A Dazzling, Cerebral Vision Of The Future
The figures are in; Americans do not love ‘Blade Runner 2049’. They clearly prefer to see a film about a monster clown living in a drain. The opening weekend for the noir SF sequel was dismal. However it has had a huge opening in the UK and will make back its cost internationally.
In an increasingly divided and culturally infantilised Hollywood culture it’s not hard to see why its domestic numbers are low. BR2049 is not a date movie. It’s 163 minutes long and paced with the slowness of a European art film. And for unfathomable reasons, its marketing planners swamped the internet with lengthy footage far in advance of the opening.
Although the film is rated 15 in the UK it has been slapped with an R in the US – apparently because of nipples. It is also an unapologetic, long-gestating sequel that assumes you recall and fully understand the implications of the original, the main point being that the line between AI and humanity is being erased, and that Deckard (after much toing-and-froing on the subject) was previously revealed as a replicant.
So let’s look at what BR2049 is; nothing short of a masterpiece. Denis Villeneuve, who gave us serious, intelligent SF in ‘Arrival’, worked with Ridley Scott to craft a sequel that is almost too perfect, from its images of a derelict, atmospherically ravaged Los Angeles to the vast stone halls of light and water where those in power still cling on to the idea of human superiority.
A replicant officer, K, (Ryan Gosling) uncovers a set of buried bones, the first alarm bell being rung over the audience’s heads when we realise that they date back thirty years. K’s attempts to uncover the truth about them sets him against the LAPD Blade Runner unit, and the plot doesn’t so much twist as unfold with simple reveals that feel entirely organic and logical.
The visuals have the elegance and purity of storyboards. Flashes of future-tech and moments of violence are minimised, leaving large stretches of the film silent, still and contemplative. Certain sensations are evoked; a profound sense of loneliness and loss for what we had and ruined, and for what we still have yet to lose. This is twilight’s last gleaming, mankind eclipsed, its collective soul slipping from the Earth to somewhere off-world – and though the door is ultimately left open for a sequel I hope it is not invoked, because it would inevitably have to follow the ‘Planet of the Apes’ template. A tense, climactic outburst of violence is resolved in an elegiac scene that will remain as an after-image in the mind.
I have minor quibbles; Harrison Ford gets equal billing but his appearance comes late in the movie, along with an unbilled surprise. At this distance at least the film has no single standout scene that will live on to represent it. And although there are strong female roles, the film’s gaze is male, just as the original’s was. The 3D Imax experience adds depth and space.
Will I see it again? Definitely. ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a slow burn, long-term future classic with implications that will only grow deeper with passing time. One disturbing idea is that such urban dystopias are not warnings about what we must avoid, but survival guides for when the inevitable occurs to a race seemingly indifferent to its fate. In that sense, the film is a perfect exemplar of how Trump’s kleptocracy is fast-tracking America’s demise.