Fictional detectives are, for the most part, a prickly bunch. Disheartened, and detached from society, these characters are a way for film-goers to perceive the fictional world around them. As the protagonist of Blade Runner 2049, the replicant Agent K serves this role. However, K's detachment from humanity, and his emotional state reflect the very essence of this film, and his character development serves as a poignant message for viewers to digest.
Knowing Me, Knowing K
Shunned because he’s a “skin-job”, K enacts his day-to-day routine in a highly mechanical fashion, and seemingly lives up to his reputation as a emotionless, bio-engineered, artificial life-form. Indeed, K cooly informs Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) that he’s learned to keep his stomach empty when he’s “retiring” fellow replicants, which shows just how efficient of a killer he is. Moreover, Blade Runner 2049’s screenwriter Hampton Fancher explains that when it came to scripting the film:
“The image I had in my head of K…was that this guy is a handbook. He follows the rules. He’s a machine…”
Outwardly this really does seem to be the case. After passing his psychological baseline tests with ease, “Constant“ K’s superior Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) even muses that K has been “getting along just fine” without ever possessing a soul like normal humans. But there’s more to K than his initial appearance would suggest.
#RyanGosling excellently portrays what is essentially a mercenary, but his casting in the role is very cunningly utilised. Indeed, the actor affects an icy demeanor for K whilst he’s in public, but Gosling’s soulful and expressive eyes bely a very different story. Joshi may describe Blade Runners as “the wall that separates kind” — between order and chaos —but K himself is not reflective of this clean divide.
K is a man at war with himself. His replicant conditioning forces him to submit to the status quo, though he yearns for something more. Certainly, his purchase of — and his tenderness towards — the holographic companion Joi (Ana de Armas) speaks of K’s sensitive, lonely nature that lies beneath. He mimics anniversary dinners with her, and even though she’s a hologram, K still shows a great amount of concern for Joi’s safety when he transfers her consciousness onto a mobile emitter.
But when Rachel’s (Sean Young) skeleton is discovered along with a reproductive miracle that transcends all pre-conceived logic, K’s internal conflict intensifies. Certainly, K begins to suspect that he might be something more than just a single-minded replicant when, in a heart-breaking scene, he discovers that the toy horse of his implanted memories is a tangible object.
Of course, this all comes crashing down soon enough. Following his meeting with an aged Rick Deckard (#HarrisonFord), Joi is destroyed and K discovers that he isn’t the “chosen one” after all: Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) is the true child of Deckard and Rachel. Dejected and forlorn, we later see K being confronted by a holographic advertisement for Joi. Not only does he have to contend with the crushing realization that he isn’t special after all, this very purple (and very nude) version of Joi parrots many of her previously heard sayings, such as “what a day”, back at him.
Was her love for K genuine? Or was it part of her programming? Like many things in the Blade Runner movies this is left rather ambiguously, and we’re never given a definitive answer. Yet what isn’t up for debate is the subject of K’s humanity, which comes into focus with his poignant and impactful sacrifice.
How Does K Become The Most Human Character Of All In 'Blade Runner 2049'?
Whiet K wallows in self-pity, Deckard is captured and sent to be tortured off world by Niander Wallace’s (#JaredLeto) lackey so that he may reveal the secrets of replicant reproduction. It's only then that K intervenes, attacking the convoy and fiercely confronting Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) on the banks of Los Angeles’s sea wall. After eventually triumphing, K escorts Deckard to meet Stelline, before succumbing to his wounds. The significance of these scenes in regards to the central message of Blade Runner 2049 can’t be understated.
As it is with Phillip K Dick’s original novel, the core of the #BladeRunner films is preoccupied with the nature of artificial intelligence and humanity. Can androids dream about sheep? And what does it mean to be human? It’s widely accepted that compassion is what defines our race, as is our desire to better ourselves. And that's where K comes in, since as both a detective and replicant, we are able to plumb these deep questions throughout the film. Indeed, Fancher described K’s journey in Blade Runner 2049 thus:
“… the image [I had] was this: A handbook turns into a poem through his experiences…”
By saving Deckard and reuniting him with his daughter at the film's end, K truly marks himself as a being that is more than just a disposable "skin job." K may not be as unique as Stelline is, for she is the “miracle” of the film, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t special. Certainly, K’s altruism, and his death in the falling snow mimics that of Roy Batty’s (Rutger Hauer) passing in the rain. Fittingly, both replicants could have left Deckard to die, allowing general suffering to ensue, but both K and Roy decided to perform one last selfless act for another person. In K’s case, he does so at the expense of his own life, when he would otherwise have survived. So why did he do it? Well, in the original cut of Blade Runner, Deckard surmises that Roy saved him to, fittingly, profess his humanitarianism:
“Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he ever had before. Not just his life... anybody's life... my life.”
It’s clear that the same can be said for K in Blade Runner 2049. As his existential angst plays throughout the film, K’s battle at the sea wall (Joshi's aforementioned barrier symbolically brought to life) sees his internal conflict being brought to a head. After defeating the murderous, ironically named Luv, K is able to move past this divide — the warring parts of his robotic and human natures — and find peace within himself by saving Deckard. Certainly, it’s no mistake that as the real snow falls upon the “artificial” K, holographic snow is shown to dance around the “real” Stelline. In this instant, they are both sensitive, soulful beings, and thus K’s selflessness means so much more.
After all, it’s clear that the world of Blade Runner 2049 is a cruel one. In the #movie, LA is a bleak, urban environment, dominating an Earth whose ecosystems have collapsed and been smothered under miles of human waste. Plus, the creation of replicants for slavery shows that humanity has become a sphere that's governed by an overriding self-interest.
We can see this in all of the characters. Joshi wants to preserve the status quo. Niander Wallace yearns to become even more god-like. Freysa (Hiam Abbass) wants Deckard dead to preserve both her movement and her own safety. K’s heroism and sacrifice for Deckard and Stelline’s well-being is in direct contrast to these selfish actions and thus, he’s one of the most virtuous characters in this story.
Ironically, through this compassion it seems that K is “more human” than any of the other naturally-born human characters. And given that Blade Runner 2049 is all about humanity's relationship with artificial intelligence, isn't that a powerful statement in itself?
What did you think of Blade Runner 2049? Head to the comments and let us know!