Monday, October 09, 2017

Better to rule in Hell

Although honestly, the poster leaves something to be desired....

So, here's the interesting thing about "Blade Runner 2049."  In the first movie, the "villain" was not really a replicant; he was Dr. Tyrell of "Tyrell Corporation," the company that made replicants (and obviously ruled over 2019 dystopian Los Angeles from a ziggurat that resembled nothing less than a decapitated pyramid).  It was the largest, most distinctive building in the hellscape's skyline, and Tyrell was the man making replicants more than human and yet slaves to humans, by design, at the same time.  When Batty killed him, you began to sympathize with Batty.

The villain in "2049" is the guy who took over Tyrell Corporation, but not before (or was it just after?) he saved the world from the consequences of environmental collapse.  No explanation of why the environment collapsed, but it seems to be total.  There's a dead tree held up by guy wires that plays a not-insignificant plot point role, and all the landscape seems to be a moonscape outside the urban Los Angeles.  There were no real animals (or precious few) in the original film (again, why was not explained), and now there's nothing on earth that isn't provided by technology.

Or, in other words, Silicon Valley.*

The significant technology missing in the original film is the internet and cell phones, both basically unimaginable in 1982, so how do you project them into everyday use in an imagined 2019?  Technology in 2049 is more akin to what we would expect in 2017; but it's the villain that's the most interesting change.  He made his fortune solving the agricultural crisis, just before humanity starved to death.  He literally saved the world, apparently the dream of every mogul in Silicon Valley (or is that just the dream of Elon Musk?).  Having saved the world and become fabulously wealthy doing it (the ultimate app!), he now takes over the work of Tyrell Corporation, making more and better (because more obedient) replicants.

I don't want to give away more of the story than that.  But it struck me that such a villain was equally unimaginable in 1982.   Far from the days of the robber barons, it was still clear 37 years ago that corporations would control society.  What wasn't foreseen was the presumption that they would save society; it was only assumed they were bad for it.  But the corporation run by Jared Leto in 2049 truly saved humanity, and in return becomes almost all-powerful.  Interestingly, Tyrell in the first film is a businessman, interested only in what profits him (which does not make him evil).  Leto's character is more interested in humanity; one might almost say he has a God complex, and not without good reason.

But he's not a creature of the boardroom; he is an individual with great power which he acquired through his own efforts, his own vision; not through the work of others.  Several characters in the original film are part of the corporate endeavor that creates replicants.  In "2049," that effort is almost entirely reduced to the visionary work of Leto's inventor.  Certainly there is a vast machinery at work behind the walls, but they don't matter:  only the visionary counts, and he rules like Milton's Satan, a supreme leader bent on creating his own version of heaven even if he seems to exist only in the bowels of hell.

Well, I said I wouldn't give too much of the story away.   But Leto's villain is a very, very contemporary one.  I've yet to see anyone mention it, and I think it bears noting.  As much as the original "Blade Runner" shaped movie aesthetics about cities of the future, this sequel may point out where we can expect our next class of villains to come from.

And just how much we may come to depend on them, raising all new questions about heaven and hell.

*I'm old enough to remember people like Isaac Asimov assuring us that whatever problems technology had created (like pollution, the demon of the '70's), technology would solve.  Well, but that would produce it's own problems, wouldn't it?

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