This article contains spoilers for Blade Runner 2049 and its ending.
For Blade Runner 2049 co-writer Hampton Fancher — who co-wrote the original movie back in 1982 and penned the treatment that became the basis for the sequel — the return to the world of Rick Deckard and replicants began with a short story and a phone call.
“(I had finished) a book of short stories and the publisher asked for one more,” recalls Fancher as we sit with him and his fellow Blade Runner 2049 scribe, Michael Green, in a Los Angeles hotel room. “They wanted 13 stories, not 12, or whatever. So I said, ‘What about a Blade Runner story?’”
“I had this old scene I loved, that I had written that wasn’t in the original movie,” continues Fancher. “It was like a real short story. K (the role played by Ryan Gosling) is the protagonist in the story, except I call him Kard. And I just finished typing the end sentence when the phone rang, it was a Friday evening, and they said, ‘Ridley wants to talk to you. Will you be home in an hour?’”
“Ridley,” of course, was Ridley Scott, director of the original Blade Runner and — with Philip K. Dick, author of the original novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — the man most responsible for the Blade Runner universe and its massive impact on the culture since. But Scott declined to direct the sequel himself, selecting instead the masterful Denis Villeneuve (Arrival). Fancher wrote his 80-page treatment, with final screenwriting duties turned over to Michael Green (American Gods, Logan).
“It is the classiest film I can name and I am not the classiest person you will meet,” jokes Green about getting involved with the project. “I actually look back at old emails trying to get a sense of the timeline for this, and I found the first emails where the idea of it even came up, and there was a process for me to wrap my head around the idea that I deserved to have any voice in it. I’m not sure I ever got to that place, but I decided to get over that anyway and pretend so.”
For his part, Fancher hoped that his treatment wouldn’t be turned over to a Hollywood veteran but someone more in touch with the pop culture of today. “I called them and said — I don’t know anything about comic books, but I said, ‘Get somebody who is like some young guy who understands comic books and knows that shit.’” (Green has written several graphic novels for DC)
But Fancher was initially alarmed when he heard who the producers had chosen. “My agents called me and said, ‘Do you know Michael Green?’ Michael Green happens to be the name of one of my best, earliest friends, who is not a writer. I said, ‘What? Michael Green, no. That’s not possible. How did this happen?’ Because he worms his way into my life in various ways.” (Fancher and Green — the writer, not Fancher’s friend — never directly collaborated, but did speak on the phone and met several times during post-production.)
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One thing that both writers saw eye to eye on was preserving the themes of the original movie: “In this one, like the last one, there were a couple of things,” says Fancher. “It’s about love, and it’s about corruption, it’s the perversity of power. It’s also about the ecology again, and the fate of the world, which is horrifying to all of us.”
“I had the good fortune to get to build on all those sound and salient themes,” adds Green. “And if the first film is very much about quantity of life, this became about quality of life. Then the concept of ensoulment came up. Does the soul exist? Does it live in the body? When does the soul come into a body? When does it leave? The idea of an artificial human really challenges that idea of not just what it is to be human, but what is it to have a soul, and is that a necessary part of being a human?”
(Spoilers from this point onward)
Green says that the idea of “growing a soul vs. being born with one” impacted the arc of almost every character in the film, most specifically Ryan Gosling’s blade runner K — who’s a more servile, emotionless replicant programmed to retire older replicants — and especially Joi (Ana de Armas), the female A.I. who appears as K’s holographic “girlfriend” to provide comfort to him, and may actually have enough awareness to truly love him. Joi may be the most empathetic character in the film.
“One of Hampton’s many great gifts I got to play with in depth was to devise the psyche of the character of Joi,” says Green. “There are replicants, there are humans, and now there’s this third thing that is new and that is judged and that has a rank and a class (in this society), but that I could imagine striving beyond that. And you could wonder about the integrity of that yearning.”
Blade Runner 2049 ends with K apparently dying and Deckard (Harrison Ford) reuniting with his daughter (Carla Juri) — a child who was conceived with and born via a replicant (Sean Young’s Rachael). The implication is that K has developed a soul, ignored his mission and sacrificed himself for a greater good: the survival of both his own species and the human race by preserving a new hybrid of both (or just his own race, if you believe that Deckard himself is a replicant too). But both Green and Fancher are hesitant to say whether they left room for a sequel deliberately. Fancher says, “I mean, the most important thing for everyone involved in this is that this be a movie that stands on its own.”
Green concurs: “There is not a single person, producer, studio, director, anyone involved, who came in and said, ‘We must build a cinematic universe that we can return to.’ It was first and foremost, ‘Is there a story worth telling right now that is a worthy successor to a film we all adore and admire?’ That said, if we do stick the landing, if we do become an accepted accompaniment to that film, I find the world endlessly fascinating and there are many years you can put after the words Blade Runner that would set a stage for a further story I would love to see and love to write.”
Blade Runner 2079, anyone?
Blade Runner 2049 is out in theaters now.