We Talk 'Blade Runner 2049,' Identity, and Choice on the New Waypoint 101 [Spoilers Abound]

Oh Luv definitely has a “Fuck yours, got mine” vibe—she’s getting a future-manicure while casually directing a drone strike in one scene. But while she’s sitting in the lap of relative luxury she’s also very much aware of how precarious her position is. The scene with her, Wallace and the newborn “angel” is key to that reading, with Luv visibly tearing up as Wallace guts the poor replicant. I got the sense that she acts on his behalf so readily and unquestioningly because she knows the other fate that could await her.

And yeah, NeoRasa, Luv was my favourite character in a movie chock full of great new ones. Just a terrifying combo of will, self-righteousness and possible self-loathing.

7 Likes

Really like this podcast. Had been looking for a good meat and potatoes pop culture podcast.

As for Joi. Her asking to be put in a stick does not mean she has free will or her own desires, asking to have sex over layered with the hooker, does not mean its her desire. K might not want to particularly do it, he just wants Joi to want to it. Remember, Joi says what you want to hear.

I’m not really sure if the movie is saying anything concretely about Joi, perhaps its purely just perspective.

I’m not sure I agree with this take. I’ve seen it elsewhere too, and it’s certainly a valid reading so I’m just posing a counter argument, and I already kind of wanted to discuss this point, so you’ve offered a good frame :slight_smile:

There are two particular things that stand out to me that might counter this:

  1. Putting aside the problematic representation of how women interact, when Joi and Mariette are sniping at each other before Mariette leaves, exactly what purpose does that serve from Joi’s perspective if her only existence is performative for the benefit of K? For one thing, K is not present during that exchange. For another, what purpose would expressing hostility/jealousy/etc. serve in terms of satisfying K’s needs/wants right after Joi had brought Mariette to the apartment for said purpose?

And as an anticipatory rebuttal, if the answer to that is that she was so deeply programmed as to incorporate even those types of emotions to round out the personality… then where exactly does one draw the line between what’s “Real” and what isn’t. Where do we draw the line between a human that, as certain determinists might argue, are programmed in their own very complex way, and an AI that is programmed so deeply that it believes in its own experiences and its own choices… I think that’s an interesting question being interrogated that is otherwise ignored if we conclude Joi is merely very good AI.

  1. I need to re-watch, but aren’t there a few times where Joi’s emanator turns on of its own accord? The only example that comes to mind at the moment is when you hear the noise as Mariette is interacting with K in that plaza scene. This doesn’t necessarily prove anything, but I feel like it potentially bolsters the point if she has some ability to choose to activate when we’re otherwise led to believe K can turn her on and off.

Building on that, assuming my argument is correct that Joi is not just AI that does not count as “Real,” during my second viewing it clicked in for me that I took the billboard scene as possibly being K’s moment of realizing that he had in fact witnessed a “miracle”, as suggested by Sapper at the beginning, and that steeled him to be willing to make that sacrifice of going after and saving Deckard. It’s just that, where Sapper’s “miracle” was seeing a replicant give birth, K’s was the experience of real connection with, of recognizing personhood in, an AI otherwise sold as soulless, as represented on the billboard. Even after two viewings, I can’t recall if there is any flashback dialogue of Sapper’s line during the sequence, so I can’t be sure, but I think you can still make that read even without throwback to his dialogue.

3 Likes

About Joi:
Does it really matter if she is just programmed to love whoever buys her as long as she genuinely believes that she loves that someone(and thus actually “loves” him)? We are all programmed to like certain things, I like women, I like things that align according to the golden ratio, I like certain color schemes - and that’s just the nature not the early nurture programming that is basically impossible for me to overcome despite free will or the illusion of it.
And let’s say that time does pass for Joi while K is gone, like Austin suggested. Let’s also assume that she can’t surf the net and have conversations during that time like Samantha in Her. Can Joi be faulted for being all 50s housewife when K finally comes home? I wouldn’t think of myself as the picket fences housewifey guy, but in her position I’d be just as excited, care-taking and forgetting about my personal needs when my beautiful beloved partner comes home.

You can argue “that’s only the movie internal logic kind of excuse - but why does the director promote this shitty backwards way of playing house?”. To that I say a) because cyberpunk depicts a shitty world and b) because this is the kind of woman K bought and wanted, one who made him feel equal, beloved, missed when away and not like a replaceable cog with a single purpose in the machine that is indifferent about him as an individual.
Also c) we’re already getting the not full-on realist-sexist version of cyberpunk as replicant sex-workers look like somewhat normal people and not like plastic-surgeon dream-dolls who can’t think bad thoughts of their customers - which would be more realistic in that world since taste in body-types doesn’t seem to have changed considering the Korova Milk Bar -esque statues in BR2049’s Vegas.

