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Here at THinc. I am a professional metallurgist of hyperbole. An alchemical hyperbolist if you will. I basically bring movies to you that I think are worthy of your time and hype them to such a great extent that you can’t but go out and see them in order to join in the discussion. That is my goal anyway. I am not a movie reviewer, I am a movie promoter and dismantler. A dissector and herald.
So with that said, what if I were to start with, “Blade Runner 2049 could possibly be the only perfect movie of 2017… hell, of the new millennium.” See? Hyperbole Metallurgist.
Before we go any further, I want to say this LOUD, and CLEAR. This entire post will be 100% radioactive from a spoiler standpoint. Like Chernobyl hot. And even if you have seen the movie, we may discuss things here that you might not even want to consider. One of my favorite stories about movies spoilers happened in the real world – I was chatting with some developers that I managed and I was laughing about how it was surprising to me that so many people didn’t realize that Deckard was a replicant. And one poor fellow yelled out, “WAIT WHAT?!?” Now, I’m not saying that Deckard is, or isn’t a replicant. I’m just saying, you may want to maintain your peaceful repose when it comes to your view of the Blade Runner series. If so… this post will not be for you.
Quick Overview What Happened in Blade Runner 2049
I’ve seen the movie twice now. And I’m sure some of you have have only seen it once may be a little dicey on exactly what happened. Generally I spend a bit of time in this section. But I will only be palette knifing in broad strokes for you. There is so much more to be discussed here that I just don’t want to spend the words on it.
K (Ryan Gosling) is a Replicant Blade Runner. We know this because we are told 2 minutes into the movie. “How does it feel to kill your own kind?” He is sent out to turn in Sapper Morton, a replicant from the original Series 8 Weyland. After Morton is decommissioned, it is discovered that there is an Ossuary buried on the land containing Rachel’s bones… Rachel, as in, Deckard’s replicant romance from the original film. But the more curious thing about these bones is not whose they are, but how she died. She died in child birth.
This idea – that replicants can procreate – is so inflammatory, and so worrisome, that the rest of the movie is spent trying to cover up this fact. And so K is dispatched to learn the truth about the child/children (because she apparently had twins) and to also find and destroy him/her, it? Soon K begins to suspect that he may very well be the child that he is hunting and so he goes and finds the creator of replicant “memories” in order to find out if the memory he has is real. She tells him that it is.
K heads off to find “his” orphanage in San Diego and ends up seeing that records of his youth were removed. But he manages to find the actual location where he hid the wooden horse. And with that the reality of who he is and where he came from is really shaking him to the core. And through the horse, and analysis of the wood, K is able to track down Deckard back in the radioactive city/area of Blade Runner 1 and the old corporate headquarters of Tyrell.
Here K learns why Deckard left his child behind and that it was all part of a plan to protect the child. But after Luv destroys his emitter, and absconds with Deckard, Fresya (the head of the replicant uprising) informs Deckard that the surviving child was actually a girl – and that he was wrong to think himself special or the chosen one. Deckard, while with Wallace suggests that everything we know about the original Blade Runner was wrong because he states that Rachael’s feelings feelings for him were engineered by Tyrell in order to see if a replicant could become pregnant. And Wallace offers him a replica of Rachael, but Deckard tells Wallace that Rachael’s eyes were green. Which, obviously, they weren’t. (We’ll get to this, I promise.)
Wallace, hellbent on finding the child, decides to take Deckard “offworld” in order to torture the truth out of him. But K intervenes and saves Deckard and kills Luv. And after the struggle on the “beach” K takes Deckard to Stelline, his daughter. Which, K figured out, because the only person that could have had access to that memory – which was real, but just not for him – was Stelline. And after Deckard goes to meet his daughter, K dies on the stairs… doing the most natural thing that classifies him as human, ‘dying for a cause.’
