Review: Ryan & Ford’s ‘Blade Runner 2049’ Is an Anti-Blockbuster
Catch the review of Blade Runner 2 starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.
The best cameo in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 belongs to Vladimir Nabokov. The appearance in unmissable when Pale Fire appears as the loathsome book in K’s (Ryan Gosling) apartment. For the rest, the great writer plays hide and seek behind an encrypted voice.
K, the blade runner, is subjected to an internal test by an unblinking eye of a machine after every task, and words like ‘cells’, ‘interlinked’ and strange phrases fly around. This encoded exchange, if you put together, is actually a verse from Nabokov’s 999-line poem in Pale Fire. The novel is famously disobedient, creating rabbit holes of curious depths, but the lucidity of its narrative can tell any inquisitive reader how clear it is in its head. You’re never sure what the capricious narrator is serving you, but you’re emboldened with clues. This clever but never conceited is the approach of Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi behemoth Blade Runner, wondering yet again whether art is a way of unearthing the truth or a supreme power of procreative conception.
When Harrison Ford’s Deckard meets K (not a spoiler, for the trailers have extensively promoted his return), he says, “I had your job once. It was simpler then." Deckard’s Los Angeles was a place that gave birth to cyberpunk in cinema, pitting high tech and low life against each other in whiplashes of rain and neon lights. K’s LA, 30 years later, is more monolithic in exhausted grey, and video advertisements have metamorphosed into seductive holograms. But the hunting of rogue replicants is still on, only Deckard’s successor here is named after Kafka’s K.
If Deckard was haunted by a unicorn in his dreams, K’s memory is filled with a childhood of hiding a wooden horse. If Deckard fell in love with a replicant, K’s probable love interest is a commercially produced software named Joi (Ana de Armas) who changes attire in seconds, brims with empathy, and can bring the faint glimmer of a smile on K’s otherwise blank face. The moment when an ‘emanator’ allows Joi to escape virtual prison, and experience human sensations like an embrace, or the touch of rain on the skin, we are plunged into a universe of feelings hitherto unaddressed in modern blockbuster realm. Villeneuve’s films have always derived its strength from its women, and here, two women, both supposed to be not human, bring intensity and heartbeat to the proceedings. The other woman, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) a replicant enforcer is a studied turnout in menace, and pitted against Joi, we see two contrasting ideas of devotion.
If there was any doubt about Villeneuve’s credence as a modern master, it’s time to dispel it for good. Working with the astonishing lens of Roger Deakins (lock him for Oscar glory) and Dennis Gassner’s production design, we are invited to a party of images that would make Goya coil in dismay for its never-ending despair. Vangelis’ iconic synthesizer-based score which blurred the boundaries of sound design, score and dialogue in the original resurrects itself here with the help of Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, a reverberation to deepen the mystery further and wield a sense of paranoia. Together, they create a California and Nevada of colossal gloom, and a sense of tranquility waiting to implode.
Deckard’s fundamental struggle, that of finding his identity, whether replicant or not, continues in the future, with K. How memories are created, what it means to be human – these big questions still plague the replicants in 2049. K’s discovery of a box during an operation kickstarts an investigation of a missing child, but most importantly, it aggravates his existential calamity, a battle to locate himself in the labyrinth of dreams and realities. This discovery also has the potential to bring a crisis in Niander Wallace’s (Jared Leto) empire of enslaved labour and imperialism.
K, being an android, operates with measured calm, and how it disintegrates in the probing light of feelings makes Gosling’s casting a peculiar triumph. Gosling with his self-conscious beauty begins like Alain Delon’s hitman did in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï, too pokerfaced for compassion. Gradually, his indifferent face reaches out, wanting tenderness for a safely encased soul inside.
During the press screening, the studio read out a message by the director, insisting on not giving out any plot points to preserve the experience for the viewer. Truth to be told, this is one of those rare films that is almost spoiler proof. The plot, after all, is not at all a busy one, and the inwardly probing film generates its most imperative scenes in frightening serenity. The very existence of this film is a glorious middle finger to blockbuster variety. It prefers a spectacle of melancholia in place of rapacious fun. Even the most concentrated action scenes are staged against backdrops so vast and eerie, you fear you will be swallowed by the consciousness of doom.
Scott’s original created a cottage industry of analysis and dissection, and has since become a watershed moment in cinema’s history. Villeneuve’s sequel is guided by Scott’s vision, but has its own set of fear, desire and an overwhelming anguish to chart its own course.
Like Nabokov’s anti-novel Pale Fire, Blade Runner 2049 is anti-blockbuster that offers freedom in ambiguity.
“Yet, if prior to life we had
Been able to imagine life, what mad,
Impossible, unutterably weird
Wonderful nonsense it might have appeared!”
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)
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