In my opinion the main purpose of the Joi arc is to send the viewer of the following journey of feelings and thought:

  • this whole situation is embarassing. K is the equivalent of a pathetic dork who cuddles into a japanese body pillow every day.
  • the world hates K and he only wants to be a good guy, that feels right about the things he does and can love himself for it (which is almost in possible given his dedicated purpose as a Blade Runner replicant, but he tries anyway where he can) and be loved in return. Because he deems himself sub-human, for him Joi is the closest thing he can get to real love.
  • Joi’s and K’s love seems to be real (actually her love is more real than his, given his somewhat robotic, emotionless demeanor)
  • maybe it’s not important if something is artificial, if it’s real to you because that is as real as anything, as there is no uniform “real”.

And that again is the biggest thought-provoker Blade Runner 2049 goes for: Maybe nothing is more real or superior by nature. Humans are not better than replicants - not because they can give birth, not because they come from natural evolution -, replicants are not better than A.I.s.
What makes K better than most in Blade Runner 2049 is that he does care about things close to him: He cares for and loves Joi and he reunites a father with his daughter despite the prior disappointment of Deckard not being his father and and also not being the real boy, he already thought he was. He does not choose any of the lesser evils[the revolution, the humans(keeping to his duties as a police officer), Wallace] and does not pursue any grand (utopian) ideas by “the end justifies the means”-methods.

4 Likes

To build on your comment re: the Wallace building. I think one of the major themes present in the movie that the crew didn’t touch on in the podcast is isolation (not to say they didn’t notice it otherewise—discussing this movie could be multiple hours-long podcasts!).

K’s apartment is an isolated box in the midst of a building with overpopulated hallways.
The baseline exam room is an isolated chamber.

And I viewed Wallace HQ—similar to how the crew describes it as like a tomb of the pharaoh—as a massive construct within which everyone is isolated. There are no windows anywhere; each room we’re shown is like its own isolation chamber—sparse, cold, mostly empty.

1 Like

I could talk and read about this film literally forever, but a little thing I found interesting that Austin suggested I post here is that Deckard’s retort to Wallace that “her eyes were green” is a straight up lie. Rachael’s eyes WERE brown, and even when you see Luv and K watch the degraded pre-blackout records of Rachael’s VK test, the first flickering frame is of a brown iris, then it changes to green (Deckard scrambling the records.)

So Deckard is either spitting this back at Wallace as a rejection of his manipulation, to maintain that lie, or he’s actually convinced himself over thirty years that her eyes WERE green, his memory altered forever. And I honestly don’t know which is more fucked up.

It’s the little things like that in how the film plays with conceptions of memory, emotion, how the two can distort each other over time. I love it.

7 Likes

It’s too bad I won’t read your take, but then again who does?” – best use of a BR gif I’ve seen this year.

I might not be doing myself any favors by reading this and the other thread on BR2049 without having seen it yet. However, reading your all’s discussions, and knowing that rather than merely revisit the same questions and themes of the original it develops them and asks new questions, stokes my desire to see it. I like that it seems to bring more elements of DADoES into the movie’s universe.

For those who’ve seen BR2049, you may find these articles interesting. Over at Kotaku, two of the staff writers had a long conversation about what they liked and didn’t. Some of you may have already read Motherboard’s piece on cyberpunk’s “fetishization” of Asian culture, but without hiring Asian actors for prominent roles, but in case you haven’t, here it is. Noah Berlatsky wrote for The Verge about the relevance of DADoES’/BR’s stories to police brutality in modern society (similar to the points made in a Tor.com essay). Lastly, in a newsletter, Joanne McNeil notes the “moment in the film when a character Luv gets her nails done that plays like it was focus group tested for everyone who has ever worn a “Future is Female” t-shirt. … It’s feminist in a way that machine learning reads feminism.” She means this as a criticism, but based on the comments here, it could be intentional?

6 Likes

I was really hung up on this after my first viewing. I read it as, like you said, Deckard lying in retort. Then, I went back and watched the original scene.

Sean Young’s eyes are brown. The eye in the VK is green. This answers nothing.

Ultimately, I really vibed with Austin’s read on Luv, and his read on the Replicants and their New Monarchy. Luv has her own ambitions, and the Replicants’ desires seem wack.

Ana is very much the sort of child produced by monarchy. Whatever import they can place on the nature of her birth is countered by her inability to survive outside of her sterile room. They’re protecting the possibility of Replicant reproduction by ensuring it dies with Ana.