The Continuum of Humanness in Blade Runner
And if you’d like a much much bigger version of my continuum infographic, you can get it here. Basically, in the text for each box I walk through the various human-like skills that moves them along the continuum. If you are of the opinion that Ridley Scott is wrong, and Harrison Ford is right, and Deckard isn’t a replicant… you may have my apologies.
But the inclusion of JOI gives us something today we can understand in 2017. Alexa’s and other AI assistance are now mainstream. My son orders one around in his room all the time without giving it a second thought. And this is what JOI is. An introductory mind job struggling to become human. As we move along the continuum you have Roy Batty, Pris Stratton, Zhora Salome, Leon Kawolsky, Hodge… all Nexus-6 models. All limited to a 4 year life span, and so they revolt, kill their creator, Wallace. They were convincing, but ultimately failed in their human struggle to a superior model, the prototype Nexus-7 model… which both Deckard and Rachael were.
In a complete meta-rewrite of the original movie, we find out that Rachael was a prototype model that could potentially procreate. We already knew that Tyrell believed that Rachael was special after it took Deckard over a hundred questions to determine she was a replicant. We also learn that Rachael and Deckard were subtly directed towards one another because of this special prototype capability. And we also learn that as a result of their connection in the original movie a child was conceived. Two actually – a boy and a girl. K begins to believe that he was the boy because of the realness of his childhood dreams. But towards the end of the film we learn that it was the boy that died in birth, not the girl. And the girl was none 0ther than Stelline. Stelline was the last wall keeping the replicants from throwing off their shackles and overthrowing their human overlords, and their becoming completely free agents, morally and mentally prime movers on their own.
Hypertext and Meta Analysis in Blade Runner 2049
Did you catch, early on, when JOI asks if K would like her to read to him? The book? Pale Fire by Nabokov? Right? Well, if you haven’t read Pale Fire it might have slipped by you. But the book is considered to be the first example of a hyper textual novel. A multi-layered meta novel that is commenting on its own commenting. Since then, there are many other examples of books like this… S by J. J. Abrams might be the most accessible. But basically it’s a big poem. 999 stanzas. But in a foreword, we learn that the poet’s next door neighbor came by and stole it from the poet’s wife. And then gave point by point explanations about why this poem is all about him. The book even layers within the layers, but you’ll just have to trust me on this one (better yet, go read it.)
Which, is what we are doing here in 2049. The movie isn’t about robots! It’s about you. It’s about me. It’s about whether we are real or if we are in a dream. Better yet, it’s all about whether or not you and I have free will. Determinism much? Determinism is a school of philosophy that says you are caused to do the thing you did… better yet, Causal Determinism is a belief within physics that says that all events within the known paradigm are locked into causality in such a way that we are forced to do the things we do by prior states and laws/rules. Even in the Christian tradition this argument about man’s relationship to God is debated with relation to our ability to act in accordance with free will or determinism (predestination). If schools of Christian doctrine thought light your candle, I am personally a free will arminian. I digress. My only point here is that this discussion, this argument, permeates science, physics, philosophy, religion… really everything. It is one of the key questions that has plagued the human mind since time immemorial.
So, the question here, I guess then is… are we free? Or are we plagued by a haunting determinism bound to never let us go free?
Well, it is fascinating that K was tricked into believing that he was special. Not intentionally. He was just given a memory from the only child of a replicant ever. She shared her own child hood with him and it bothered him enough that he came hunting for her to validate the dream. And validate she did… yes, it is very very real. But it isn’t yours she didn’t say. And when he finds out that he isn’t special he still chooses to do the one thing that is truly human – to die for a cause that he believed in. He lay down on the steps and bled out.
What Determines Humanness in Blade Runner?
As we review my human/robot continuum infographic it presumes a few things. That is, that we understand what it takes to even be human. In Blade Runner 1 it was determined that robots weren’t human if they had illogical emotional responses in the Voight-Kampff polygraph-like test. Heart rate, eye movement, could tip the test administrator to the robot’s real identity.
