Screenshot taken from Official Trailer
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
What does it mean to be human? That was the question at the heart of Ridley Scott’s neo-noir science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner (1982). It’s a question further explored and dissected in Blade Runner 2049, with French-Canadian film director Denis Villeneuve now in the driver’s seat.
In the first Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) was tasked with hunting down rogue human-like androids called Replicants, who were on a mission to extend their built-in four-year lifespan. It was against this backdrop that he wrestled with his own humanity as well as his feelings for a replicant, Rachael (played by Sean Young).
The sequel has us following the exploits of Ryan Gosling’s Officer K, a latest-version Replicant who has not only been built to live longer but also programmed to be more obedient than his predecessors. K, too, is tasked with hunting down rogue Replicants, but stumbles upon a revelation that causes him to question the very meaning of his existence.
Villeneuve’s America of 2049 is an immersive experience. It draws you in with stunning visuals and landscapes, with towering pyramids and monolithic structures that fill the majority of the screen and engulf the characters. Then there’s the soundtrack, both evocative and transfixing, which pulls you into the tumultuous world of K. But they never distract from the narrative, which centers on K’s personal turbulence. For it is this ultimate mission to find significance and purpose in his existence, that drives the unfolding plot.
The film grapples with this issue through the juxtaposition of humans, who come into the world through birth, and replicants, who are manufactured. As with the first film, the lines are blurred. And with the sequel being told from the perspective of a replicant, their plight begins to seem all the more human. For K, to be birthed carries consequences beyond the obvious biological implications; birth imbues an individual with a significance and purpose that K craves.
In reality, we too crave significance. Everything about our culture is geared towards telling us that we are special, that there is more to life than mundane existence. From the media we consume to the experiences we seek, we’re encouraged to dream of a purposeful, exciting destiny.
However, as Christians, we recognize that our purpose is very different from the one that mainstream culture tries to sell us. As one of Blade Runner 2049’s most poignant lines suggests, purpose and significance is born out of a cause worth dying for, rather than what gains we may manufacture in this life.
The Christian existence revolves around the gospel. Our purpose is very much tied to it and never manifested apart from it. For it is through the gospel that we are brought from spiritual death to life, as described in Ephesians 2:4-5. And it is for the gospel that we are called to suffer for—and ultimately, if need be, to die for. For Christians, the gospel is the cause worth dying for.
The theme of dying for a greater cause is a big thing in Blade Runner 2049. The opening scenes feature the replicant farmer Sapper Morton (played by Dave Bautista) telling K that he, K, is settling for a mundane life because he’s never witnessed a miracle. Morton himself has found the meaning of his existence and a cause worthy of death, because of a miracle that lies at the center of the film’s plot.
Similarly, the miracle of Jesus’ death and resurrection should radically change the way we live and our perception of life on this earth. In light of what the new creation has in store for us, material pursuits should lose their shine. The miracle of the gospel should shape the way we approach our daily tasks, and the way we prioritize our time.
If there is one thing about Blade Runner 2049 that might discomfort, it’s the notion that the grand scheme of things is not really about us. We like to feel special and noteworthy, and we like to put ourselves at the center of the known universe. To hear the gospel saying differently grates against our instincts.
The cause and purpose of the gospel is far greater than our ambitions and dreams. It is an opportunity that God presents to us to be a part of His great redemptive plan, which is something infinitely larger than anything we could ever possibly accomplish on our own. We play our role by living out the gospel and proclaiming it, but in the end, the real star is Jesus Christ. As Colossians 1:28 says “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” Jesus is the cause worth living and dying for.
Blade Runner 2049 asks what it means to be human. But there’s a bigger question: what does it mean to be Christian? As we consider the purpose and significance of our existence, a good starting point would be to take cues from the Gospel and the way that it radically and intrinsically reshapes our existence.