The night began innocently enough: a 15-minute drive to the Redwood City Cinemark, two tickets to “Blade Runner: 2049,” a medium bucket of popcorn, Theater 11. But from the film’s opening sequence to its rather abrupt ending, I felt ill at ease. It wasn’t the plot that kept me shackled to my seat, ignoring nature’s call, nor was it the dialogue that ensured my mental return to this experience in the coming days. Rather, it was the depiction of a future only 32 years away. And while “Blade Runner” is a visualization and realization of a reality that could in no way resemble the tangible one, I couldn’t help but get hung up on the ways in which our current trajectory seems to point towards this ultimate ending.
Similarities between this film’s captured reality and my present became increasingly apparent. For example, I was waiting under an awning in the rain outside of Stacks Pancake House in Menlo Park this past Saturday morning when I noticed the plethora of flashing neon signs along the gray street, a mirror of the hyper-technological, highly muted existence captured in this film. Other overlaps between 2049 and 2017 included a keen attention to global warming’s changing weather patterns: so far, the United States has endured 49 separate weather, climate and flood disasters, according to data from Munich Re, a global reinsurance firm; “Blade Runner” takes place in a California devoid of sunshine.
Today’s talks of the use of nuclear weapons are also paralleled in “Blade Runner”’s depiction of Las Vegas as a radioactive wasteland, and the most recent sexual assault case involving Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the flurry of other high-powered men caught abusing women is referenced in this future’s proliferation of degrading female images and the abundant presence of females as a commodity sex business. I get shivers just thinking about where our current approaches may take us, but being shown them – not having to work so hard to make the hop, step and jump from Nov. 2, 2017 to Nov. 2, 2049 – keeps me up at night.
Despite its harsh and relatable undertones, the film was absolutely beautiful, making use of expansive scenes with careful attention to color and the positioning of light. The interiors of the Wallace Corporation were a particular favorite rendering of mine, where undulations and shades of yellow created a space that breathed in a way the rest of this world could not. And this brings up a final similarity between our existence and this one. In “Blade Runner,” a strong contrast is drawn between the immaculate and minimal beauty of the Wallace buildings, home to the world’s wealthiest man and his assistant, with the streets of the city, crowded with millions living hand-to-mouth, bundled up against the cold and the dirt and the dredge. This gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent was not difficult to contextualize within the framework of current conversation.
While films like “Blade Runner” thrill for all they suggest about our imagination’s capacity to conceive of alternative trajectories and existences, this one felt prescient and foregone. The unsustainable nature of our current approach – taking without thought of the next generation, turning to violent means out of fear, isolating amongst groups with similar beliefs and backgrounds – is carried out to its conclusion in “Blade Runner.”
And so films provide us unique opportunities to see where our decisions will lead us. Art grants us access to an understanding we may otherwise be unable to tap into. Watching this film was both a disturbing and a revelatory process for me. I feel as though I have seen a future, and I am going to do everything in my power to ensure it doesn’t come to pass.
Contact Hannah Broderick at inbloom ‘at’ stanford.edu.