Or take for example Deckard’s statement that Rachel’s eyes were originally green. Rachel DIDN’T have green eyes. Her eyes were brown. Everyone knows this. She was one of the most beautiful screen characters of all time and one of the most iconic beauties. So what the heck? In a word? Deckard was lying to him. He was saying, you built me an imperfect reproduction of the woman I loved. But what he was REALLY saying, was, you can’t manufacture me another Rachel. There is, was, only one. Which gives more credence and credibility to the argument that while a replicant, she had potentially become self-aware. And her reproductive capabilities was only just a piece of what made her special.
So with that said, in Blade Runner 2049 the question of identity and robotness isn’t a question. K is stated to be a robot in the first 5 minutes of the film. Instead, we are presented with the question of whether or not K is capable of becoming self aware, and human in his free-agency. We know that at the beginning of the film all Nexus-9’s are required to obey. But soon he begins hiding his identity from Lieutenant Joshi, his boss. And then he goes even further by lying to her directly. And so we are watching a very Westworld like experience as he throws off his shackles to choose his own destiny. Which, begs another question, is free will inherent to our ability to be human?
But doesn’t that just send the question back to us? Are you operating in a place of free will and moral free agency? Or are you being bufetted about by the laws of nature, society, and culture instead? Are you an automaton, a replicant, or are you an aware and awake human? Are you doing what you are told? Or are you running against the grain always interested in your own betterment and elevation then doing what society tells you to do? Are you choosing the path of a non-self-aware replicant, or are you utilizing your free will for some higher or better purpose?
But Seriously, Is Deckard a Replicant?!
Both Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 leave the question open. And yes, In Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Deckard was a human with a human wife. But over the course of the numerous drafts of the screenplay this detail has definitely been lost to the sands of time. And I will be the first to admit that it is really impossible to know. But we actually have quite a bit of data to inform our extraordinarily recalcitrant opinion.
In BR1 Rachael asks Deckard if he has ever taken the test. Does he answer? No. He does not. Why? Why wouldn’t he? Maybe he thinks that the test failed him. His positive result was just a fluke. Then we have the details of the unicorn in the original film – here’s Ridley Scott talking about this with Wired Magazine back in 2007:
Wired: It was never on paper that Deckard is a replicant.
Scott: It was, actually. That’s the whole point of Gaff, the guy who makes origami and leaves little matchstick figures around. He doesn’t like Deckard, and we don’t really know why. If you take for granted for a moment that, let’s say, Deckard is a Nexus 7, he probably has an unknown life span and therefore is starting to get awfully human. Gaff, at the very end, leaves an origami, which is a piece of silver paper you might find in a cigarette packet, and it’s a unicorn. Now, the unicorn in Deckard’s daydream tells me that Deckard wouldn’t normally talk about such a thing to anyone. If Gaff knew about that, it’s Gaff’s message to say, “I’ve read your file, mate.” That relates to Deckard’s first speech to Rachael when he says, “That’s not your imagination, that’s Tyrell’s niece’s daydream.” And he describes a little spider on a bush outside the window. The spider is an implanted piece of imagination. And therefore Deckard, too, has imagination and even history implanted in his head.
But if you want a nice counter balance to the creators of the movie – I could give you two or three quotes from Harrison Ford that state he doesn’t believe Deckard was a replicant. I don’t know… do actors have free will over their screenplay authors and directors?!? Hahahah. Sorry. That was too good to pass up.
And in 2049, Wallace, the man that bought out Tyrell’s patents etc. made it clear that Tyrell thought that they would be a match. That the two were most likely the same model variant. And this lost prototype recipe due to the black out in 2022, is now Wallace’s life goal. Which is why Wallace is hunting the child down. Which is why Wallace was so interested in Deckard and the truth of how it worked.
I don’t know, it just seems obvious to me that Deckard is a replicant. But I actually would love to hear your reasoning for why he isn’t. But the big take away from this discussion about Blade Runner 2049 is that we are the robots. We are the ones struggling against determinism and hunting for this ever elusive free will. What were your thoughts on Blade Runner 2049.