Thirty-five years ago, Rutger Hauer sat on a rooftop, cradling a dove in his arms, lamenting with his robotic eyes that the wonders he had seen were about to disappear forever, because it was time to die.
It’s one of the most emotional moments in the history of science fiction. It’s also a sentiment that doesn’t quite apply to Blade Runner itself, a movie that – after the studio butchered Ridley Scott’s creative vision, leaving audiences with a film that only a cult could love – eventually took on a whole new life. Re-edited, re-released and re-evaluated, Blade Runner is now one of the most celebrated films of the 1980s, and like all celebrated films of the 1980s, the time has come to turn it into a sequel.
Thank god, then, that Blade Runner 2049 is not a cynical cash grab. Denis Villeneuve’s follow-up lovingly recreates the very particular world of Blade Runner, a future piled on top of the bones of earlier generations. It’s 30 years later in the future of this world as well, but it feels like home to fans of the original movie. The sky is just as murky, the buildings have that same beautifully unapologetic ugliness, and the line between human beings and replicants – a race of androids almost indistinguishable from their creators – has never been thinner.
It really does feel like Denis Villeneuve pointed his camera out of the exact same window that Ridley Scott used in the original Blade Runner. The first movie asked enormous philosophical questions about the nature of humanity, but it was a tone poem first and foremost, enveloping its audience in a world where huge advancements have done nothing to curb the pervasive sense of ennui. Blade Runner 2049 captures that same aesthetic, patiently painting its pictures – courtesy of Roger Deakins, an ingenious cinematographer doing some of the finest work of his career – and letting the story unfold as it must, in its own time.
That story is simple, yet tremendously complicated. The simple version is that Ryan Gosling plays K, a man conducting an investigation that – like Deckard’s investigation in the first film – raises serious questions about the nature of human consciousness. The complex version is full of twists and turns that make you wonder what will happen next. But this isn’t a potboiler and it isn’t an action spectacle. It’s a somber meditation on what the events of this story do to K’s mind, and if you happen to be thrilled – and you almost certainly will – that’s a pleasing byproduct of a very serious story.
Ryan Gosling is given a lot to ponder, in a character who already seems to be playing a role in his own life. His introduction in the film echoes the opening of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai, sitting in the shadows, so still you’d hardly know he was there. He’s in the world and he’s a part of it, but as he digs deeper and deeper into his assignment – oh, that would be telling – he will gradually to step outside of it and look inward, with new eyes.
Harrison Ford returns as Rick Deckard, a character who, when last we saw him, wasn’t sure if he was a human being a replicant. It would seem that the very fact that Deckard is still alive would answer that question, but a few carefully placed lines of dialogue make it difficult to know for certain. It’s nothing short of miraculous that Blade Runner 2049 assembles a whole new storyline with what’s left of the original, but still manages to leave Ridley Scott’s puzzles (mostly) unsolved.
New mysteries have been added, and the new and the old storylines conclude in ways that are emotionally satisfying, even as they raise even bigger questions about whether the artificial beings involved were simply performing their function, or if they had evolved beyond their programming. Or indeed, if the human beings involved were doing the same thing.
One picks up on little details throughout Blade Runner 2049 that imply that Denis Villeneuve and his collaborators have their own theories about what’s really happening. At least two sentences are spoken that shouldn’t be possible, but they are spoken anyway, and with those we may have our clues. But Villeneuve has built his career on providing difficult answers to simple questions, and as such, he seems to have been the perfect filmmaker for Blade Runner 2049. The film is drenched in plausible deniability, and is going to be analyzed (and overanalyzed) for a long time to come.
It’s frustrating to discuss Blade Runner 2049 now, before everyone else has seen it, for that reason. Like the original, it raises big issues and only reveals the answers in little moments you may not catch the first time around. I could reveal the plot in detail and you still wouldn’t get the full impact. But it’s the best kind of frustration, the kind that makes you want to do more research.
Whatever you feel about Blade Runner 2049, whatever you think about its philosophies, and however you choose to interpret its intentionally vague storyline, Denis Villeneuve has crafted a breathtaking return to the awe-inspiring and deeply troubled world of Blade Runner. Many films deserve to be seen. This one demands to be explored. And when you’re all done exploring, we’re going to have a lot to talk about.
Blade Runner hasn’t been lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to live.
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Top Photo: Warner Bros.
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.