So, I was watching Blade Runner 2049 last night for the first time at home. In the theater I was blown away by the visuals, and the overall success of recreating the world of Blade Runner while also enriching it. Last night, watching it at home, I was able to focus on more of smaller details. The thematic and character elements. And then while mulling over them today the central theme hit me. Blade Runner 2049 central theme isn’t what does it mean to be human. The theme is creating your own destiny.
The four heroes: K, Joi, Deckard, and Dr. Ana Stelline all have roles they were either created to play or have been told they are to play. K is a replicant created to hunt down other replicants. Joi is a hologram who was created to simply please her owner. Deckard states that after the first film, his role became to disappear, and be a stranger to his child and everyone else. The replicant resistance states that Dr. Ana Stelline’s role is to lead the replicant war against the humans one day. By the end of the film all four of these characters have either broken their role, or have shown the potential to do so. I’ll go over how so for each character below.
K breaks his role several times as he continues to grow throughout the film. He first does so when he lies to Madame, telling her he’s killed the “child” replicant. It could be argued that he’s only doing this out of a sense of survival, as he believes at this time he’s the “child.” It’s not until he meets the resistance, and he’s given a new mission (kill Deckard so the resistance’s secret stays safe) that he truly decides to create his own fate. The moment this happens is when he see’s the advertisement for Joi. The giant nude hologram bends down to speak to him, and it even refers to him as “Joe,” as his Joi did. It’s in this moment that we can see K deciding what he’s going to do. It’s never stated, but one interpretation here is that K rejects the idea that Joi wasn’t real, or that she is replaceable, because his Joi was unique, as she created her own destiny. Which is what K ultimately decides to do when he doesn’t kill Deckard, and instead brings Deckard to see his daughter.
Deckard has two roles that have been spelt out for him. The first one is a role he states to K when they speak in the bar. He tells K he had to disappear when they were being hunted, and that he had to remain a stranger to his child. When Deckard meets Wallace, Wallace states that perhaps Deckard was “designed” to fall in love with Rachel and have a child with her. This goes back to the question posed in the first Blade Runner film, which is, “Is Deckard a human or a replicant?” Either way, Deckard rejects this idea when he refuses to accept Wallace’s “gift” of a new Rachel, by lying about her eye color (the new Rachel’s eyes are the correct color, despite Deckard stating they should be green). The most dramatic turn for Deckard, is of course at the end. When he goes against his own stated purpose, to stay in hiding, and to never know his child, so that she’ll remain safe. By the end he stands in front of the glass prison his daughter lives in, and he presses his palm against it. We can see the emotion washing over his face as he sees his child for the first time 30 years after she was born.
Joi’s arch is a little more sticky, but I would still argue it is an arch of role defiance. Joi was created to please her owner. That’s her sole purpose. We can see this in K’s particular version of Joi when he comes home from work and she tries every way she can think of to cheer him up. She asks, “Do you want to read to me? Dance?” He then gives her a present. An enimantor, which allows her to travel anywhere the portable pen-size projector goes. K takes her to the roof, where it’s raining. She leans in to “kiss” him and tells him “I’m so happy when I’m with you.” K tells her she doesn’t have to say that. K isn’t dumb (well, mostly he isn’t). K knows Joi is a creation of Wallace, just like himself, and he doesn’t want her to lie to him. But is she lying here? The emotions she seems to be having while the rain falls through her translucent body seem to be real. Later in the film, Joi sacrifices her backup file to ensure K’s safety. This is something a person (or…machine) would do if they truly loved someone, right? Her last words before the enimantor is smashed, are “I love you!” as she runs for K’s arms.
It can of course be argued that all of these actions, despite how genuine they seem, are simply programing. But if the feelings are just as real to her as they would be otherwise, what is the difference? What makes them less real? No one would argue K is not capable of real human emotions, despite being grown in a lab. Joi represents the new question of what humanity is for the Blade Runner universe, and her death and reappearance as a floating nude advertisement serve as the driving catalyst for K in the final act.
Dr. Ana’s defiance can be assumed by the audience, but is left ambiguous as the film ends. Her role is stated by the resistance is to be their leader when the revolt against the humans finally happens. These are the same people who want her father dead. By the end of the film her father, Deckard, is staring at her through her glass bubble. We see her walking towards him, unsure who he is, but aware he’s no ordinary visitor.
There’s no way to know what Ana does after the film ends, but from what we know of her, she doesn’t appear to be a character who would be interested in leading an armed rebellion. She spends her days creating memories of birthday party , and staring at insects in lush woods. When K shows her his memory from her childhood, she’s brought to tears and it’s difficult for her to speak. It’s hard to imagine that when Deckard reveals who he is to her that they don’t have some sort of future together that the replicant resistance is not going to approve of.