Warning: Contains plot spoilers
K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, hunting down old-model replicants, synthetic slaves who once mounted an uprising against the human race. In the neon and shadows of futuristic Los Angeles, K lives a lonely life. His only companion is his holographic girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), who is programmed to please him.
Then while out on a routine job, K stumbles across a mystery which could disrupt the delicate truce between humans and replicants, leading to all-out war. As he follows the trail of clues, pursued by ruthless replicant-maker Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), K must confront a crisis that goes right to the heart of who he is.
Generally speaking, if I see that a film is longer than two hours, I’m suppressing a groan – very few cinematic stories justify that amount of time crammed into a seat with insufficient leg room. But I suspected from the off that Blade Runner 2049 might be an exception. The original film’s dreamlike, glacial quality is part of what sets it apart as a sci-fi classic, and sure enough, 2049 follows suit.
From beginning to end the film’s images hypnotise and haunt, evoking a world which seems to stretch far beyond the boundaries of the screen. Anxieties hum beneath the surface as we follow K through his apocalyptic odyssey, which becomes a fairytale quest resembling that of David in A.I (2001). There are characters here who are sure to become just as iconic as those in the original, and even actors in single-scene roles – Lennie James, Barkhad Abdi, and especially Carla Juri – leave a deep impression.
As someone with a sharp eye on the subject, I’m interested by 2049‘s intriguing and imperfect treatment of gender questions. See what you want to see, says the giant holographic advertisement for Joi, hear what you want to hear: rightly or wrongly, I read more into that than a repudiation of K’s existential longings. Isn’t it also an evocation of how women are viewed as fantasy objects? Joi is quite literally two-dimensional, male fantasy made manifest, and to my mind K’s relationship with her is portrayed as dystopian, delusional. He’s a machine in love with a ghost.
- Have you seen the original Blade Runner, and do you think that making a sequel was a good idea? What are some of the pros and cons of continuing the story? How does 2049 stack up against the original film?
- How would you describe your experience of Blade Runner 2049? Did the film draw you in, or did you find it slow? Which scenes were the most exciting or emotional for you?
- What did you think of the film’s plot? Was it the right choice to bring Deckard (Harrison Ford) back into the story? Did you anticipate the plot’s twists and turns?
- What did you make of the dystopian future imagined by the film? Which of our own current cultural crises or anxieties are reflected there? Do you think this is a plausible vision of the future, and why or why not?
- How did you react to K’s relationship with Joi? Do you think it reflects any truths about relationships in our own digital age? In what ways does our own society treat women as wish-fulfilment for men?
- What did you think of the film’s representation of women in general? Is Blade Runner 2049 a misogynistic film, or a critical portrayal of a dystopia where misogyny rules?
‘Every civilization was built on the back of a disposable workforce.’ – Wallace
- How does the film explore ideas around oppression and exploitation? Which real-life groups might the replicants symbolise? How might we find ourselves ignoring or justifying the exploitation of others?
‘Die for the right cause. It’s the most human thing we can do.’ – Freysa
- The ability to procreate and the willingness to die for a cause are suggested by the film as things which make us human. Do you agree, and why or why not? What – if anything – ultimately makes human beings distinct from animals or from artificial intelligence?
- Could you identify with K’s longing to hear that he was ‘special’? How might his existential questions reflect our own? Did you feel the film ultimately held out hope for the possibility of real ‘love’ and ‘joy’, and why or why not?