I almost didn’t see “Blade Runner 2049”, because my sister told me it was nearly three hours long, and, at 34, three solid hours of entertainment isn’t entertaining. I have back problems, a daily to-do list that spans several pages, and a cranky yet persistent belief that if filmmakers are really genius auteurs, they can figure out how to edit their auteur-ness down into a brisk two hours. “Blade Runner 2049” has proven me wrong. From the moment the darkness envelops you to the moment the house lights return, you remain transfixed, hanging in a suspension of equal parts enchantment and horror, until the movie sees fit to release you.
Ryan Gosling plays K, a blade runner who makes his living “retiring” (killing) older models of replicant. He performs his job with an air of calm detachment, which he’d need: K is himself a replicant, kept in the job because of his human commanders’ belief that new replicants are incapable of disobedience. Because “Blade Runner 2049” is not fucking around, K is a cop, the growing moral schism between his identity and his brutal occupation instantly recognizable as a commentary on policing in 2017 America. As he did in “Drive”, Gosling gives the impression of projecting two completely different faces at once: the impassive facade his character must maintain, and the mounting interior panic that only we in the audience can see. Gosling’s control over his microexpressions is so startlingly effective that watching him feels like being granted psychic powers—we understand K perfectly, but we don’t know how we understand, and couldn’t explain it if we tried. The moviemakers, wisely, allow his performance to do the bulk of the exposition: through K’s eyes, we slowly absorb the social hierarchy of 2049 Los Angeles, in which humans are king, some replicants are more human than others, and even replicants may own a virtual house slave, a holographic girlfriend to cook your dinner and switch off obediently when you want some peace and quiet, or when a phone call comes through from your boss. With all the vegetation and most of the animals blasted away by radiation, man and replicant alike have no choice but to consume synthetic nutrition and eke enjoyment out of synthetic relationships: K brings presents to his holographic girlfriend, even though his hands sink right through her; just as K’s human supervisor Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) tries for a collegial drink, but can’t ask K a question without phrasing it as an order. The dystopia’s blasted and lifeless landscapes are creepy, but the disturbance is nothing compared to the chill that passes over you when you realize that you’re looking at an ideal American workforce / consumer base.
Presiding over the monopoly on replicant manufacture, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) plays a futuristic CEO as a nightmare Steve Jobs who casually guts protoypes that don’t live up to his inscrutable specs. As Wallace pulls the strings behind K’s investigation of a missing replicant, we sense the plot closing around us, but Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s hypnotic score and director Denis Villeneuve’s haunting use of fog lulls us into a pleasant stupor—the ending is inevitable, but still surprises. It’s a hell of a Venus flytrap, and the strangest thing about it is how badly I want to be caught again.