto’s antagonist was literally, and I’m not exaggerating here, in two scenes, and was left feeling poorly fleshed-out as a result (it’s a sick world when I actually want more of Leto in a movie, but there we go). Some of the writing was hackneyed and the symbolism a little on-the-nose; I cringed a little when the film draws obvious comparisons between a dead tree and a replicant prostitute (“beautiful, but dead”, Gosling intones in that usual dead-eyed fashion he’s got down so well). I really don’t think this is the sweepingly perfect piece of art people are making it out to be. It’s a little indulgent, overlong, and touches on themes and plots that it really should have leaned in to with a little more aplomb given that the length of this film could have allowed for it.
So, yeah, overall, this review might seem more critical of Blade Runner 2049 than not. But it is, undoubtedly, a great film in many ways – it looks fantastic, explores a truly amazing world, and features a handful of killer performances. But when a film comes this close to being a classic, you can’t help but hone in on what kept it from making it over the edge, and, despite it’s enormous ambition in some respects, it was Blade Runner 2049’s fallback on the predictable that kept it from going all the way.
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If you think that was a rape scene in the first Blade Runner you heavily misinterpreted.
Perhaps this video will explain my interpretation of that scene. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWoP8VpbpYI
I will also add then misinformed, this guy doesn’t seem to get it either. Thank you for the kind response.
Can I ask why you think the scene between them is consensual, given the context it occurs in?
Yes. This might be kind of long.
For me it starts with the whole premise of the movie plus the first meeting between Deckard and Rachel. If you don’t understand the idea behind the replicants and their new struggle to develop human emotions then I can see how it would all be easy to miss.
When Deckard first meets Rachael, Dr.Tyrell enters the room and he makes reference to the Voight-Kampff machine test, which may or may not have been suggesting that Deckard himself was having an emotional response to Rachael. After the test between Deckard and Rachael Dr.Tyrell asks how many questions it normally takes for him to realize someone is a replicant, Deckard responds about 15-20 if I remember. Then he asked or commented about it taking twice as many questions to make a decision about Rachael. This whole piece itself is showing the obvious love interest and confusion between the two. Also there is a question Deckard asks her about if her husband hung a porn photo on their wall would it bother her etc, her response was she wouldn’t like it because she should be enough. I think this may have added fuel to the flame. Deckard is thrown off because she is supposed to be an emotionless replicant doll but he is feeling something. There is also the theory that Deckard himself is a replicant which would really throw things off.
The next time we see her she appears waiting for him in his elevator/apartment. She is there for the sole purpose to convince him she is human, this is her way of confessing her love because she doesn’t know how to. He tries to shut her down because he is frustrated himself, not just about her and his feelings but about replicants in general too, but he still refuses to accept her as anything but a fake human. This is her first taste of rejection which probably magnifies her emotions further. We can see that when Deckard tries to call her and she rejections him back.
Rachael shows up again and saves him, at this point they might as well be married. They are back at the apartment. She takes her hair down to try to make herself more beautiful or to simply act out that she is a unique individual discovering herself, she is trying to embrace her human side as much as possible, she opens up to Deckard and shows that she understands what she is and can’t tell what’s fake and what’s real about her. To me this makes Deckard feel like he can accept her now because he can no longer pass her off as some robot or fake, plus the fact that she just saved his life. She can make decisions for herself. Shes too real now for him to deny.
He kisses her, she doesn’t respond, not because she isn’t cool with it, she still doesn’t totally understand how to express her love especially physically, there is also my own theory that Dr.Tyrell could have been using her so she is scared at first. To sum up the rest of it Deckard decides instead of letting her be more confused and frustrated he will show her what she is trying to communicate and what is going on between them. If she hated it so much she wouldn’t have still been there in the apartment and wouldn’t have left with him at the end of the movie. (although this is just a story)
I’ll admit the scene is rough but as soon as all the previous encounters rush back it seems like nothing more than strong passion between them both equally. Not all love looks a certain way.
All of this seems like your interpretation of the text rather than actual content present in the text itself (ie, Rachel taking her hair down to seem beautiful) and your apparent assumption that Deckard’s feelings are automatically reciprocal (in your third paragraph you talk a lot about Deckard’s attraction to Rachel, but little that indicates that it is reciprocated – you suggest that her appearing at his apartment is her way of declaring her love, but I don’t see any evidence for this). Per my interpretation, Deckard’s trouble accepting Rachel as human extends to her sexual agency, which he feels he can take away from her (such as by ordering her to kiss him after violently shoving her against the door in an apparent rage) because he doesn’t see her as fully human. As for the ending of the film, Rachel may have since developed feelings for Deckard, as often happens as rape victims attempt to dissacociate themselves from what happened to them, or it may be a cause of the film not recognising that the scene can be read as non-consensual.
I gave a counter example to taking her hair down immediately after, it was just one possibility. It looks like you only will see what you want to see where as I have analyzed the entire situation deeply including the possibility of it being rape. I’m not denying that the potential exists but in this context I don’t think it does. My response was rushed and half baked so I skimmed over lots of details because to me this is all obvious.
The feelings are reciprocal. I gave you the evidence plus it is already self evident. Maybe you are not asking yourself why enough. She was the one making most of the initial advances, right after she hung up on the call she still showed up anyway proving that she thinks about him and is concerned for him, also that she may of had an intuitive feeling that he was in danger quite typical of lovers.
His “rage” seemed to me more like frustration that she was trying to run away from what she already felt herself which would only make things more painful for them both in the long run. Stopping a chicken from crossing the road, and getting hit.
At the end the reverse happens for Deckard, I don’t know about you but it would seem pretty strange for a rapist to be concerned for their victims well being unless you want to interpret it in that it was all a part of his own psychotic scheme and that Rachael is frozen. She had feelings for him from the beginning, the whole thing was mutual. I could see how what you are saying is true if everything I just got done writing out didn’t exist.
We can agree to disagree I just think it’s unfortunate when one jumps straight to a conclusion like that and tries to rewrite a beautiful story as fact which was all I was getting at by commenting in the first place. Then again there are unlimited ways for interpretation.
I at no point would claim that Deckard had a “psychotic scheme” to rape Rachel. I take his assault on her as an immediate reaction to almost being killed by a replicant, ie, after one of them almost took his humanity, he does the same to one of them. I wouldn’t call Blade Runner a beautiful story in many senses; in fact, I think describing it as such misses vital points of the movie which makes out a world filled with violence, ugliness, and cruelty, and the questions of morality surrounding that. In this instance, a protagonist does not equal a hero, and I find Deckard a more compelling character when he is involved in the cycles of violence that echo down the movie, as opposed to being a good guy with a cheesy romance plot where he swoops in to save the female lead. And, as for your assumption that I have “jumped to the conclusion” of viewing this scene in this way, my interpretation of the scene as non-consensual is relatively recent and something I have given a lot of thought to.
Also it was the fact that she was not human that stopped him in the first place from pursuing anything because he knew it wouldn’t be right, THEN the realization that she was not just a doll allowed him to fully embrace his feelings for her. These counter arguments are refuted in my first response if you read it.