Atmospheric, claustrophobic and restless - a society deeply in turmoil between the ambitious task to settle on new planets and the dystopian reality of hell on earth.
It's been a while since I saw the original Blade Runner movie. It seemed to be kind of obscure at that time. The atmosphere, though, was one to remember. It felt dark, it felt lonely, it felt hopeless. Until - there was love. At that point, I was convinced that this film is a love-story. And on the side, it was also about the question what makes us human - which supposedly is love.
(Careful now - Spoilers lie ahead of you...)
So when I went to see Blade Runner 2049, I was eager to see how they would follow up on this milestone of dystopian urbanism. My first impressions of the artwork were similar to those of Blade Runner. Cold, hopeless - dystopian (duh). The visuals are naturally better than the ones in the original, though the original seemed more rugged, rougher around the edges, which was part of its charm. Blade Runner 2049 still looks overcrowded yet lonely, dark and forlorn, but not as grimy as its predecessor. Following Officer K (played by Ryan Gosling - whom I've somehow not yet seen on screen) through the city, while he is trying to solve the mystery of his past and the wooden horse that is somehow tied to it, gives the audience an idea of the life one leads in this place. There is the loneliness we already saw in Blade Runner, the glaring streetlights and the obvious differences between the rich and the poor, between blissful ignorance and hopelessness. The visuals are sharp and striking, often artful and alien. The place of the blind Niander Wallace was irritating to my eyes at best and disorienting most of the time with its wandering light and the shimmering water. Water is often used in this film as a prop for great, if not somewhat depressing, visuals - be it in the firm and the house of Niander Wallace (played by Jared Leto), or in the scene when Officer K kills Niander's secretary who claims herself to be the best of them all - meaning the replicants. With this, we come full circle in the sense of emotions, especially one: Love. Sylvia Hoeks plays Luv so perfectly emotional while being a being that is supposed to be unable to love - because that is supposedly the one thing that makes us human. Or was that procreation?
Luv is driven by her desire to be loved by Niander whom she is devoted to with all her programmed heart. Her antagonist, the good one, is Officer K who loves his maid-programme, Joi. When we see Joi being advertised for on the streets it makes her death and the knowledge that her algorithms turned her into something truly special the more jarring. It nearly made me tear up to see machine lovers parted by... death? Or how do you call it when a programme is deleted? The love that once drove Blade Runner Rick Deckard to question his inhumanity and procreate with Rachael (which leads to an entirely different question of whether Deckard is, actually, a human being believing himself to be a replicant or whether he is a replicant that is mysteriously able to reproduce which is why Niander is so highly interested in him and his offspring) now drives Officer K, Joi and Luv to act the way they do, blurring the lines between humans and machines.
This circle was unexpectedly expectable, yet, I was not disappointed by the lack of new storyline that unfolded before my eyes; I was mesmerised by the atmospheric density of the city, the vast, shrouded immensity of what once seems to have been Las Vegas and the hopelessness of the slums.
The soundtrack blew me away, too, not only because it was eardrum-shattering loud at moments. Its loudness made sense. It emphasised the dejection one feels in this dystopian world, where many are forced to scuttle over an earth that is struggling to feed them all and only the rich, hopeful ones are able to leave the world and settle on new ones that seem to be better, an escapist fantasy that cannot become real for the masses. Hans Zimmer, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Benjamin Wallfish created a score that is able to tie the city, the wastes and the slums together in one kaleidoscope of sound and silence, of hope and desperation, of emotions and cold calculation.
When I left the cinema, I was flashed. Even though the storyline is not big, not really new or surprising, it makes for interesting food for thought. What is humanity? Can machines be humane without being human? Can you be human without being humane to other beings? Are you the sum of your memories or of your choices? Is dying for someone else really the most human thing you can do (I had to think of I-Robot here)? And what does it mean for us humans, if machines can be like us, if we can build humans/machines that are like us, but expendable to us, to use them as we want on other planets as an expendable workforce?
The ethical questions you can discuss afterwards are manifold and I am not sure how I would answer them. But if you ask me, whether I would watch this film again, I have no doubt about my answer: Yes, I would.