Blade Runner 2049 is a cinematic matryoshka doll of themes and narratives. It's a tale as old as time, a meditation on what it means to be alive and what makes life meaningful. It's a contemplation of love, faith, hope, despair, everything in between. On its surface, it's an enchanting, meticulously crafted mystery, decrypted by LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a Blade Runner who saunters the searing landscape of dystopian LA.
As the headline suggests, this article will unpick the Blade Runner 2049 ending, so please beware — heavy spoilers from here on out.
But what about the ending? If what makes us human is the soul, then anyone who isn't moved by the conclusion of Denis Villeneuve's long-awaited cyberpunk sequel may want to consider a retinal scan. #BladeRunner2049 ends poignantly, with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) reunited with his estranged daughter after a 30 year absence.
The mystery leading up to this conclusion is intertwined with the original Blade Runner, every slow-paced step of the way. Jumping straight into "no way!" revelation territory, during a routine operation, K is revealed as a replicant. After a visit to Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) — a Nexus-8 model with full life span, who has been in hiding for years — takes a violent turn, K discovers a case hidden beneath a tree in Sapper's garden. In "no way!" revelation number two, the case contains the bones of a woman who died during childbirth, the bones belong to a replicant, the replicant is Rachael. What?!
Following their escape in 2019, Deckard and Rachael conceived a child, despite Rachael being a synthetic. This is potentially catastrophic for society. As Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) says: "The World is built on a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there's no wall... You bought a war." Joshi asks K to keep the discovery secret, and to find the missing child. His task is made difficult after the 2022 blackout destroyed all digital records, paper records have been removed and DNA records manipulated.
A Theme Of Self-Discovery And Humanity
K is resilient. This leads to the underlying theme that explains the significance of the Blade Runner 2049 ending. It begins when K notices the date "6.10.21" engraved on the tree at the burial site. The date is also engraved stamped a toy that features in one of K's "implanted" memories. Believing these two events to be too serendipitous to ignore, K begins his own personal voyage of self-discovery, when he finds evidence that he is the missing half-replicant, half-human son.
To find the source of his particularly visceral memory, K tracks down memory maker Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri). Ana has been isolated in the facility since she was 8 years old, and is regarded as one of the best in her field of work. Her brilliance at memory creation is a byproduct of her own desire to see the world. When Ana checks K's memory, she confirms through a veil of tears that it isn't fabricated in a facility — it happened for real.
At this point, Blade Runner 2049 transforms from a detective conundrum into a poetically apt sequel; a story about a son trying to find his father. Having returned to the orphanage — spurred on by the support of his virtual reality girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas) — K discovers the toy and tracks its original location using toxicity tests, leading him to Deckard's location. The pair initially fight, but decide to call a truce, have a drink, and talk about events occurring shortly after #BladeRunner.
A Heartbreaking Conclusion For K
This isn't a fairytale ending, though. The revelation that replicants can replicate has sparked interest in different parties for different reasons. By 2049, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has become the new demigod of replicants, having bought out the Tyrell Corporation. He rues that fact Tyrell created older Nexus models that could procreate, as he's unable to do so himself. Motivated by power, he assigns his right hand replicant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), the mission of tracking the missing child.
The other party with a vested interest are led by a replicant named Freysa (Hiam Abbass), the same woman photographed with the child. Unlike Luv, Freysa knows the whereabouts of the child. She plans to lead a revolution, waiting for the right time to reveal the half-synthetic, half-human offspring as a bargaining chip to give replicants equal standing with humans. She believes that the child's birth "meant we are much more than slaves, we are our own masters." Her motivation is freedom.
Having tracked the location, Luv gatecrashes, kidnapping Deckard and injuring K. After she leaves with Deckard held hostage, Freysa arrives to pick up the pieces, thanks to a tracking device planted by Mariette (Mackenzie Davis). And here comes the real gut-punch — K isn't the child. Freysa tells him that the child was a daughter, revealing that the memory, though real, was implanted. She offers K the chance to be part of the revolution by finding Deckard and killing him, to prevent Wallace discovering the daughter.
Meanwhile, Deckard is being mentally tortured by Wallace. He uses a clone of Rachael to try and unravel his defense mechanism, to give clues to his daughter's location. Despite Deckard's lack of knowledge, Wallace promises to break Deckard down. While being transported to a secure location by Luv, their spinner is attacked, riddled with bullets and crashes into the water below. K has found them.
K kills Luv and saves Deckard. In gut-punch number "I-don't-know-lost-count-by-now," when Deckard tells him he should've let him die, K responds: "You did, back there, you drowned. Now you can see your daughter." If authorities believe Deckard died in the accident, they'll no longer search for him, and he'll be free from the threat of capture for the first time in decades, and free to be reunited with his daughter. K made his choice.
The 'Blade Runner 2049' Ending Explained
If you felt shell-shocked by the ending of Blade Runner 2049, you're not alone. Beneath the thick layer of dystopian dust, the core message is that of life, and love, and what it means to be human. K (or by his human name, Joe), is the personification of this message. We see the agonizing emotional journey he goes through, his quiet yearning to be considered human. His intuition tells him there's more to life, despite even his closest ally, Lieutenant Joshi, telling him he doesn't have a soul.
Viewed through this perspective, K's actions take on new meaning. With support from his girlfriend Joi, he begins to build his humanity. He shows signs of spirit, a subconscious, a tether between something more meaningful and the material world — the exact ingredients that make us human, beyond the mathematical, analytical functions that artificial intelligence is designed replicate. Even after being told he isn't the half-human son, K's purpose is overpowering, his "soul," he realizes, was there all along.
This instinctive notion of love and compassion inspires him to go against the replicant revolution and to help Deckard find his daughter. Freysa told him the most human thing to do is to die for a cause worth fighting for, and that's exactly what he did. When Deckard asks him why, his smile is telling; he felt human by helping. Compassion is ultimately humanity's defining factor, the golden nugget that helps societies thrive. K's behavior proves something beyond the ability for replicants to procreate — by being capable of altruistic acts (the foundation of most ethical codes), they're "human" by nature.
A final word on Ana, and how her role also oozes humanity. Her tears while seeing K's memory suggests she knew of her heritage, that she remembers that moment. She tells K that authentic memories lead to human responses. Despite it being illegal to use real memories, she's presumably implanted them anyway in an attempt to bridge the gap between humans and replicants, to make them more real, to give them a soul.
There's something equally hopeful and tragic about her final moments. As snow falls heavily outside, and K takes his final breath having completed his mission, Ana is inside, creating snow in the facility. "It's beautiful," she says, unaware that just meters away, the snow is real. Living her life vicariously through implanting memories in others, the daughter of Deckard and Rachael has fittingly played her part in erasing the barrier between human and replicant.
Joshi was wrong. There was never a wall to begin with.
Did you enjoy the ending of Blade Runner 2049? Are there any unanswered questions you have?