Meanwhile, Wallace just sees this as another opportunistic plunder. He got his fortune like a gold rush shopkeep gouging the miners. All it took was people getting desperate enough to eat grubs. His other great industry is just a lucky investment. His Replicants aren’t any better than Tyrell’s–they’ll never match his final work–but people buy that they are because of the security theater of the baseline test; nevermind the huge Replicant underground. If he can make Replicants that reproduce… Wallace only sees the upside.

The resistance only sees the downside; the endless imperialist slavery. But, Luv thinks she gets it. When she confronts the Lieutenant, her line, “In the face of the fabulous new, your only thought is to kill it … out of fear of great change,” and prodding Joshi about “trying to hold the tide back with a broom,” suggest that she sees the possibility for a true revolution by playing into Wallace’s plans.

K’s operating on a much more personal level (and I actually really prefer that to diving into the vast conspiracies in the background), but I think Luv has a lot more driving her than her relationship with Wallace.

2 Likes

re: joi

i really thought the point was that it didn’t matter if she was “real” (by which we mean sentient right?) cause she had a real and tangible effect on the people she interacted with. this isn’t a comment on the obviously gross gender politics at work here but she was “real” in the sense that she was specific to kay and the emotional reactions she was the catalyst for were as real as… idk me being pleased because the barista smiled at me.

i think the conversations about whether or not she was real or whatever fall into a weird place that is really difficult to express because like, under capitalism (and she is a literal product) there isn’t really /any/ genuineness to the emotions we feel during exchanges facilitated through it. is any positive emotional filtered through the lense of monetary/service/whatever exchanges real? does it actually matter if it has a tangible effect on you?

i think the film addressed this during the vegas part where kay asks deckard if the dog is real and he replies “does it matter?” like, its still a dog.

3 Likes

A lot of interesting points here (and thanks for clearing up the eye-color bit, ha).

I’d like to dig a little more into your thoughts on Ana. After we come to realize that she is the child of Deckard and Rachel, I was under the impression that meant that her backstory, as it were, was false to at least some degree. For one, we know that she grew up in the orphanage which would seem to contradict the story of her family about to leave for off-world when they realize she can’t go because of her immune system issues.

Now, that doesn’t mean she couldn’t have been adopted, and then all of that occurs, but it does have me questioning whether she in fact has immune system issues or instead somehow ended up in that chamber to protect her more generally. Of course, that would still align with your point about her being a child of monarchy, but I’m curious if you (or others) had thought about that aspect of her story.

AND, if it is still true that she has immune system issues, is that intended to signal something about replicant-born children…? Immune system issues could make sense if Ana is sort of the “trial run” of replicant birth—Tyrell never got a chance to keep iterating, so to speak (this assumes Tyrell even intended to create replicants that could reproduce… I don’t think the film gives a clear answer).

I got the impression that everything about her immune system issue was a cover story, with the name itself being a play on the real life term “Galapagos syndrome” regarding branching independent technological innovations. IIRC obviously having a compromised immune system is a very real thing that happens but the specific name they gave it in the movie was made up.

Rachael’s eyes being both green and brown was something they did intentionally in the original that wasn’t really meant to be answered or something perceived by the characters in the movie, so I really appreciated that they managed to work that into the actual movie in a way that doesn’t actually explain it but still makes us discuss it more.

Fun trivia, her name is Rachael in the credits for the original movie, this movie, and almost everything else. It’s officially spelt Rachael, HOWEVER on the official soundtrack there’s a track titled “Rachel’s Song” and it’s Rachel in most of the official video game documentation too. It’s also Rachel on some early promotional materials.

So much like the theme of our personal perceptions in both films it’s created a thing where you’ll see her name spelt two different ways (sometimes even in the same article) but both are officially correct depending on what you happened to be paying attention to the most while watching/listening/playing Blade Runner stuff.

5 Likes

That’s really interesting about purposefully having different colored eyes in the original. Do you remember where that’s mentioned or discussed (interviews, or commentary—I have the blu-ray compilation but haven’t watched all of the extras)?

I saw things differently when it comes to Joi.

Obviously things are open to interpretation. But when K sees the Giant Joi it says she says everything you want to hear. Joi is just a program, and all the things she does, well those things seem like she wants to do it, and not him. Like dual sex with the hooker, and making him put her on that stick.

But thats not what she wants to do, she’s just saying what he wants to hear, which is that she is unique and independant of him, and loves him more than anything.

Waypoint says it doesn’t see how the movie makes sense if Joi doesn’t have autonomy. Well when K sees that giant hologram, he realises perhaps their relationship isn’t real in the sense he thought it was. That she wasn’t making her own decisions.

