Blade Runner 2049

The 1982 film classic Blade Runner, turns 35 this year. Set in 2019, its dystopian future paints a world destroyed by nuclear fallout, most animals and plantlife eliminated and many humans living in off-world colonies. This foreboding view of planet earth that has not yet eventuated…..Not yet.

While initially met with mixed reviews and a rather underwhelming box office performance, the film has subsequently become a cult classic and is now regarded by many critics as one of the best science fiction movies of all time.

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Why so?

This film noir/ femme fatale movie pays homage to the detective thrillers of the 1930s. Set in Los Angeles the film creates a kind of retrofitted futurism, in which old world charm, now decaying is mixed with neon-cyberpunk-holographic and artificially intelligent future. At the same time, the story plumbs the depths of Greek drama and Biblical epics in its exploration of themes of human hubris, mortality, memory and being.

Frankensteinian in its quest, the story asks “what makes us truly human?”

Originally titled, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the film now has a sequel, written by the same screenwriter Hampton Fancher, entitled Blade Runner 2049. Released in October 2017, the sequel staring Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, has quickly chalked up $165 million in global revenue.

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Set 30 years after the original, little has changed thematically between the two films, however the quest for meaning deepens. Gosling plays K, a Nexus-9 model replicant of the Wallace corporation, engineered to be obedient. He works for the LAPD, and much like his predecessor Deckard [Ford], is a Blade Runner, responsible for hunting down and retiring old model replicants.

In his quest he finds the bones of a deceased female Nexus-7 replicant, who mysteriously, died during childbirth. This surprising discovery threatens to upset the tender balance between obedient replicants and their human creators. Consequently he is ordered to destroy the evidence by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi and to find the child and retire it.

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Troubled by the discovery and a burgeoning consciousness that “being born means having a soul,” K sets out on a journey to discover the child. He traces the child to an orphanage where his own memories alert him, memories he is convinced are implants, to a hidden toy with a date on it matching the birthdate of the missing child. Troubled by his memories he then tracks down Deckard, in hiding for nearly 30 years.

Challenged by the replicant freedom movement to kill Deckard, lest the identity of the missing child be revealed, K is left with the painful choice. K, who has fantasised about being a “real person” is left with a choice, which ultimately makes him a person with a soul or not.

Does he free Deckard or retire him as is his duty?

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Are we human because we have emotional responses? Are we human because we have memories ? Are we human because we can give birth ? or be born ? Are we human because we have a conscience and free will? Ultimately are we human because we desire life, we sense beauty, we feel sorrow, loss and wonder?

Or are we human because we sacrifice for others? This is almost the secret to all of life’s questions and so marvellously captured in this story.

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Madness and denial in Shutter Island

The 2010, Martin Scorcese film, Shutter Island explores madness and denial in a film noir style detective thriller.  The two protagonists are led on a winding tale of secrets, conspiracy, and double motives. Two US Marshals, Teddy and Chuck [Leonardo Di Caprio and Mark Ruffalo], travel to Shutter Island, to visit Ashecliffe hospital, notable for housing the criminally insane. A woman patient, guilty of the drowning death of her three children,  has escaped and things are not well. Strangely her doctor, Dr. Sheehan,  has also just departed on vacation and the doctors and patients seem caught up in a web of secrets.  When the two men arrive, a storm traps them there for several days further complicating matters and compounding the eerie mysteriousness of the island institution.

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Upon arrival, the men are stripped of their weapons and treated to the harsh regulations of the islands. Mysteriously they are barred from viewing certain buildings, and their actions are heavily monitored.  Despite the assurance that the island has been thoroughly searched,  the inmate Rachel Solando, seems to have vanished without explanation.

Throughout the film, Teddy suffers flashbacks of terrors he witness during WWII, especially during the liberation of Dachau concentration camp. He has instinctive suspicions about the motives of the head Doctors, particularly Dr. Naehring, who has a German accent. Moreover, he is haunted by visions of his deceased wife Delores who died in a house fire, set alight by one Andrew Laeddis. In one dream, Delores tells Teddy that Rachel is still on the island, as so is her killer Andrew Laeddis.

After a terrible night of the storm, alarms have been reset and patients are found wandering outside of their cells. Without explanation, Rachael Solando is found. Suspicious the doctors had simply been hiding her, Teddy interviewis her, when she suddenly starts shrieking that Teddy is her [dead] husband.  More and more suspicious the truth is being hidden, Teddy breaks into C Building alone and encounters George Noyce a prisioner in solitary confinement there. He assaults Teddy, telling him to stop searching for Laeddis and warns warns that the doctors on the island are performing illegal lobotomies on patients. He claims that everyone including Chuck is playing and elaborate game to deceive Teddy.

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Increasingly confused by the mysterious island and contradictions among resisdents and staff, Teddy and Chuck explore the forbidden Lighthouse on the island and the two get separated. Thinking he can see a body fallen from the cliffs, Teddy climbs down and meets a woman hiding  in a cave. She tells him she is the real Rachel Solando, who worked as a doctor on the island until she questioned some of the medical experiments being undertaken at which point she was committed as a patient to prevent her from escaping. When Teddy returns, he discovers the staff believe he came to the island alone and that Chuck Aule had never accompanied him.

Isolated but determined to uncover the plot, Teddy returns to the forbidden light house where he encounters the head doctor, Dr. Cawley. Here Cawley explains that Teddy is himself Andrew Laeddis [and anagram of his own name], incarcerated for the murder of his depressive wife who drowned her own children. Thus, Rachel Solando is an anagram for his wifes name Delores Chanal. The past few days, the staff of the institution had experimented with a new therapy, allowing Teddy [Laeddis] to role play a Federal Marshall investigating the island, in an effort to break through this conspiracy laden insanity. The only way Teddy could live after her death, was to invent an elaborate story of her murder and his desire to seek down the killer. Chuck is in fact Teddy’s psychiatrist, Dr. Sheehan.

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The doctors indicate that Laeddis has achieved a state of clarity 9 months prior but had degenerated again into a state of denial. Here again Teddy faces the truth of his actions and admits his guilt for not realising his wife’s trouble and getting her help when she needed it. However, despite this clarity,  the next morning it’s clear that Teddy has regressed into the role play again, refusing to ‘remember‘ who Dr. Sheehan is. Teddy then asks whether it is better to “live as a monster or die a good man.” The film closes as he willingly follows the orderlies, who take him away to undergo a lobotomy.

The film explores a dream-within-a-dream. As we dream of Teddy [as viewers], he dreams of Teddy as Laeddis. The truth comes to him in flashbacks and hallucinations – his wife, the children, her killer. His fractured personality, created to prevent himself from bearing the full weight and terror of understanding his actions, creates in him a distance from his visions. His visions are his true-self.  He can only handle clues, one at a time, a mystery thriller he must solve as the protagonist, the good guy, hunting down the culprit. However, when he discovers the truth it is again too much to bear and he reverts again to the “dream” of forgetting. Finally, he would rather live without the memory and “half a man”. He would rather die with the delusion of being good than know his true self.

If only we would heed the truth that comes to us through dreams, through stories. There we can act as the protagonist and hero, seeking out the culprit to all the ills and wrongs of life. However, when faced with the reality of our own human nature, will we accept it or revert instead to the dream of denial? Would we rather live with the delusion of being good than know our true selves?