Blade Runner 2049: Do Memories Make Us Human? – Wisecrack Quick Take
The landmark original Blade Runner film confronted us with with the question “What Makes us Human?” The much anticipated sequel “Blade Runner 2049” continues to mediate on the importance of this question, but instead of retreading the same ground, it proposes something new that is essential to our humanity — our desire for connection and intimacy. Join us as we break down all the juicy, smart stuff behind Dennis Villeneuve’s newest masterpiece!
Directed by: Robert Tiemstra
Written by: Thomas Ambrosini
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com/)
Produced by: Emily Dunbar & Jacob Salamon
Blade Runner 2049: Do Memories Make Us Human? – Wisecrack Quick Take
Hey Wisecrack, Jared again. Today, we’re talking about a film that everyone’s loving and nobody’s watching: Blade Runner 2049. The central question the original Blade Runner poses is: “What makes us human?” The sequel continues to meditate on the importance of this question, but instead of retreading the same ground, it proposes something new that is essential to our humanity. And how does it do this? With holographic waifus and weird avant-garde literature.
Welcome to this Wisecrack quick take on Blade Runner 2049. And major spoilers ahead. First, a recap. After the events of the original Blade Runner, the world freaked out and banned the production of replicants. However, tensions eventually cool, and a new company starts producing replicants that, to quote Rick Sanchez, “… have zero chance of going Blade Runner.” 2049 follows K, a replicant-hunting blade runner and replicant, himself. He discovers the skeleton of a replicant that shows signs of having given birth, which should be impossible. K is sent in search of the child replicant and discovers the father is a certain Mr. Deckard. Informed by a childhood memory, K suspects that he is Deckard’s miracle child that would start the replicant revolution… except he’s not. The memory was implanted by Deckard’s real daughter, who finally reunites with her mean, ol’ dad.
The 1982 classic largely reflects on how attachment to memories, both for mankind and replicants, defines our humanity. Replicants recite poetry and ask the philosophical questions — “Like tears in rain.” — while we’re shown debased humans who are drunk and diseased — all of this serves to further blur the distinction between human and replicant. 2049 explores this fuzzy replicant/human distinction in another way: with intimacy and physical connection. Or rather, the lack of it. The only real relationship K experiences is with his holographic girlfriend, Joi. K tries make their relationship more real by uploading her to a portable projector, allowing her to ‘free roam’. In one of the weirder scenes, Joi projects her image onto a prostitute so they can physically touch.
The desire for intimacy is subtly implanted all throughout the film. Niander Wallace, the creator of the new replicants, must feel and touch everything due to his blindness. Deckard’s daughter is locked in an isolation chamber and unable to touch the holograms that keep her entertained. There’s also a recurring motif of “feeling precipitation,” as I’ll call it. Joi, going outside for the first time, reaches out to “feel” the rain, but it goes right through her. Replicants wear gloves all throughout the film until K removes his own to feel the touch of falling snow. Earlier, K’s outstretched hand is covered in bees, although to be honest, I’m a little less sure about what the bees represent. We also see a group of orphans collectively touch K, when he shows up to find the replicant child. And hologram Elvis sings, “take my hand,” from his song “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” after Deckard and K beat the hell out of each other. The film’s final shot shows Deckard trying to touch his daughter, but they’re obstructed by a glass wall. Through this, the importance of touch and connection is seen as innately human.
The second way 2049 explores the human/replicant distinction is in its exploration of how memory builds our personal narrative and how fallible that is. See, this is really interesting because whereas the original Blade Runner showed replicants making claims to humanity with memories, 2049 goes further, implying memories alone aren’t enough. You might remember the bizarre post-trauma stress test K has to go through twice. He sits in a barren room where a disembodied voice keeps saying stuff about a system of cells, while K responds with words like “interlinked,” “cells,” and “dreadfully.” This test is ripped straight from Vladimir Nabakov’s book, “Pale Fire.” The full excerpt is: “A system of cells interlinked within / cells interlinked within cells interlinked / within one stem. And dreadfully distinct / against the dark, a tall white fountain played.”
Later, we actually see Pale Fire in K’s apartment, and Joi asks him to read it. The premise of Pale Fire is essentially that you’ve got a poem by a fictional author, being analyzed in the footnotes by a fictional commentator — it’s a book about a commentary about a poem. Essentially, bookception. The whole cells interlinked passage details our fictional poet having a heart attack and seeing a vision of a tall white fountain. Later in the poem, he reads about someone else having a near death experience and seeing the same white fountain. Convinced that this shared vision proves the existence of an afterlife, the poet investigates further only to discover the line was a misprint, and the person said, “white mountain.”
Sensing a theme, here? These narratives that we build around objects and memories is at the heart of 2049’s discussion on what makes a ‘human’. K’s memory of a wooden horse leads him to believe that he is this miracle child. “You’re special.” But surprise — he isn’t. They are not his memories; they’re implants. Just as the fictional poet of Pale Fire’s revelation is shattered after realizing the “white fountain” was a misprint, K’s revelation is shattered after realizing the misimprint of a memory. And this is where the themes of intimacy and memory combine. When he is given the choice to help the resistance by killing Deckard, he refuses. Instead of trusting his memories, he puts his faith in the intimacy and physical connection he yearns for. Thus, he lets this, not memory, guide him to his decision to reunite Deckard and his daughter. And just like the original Blade Runner, a replicant disobeys his “programming” to save a life, thus achieving meaning, and maybe even a soul.
There is so much more we could say about the thematic connections between 2049 and Pale Fire, like parental loss, the need for memorial, or even just the line, “Father Time, all gray and bent / emerged with his uneasy dog,” which sounds a lot like Deckard and his furry companion. Plus, what’s up with all the water imagery? The cell imagery? There’s a lot more to unpack, here, so let us know what you think in the comments, and maybe we’ll do an Earthling Cinema or a true Philosophy of. Until next time, thanks for watching. Peace.