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Blade Runner 2049 Explained: What Does it Mean to Be Human?

Half the films in Hollywood are released with the sole aim to entertain but time and again, there comes a story that forces you to wonder. And it’s not just to solve its complex plot but to answer the questions asked from the viewers themselves. One such film is 2017 released, Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, Blade Runner. While it wasn’t a big earner at the box office, it is still considered one of the finest films in cinematic history but obviously not the simplest.

The story of Blade Runner 2049

1982’s Blade Runner had Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard hunting down rogue replicants, then falling in love with another replicant, Rachael, and eloping with her. 

Blade Runner 2049 takes up after the events of the 1982 film and we get to know that the old Nexus replicants staged a rebellion and caused a ten-day-long blackout that wiped every computer clean of their records. Tyrell Corporation has bit the dust and in his place, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has created a new army of replicants. The Nexus 9, who are more compliant than their predecessors are tasked with the job of finding and “retiring” the Nexus 8 replicants. 

Blade Runner 2049
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

K (Ryan Gosling) is one such new-generation replicant designed to thoughtlessly obey orders and the film begins by him tracking down an old replicant, Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), and killing him. But then he discovers the skeletal remains of a replicant under a tree who died in childbirth- it is Rachael from the first film. Horrified by the discovery and K’s boss Joshi (Robin Wright) orders him to eliminate the replicant child. 

While K doesn’t show it, his awareness and “humanity” are already seeping through the cracks. He is not a ruthless, mindless killer, he wanted to kill Sapper without causing him extra pain and thus he asks him not to put up a fight. When tasked to kill the replicant child, he hesitates as he has never killed someone with a soul before.

As he starts cracking the mystery of Rachael’s child he discovers that the single memory of his childhood isn’t fake- it has actually happened and has been lived by someone. Replicants are created with artificially created memory implants to give them an “emotional cushion.” He then discovers that the day Rachael gave birth, two children were admitted into an orphanage with similar DNAs. Of them, the girl is registered as dead and the boy is missing, which makes K think that he is Rachael and Deckard’s child. 

K starts on the path to discover his truth and finally finds Deckard in the dead city of Las Vegas. Soon Niander Wallace’s special replicant, Luv, catches up with them and nabs Deckard, leaving K/Joe for dead.

What happened to Deckard and Rachael after 1982’s Blade Runner?

At the end of the original Blade Runner, Deckard ran away with Rachael but their fate after this was rather ambiguous. Blade Runner 2049 tells us that they apparently lived together for a while but Deckard knew they were being hunted, just like the other replicants. They ended up meeting an underground resistance group of replicants that had gone into hiding and who helped Rachael when she went into labor. 

To keep the baby safe, it was decided that Deckard should leave as he was being specifically targeted. The child was important for the replicant resistance group as it was the symbol of their existence being more than just mindless slaves of whoever is in charge. 

Blade Runner 2049
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

But how could Rachael give birth?

By the nature of their design, replicants are infertile. But Rachael became pregnant- a mystery that is somewhat solved in Blade Runner 2049. It is hinted that Tyrell, the original creator of the older replciants, purposefully designed Rachael with a functional reproductive system so that she could conceive. But how Tyrell managed to create the impossible is lost forever after his death and the Black Out. That’s why Wallace is so interested in finding the replicant child and dissecting it to find what allowed its existence in the first place. 

Was Deckard a human or a replicant?

Now this is a question that has remained unanswered since the 1982 film. Blade Runner never explicitly underlined that Rick Deckard is a replicant or human. Both the film’s director, Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford have answered the question differently- the former directed the character of Deckard as a replicant while Ford considered him human. 

Not only would the director’s vision prevail over the actor’s, there’s evidence in the original film that hints that Deckard is in fact a replicant. In the film, Deckard has recurring dream of a unicorn and at the end of the movie, his partner Gaff (a replicant) leaves an origami unicorn on the table. As many replicants share common artificial memories, there is a chance that Gaff and Deckard share the same too. 

In Blade runner 2049, we get some clarification. when Wallace taunts Deckard by saying that he was designed to fall in love with Rachael. While that could just be Wallace’s attempt to plant the seed of doubt in Deckard’s mind and loosen his loyalty to his cause, the fact that the latter seems to consider it for even a second confirms that he is indeed a replicant. 

K/Joe- human or replicant?

Blade Runner 2049 core plot is K/Joe finding the identity of Rachael and Deckard’s child. And for a while, he is convinced that he is their child and thus he starts rebelling against his replicant “programming.” But we soon discover that his earlier belief- that the replicant child was a boy, removed from the orphanage, and placed in the replicant program because that would be the last place anyone would look for him- was misplaced. He is a replicant given the memory of the replicant child.

Thus the question for him warps into something else- whether one is human simply by birth or if being human is something more complex and attainable by replicants.

Blade Runner 2049
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Blade Runner 2049 and its biblical illusions

There are many ways that Blade Runner 2049 relies on Biblical illusions. To start, Wallace constantly calls his creations angels referring to himself as god- just as angels carry out the will of God, replicants carry out his will. The replicant child is treated as a prophet, fueling the resistance without being a part of it initially. Then there is the parallel between biblical Rachel and Rachael of Blade Runner who were both initially infertile but by the grace of God (Tyrell would be the latter’s “God” as her creator), they were able to conceive. 

Who is really Deckard and Rachael’s child?

After Rachael’s death, the child was first placed in an orphanage where another human child’s DNA was swapped with the child’s. Then the child’s death was faked so that if anyone was ever looking for a replicant child, they would be hunting for a boy instead.

While it’s not clear what happened next, someone tried to take the girl off-world but due to an autoimmune deficiency, she couldn’t travel. Apparently, her inner makings are human enough that she was placed by the authorities in a quarantined memory-creation bank outside the city, growing up with the name of Ava Stelline, and ends up working for the Wallace Corporation by creating artificial memories for replicants. 

It is implied that often, she gave replicants her original memories- something that brings K to her when he is tracking the artificiality of his childhood memory. 

Did K survive in the end?

Blade Runner 2049
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

While still many scratch their heads at this question, it is pretty obvious that K does indeed end up dying to protect Ava and Deckard. As he dies, Hans Zimmer’s score “Tears in Rain” runs in the background, mirroring Roy Batty’s death scene from 1982’s Blade Runner. 

Just like Batty died saving Deckard and accepted his fate in death, something a machine won’t ever feel, K lived and died for a cause, no longer bound by his “programming” to obey orders. He is aware that he isn’t born but made. That Deckard isn’t his father. He realizes it doesn’t matter if he is artificially created that he can develop and find his own humanity.