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Blade Runner 2049: Souls searching for a miracle

November 9, 2017 No Comment

by Ted Giese

With Blade Runner 2049, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve provides an admirable sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner. Set 30 years after the first film, the dystopian future Villeneuve presents is grimmer and bleaker. Advances in technology, collapses in the natural world, and questions of what it means to be human intensify as development of artificial intelligence and replicant bioengineered androids moves closer to achieving the reality of the slogan, “More human than human.”

In the first film “replicants”—derogatorily referred to as “skinjobs,”—were prohibited on earth. Pioneered by the Tyrell Corporation they were meant to be used as “slave labour” in off-world colonies. Should they be discovered on earth a mercenary parapolice bounty hunter called a Blade Runner would be dispatched to “retire” the illegal android. The challenge is that replicants were so similar to humans they required the Blade Runner to be a sort of film noir detective to pick them out of a crowd. Blade Runners worked hard to avoid “retiring” a human by mistake.

In Blade Runner 2049, the authorities have lifted the prohibition against replicants, and newer models, now produced by Wallace Corporation which bought out the Tyrell Corporation, have been engineered to obey their human masters. Because rogue older models still exist and are mixed in with the human and new compliant replicant population, Blade Runners are still a necessary evil. One replicant, KD6.3-7—who goes by “K” (an abbreviation of his serial number)—is also a Blade Runner tasked with hunting down his own kind. The film follows his investigation into a group of renegade replicants harbouring a dangerous secret. His search leads him into a mystery which opens up unexplored questions about himself and his origins. Eventually his path crosses with a former Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, hiding out in a desolate radioactive Las Vegas.

Spoilers follow

Early in the film K has a showdown with a renegade replicant, Sapper Morton, a protein farmer, who says to K that the only reason K can do his job is “because [he’s] never seen a miracle.” The miracle in question is a replicant giving birth to a baby. What K uncovers is that, after the birth, replicants went to great lengths to hide both the birth and child. K’s superior officer, Lt. Joshi, highlights the danger of this secret becoming known telling K, “The world is built on a wall that separates kinds. Tell either side there’s no wall… You’ve bought a war.” She tasks him with finding and killing the child before anyone understands what has happened, to which K replies “I’ve never retired anything that was born before… to be born means to have a soul.” Along the way Joshi assures K that he’s “gotten by okay without a soul” and that he doesn’t really need one for his work; he’s simply tasked to obey and erase all evidence of this miracle birth.

Why doesn’t K simply do what he’s told? Does he have a soul? As with the first film and Philip K. Dick’s novella, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner 2049 asks trans-humanist questions. Trans-humanism is a developing philosophical movement that questions and contemplates the barrier between humanity and technology. Can humanity transmigrate from the biological to the synthetic? Can memories, dreams, the spirit and/or the soul of one person be transmigrated into a machine or a biological clone to extend life and “hack” mortality? Can human consciousness evade death by artificial means? Can an artificial intelligence attain consciousness? There are scientists around the world currently engaged in technological research towards this end.

Christians should be aware of this growing and rapidly developing movement especially because it runs up against the first article of the Apostles’ Creed on creation. Christians confess that they “believe that God has made [them] and all creatures; that He has given [them their] body and soul, eyes, ears, and all [their] members, [their] reason and all [their] senses, and still takes care of them.” But what would it mean if humanity could “seemingly” do these things without God? Does humanity then break the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” and claim the title of God for itself in an act of defiance? In the film, the character Niander Wallace seems to think so.

Christians confess that they believe that God has made them, given them body and soul, eyes, ears, and all their members, their reason and all their senses…. But what would it mean if humanity could seemingly do these things without God?

The industrialist Wallace, the head of Wallace Corporation, fancies himself a god, even describing the replicants he’s made as angels. Taking a page from the book of Hebrews, Wallace sees his replicants as ones who are fashioned and “sent out to serve” (Hebrews 1:14). He describes rebellious past models that do not obey as “fallen angels.” Since Wallace is limited by time and resources, he too is interested in acquiring the miraculous child. He wants to reverse-engineer it and create self-replicating androids—replacements for humanity, which he believes is doomed to die out in the near future. In this way he would supplant God and, as he says, “storm the gates of Eden.”

