We finally have our first look at Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve’s (Arrival) sequel to the 1982 science fiction masterpiece about a man who hunts and kills androids (known as Replicants) in 2019 dystopian Los Angeles. Villeneuve’s film sees the return of former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) and the introduction of new main character Officer K, played by Ryan Gosling. Officer K is also a blade runner, and it seems he has to find Deckard and recruit him back to the LAPD – or at least to help him fight whatever new Replicant threat is out there. That’s what the synopsis teases anyway:
Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.
There’s no indication in the trailer of what that long-buried secret might be, but there are a few other details worth exploring. First, check out the trailer if you haven’t already:
I’m going to tackle the trailer and what we know of the film so far in broad strokes. If you spot anything of interest, let me know in the comments! This is a team effort, after all.
Ryan Gosling’s casting in the film seemed like a no-brainer to me, especially after his role as a mass murdering getaway driver in the neon-tinged Drive. Gosling can play badass stoic protagonists, perfect for a neo-noir like Blade Runner. It remains to be seen if his turn as the new blade runner will involve voiceover or not… I sure hope so.
We DO know that Gosling’s Officer K is the main character, not Ford’s Rick Deckard. In fact, it doesn’t seem that Ford is in the movie a whole lot to begin with, if Gosling’s comments about filming with the older actor is any indication:
“I can say that we shot for many months before Harrison [Ford] arrived, and obviously there was a lot of anticipation as to when he would show up and how that would be, and it was just a relief. The second he got to set, he just rolled up his sleeves and we all just got to work. It was a real great pleasure to get to work with him.”
I imagine that much of the film will involve Officer K searching for Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years. My guess is that he’ll find Deckard somewhere around the third act and ask him to go back to his Replicant-retiring ways. Sounds a bit like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, doesn’t it? Ford does have some dialogue, though!
Of course, that’s just a guess.
Who is Officer K?
There’s not much we can deduce about Gosling’s Officer K in the trailer, and the synopsis doesn’t help much either. One thing that did catch my interest is that the first shot of Officer K is accompanied by Deckard’s voiceover about Replicants.
“Replicants are like any other machine. They’re either a benefit or a hazard,” says Deckard in the opening moments of the trailer. “If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.”
Could the trailer be teasing that Officer K is actually a Replicant? It’s not the first time we’ve been left to wonder if a blade runner is actually an android…
Is Deckard a Replicant or what?!
Which brings me to Deckard himself. It’s been thirty years since he decided to make a run for it with Rachael (Sean Young), the Replicant femme fatale he fell in love with in the first film. Deckard does this to save Rachael from “retirement” (what the blade runners call killing Replicants), since she was secretly a machine all along. But Rachael might not be the only one…
For years, fans have speculated about whether Deckard is in fact a Replicant. Several clues left by Ridley Scott in the first film, including a dream sequence added in The Director’s Cut of the movie (there are multiple cuts of the film out there), suggest that Deckard had been manipulated into thinking he was human all along, and that he’d been implanted with the same false memories as the other Replicants in the film.
A lot of it goes back to the connection between his dream about a unicorn and the unicorn tin-foil origami Edwards James Olmos’ Gaff leaves Deckard as a parting gift at the end of the movie, suggesting that Gaff had accessed the blade runner’s implanted memories. Yet, Deckard’s real identity has never been made clear.
It doesn’t help that the creators of both Blade Runner and the novel it’s based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by the great Philip K. Dick, have different interpretations of Deckard. Dick wrote Deckard as a human, while one of the film’s writers, Hampton Fancher, wrote Deckard as a human but wanted to leave the story open to the possibility that he might be a Replicant.
Ridley Scott, however, meant for Deckard to be a Replicant, which is why he added the unicorn dream sequence in The Director’s Cut. He says as much in this old interview with UK’s Channel 4:
During production, Ford disagreed with the revelation, though, and has said througout the years that he thinks Deckard is human:
“That was the main area of contention between Ridley and myself at the time,” Ford told the BBC in a documentary. “I thought the audience deserved one human being on screen that they could establish an emotional relationship with. I thought I had won Ridley’s agreement to that, but in fact I think he had a little reservation about that. I think he really wanted to have it both ways.”
Regardless of your interpretation, the question still remains, and Villeneuve isn’t really interested in answering it in the sequel. He told French film site Allocine that Blade Runner 2049 won’t answer the question still lingering after all these years.
Still, the trailer does at least tease the mystery when Officer K walks into Deckard’s hideout and hits a key on the grand piano. It’ll undoubtedly remind you of the scene from The Director’s Cut where Deckard is playing a key on his piano before having the dream about the unicorn.
