Blade Runner 2049: Watching on repeat

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Warning: Spoilers ahead.

The sequel is a difficult beast. Few directors manage to equal the quality of the original, let alone surpass it. There are some occasional cases of the former (The Godfather Part II, Toy Story 2), and even the latter (Austin Powers 2, The Dark Knight), though these examples are rare specimens.

In the case of Blade Runner 2049, I’m still undecided about which category it fits. After watching Blade Runner around a decade ago, I became obsessed with Ridley Scott’s dystopian 2019 Los Angeles. The steampunk visual aesthetic, ethereal electronic soundtrack and the unforgettable ‘Tears of Rain’ monologue of Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) were just a few elements that enamoured me.

Such adoration for the original is always bound to fuel apprehension when news of a sequel comes along, particularly one that arrives after three decades. Surely the ambiguities of the original would be spoiled, and no meaningful narrative would remain.

Or so I thought. Blade Runner 2049 remains the only sequel where my initial disbelief turned into awe upon watching the finished product. While the film kept Blade Runner’s visual splendour and dreamlike music, it still managed to build a new, unique and complex mythology. The story of Officer KD6-3.7 (Ryan Gosling) trying to find his identity is a standard film trope that Villeneuve nonetheless makes incredibly engrossing and poignant.

Blade Runner 2049 remains the only sequel where my initial disbelief turned into awe upon watching the finished product.

Like its predecessor, I have watched Blade Runner 2049 many times, and have recently written an extended piece about its similarities to director Dennis Villeneuve’s earlier work Arrival. After watching both movies shot-by-shot, I realised that one of the elements I loved most about Villeneuve’s directorial style is his focus on silence. Not just silence in the literal sense (K utters a mere 1,252 words in the entire film; I should know, I counted them), but also through his constant use of silhouettes and tracking shots. The viewer is often forced to interpret meaning from surroundings rather than revealing facial expressions.

Villeneuve employs silhouettes so often that they become a motif. Whether it’s the scene in the orphanage where K fearfully moves towards the furnace he saw in his dreams or the final fight by the sea, darkness engulfs almost every shot of the film. Rather than simply emphasising the bleakness of the dystopian atmosphere, they articulate K’s constant doubt and dread as he tries to find his purpose in an unforgiving world. Every shot is worth pausing just to marvel at each subtle aesthetic detail.

I was also fascinated by Villeneuve’s constant focus on K’s hands. The first image we see as he awakes is his hand, and cinematographer Roger Deakins constantly returns to K’s hands whenever K picks up or touches objects during his journey. To me, this seems a way of ensuring we always see things from K’s point of view.

Blade Runner 2049 is also enhanced by a wide array of outstanding performances, not only from Gosling and Ford, but also from its female leads. Robin Wright is believably authoritative as Lieutenant Joshi, commanding K in his daily routine and keeping him in focus. Sylvia Hoeks is compelling as the brutal, crying Luv and Ana de Armas unnervingly realistic as K’s partner Joi.

Despite accusations of sexism at the time of the film’s release, I think these are unfounded. Every character delivers a meaningful depiction of struggle within the confines of their dystopian landscape. Carla Juri‘s Doctor Ana Stelline is the highlight among the female cast, working as a fiercely independent dream-maker who refuses to be bought out by other companies, and ultimately manages to keep her identity secret to secure her safety.

I was already enthralled by the visual, musical and acting excellence of the film as I watched it for the first time, but through numerous rewatches my appreciation has only grown. K’s memories may be lost in time, but Blade Runner 2049 will no doubt be renowned for decades to come.

Image Credit: Lucy King