“What’s your biggest fear?” – Should have a qualifier to it. It should be: “What’s your biggest fear, apart from dying?”. Everyone’s biggest fear is death, and it has been since the start of time. Religion was founded upon that fear and then moulded by psychedelic drug use. Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner is all about that inevitable clock waiting to grasp us all. Sure it’s a fantastic Sci-Fi thriller but most of all it’s a story about a desperate attempt to stay alive. Our villainous replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) says: “All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain” to round off a classic story and film. Yet Blade Runner lives on, some 35 years later to fall in to the depths of mortality once again.
Denis Villeneuve is the greatest director on the planet. He has a run of form that would compete with a 70’s Coppola or a whole career of Scorsese. His directorial style can be drab yes, but also pristine. Each one of his scenes are crafted to perfection – there are no holes of error. Like the modern greats (Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson) he moulds the narrative in his own way and builds his films with multiple layers. Luckily for our eyes he is a frequent collaborator with the greatest cinematographer on the planet – Roger Deakins. The Deak has shot some of the best looking films of the last 20 years and in recent history he has been at the top of his game. We’re talking Hail Cesar, Sicario, Prisoners, Skyfall, True Grit, A Serious Man and No Country for Old Men – all stunning mainstream movies. With Villeneuve he has made the most gorgeous 163 minutes I have ever witnessed. Blade Runner 2049 is a marvel of visual cinema. The lighting is balanced so well between the dreariness of the sunken future world and the brightness of a hollow landscape. It is equally colourful as it is solemn and more than anything the actors are placed accordingly. There are moments during this film where I could not believe what I was seeing. How did they shoot that? I was gasping and I was enthralled. If cinema is a visual art-form then this could be one of the great works of art. The 1982 film has this quality also, though I do not think it is quite as awe-inspiring. Just a simple shot of Mackenzie Davis walking through a crowded street blew my mind. For this the film gets a glowing recommendation to anyone, however this of course does not mean it’s a perfect film.
The film is slow, gracefully slow, but still slow. It’s paced much like a character or a mood piece rather than a Sci-Fi romp. There is very little ‘blade-running’ going on and only a couple of real action scenes to speak about. As a fan of a slow burn I was fine with this, and the more time spent with scenes the better. Villeneuve and the writers were in no rush to portray a plot or elements of a narrative; rather were happy to let moments unfold in an immersive world they had built. The engine for the film comes from the mystery of it all, and a constant questioning of our own interpretations of the Blade Runner tale. It’s fuelled by some lovely performances by side characters; particularly Ana De Armas as Ryan Gosling’s virtual girlfriend Joi. She is both sexy and innocent – being the intrigue of the first half of the film. Her chemistry with Gosling is naturally disjointed and their relationship is built upon a synthetic desire. There scenes together really are highlights of the film, and dealt with excellently within the context of the whole narrative. Gosling does well as blade runner Kay – being likeable in a tricky role that is almost sidelined by the enormity of situations as the film progresses. Through his character Villeneuve and Deakins present a left-field version of Blade Runner with a runtime of sublime and gripping pieces of film-making. They throw plot out the window and tackle themes instead; themes of humanity and sacrifice. Death is at the heart of the film again, but there is more beauty than sorrows this time around.
[Spoilers ahead – watch both films]
There were three times in this film where the film emotionally got me. Now on several occasions I felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my head because of how unbelievably beautiful it looked, but it was on three occasions where a little tear may have trickled out. Firstly when Joi died I was heartbroken as the bond she had with Kay felt genuine. Ana De Armas was fantastic in the role and the character was completely loveable. It shows that being human is about connections with others and her death was tearing a connection apart. What the film does well is sub verse your expectations and when Kay comes across an advert for a model of Joi this happens. Suddenly he is empty of grief and this spurs him on to realise his destiny and save Deckard (Harrison Ford). So maybe all this robot love is phoney? I believe that being human is about that unpredictability and phoney love feels real at the time. The second time I was emotionally jarred was when Kay died. His elegant collapse on the snow steps is dazzling and represents a sacrifice. Kay, to feel human, is doing something that is the most human of all – dying. This is where the beauty of death comes in, because he is dying for a cause; dying for a hope. Death was empty and hopeless in the 1982 film and in 2049 it is heroic and peaceful. Kay gives his life so that the real Blade Runner centrepiece Deckard can meet his daughter. This meeting was the third time I was emotion struck. It was a denouement I wasn’t expecting; an ending to a weird and complex story. There are still questions to be answered but the notions of death and humanity were identified well by Villeneuve. I don’t want to die because I’m enjoying myself too much. I’m enjoying these great films too much. In time Blade Runner 2049 may be tore apart by critics or seen as a masterpiece like the original. All I want to do is write about it and right now I am engorging on its existence.