This horrifies him, and he resolves to not be the same as Joi. He doesn’t want to be a robot, so he goes against his programming. Otherwise, what is the point of the giant Hologram scene? Joi is always presented as something K believed and treated as a real entity. So, the only place for his character to even develop, or potentially change is the realisation that Joi is like the hologram, an illusion.

I…

…honestly can’t remember but just know it’s true because I read it somewhere, I realize how that sounds in light of the plot point we’re discussing. :grimacing:

Either in Dangerous Days or among all those extras with The Final Cut it’s mentioned. But basically any time you see a closeup of an eye in the original, it’s not the actual eye of the actor(s) the scene is about, which is interesting to me for a movie with so much huge eye imagery built into almost every part of the movie’s look and dialogue.

If you get around to watching the features, one of the more interesting thing is all of the deleted and unused early versions of some scenes. They string them all together chronologically so it’s like a bizarre forty minute alpha version of the movie.

The various screen tests in full costume/sets with actors that aren’t Harrison Ford/etc. are a trip too.

Another interesting thing is the film’s original opening though, it was fully storyboarded and everything but wasn’t filmed for budget reasons, but they ended up using it for 2049’s opening (the huge automated farming, the blade runner already being in the house and them talking about soup for a bit etc.).

Speaking of unused scenes, I read they filmed four hours worth of stuff for this movie, it will be interesting to see what they chose to not finish/cut out when that footage becomes available.

1 Like

I never even considered that Ana’s whole situation might be a fabrication, but it totally could be, and would fit well along side K’s phony “cell.”

It’s impossible to know how complicit she is in the facade, but having been plucked from an orphanage, killed off in the records and plopped into a sterile dome, then gifting her memories to a replicant… she must know something.

And, if she is aware of her significance to the replicants and the lie of her illness, then maybe there was more to her refusal to sell her company to Wallace. She’s a much less interesting character, if that’s the case.

1 Like

I have problems with the movie but I still like it, and fundamentally I will love any movie that sparks so many deep philosophical arguments.

1 Like

Ha, I’d noticed that but hadn’t considered it in that context. One of those shoddy continuity things that were rife in films back then (even this one). In the context of 2049, I think the frame of the brown iris switching to green probably has more significance than the finer details of 1982. It’s telling a different story using some of the same visual language as the first (motifs such as eyes, hands, snow, rain, light, water etc.) good catch, though!

Listening to the podcast right now, but I’m not done yet, so apologies if some of the stuff I’m going to mention now ends up being discussed a bit later on.

I had a different reading on the significance of a Replicant being able to become pregnant than what was being discussed in the podcast.
For me the significance of reproduction wasn’t so much of Replicants suddenly becoming more “real” than they were before this discovery, it was more about them finding a way to gain true independence.
As far as I understand Replicants are intentionally produced by Wallace’s corporation, that means for their continued survival, Replicants have to rely on more of them being produced. So Replicants finding a way to reproduce on their own, means that they can continue to exist independent from human intentions.

However I do think they certainly could’ve addressed this issue in a different way. A lot of sci fi stuff that deals with sentient artificial life frames its questions in a way that’s always about said life becoming indistuingishable from human beings.

Part of being a sentient entity also entails finding your own identity and perspective on the world around you. Something that just exists to emulate humans, can never be really sentient, since it never questions as to why it strives to become human, instead of its own thing. To some extend it’s probably to be expected, since humans are their only frame of reference, but there has to be something more than just the desire to be like the thing that made you.
I hope any of this makes sense, I’m tend to tie myself in knots over stuff like this.

2 Likes

I think they circle back around to this when they’re talking about Luv. I definitely read Luv’s motivations as “find a way for Replicants to reproduce in order overthrow human dominance.” I never found her to be particularly loyal to Wallace.

I agree! But I also agree with what nindustrial is saying!

I was surprised when they didn’t bring up that line from the 70-foot-billboard scene, where she calls the viewer an “Average Joe” or something like that. You can infer from the look on Roy’s face that the name Joi gave him was just another part of her programming.

While all of that – the fact that Joi’s character was based on anticipatory programming and core code (to sacrifice herself) – is super depressing from our standpoint, it’s pretty much par for the course; Roy found out that Decker isn’t actually his father, but the feelings that that idea gave him were real, and that’s what mattered to him. Going off of nindustrial’s take: where is the line between real? Even we can say that we’ve been programmed, to a certain extent, by social conditioning and whatnot. I think that’s one of the most intriguing themes of the series: I like to think I’d value artificial life just as much as organic, even if their motives and lines of reasoning are more readily apparent than our own.

Also, since I’m seeing the sex worker’s name for the first time: Mariette = Marionette? Subtle…