Blade Runner 2049 shows us a world where there is no longer any distinction between races, classes or creeds, but there are walls between those who are real, born people and those who are one of Niander Wallace’s new Nexus 8 replicas. And more than that, it shows us a world where artificial intelligence is as emotional as that of living beings. The whole film is about what it means to be ‘real’, whether you are of flesh or pixels.
The original Blade Runner’s Nexus 6 models had more power, speed and reflexes, but were cursed with a lifetime of four years, making the plight of the brilliant, thoughtful, soulful and murderous Roy Batty all the more shocking. They can be touted by Tyrell as ‘more human than human’, but once they are without life, all their experiences are nothing.
30 years later, newly-manufactured replicates have an open-ended life cycle, but due to an uprising in 2022 – stopping replicant production for nearly two decades – the replicants were made docile and cooperative. In the new film, the replica police officer K ( Ryan Gosling em>) must also undergo an elevated version of the Voight-Kampff test to prove that he is “baseline”, meaning that intense emotions should not be tolerated and that the replicate police officer is subject to retirement (a nice way to say death).
Replicants can not reproduce. That is why the ‘skin jobs’ are necessary to continue to exist. This sets the Blade Runner 2049 plot into motion. Wallace himself has a rather psychotic monologue about how his replicants are “angels”, but will never be really human. If he could only find a child of a replica, he would have the key, which is the main direction of the film.
Rachael in the original film had implanted memories that made her believe she was ‘real’, even though she is a replicant. In the new film K knows that he is a replicant, but he has the same memories. This seems especially cruel, but it also goes in the direction of the idea that memories are the key to humanity, learning from mistakes and past experiences (the memories give the “credible human reactions” of the replicants). With the risk of becoming too philosophical, because we only live one moment at a time, the only thing we have are memories.
Maybe K is not the person he is, or not the one specific memory he had, but once he found out that it was not an implant, he was forced to expose the truth. Is it manipulation or is it only proof that these replicants are as ‘real’ as we are?
Blade Runner 2049 also introduces a holographic A.I. called Joi ( Ana de Armas em>) and is a consumer program that can be purchased. She fulfills the hopeful Pinocchio stereotype of the film, because the Joi of Officer K wants to move around the world like a real lady.
Blade Runner from 1982 has always treated what it means to be alive, and Blade Runner 2049 goes one step further by saying that at some point there is no difference between synthetic and organic life. But in a future where life is cheap, some form of connection is the only thing that counts.