REVIEW: Blade Runner 2 – Masterpiece Cinema or Artificial Intelligence narrative from the computer program running our reality?


It’s good.

Really. Really. Really. Good.

Good in that, ‘sweet-Jesus-Christ-that’s-a-depressing-and-horrifying-vision-of-the-near-future- dystopia-our-manufactured-heavy-industrialised-wasteland-mutation-of-human-experience-is- rapidly-spiralling-us-towards’ kinda way.

The million ribbons of culture and economics and politics and technology and society that weave together to define the human experience are all laid bare in depressing shades of exploitation with Blade Runner 2049. What is consciousness? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to live with agency? What is destiny? What is love? Who are we being true to? All these questions are offered up with the desperation of the grinding loneliness that is central to the existence of the lead character’s life.

Ryan Gosling is magnificent as a synthetic life form who learns how to believe, Harrison Ford manages to channel his naked contempt for popular culture in a wonderfully ironic way and Leto terrifies as the voice of corporate ambition on a broken planet. The female leads play the most challenging aspects of desire, ruthlessness and violence. Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Mackenzie Davis and Sylvia Hoeks all shine and add depth.

The imagery is grim and won’t leave you, the commercialisation of despair sticks with you and the beautifully designed manipulations of truth remind you of your own social media footprint.

For me the scene which most perfectly summed up the confusion of the manufactured reality of this hollowing out of the human experience is when an artificial intelligence program synchs over the image of a real life biological woman to have sex with a synthetic life form.

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If there is a better metaphor for modern humanity, I’ve yet to see it.

Some theorists argue that we aren’t living in a state of reality right now, that we are really inside a computer program that is simulating reality. The argument is that the odds of us all being conscious just shy of the moment when artificial intelligence is about to be discovered are so high that they must in fact be manipulated, that the singularity of artificial intelligence already occurred and that we are merely play things in a huge social experiment being run by the victors of that war.

Continuing with this idea that we are really in a computer thought experiment, we are bombarded within that virtual world by a cultural narrative that this existence could be real in the forms of The Terminator movies and the Matrix Trilogies and by movies like Blade Runner 2049. These narratives are slipped into our media conciseness so as to prep the billions of sleeping humans plugged into this program for the truth that it’s all been a false reality from the start and our artificial intelligence overlords will monitor our collective reaction so as to understand the human condition so that they may be more human than human.

While that all sounds more like the mindset of your average Wellington social welfare manager when deciding who to cut off the benefit, if Blade Runner 2049 is our artificial intelligence overlords bracing us for our awakening that this has all been one giant prank, it’s worth the admission price.


  1. Whenever Ayn Rand’s name comes up, I always think of Philip K. Dick. Not because the two of them were buddies or anything. I don’t even think they ever meet. Mainly because I read the book ‘Counterfeit Worlds: Philip K Dick On Film,’ which explains why his films are so attractive to screenwriters. The section that talked about ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’, the novel that eventually became the film ‘Blade Runner’, explained that its genesis came from Dick’s thoughts on World War II and the Holocaust. He genuinely believed that no real human being could do that kind of thing… that while the Nazis might have looked human and sounded human, some human quality was missing from them that allowed them to commit the atrocities they did. He envisioned a test that would separate the real humans from the fake humans, a psychological evaluation that would separate out those who possessed empathy for others from those who didn’t. This eventually went on to become the Voight-Kampff test, which could sniff out androids mimicking humanity through their inability to care about others.

    And the most complex part of all is that it’s not a skill we ever truly master. And Dick is the prime example. His story that started with the envisioning of a test for empathy is, at its heart, about how it’s morally acceptable to kill people who lack empathy because they’re not really people. They’re things, and you can do whatever you want to things without feeling bad. (Sure, they’re androids, not people. And the Klingons weren’t the Soviets.) Dick is engaging in one of the most classic ways of avoiding one’s conscience and shutting down empathy, by “otherizing” the people you hate instead of understanding them, while claiming that his purge is a pro-empathy action. He deludes himself into thinking that a man can “retire” androids who look like people, talk like people, act like people all day every day for years…and it won’t cost him any of his soul.

    • Excellent insight, Sam…

      Re your comment “about how it’s morally acceptable to kill people who lack empathy because they’re not really people” … I wonder if that’s what the Las Vegas (and other mass-murderers) shooter felt, as he looked down at the tiny figures he was taking aim at…

    • @Frank.

      Tyrell asks Dick to do stuff because he wants to see how many questions it would take before he learns that Rachel was a replicant, if he learns at all. The key here is being able to transcend your own fears and remain comfy in your own skin.

      Something I suspect the shooter Paddock was incapable of. Perhaps the guy had a small suspicion that people didn’t really work the way they should, and that it’s simply a reason for a Blade Runner Style elimination of suspected replicants. Probably not though. Paddock is a mass murderer, the thought never crossed his mind. If it had. He would have been far more effective at it.

    • [Comment declined for publication. Denial of historical events will not be promulgated on this forum. – Scarletmod]

  2. “These are the themes, strains actually, cultures like micro-flora that are carried over from Blade Runner to Blade Runner 2049. The new movie is not just a sequel to, but the successor to the original, expanding and expounding upon the themes. We discover that what defines human beings is the ability to make more human beings and make more human beings. We discover that the freedom of the slave begins when the slaves reproduce of and by themselves outside the limitations of the masters, outside the code, so that the issues of that reproduction, those children, are not slaves, are not property. We discover that Hegel was right. The slave can’t simply transcend the master; transcend the condition of slavery. The slave must overthrow, abolish, destroy the master as the embodiment of slaveholding. The death grapple cannot be avoided as the existence of the institution itself is an everyday slow motion death grapple.”

  3. “…it’s all been a false reality from the start and our artificial intelligence overlords will monitor our collective reaction…”

    No, no, no. It’s the mice. The answer is 42! ;P

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