We live in a day and age where people obsess more than they appreciate. The original “Blade Runner” is a prime example of this troubling phenomenon. It’s a great film. It’s a slow film. And it’s also a very sexist film. But for all of its faults, which are many, everyone remembers the speech made by the antagonist at the end of the film. If you’re like me, you heard the phrase “like tears in the rain,” before you watched “Chinatown,” before you read “Camus” or even before you had heard of the brilliant Octavia Butler. And my problem with that movie is that this admittedly fantastic moment seems to overshadow all of the nauseating stuff that’s in the film.
The original “Blade Runner” is great. It’s emotional, and it’s touching. But there’s just so much wrong with it that people ignore because of some truly fantastic moments spliced in throughout. In this regard, the new “Blade Runner 2049” exhibits more of the bad qualities of the first film because of its age. I really liked this movie, but there is just so much here that took me out of the experience that it is hard to give this film a good rating.
To start with the positive aspects of the film, I thought this movie looked visually fantastic. “2049” isn’t just a sci-fi flick, but rather it’s a window into the year 2049, and it’s absolutely wild. My favorite visual aspect was the “beach” scene that happens in the third act.
I also really loved Ryan Gosling’s character and how his narrative tied into the narrative repetition of the franchise through the use of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel “Pale Fire.” I also thought the use of an electronic girlfriend was a cool rehash of themes brought up in Spike Jonze’s impeccable film “Her,” but this time from a decidedly more depressing angle.
And now onto the aspects of the remake that were lacking. “2049” is plagued by the same prob- lem as David Lynch’s return to “Twin Peaks”: These pieces appropriate Asian culture to the utmost degree. There is Asian art, Asian dress and Asian beliefs on very blatant display in these pieces, and while the art might be authentic and the beliefs genuine, the lack of any actual Asian representation within these pieces just pushes the use of Asian culture into bona fide appropriative territory. Hollywood must do better, there are no excuses.
Why I’m bothered by this is that these pieces are trying to set up a feeling of otherworldliness and thoughtfulness within their worlds, and they do this through “othering” Asian culture. Instead of coming from, say, an Indian Buddhist perspective and embodying these beliefs through actors who come from this culture, these movies use these beliefs to display feelings of “weirdness” and “other-worldliness” that are removed from their real-world counterparts.
What this leads to is us as viewers being okay with tons of white-on-white violence through the justification of the influence of an “Orientalized” other, which is an idea that originally come from Andre Seewood’s review on Shadow and Act of the film.
Why this is so frustrating coming from a director like Dennis Villeneuve is that he was a director who has been very aware and vocal about issues of race and gender in his previous films. This was especially apparent in his film “Sicario.”
At first, this film seemed great. It appeared to go down the path of a generic thriller with a white lead who solves all of the non-European problems. But then that white lead gets forcibly removed from the plot, and the movie pivots into a drama or a political commentary that is told through a completely Mexican lens. Villeneuve recognized that race was an critical part of that film and completely molded his film to tell that specific story.
But now we have “2049” and the double threat of Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford going around this wacky future world where the only place Asian people are seen is on the sides of buildings. If you’ve been to San Francisco, you know how ridiculous this is. There should be a reason that there’s katakana and mandarin plastered all over the buildings. People live in these cities that utilize these languages. But the film never shows us any indication that there are any Asians any- where within its world. It’s cultural appropriation at its most blatant, and it completely took me out of the film.
Additonally, there’s the other problem with this movie, with one of the more troubling be- ing the way it treats women. I think this one is more of a misfire than it is a flaw fundamental to the movie’s DNA. The reason I think this is that there’s a lot of women in this movie, and not just that they’re there and have a neutered role, but these women are key players within the plot of the film. For each of the three male leads, there’s at least two female characters that seem to play a more important role than the males, despite not receiving due credit.
I say “seem to” because the movie doesn’t really do this. This movie had female-identifying characters that were independent of a male presence and that the plot was aimed at deconstructing the misogyny of the first film. Instead of that, the female characters only seem to be there to denote the importance of the male characters.
What I’m trying to get at with these points is that the remake of “Blade Runner” is just trying so hard that it’s essentially ineffective. It wants to live up to the overblown standards of the first film. It’s trying to be Andrei Tarkovsky with its meditative length and sci-fi concepts, and it’s also trying to be “Blade Runner” in a post-”Hand- maiden’s Tale” world. With that said, it just doesn’t achieve any of this. “Blade Runner 2049” wants to be a thoughtful sci-fi film in the vein of Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” or Lizzie Borden’s “Born in Flames,” but it misses the critical step of turning its investigative eye back in on itself and perpetuates the issue of lack of representation and cultural appropriation in blockbuster films.