Sunday, October 8, 2017

Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner: The Final Cut" & Denis Villeneuve's "Blade Runner 2049" at Seattle Cinerama: Sept 29 - Oct 29

In an unexpected broadening of it's scope, Denis Villeneuve's sequel to the Ridley Scott's film of 1982, "Blade Runner 2049", finds itself concerned with the larger social implications of the established world borrowed from Philip K Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Rather than just a work that, as some have posited, is misogynist in regard to its depiction of women, it is instead the totality of the world of the film, and the locus of its values which are an examination of pervasive denigration, humiliation and the diminishing of human value as a whole. It's elementary that women, children, replicants, and anyone so unfortunate as to be underclass "little people", in the street-speak of Blade Runner, would be so reductively commodified. The film's representation of the objectified of the body, both biological and digital, is most exemplified in the discomfiting space of the encounter between the Wallace companion product Joi, and the replicant "pleasure model", Mariette. No viewer with half-decent self knowledge could fail to register Mariette's accusatory response after the encounter. Or the explicit reinforcement of Joi's character as a simulacrum of social relations into which user's project meaning, later in the film, when we encounter her towering large from a holographic billboard. As Tim Hayes puts forward in, "Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s Hallowed Sci-Fi Classic Burns Bright with Uncomfortable Questions", to lumber the film with the task of fixing society rather than interrogating it first, is small minded. It supposes that art should present answers rather than questions, turning the imperative of supplying a moral vantage into a prerequisite for the audience's fulfillment and satisfaction.

The desensitizing effects of the world of Blade Runner and the brutal disregard for the planet, its environment and the plundering of its natural resources, are just by extension the most dominant outward signs of the setting's maladies. The inner signs of its illness are manifest through the more subtle and ambiguous aspects of daily life; a populace deeply estranged from one-another, yet seeking self validation fed by manufactured and digital companionship. Like the original, the concerns of a genetically engineered slave race workforce serving both a essential industrial, agricultural and public labor need, but also the demands of private ownership and sexual exploitation, remain the world's most troubling facet. It may be that James Baldwin is an unlikely point of perspective when discussing an interpretation of Ridley Scott, and now Denis Villeneuve and Hampton Fancher's adaptations of Philip K Dick. Yet for "Blade Runner 2049", his life's work functions with humanism and great utility. The American writer, critic and notable intellectual voice of the 1950s and 60s, remains an essential component of the Civil Rights Movement and any invested discussion of the intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in the 20th Century. Baldwin's novels and plays fictionalize fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures which thwart the equitable integration not only of African Americans, but also of women, and homosexuals, while depicting the manifesting of internalized obstacles to such individuals' quests for acceptance. His work also deals in the diminishing and humiliating effects of racism and bigotry on white culture itself.

These considerations play in tandem with Philip K Dick's own lifelong exploration of the dehumanizing effects of propaganda, class engineering, corporate technocracies, labyrinthine bureaucracies, authoritarian governments, and the isolating effects of media saturation, gross materialism, and oppressive urban conditions. Dick's work also finds itself concerned with the nature of reality in increasingly technologically altered perceptual spaces and parallel realities. Between the two points of concern explored by Dick and Baldwin, the media theory of Marshall McLuhan also serves as an important point of reference is described the arch along which the world we live could travel to find itself at the destination of "Blade Runner 2049". It is no coincidence that this trio of writers, theorists and critics produced their most notable work in the environment of the Civil Rights era. In-part as a response to the unchecked and accelerating mid-20th Century development of the Military Industrial Complex, but also the birth and first flourishes of the mediascape which would come to touch every home, every day, on every occasion, as the eventual technological mediating of experience. Framed by these real world considerations, what Rolling Stone then called, "The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet" pursued his singular inquiry into, "What constitutes the authentic human being?", extrapolating a body of science fiction that would become among the most influential in all of popular media by the turn of the century.

It's very probable that there is no other body of work by a 20th Century author as indirectly instrumental in Hollywood's transformation of popular storytelling as that of Dick. So it is that the author's regard extended to the variation in setting and theme that Ridley Scott, Hampton Fancher and his production team brought to 1982's "Blade Runner", for it remaining true to his fundamental examination of human authenticity. A line of inquiry stressed in a setting of even greater complexity, isolation and dehumanizing stratification found in Villeneuve and Fancher's expansive sequel. "This Gigantic Spectacle of Pure Hallucinatory Craziness" remains at it's core, focused on the dominant question of Philip K. Dick's life work. Whether the qualities of it's stunning visual realization, or the complexity of it's philosophical inquiry, resonate with the times sufficiently to earn the film the status of a "future classic", remains to be seen. Regardless of it's popular reception, this tale of the shattering and reconstruction of one underclass being's worldview while, "Hunting Replicants Amid Strangeness", fluidly traverses being both spectacular and profound, all the while remaining sinuous in it's malevolence and disregard for human life. In working through Philip K Dick's central, humanist query, along its course, Denis Villeneuve's film comes to find itself a worthy sequel to Ridley Scott’s original. In concurrence with Jonathan Romney, in a time in which belated sequels to classics ought never to work, (or even be made for that matter), Blade Runner 2049 feels like a slow, enigmatic, elusive hallucination of a movie, miraculously realized.