That said, Deckard might in fact be human if he’s lived this long. Nexus-6 Replicants were said to only have four-year lifespans, which is why Roy Batty and his crew escaped to Earth in the first place. They wanted to prolong their lives. Of course, all that could mean is that Deckard is an earlier model or a newer one…
Let’s talk about Deckard’s hideout itself. It’s not even clear if he’s actually hiding out in the “Vintage Casino,” which is what it says on the welcome mat when Officer K walks into the old building. What is clear is that the casino is located somewhere outside of Los Angeles.
In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, much of the world outside of the major cities has become a wasteland after World War Terminus – the conflict that turned the planet into a dust-irradiated no man’s land. While much of the book takes place in San Francisco, this may also apply to what’s beyond the film’s dystopian Los Angeles. We know for a fact that most people have left to colonize other planets by the time of the first film, and the trailer seems to indicate that not much has changed in thirty years.
There’s no indication of where the Vintage Casino might be located, although I’d like to guess it’s postapocalyptic Las Vegas. I’m not sure whether the severed statue’s head is supposed to be a clue about the location, but I’d like to think that it’s a relic from a once lavish Vegas strip. One thing is for sure: Deckard has kept this casino tidy.
I should note that this dusty wasteland could also be Mars, and that Villeneuve is going for irony here. The Replicants escaped from Mars in the original movie, so it would fitting that Deckard escaped Earth to hide out in Mars. It might also add to the theory that he’s a Replicant, since androids were only allowed off world…
Rachael isn’t in the trailer, and that’s not very surprising. She was revealed to be a Nexus-6 in the first movie, which means she only had four years to live. I imagine she died some time after the movie while on the run with Deckard, leaving the former blade runner heartbroken and lonely.
There’s also the fact that Sean Young was not asked to return for the sequel.
Los Angeles 2049
I wonder what those giant tankers are carrying in the opening shots, and if they have anything to do with Officer K’s job as a blade runner. Also, is it snowing in Los Angeles or is that ash? Perhaps nuclear winter has finally set in.
We see some familiar sights in the trailer, including a group of people on bikes, the see-through umbrellas, and the neon signs that made up much of the iconic scenery in the first film. Thirty years later, there also seems to be much of the same Eastern influence in LA society.
If you spot anything I missed about the Los Angeles shots, let me know!
How much will the sequel borrow from the PKD novel?
It still remains to be seen what new ideas Villeneuve will introduce to the Blade Runner universe. For one thing, the long-buried secret referenced in the synopsis doesn’t sound like something from the book or mentioned in the first movie. It’s unclear what any of that has to do with Deckard, though.
But beyond new concepts, what might the Arrival director take from the original material? PKD did a great job of fleshing out the world of “postapocalyptic 1992” (this book was first published in 1968), and not just in terms of its androids. Class disparity and emotion control are two of the big subjects of the novel.
Throughout the book, Deckard, who owns an electric sheep, is obsessed with acquiring a real-life animal – most of which have become extinct since the war. Owning a real life animal is a status symbol, and the poor can only afford fake, electric animals. Deckard hopes that his latest assignment will earn him enough money buy a live one.
The original film showed class inequality through the setting itself. In the case of J. F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), for example, he is not allowed to move off-world due to a rare illness that’s making him age much faster than normal. So Sebastian is forced to live in an empty, dilapidated apartment building in Los Angeles.
It would be interesting to see Villeneuve explore this again through the much quirkier animal suplot. Of course, Blade Runner 2049 looks like a very serious affair, which means that there might not be any room for its main character to obsess about owning live sheep.
Emotion control is a much more interesting prospect anyway. In the book, many people have become followers of a technology-based religion known as Mercerism. Through Mercerism and something called an “empathy box,” which links users to a virtual reality deity named Wilbur Mercer, these worshippers hope to better understand each other’s feelings and the suffering of their god. Add to that the Penfield mood organ, which injects users with drugs made to induce any desired emotion. For example, Iran, Deckard’s wife in the book, says that she’s scheduled six hours of “existential despair” for later in the day.
This commentary on emotion – and undoubtedly the psychotropic drugs that PKD wrote so much about in his work – was used in the book to draw similarities between the androids and the humans, and more specifically to show how the machines had become more empathetic than the humans. Some of that last bit is explored in Blade Runner through Roy Batty when he spares Deckard’s life at the end of the movie and reflects on his short life and how his fake memories will be gone once he’s dead.
But could Mercerism appear in the sequel, specifically as one of the main subjects of the film? In the book, the androids hatch a plan to prove that Mercerism is a hoax and that its deity is fake, a form of control to keep people’s emotions in check. Could the hoax be the “long-buried secret” that sends Officer K on his journey?
This is all speculation, of course, and many of these theories could eventually be debunked and lost like tears in the rain. We’ll know for sure when Blade Runner 2049 arrives on Oct. 6, 2017.