Blade Runner 2049: a Coptologist’s appraisal

I have just watched Blade Runner 2049 and whilst I cannot see what it really adds to the first film it does explore themes of interest to me such as gnosticism and the reception of ancient Egypt.

Spoiler alerts

Ryan Gosling’s character is a replicant cop, doing the same job which Harrison Ford’s cop did in the original film. If much of the power of the original films was the ambiguity of whether Deckard was a replicant or not, the new film replaces this with an ambiguity around how human the replicants are. Do they have consciences, do they dream, do they have souls etc?  So far so very deep. Yet, it all ends on a silly note half an hour later than it should have done.

Along the way we are introduced to the key players in this world. For example the cops chasing  the replicants, the rogue replicants themselves and the organisation creating them. Little references to past events in this world’s history (which are sometimes a little heavy handed) set the scene and nod to contemporary worries. A librarian at the company who make the replicants talks about a black out which wiped the files off every computer in the world. Society lost everything because no one kept paper back ups, he says.

Interestingly the Asian inspired rainy cityscapes remain. In the original film this had been seen, by some critics, to reflect the growing ambiguity around a loss of American economic prestige to the new Asian economic powerhouse of Japan. Today, the world is very different, and China is now an increasing economic power and North Korea threatens to destabilise the region. Yet in this film, the depictions feel less oppressive and more cosmopolitan than in the first film, if still quite problematic.

Gnosticism

Jared Leto plays Wallace who discovered a way to farm genetically modified crops after an unspecified ecological disaster. From these riches he had also bought Tyrell Crop. He overacts his scenes just a little too much, channeling both Milton’s Satan and the creator demiurge of Sethian Gnosticism. He is literally the blind creator. At one point he kills a female replicant whom he has just created.

At the same time, the movie centres of the birth of two children a boy and a girl. It is unclear (until the end) who is real child. This resembles not just the syzygy of Gnosticism but also the experiences of Philip K Dick, whose twin sister Jane died at six weeks old. This tragedy haunted him throughout his life. It may have partially been what drew him to spiritual expressions such as Gnosticism.

The daughter of Deckard is a dream weaver. She creates dreams for replicants. Dreams that can be real and that confuse events. The nature of reality is questioned constantly in the Dickian oeuvre. Scenes with her also referenced scenes from other films based on Dick’s stories.

“If [you would go] down into Egyptand bring [back] the one pearl”*

In the most intriguing scenes of the film, Ryan Gosling travels to a deserted red dust strain city fall of futuristic pyramids and Egyptian style colossal statues. Here he meets Deckard who has been hiding out alone with his alcohol, his books and his music. Channeling John Carter and King of Kings, it is the central scene of the film as the loose threads take shape into a coherent narrative.

I remembered that I was a son of kings,

and my free soul longed for its natural state.*

From this moment on the film develops an eschatological edge, as Gosling thinks he is the chosen one, the Moses of the replicants, born to lead his people from bondage. He is not.

Of course the film is more than an examination of Gnosticism, but Dick’s engagement with Gnosticism is what drew him to the themes explored in his works. The film would not need to mention Gnosticism at all to examine these same themes. Yet it did choose to examine them. Its heavy-handed engagement with Gnosticism, lacks the emotional resonances, the doubt and the intellectual depth with which these themes are explored in Dick’s work. It felt a missed opportunity.

Overall, I would give this film three. I would give the books a five.

 

*The Hymn of the Pearl

 

 

 

 

 

 

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