The Eggplant – Stuck in the Plotholes
*Spoiler alert: The following contains extensive discussion of the plot of Blade Runner 2049.*
One of the fun things about having friends who watch the same kinds of movies you do is the dialogue that happens when two of you have different responses to the same film. Sometimes I love a movie and my conversational partner had some reservations (as with Wonder Woman, where two different interpretations of the killing of Ares within Diana’s moral arc led to my assertion that the movie had a good argument for best superhero film ever and my friend’s thought that it couldn’t claim much more than best DCEU movie). Sometimes we can argue about the reasons for a movie’s badness (would Suicide Squad have been most improved by more Joker or less?). Most interesting is when one person likes a movie for certain reasons and another dislikes it for a completely different set of reasons.
Such was the case in multiple discussions recently about Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the 1982 film about a cop hunting and retiring (killing) rogue replicants (robots who look and mostly act perfectly human). My problems with the film mostly related to the plot, which I found complex to the point of distraction and including a number of points of which I simply could not make sense. (To offer one example of a plothole that still bugs me, at one time a replicant working for an evil tycoon is seen stealing evidence from an LAPD station after having killed the lab technician. Later, the same replicant is in the same station, having a conversation with the officer supervising the investigation to which the stolen evidence was relevant. The replicant murders the officer before using her biometrics to access the case files, and again there’s no sign that anyone is aware of or concerned by the felonies the replicant is committing within a police station. The only somewhat convincing explanation I’ve heard is the implication that the LAPD is entirely in the tycoon’s pocket and thus all his employees have immunity, but if that’s the case, he could get the information without leaving bodies behind.)
Three different friends argued that I was looking at the movie the wrong way, that even if I found the plot too confusing and open-ended, I should still be focusing on the film’s virtues. Technically, the film is gorgeous, with every frame’s look crafted to perfection, and any awards it gets for cinematography, production design, and visual effects will be well-deserved. Thematically, Blade Runner 2049 addresses that core human problem of othering: the replicants are not considered people despite being human in both appearance and behavior, and are socially (though not economically) the lowest of the low on earth and used as slave labor on other worlds. The protagonist, K, is a replicant who hunts and retires older model replicants that lack the obedience programmed into newer models, and we see him wrestling with the fact that he is an artificial intelligence who makes a living by destroying other AIs. His relationship with his boss at the LAPD is uncomfortably familiar to anyone who has tried, across a power differential, to cultivate genial personal relations with someone from a completely different background (racial, social, economic, or otherwise); even the best-intentioned question can prove extremely awkward. K has a romantic relationship with an entirely holographic AI; although she cannot physically interact with him, their romance is by far the most human interaction between any of the movie’s characters. A scene in an orphanage that bugged me because it ultimately serves no purpose in the plot and adds to an overlong runtime is, in fact, critical: while this huge warehouse is filled with unwanted human children being worked like slaves, K and the evil tycoon are racing (and the latter killing) to find the child of a replicant. Although believed to impossible, if a replicant bore a child it would upend the understanding that replicants were neither human nor alive but also give the tycoon the technology to allow his slave empire to reproduce and thus expand exponentially; the contrast in value between one non-human child and hundreds of human children is startling. My friends’ point is that, if I stop being so concerned with the trees of the plot and start attending to the thematic forest, I’ll find a whole lot to like in Blade Runner 2049.
I hope that those themes suggest many things about how we as Christians might identify and heed the humanity of the dehumanized, interact with our neighbors from radically different backgrounds, and critique the values our society puts on different sorts of human lives. But my purpose in relating these conversations is less about the themes of Blade Runner 2049 and more about the plot-focused way I initially approached it.
Like many folks who were raised in the church, my early exposure to the Bible was mostly through Sunday School stories, some of which get regularly addressed in adult church (Jesus walking on water or feeding five thousand) and some of which don’t, at least in my experience (Samson or David and Goliath). As you might imagine, I was the sort of child who poked at the holes in the story (if Adam and Eve had no daughters, how did their sons have children?), but I was also the sort of child who struggled to reconcile some of these stories with what my parents and priest told me was the main idea of the Bible: God loves us and wants us to love God and each other. How does wiping out almost all life on earth in a flood or slaughtering the inhabitants of Jericho fit into God’s love?
As I got older, such discrepancies became more evident in the behavior of Jesus’ followers. Just as I got so hung up on the murders in the LAPD that I missed the deeper themes of the film, in college I realized that, with regard to homosexuality, I was so focused on a few Bible verses (whose meaning is more ambiguous than I thought) that I was completely neglecting the ways that loving neighbors, strangers, and enemies might apply. In history classes, it became obvious that, although genocide does not fit with the command to love that weaves throughout the canon, crusaders, conquistadores, and cowboys had nonetheless seized on the plot point of Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land to justify slaughtering the native populations of territory they coveted. Because loving God, one another, and oneself is very difficult in practice, we who give the Bible authority in our lives often find it easier to seize on plot details that might offer us exceptions to the commandment, and many reject Christianity entirely because they focus on such hateful stories rather than the overarching theme of love.
So as we read Holy Scripture, I wonder what we’re taking away from it. Are we modeling our lives around recurring themes like mercy, justice, and love? Are we taking our cue from a few plot points that make us feel most comfortable, at the risk of being distracted from the larger themes? Or are we rejecting the whole thing because we’re stuck in the plotholes?
The Rev. John Adams