Ridley Scott's Blade Runner has been the topic of academic analyses and discussions among sci-fi fans ever since 1982. While it took some time for the original to gain that status, its 2017 successor is already getting praise for Roger Deakins's visual mastery and Denis Villeneuve's impeccable direction. However, those aren't the only reasons why Blade Runner 2049 has become a hit among critics and fans.
The average movie-going audience can associate a specific genre with an over-used movie trope. If we see a group of people walking into an abandoned house for no reason, it's a horror movie. Or, if a kid loses his parents at a young age and trains to fight crime, it's a superhero movie. As the science fiction genre has become associated with the "chosen one" storyline, Blade Runner 2049's decision to flip this cliche on its head is one of the key reasons why it has become a satisfying addition to the franchise.
Note: This article contains spoilers for Blade Runner 2049.
What Is The Chosen One Trope And How Has Sci-fi Movies Used It Excessively?
Sci-fi fans are familiar with the stories of Luke Skywalker (Star Wars), Rey (The Force Awakens), Sarah Connor (The Terminator), Neo (The Matrix) and the various iterations of Clark Kent. However, how would we feel if somebody told us that these characters aren't all that different, and that we are watching the same story over and over again? According to the monomyth theory, presented by Joseph Campbell, cinema-goers have been doing exactly that,
"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."
The "hero's journey" is a staple narrative tool because it allows the writer to create a clear path for the protagonist, add supporting characters, provide a menacing antagonist and conclude the story on a satisfying note synonymous to the hero's characteristics. In addition to that, it easily hooks in the audience with a sense of relatability, as they connect their mundane life with that of Luke's humble beginnings on Tatooine or Neo's claustrophobic cubicle. This also allows the movie to explore the most bizarre cinematic concepts without running the risk of losing the audience's attention.
However, the sci-fi genre uses one little trick to elevate these identifiable characters to an iconic status: the introduction of a prophecy. As the viewers have already associated themselves with the central character, the promise that they can bring balance to the Force or shut down the evil Cyberdyne allows the audience to mentally motivate them to overcome their obstacles. Although this process gives way for convenient plot-points (Luke and Rey comes across a droid carrying an important message) and deus ex-machinas (Kyle Reese punctually arrives to save Sarah), the fulfillment of the hero's destiny leaves the audience with an optimistic feeling that they can reminisce about.
As this process has been consistently successful in sci-fi, Denis Villeneuve could've stuck to this formula and taken the easiest route of making K (or Joe) a likable hero. However, he uses it only as a means to a very different end.
'Blade Runner 2049' Utilizes The Chosen One Trope To Provide A Great Twist
Although Rick Deckard's (Harrison Ford) humanity still hangs in the balance, Villeneuve wastes no time in establishing the fact that his movie's protagonist is a replicant Blade Runner. We're introduced to him when his ongoing task to retire all remaining Nexus-8 replicants brings him to Sapper Morton's (Dave Bautista) farm, where he finds a box full of human remains – later confirmed to be Rachel's. After forensic studies of those bones reveal that replicants can reproduce, K is ordered by Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) to destroy all evidence (along with the child who was born) to prevent making this information public.
While K's call for adventure (finding the bones and returning to Sapper Morton's farm) alludes to the cliches of the hero's journey, Villeneuve adds to the illusion of a traditional story by following it up with K's departure. This shift hints at the "chosen one" cliche, as K's knowledge about the date inscribed in the tree not only takes him on a detour, but also suggests that K's memories might be real. He begins to believe that he is this story's prophetic hero, and so does the audience.
However, Villeneuve ultimately pulls the metaphorical rug from under the audience's feet. By continuing the ruse that he's following Campbell's theory, Villeneuve subjects K to psychological and physical crisis. Villeneuve even brings in Freysa to provide some important exposition, but instead of motivating K to complete his destiny, she breaks his purpose by revealing that K is not the 'true born' child.
How Does The Sudden Change In Officer K's Origin Impact The Movie?
Villeneuve's decision to make K a replicant does result in an emotional disconnect as he doesn't express the natural fear of death like Deckard did. Nevertheless, it helps in understanding the complexity of these androids, as we see K express a variety of other emotions - something that was merely hinted at through Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). Although K exhibits replicant-like subservience under Joshi's eye, it's what he does at home that ignites the idea of them being "more human than human."
However, it's not until the film's twist when K sheds his personal desire and decides to create his own purpose in life – showing that replicants might respect the value of life even more than humans. We follow K through the watery streets of Los Angeles, white-knuckle our way through his fights with Sapper Morton and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), and even feel for him when he makes love with his holographic girlfriend. So, his shift in the story's purpose ultimately fleshes out the moral ambiguity of replicants, and allows us to sympathize with their internal torment.
Blade Runner 2049 is being hailed as one of the best sequels in recent memory because it has improved upon the lore of this dystopian world through a very different perspective. By focusing on K, we're able to empathize with replicants even though they were painted as the antagonists of Blade Runner. The fact that Blade Runner 2049 manages to balance Roy Batty's legacy and subvert tired tropes proves the value of taking on intriguing concepts that will leave your audience in awe.
Are there any other sci-fi tropes that Blade Runner 2049 managed to overturn? Let me know in the comments.