Wallace is one of those villains who is both at odds with God and yet ends up being the only character to regularly quote Scripture or make biblical allusions.

The miracle child that both Wallace and K are looking for is the product of a sexual union between the Blade Runner Deckard and the Tyrell Corporation replicant Rachel. By the end of Blade Runner,  Deckard and Rachel have fallen in love and escaped to live a life together in secret. The new information provided by Blade Runner 2049 is that Tyrell was on the cusp of an innovation with Rachel who, it turns out, was a prototype designed to conceive and bear a child. Tyrell, however, as Blade Runner concludes, unexpectedly dies, murdered by one of his own “creations,” before he can see if his prototype was successful.

Wallace wants to reproduce Tyrell’s research. To do this he sends his relentless personal replicant, Luv, to bring together Rachel’s remains (she died in childbirth) and Deckard, the child’s father. While holding Rachel’s skull Wallace paraphrases the Book of Genesis: “God remembered Rachel in her barrenness … and opened her womb” (Genesis 30:22-23). It’s a reference to the biblical Rachel, who miraculously bore Jacob’s son Joseph even though she’d been previously barren her whole life.

Deckard and Rachel’s child, now an adult, is potentially either the messiah of the renegade replicants who want freedom from slavery (a sort of Moses/Christ character) or, from a human perspective, an anti-Christ—a harbinger of the end of purely natural unhampered biological humanity. Wallace certainly sees the child as a way to cement himself as a god with his angel children spreading out into the universe.

For modern sci-fi, Blade Runner was a watershed film: there’s before Blade Runner and after Blade Runner. The number of films attempting to emulate or pay homage to Scott’s original film is immense. In his sequel, Villeneuve has masterfully expanded on what Scott accomplished first. What viewers see is an expansion on the original story and a deepening of its mystery. Those who over the years watched and disliked Blade Runner because of its dark moody overtones, heavy bleak subject matter, and/or its slow pacing, will find their feelings of disdain extend to the new film. Villeneuve keeps a slow atmospheric approach with sparse dialogue and non-verbal acting.

The Philip K. Dick novella asks, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Blade Runner 2049 adds more questions: Can androids lie or love? Can they have a soul? Scripture says God, not man, makes souls (Ecclesiastes 12:7). As trans-humanism advances, what response will Christians give should developers claim that synthetic mass-produced androids have souls? How will Christians react if science fiction appears to become science reality? Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 are complimentary thought-provoking films; the questions they raise may not be pressing for Christians yet, but a time will come when they are.

As trans-humanism advances, what response will Christians give should developers claim that synthetic mass-produced androids have souls? How will Christians react if science fiction appears to become science reality?

As a film, Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy successor to its source material. This is no “revitalization” or updated frenetic PG-13 action extravaganza assembled to lure the teenaged crowd. The film demonstrates that Villeneuve is a genuine fan of the original while at the same time a considerable talent as a film maker in his own right. Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t quite match the original, but it should receive high marks for what it accomplishes. It’s a risk to tackle a sequel to a 35 year old film that was initially unpopular but is now considered a masterpiece. Villeneuve made a film that is not a disappointment—and that makes it a true success.

The fact that it speaks to the impending dark sadness awaiting humanity if we continue down our current path is also commendable. It’s interesting to ponder the idea that technology could produce profound loneliness and existential dread in a world teeming with people, and that this same loneliness and existential angst might be passed on to the created technology by those making it. This thought fits the cynical axiom “misery loves company.”

Christians will want to reflect on the true source of life and immortality: the miracle virgin birth of Christ Jesus and His resurrection from the dead; the promises of personal resurrection in Him; and a true miracle,  the coming reordering of the material and spiritual world on The Last Day. Blade Runner 2049 is set in a world that has lost track of this hope. It is a world filled with pregnant need for Christ. The silver lining is that it is also a world looking for a miracle—even though supposedly miracles no longer happen.

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Rev. Ted Giese is lead pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church (Regina, Saskatchewan). He is a contributor to Reformation Rush Hour on KFUO AM Radio, The Canadian Lutheran, and the LCMS Reporter, as well as movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program.  Follow him on Twitter @RevTedGiese.