Cyberpunk Film Reviews: Blade Runner 2049 (2017) & Total Recall (2012)

a woman with silk and butterflies on her face; text says 'film review: r. crunden'

Alas, I never watched the original Blade Runner growing up. I watched Star Wars and Indiana Jones and The Fugitive – and just about every other Harrison Ford movie available, but for some reason this way just slipped by me. So going into Blade Runner 2049, I had literally no context other than ‘cyberpunk’. After watching the sequel, I realised that film one is a Philip K. Dick book adaptation, which I may have known at one point but had definitely forgotten before starting? Oops. But I think having no context was a cool way to enter the Blade Runner universe, actually. Total newbie. And I absolutely loved it – everyone should watch this movie!

The story follows K, a replicant android in a futuristic, ruined, post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. As a blade runner, K tracks down replicants who have gone rogue and ‘retires them’. On his latest mission, the replicant he retires lives in a small home on a large stretch of land, and during his investigation, K finds a buried box beneath a white tree that’s marked only by a fallen flower. His boss orders him to report back to headquarters where he’s instantly greeted by glares and snide remarks from the other co-workers. Despite the fact that he hunts replicants, K’s replicant status wins him no friends. The whole set up is super grim and gloomy, honestly, and my heart broke for K straight away. His only friend is a digital woman, Joi, who he can download new modifications for. And same as K, Joi is as human-like as he is. Albeit, in all ways but physical. They’re a seriously cute couple.

K shares everything with Joi and she helps him along, solving the case with him and listening to his growing concerns and confusion. He’s tasked by his boss to destroy all evidence of the case when it appears that, at some point, a replicant gave birth to a child. Something that isn’t supposed to be possible and, if publicised, could spark a new war between humans and replicants.

The whole setting and atmosphere of this film was brilliantly well realised. It’s very noir, very gritty, very grim. There’s a huge emphasis on the humanity of the replicants and the growing inhumanity of the humans, which is a very interesting premise/contrast. K and Joi have a heartbreaking relationship despite him being a replicant and her being a hologram and I love, love, love them. The ending wasn’t what I expected at all, and I liked all the twists, although it definitely made me cry at various points. The movie also left me in a huge cyberpunk mood.

So I followed Blade Runner 2049 up with Total Recall (2012), another adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story. I opted for the remake of the original (1990), but I want to watch the original too, so I might double it up with the original Blade Runner next time. And where Blade Runner is based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Total Recall is based on We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.

This story follows a man, Douglas Quaid, who’s been having dreams about being a spy and losing a woman he loves. He wakes up and his wife asks him if he’s unhappy in their relationship (reader, he was not dreaming about his wife). Quaid decides to try a mind experiment where he can ‘live out a fantasy’ so long as he hasn’t lived it before. He opts for the fantasy of being a spy since he keeps dreaming about it. Yet everything goes disastrously wrong when they tell him the recall can’t be done because he’s already got memories of being a spy. DUN DUN DUN.

Total Recall moves much, much faster than Blade Runner 2049, but both are very good in their respective genres: action/adventure versus noir/mystery. I loved the core romantic relationships at the heart of both: Carl and Melina in Total Recall; Joi and K, and Rachael and Deckard in Blade Runner. Both films exquisitely cyberpunky and have great fight and chase scenes, with similar technology displayed in both. The backstory of both differ greatly, however: Blade Runner focuses on humans v robots and the existential questioning of what it means to be human. Total Recall focuses on a futuristic world with rampant inequality, where humans travel through the planet’s core at breakneck speeds for work, yet can barely afford to feed themselves. Both emphasise and examine the plight of the exploited, which is a core theme in cyberpunk.

Definitely going to be picking up the original movies of both soon and see how they compare!

5 thoughts on “Cyberpunk Film Reviews: Blade Runner 2049 (2017) & Total Recall (2012)

  1. I liked Blade Runner 2049 – although a little too long (I have a short attention span for films!) – and the director went on to Dune! Thanks for sharing your review.

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