Blade Runner 2049 has come and gone and most people are probably not thinking much about it. After seeing it in theaters back in October I wrote up some thoughts but never got around to posting them, hoping for more developed thoughts that never came. So here are those thoughts, undeveloped as they may be.
The film continues the themes of the original movie; self-awareness, what makes someone (or something) human, and the nature of reality. The last theme, the nature of reality, is the one I’d like to comment on and how sexuality was presented in the movie.
(Warning: Spoilers start now.)
The world of Blade Runner 2049 has holograms that are programmed to be company for lonely individuals. The advertisements for these companions are holograms of beautiful girls, tall as a several-storied building, along the street and sometimes nude. (The movie-makers must have wanted to earn the ‘R’ rating.) These holograms flaunt their stuff and will walk over and talk to individuals who linger long enough. A slogan accompanies these holograms that alternates between two phrases: “Everything you want to hear” and “Everything you want to see.”
The main character in the movie is K who is a replicant and his name is derived from his serial number KD6-3.7. In his apartment, K has one of these holograms named Joi, a beautiful girl who is confined to the living space due to the special equipment installed. When K returns home Joi is wearing a nice dress and talks to him about her day and asks about his. She is “making” his dinner and hopes he likes it. When K sits down with his own prepared meal—that appears to be an unappetizing-looking gray mash of some sort—Joi appears and sets a holographic meal of steak and vegetables over the bowl of mash. The obvious inference is that he will eat the mash but can pretend it’s a steak meal lovingly prepared.
It’s also obvious that K is beginning to have feelings for Joi. As they progress through this scene the audience gets a real sense that she has feelings for him too. Is she becoming self-aware? Is she, a program, beginning to have feelings? K even gives her a present; a device that will download her to a mobile device, enabling her to leave the apartment and go anywhere with him.
Their first excursion is onto the roof where she exits into fresh air, wide openness, and holds her hands out to the rain drops. K and Joi attempt to embrace but, she being a hologram, they cannot actually touch; they place themselves in a position like an embrace but can go no further.
As I watched all this, I could not help but consider the fake girlfriends so many men have today on the internet. Nude photos and pornographic material give men “girlfriends” that ask for no sacrifice or pursuit, ask for nothing in return, never say no, and are always satisfied. None of it is real and only exists the imagination of the man.
This is even starker in a scene where Joi wishes to do with K what all lovers do; so she brings a human girl to the apartment. As K watches, Joi superimposes herself onto the other woman. So now K can have sex with a real woman for one night while looking at and thinking about Joi. Yet again, K and Joi are seeking real love and connection but none of it is real. And K does not seem satisfied the next morning.
Joi and Joe:
The relationship of K and Joi goes deeper throughout the movie. Joi becomes K’s travelling companion as he pursues the clues in his quest and she tells him how special he is. When the clues start to reveal that K may actually be human and not a replicant, Joi says the name K is no longer good since it comes from his serial number. So she gives him a real name; Joe.
Eventually though, the hologram Joi is “killed” because the mobile device carrying her is destroyed by the bad guys. While his friend Deckard is in danger, K is distraught over the loss of Joi and wanders the streets in the rain. Eventually, one of the building-sized hologram advertisements walks over and talks to him. It looks very much like Joi and starts flirting with him…but then finishes by saying, “You look like a good joe.”
K stiffens. His face shows a light going off in his mind. “A good joe,” she said. Joi had given him the name Joe because he was “special.” The inference I took away from the scene was that it all truly was fake. Joi had been programmed to give K what he desired. She kept to her programming even by giving him the name these holograms used to seduce men; Joe.
The point is driven home when the hologram returns to her place to seductively pose and the billboard next to her toggles between “Everything you want to hear” and “Everything you want to see.”
It hurt K. What he thought was true turned out to be a fake; it was simply a piece of technology designed to seduce and it did. Joi had given him everything he wanted to hear and see…and it had emasculated him.
The realization has a positive effect on K. After her death, he had been walking around in a funk, unable to finish his mission. He was impotent. Once that spell was broken he gathered himself, returned to reality, mustered his resolve, and was able to heroically save the day.
Relationships of Imagination:
In a letter to a friend, C.S. Lewis wrote of the dangers of masturbation and sexual fantasies.
“For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself….After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of ourselves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.”
The fake-relationship between K and Joi seems almost a direct illustration of Lewis’ description of sexual fantasy. By the end K becomes trapped and impotent; he wanders around while Deckard is in danger; K is wrapped in himself, a prison of his own making. But light enters, he becomes free of the prison, he drops the fake girlfriend, and goes on to save Deckard.
I have no idea if this is the lesson the movie-makers desired to show, but it is what I took away from it.
 To Keith Masson, June 3, 1956