Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather wonder about the visual style, the biblical allegory, and the social commentary of Dennis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, starring Ryan Gosling. We also hear listener messages for the 9th anniversary podcast!
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- IMDb: Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049
- Wikipedia: Blade Runner, Versions of Blade Runner
- Epistle to the Galatians: Wikipedia, Text
Well, actually, Paul was not a gentile, but a jewish citizen of Rome. I think that role actually fits K a little better. Both are members of an underclass that they are involved in policing, and both have some privileges because of their relationships with the authorities.
I saw the movie for the second time tonight, and I might have identified a Downton Abbey moment near the beginning (assuming I’ve properly learned the meaning of the term).
When K brings the portable Joi home, they have the following (approximate) exchange:
K: I have a present for you
Joi: What’s the occasion?
K:Let’s say it’s our anniversary.
Joi: Is it?
K: No, but let’s say it is.
This runs parallel to the reason K has to break his programming. He’s going to go save Harrison Ford. Why? Let’s just say he’s Ford’s kid. Is he? No, but let’s say he is. The ‘reality’ of whether K is special or not is irrelevant. Once he thinks he’s special, he finds the ability to withhold information from his superiors and rebel in an attempt to find his ‘father’. The reason for this is manufactured rather than found, but that doesn’t make it any less real, because it still functions as motivation. Whether the anniversary is actual or not, it still works as an excuse to give a gift.
** Spoilers, duh**
My Downton Abbey moment for the movie was just prior to Christian’s: when Joi holds up a well-worn copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire that is in K’s apartment. After I’d seen that book my whole interpretation of the movie was coloured by it: a story about delusion, solipsism, and being the hero of your own story in a pre-copernican way.
Pale Fire is centered around a 999 line poem (of the same name) by an in-book fictional poet named John Shade, which consists of an introduction, commentary, and foot notes by the also in-book fictional neighbor of Shade: Dr. Charles Kinbote (K!). Kinbote is an academic who is clearly at least slightly delusional, believing himself to be the exiled monarch of an imaginary eastern european kingdom, involved in various plots, and clearly believes he was closer and more valued by Shade that he really is. He liberally (and quite obviously) subverts the meaning/intention of Shade’s poem for his own aggrandizement and spends much of the ‘commentary’ digressing about his own narrative and generally subsuming the book’s content (not the poem, although that happens a little as well) to place himself at it’s center. A strong misreading if you will, since the author actually is dead.
K in the movie also seems to spend much of the movie’s runtime self-deluding, writing himself into the center of the story’s narrative (even if he’s really just a bit-part player), and generally assuming himself into the ‘central’ narrative. It’s also fun to watch Joi hold up the book, as she spends much of her screen time reading K and his desires and directly reflecting back to him what she thinks he wants to hear: i.e. you’re loved and special and of course you were born to be important—unreliable narrators indeed!
The nature of the book can also be thought of saying fun things about the director and writers of BR2049 appropriating and subverting the content of the original for a sequel movie, and how their later narrative re-interprets and contextualizes the events of the first.
Finally, the most famous lines of the Pale Fire (the poem): “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain / By the false azure in the window pane” are, on the surface, about a bird killed by flying into a window pane because it saw something that wasn’t there. This of course fits neatly with Ana Stelline’s memory creation and what K sees of her reaction to his (her) memories though the glass window, and K’s general trajectory throughout the movie.
As an extra cool kicker, the lines K repeats during the Post-Trauma Baseline Test at the LAPD are taken directly from several lines of Pale Fire (the poem): “Cells interlinked within cells” and “a tall white fountain played”.
I’ve been puzzling over the fact that K is given the name “Joe” by Joi, thus making him “Joe K”, which calls to mind “Josef K” from several of Kafka’s works. On the surface the themes of BR2049 don’t seem to line up well at all with Kafka’s, however, so I presume the name similarity is just a coincidence.
I could listen to you talk about noir for hours. I know relatively little about it as it’s always struck me as one of those more male genres that I’d get around to if I had the time. I didn’t pick up on that aspect of Mildred Pierce at all. I was busy soaking in all the Joan Crawford magic. I think I relate to stories more on the level of the words and less on the visuals. It’d be interesting to have a series or maybe do some overviews that were more about film language and visual storytelling.