Do Replicants Dream of Origami Sheep? Or Wooden Horses…?

(Warning: May Contain Spoilers!  I have tried to spoil as little as possible but there are a few things it is impossible to avoid completely with a film like this.  Read at your own risk.)

I had mixed feelings going into this movie.  I have not been happy with the remakes of films based on Phillip K. Dick’s work (the Total Recall remake, and Minority Report tv show were both disappointing).  I have not been happy with remakes of classic Ridley Scott films (don’t even get me started on the reboot of the Alien franchise…).  I do not like Ryan Gosling (I know this is not a popular opinion among most women but I cannot stand him).  But…  I love the original film and have watched it several times, both for pleasure and for school.  I have read the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick that was the inspiration for Blade Runner and it is one of my favourite science fiction novels.  Also, Denis Villeneuve’s take on this classic film certainly looked promising in the promotional material and I have enjoyed some of his previous films.  So basically I went into this film hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst.

Thankfully, this was not the train wreck I was worried it would be.

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I was actually pleasantly surprised with Ryan Gosling.  One of my classmates once said that Gosling has a face that is well suited to the Kuleshov effect effect – meaning his face is so blank, expressionless, and uninteresting that he could literally be looking at anything while he’s acting – and I tend to agree.  For this film, a face like that works.  What normally annoys me about Ryan Gosling was actually an asset.  Since his character, K, is a replicant it makes sense for him to have such a blank face as it almost serves as a way to emphasize the fact that he’s not actually human.  Also, he tends to separate himself from others – both replicant and human – and prefers the company of an artificial woman over a real one, so it makes sense that K will be a little more closed off emotionally.

The look and feel of the film was absolutely perfect.  The sets were grand, the costumes unique and interesting, and the special effects were absolutely gorgeous.  Visually, I did not have any issues with this film.  I also really enjoyed the way it played with lighting.  Probably the best use of lighting is to contrast the realms of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri). From the point of view of the replicants at least, Wallace represents all that is evil in terms of their cause whereas Stelline represents the good. Neither character ever leaves their own personal sanctuaries but both are interestingly lit and attention is drawn to the unique ways in which they see and create.  Wallace is blind and uses technology to see only what is important to him and his creations.  sequestered from the rest of the world, he sees only his work and his creations, and will destroy anything that prevents him from achieving angelic perfection in his work.  The use of water as a reflective surface and the additional use of shadow means we never really get a clear view of him.  He cannot see us and we cannot see him; he is hidden by choice.  Stelline, on the other hand, has no choice to remain in hiding and is very visible at all times even though she is sequestered from the rest of the world.  When she is not working, her lab is well lit so she and visitors can see each other.  Her creation of memories allows her to explore the world in her own unique way, and she ensures her presence is felt in the world as it is her memories that are in the minds of the replicants that Wallace creates.

Typically, cold, blue lighting is used for more unpleasant or hostile spaces whereas warmer tones convey more welcoming spaces.  This was not the case with this film.  Areas like K’s home or the office of Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) – spaces that are friendly and safe for K – are bathed in cooler colours.  Yet, violence also occurs in these safe spaces.  Also, the farm belonging to Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) is not a safe space for K but it is safe for other replicants, yet it too has a cooler colour palette.  In contrast, the hideout of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) features a warmer colour palette and rightfully so because it is an area full of life (although we are never truly sure if the dog or the bees are real or artificial).  This is the living area of a hero and an ally in the story, yet it has the same warm colour scheme as the living area of the main antagonist of the film.  Wallace inhabits a warm space in which replicants/products are referred to as angels given names like Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) and Joi (Ana de Armas).  On the surface, this should be a safe and welcoming space, but it most certainly is not since multiple replicants are murdered here. The fact that the use of colour in this film can be misleading only emphasizes the fact that in a story inspired by the work of Phillip K. Dick, you never know who you can truly trust.

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This notion of paranoia and uncertainty that is so prevalent in Dick’s work is what was disappointing for me in this film.  Typically, in Dick’s stories the protagonist has difficulty figuring out what is real and what is not, and/or there is uncertainty surrounding who they can and cannot trust.  The film certainly had elements of both, but neither was explored with nearly enough depth.  There was never any question as to who was a replicant or human, and who was not.  If a character was one or the other, there was no question about it.  The thing the film seemed most concerned with, however, was real vs. simulation.  For example, the real replicant Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) vs. the simulated Joi.  But in all urban areas of the film there was still no uncertainty; the real and the simulation existed side by side and sometimes were even superimposed onto one another.  It is as if by 2049 no one really cares to distinguish between the two anymore.  There are moments that certainly could have been elaborated to bring about that classic Phillip K. Dick style paranoia: K’s memory of the horse and his belief about his true identity; or the fact that Joi is advertised as providing everything you want to see and hear (was anything she ever said true or was it all part of her programing?).  I wish elements like these had been taken a little further.

There was one thing from the original book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that made its way into the movie that I really enjoyed.  Animals and the possession of real/replicant animals are important elements in the novel and I enjoyed how they were used in this film compared to the first.  In Blade Runner the only time animals are mentioned is the owl (and this moment is briefly shown as a memory in Blade Runner 2049).  In 2049, although animals are still not as important as they are in the book, they are at least more prevalent.  And I especially appreciated when Gaff (Edward James Olmos) placed an origami sheep on the table.

I saw this film in DBox and I have to say that it is probably one of my top 3 DBox experiences of the year.  The movements of the chair were well thought out and there were definitely some nice little touches here and there were there would be a light vibration or sudden movement to accompany what was being shown on screen.  In this case, the extra cost of the DBox was totally worth it.

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Overall, this was an enjoyable film and it was beautiful to look at. It is almost 3 hours long but it is well paced; right as I was beginning to feel like it might be starting to drag on too long, the film was able to wrap things up in the next 5 to 10 minutes.  This film provided exactly what I was expecting for a science fiction dystopia.  From the mood to the music I felt uncomfortable and uneasy, and I think that’s a sign of a really good sci-fi story.  If the vision of the potential future instills that kind of discomfort then it’s doing its job.  I also realized part of the way through the film that this is the kind of movie that makes me wish I was still in university.  I would love to discuss this film with some of my old classmates and there is even one class in particular that I feel would have developed a fascinating discussion out of the elements in this film.  I am so glad this film exceeded my expectations.

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