In 1982, iconic filmmaker Ridley Scott imagined the dystopian world of 2019 as overcrowded, cynical, polluted and inhabited not only by humans but also by their genetically engineered look-alikes — a disposable workforce, called replicants.
Almost at the doorstep of 2019, filmmaker Denis Villeneuve creates Blade Runner 2049, a sequel to the original. As the lines between humanity and artificial intelligence are blurred, once again, both films probe the nature of life and its moral implications.
In the new film, 30 years have passed since replicant revolts were quelled by humans, and bioengineers redesigned replicants to obey them unconditionally. However, life overturns human designs and replicants are again surprising their creators. Lieutenant Joshi of the Los Angeles Police sends Blade Runner "K" to deal with the problem.
Joshi, played by Robin Wright, will do anything to keep order because without it, she tells K, there will be chaos. "The world is built on a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there is no wall, you got a war," she says in a key moment.
Joshi's words resonate with today's political realities, where walls and fences built across the planet aim to restrict the flow of humanity, to divide the "privileged" from the "undesired."
"It really is a story trying to seek your identity in this near future world. What does it mean to be human anymore, and try and maintain love and connection as we know it today?" said Wright.
Ryan Gosling interprets Blade Runner K, a police officer and a replicant himself, programmed to exterminate his own kind. But along the way, he comes face to face with his own humanity.
"When you meet the character," Gosling said, "he is sort of at odds with his station in life and he's looking for some kind of connection, love and happiness in amongst this sort of nightmare that they are all living."
K, an introvert, lives with Joi, played by Ana de Armas, a beautiful, loving companion but a digital application. Their intangible relationship highlights the isolation and artificiality around them.
The dystopian world is ruled by a genius villain, bioengineer-tycoon Niander Wallace, played by Jared Leto, and his obedient synthetics.
Harrison Ford reprises his original Blade Runner character, Officer Rick Deckard, to team up with K on his mission.
"The original film proposed a future in which humanity had reached a point where cities were overpopulated, there was a lot of suffering, a challenge between classes, and this story continues on most of those themes in an interesting way," Ford said.
"The challenges with the environment have progressed where there are life-and-death issues, and science has loosened its moral constraints and is willing to develop a biological creature identical to a human being," he said. "But because they are owned, because they are manufactured, they are denied the potentials of human beings."
Screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green created a streamlined story that does not match the original's inception. But it is the visual storytelling by director Villeneuve, the cinematography by Roger Deakins and the music by Hans Zimmer that add texture to the story. Blade Runner 2049 is ruled by visual precision, unnerving music and muted colors that evoke loneliness.
Villeneuve's precise and orderly future is more impressionistic than Scott's chaotic and more linear story. It is anchored in the original but finds its own vision reflecting our social and political anxieties, 30 years later.