Thursday, 12 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049: Cyberpositive Disruption

Spoilers, obviously

Blade Runner 2049 is as good as they say it is. If you've not seen it, go see it, immediately, and don't read further until you have.

This is going to be less a review than a series of meditations on the themes in the film, along with some some broader comments.

Let's get the plot out the way. K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner, and a replicant. The newer models, no longer curtailed by the four-year life span of the Nexus 6 (it was never clearly established if that life span was deliberate or not), have been integrated into society, with deeply programmed obedience. He hunts the old models, less advanced than he, more advanced than the Nexus 6. The opening scene will be familiar to anyone who's seen Dangerous Days; he's tracked an old model replicant to a protein farm in the bleak wilds of California, nested among the solar energy plants. He retires the replicant, and discovers the bones of a female replicant who, impossibly, died in child birth. 

Replicants are now produced by the Wallace Coporation; Tyrell is bankrupt. Wallace's pyramid looms over the Tyrell pyramids. Unlike those, which blazed with light in the original, the Wallace pyramid is dark, monolithic, its surface unbroken by windows -- Wallace (Jared Leto) is blind, after all. Frustrated at the slow pace of replicant production, Wallace desires the replicant-child for himself, so as to grant replicants the ability to reproduce among themselves -- auto-production of the bio-engineered slave caste. His reasoning is pure humanist triumphalism, that with an inexhaustible and perfectly obedient slave force at their disposal, humanity might storm the heavens and reclaim Eden. Religious symbolism afoot, dense with Cosmism.

Apparently unbeknown to Wallace, a revolutionary movement among the replicants in fact already posses the child, and shall use her (it is implied for much of the film that K is the replicant-child, but it's revealed that this isn't the case) to raise the consciousness of the replicants into open rebellion -- replicant auto-production transformed into self-determined emancipation -- 'More human than human' indeed.

There's a lot for fans of the original film to enjoy. The references to the original are handled gracefully, respectfully. BR2049 is the logical consequence of what we see in the first film: environmental degradation, militarised policing, collapse of the state/capital distinction, mega-architecture, mass demographic blending, street-level commodity biotech, etc., etc. When it comes to the tech, the advances are in line with the aesthetics of the original (especially the photo analysis scene and the Voight-Kampff test) -- cyberpunk rendered analogue. A data reader has levers, gears; it whirrs and clunks. Lenses audibly flitter. This is justified by an almost-total digital data loss between '19 and '49 (the Blackout), a perfect narrative conceit -- the recent, digitised past is not only another country, it's a lost continent, informational Lemuria. Data has reverted to physicality. 

But this isn't our future, not our 2049. It's the future of the 2019 we saw in the original. It's a future where the early 21st century established off-world colonies; a holographic ballerina is circled by a ring of text, 'Product of CCCP'. Alternative futurism.

Nick Land's 1993 essay 'Machinic Desire' gazes deeply into the eyes of the original replicants and the security apparatus seeking them out.

PODS = Politically Organized Defensive Systems [...] The global human security allergy to cyberrevolution consolidates itself in the New World Order, or consummate macropod, inheriting all the resources of repression as concrete collective history. The macropod has one law: the outside must pass by way of the inside. In particular, fusion with the matrix and deletion of the human security system must be subjectivized, personalized, and restored to the macropod's individuated reproducer units as a desire to fuck the mother and kill the father. [p. 320]

The replicants are a threat to the human security system in that they've not been installed with Oedipal control software. They are '[d]eadly orphans from beyond reproduction' [p. 319] that do not pass by way of the inside. Their desires are alien, artificial, products of capital machinery rather than the 'natural' biological processes of reproduction and the transference of social norms and mores -- Oedipal control software. BR2049 takes this and runs with it -- replicant social integration is accomplished by the open implantation of synthetic memory, countering the empathy deficiency that made the Nexus 6 models so volatile.

Land's macropod is a cybernetic negative feedback loop which always reverts to zero -- equilibrium -- homeostasis -- base-line. When K returns from a mission, he is put through a slicked down and hyper-efficient version of the Voight-Kampff test to ensure his emotional state has returned to base-line, i.e. he has been reset to zero, and is thus 'stable'. The macropod relies on negative feedback functions, in that negative feedback maintains the social order, keeps the system in balance, preserves law, order, hierarchy, etc. K's boss instructs him that replicant auto-production is unacceptable; it crumbles the walls, hierarchies, repressive mechanisms that maintain macropod homeostasis.

The integration of the replicants into the macropod is predicated on the macropod still maintaining homeostasis -- replicant auto-production jeopardises this. By gaining the ability to self-direct their reproduction, the replicants seek to jettison themselves from the macropod in a blaze of positive feedback: shattering pre-existing social structures, obliterating the human security system and launching themselves into inhuman sexuality.

'Machinic processes are either cyberpositive-nomadic, with a deterritorializing outcome, or cybernegative-sedentary, with a reterritorializing outcome.' [p. 330] Replicant auto-production still runs the risk of being utilised by the macropod (Wallace's dream of storming the heavens) for the continuation/perpetuation of the prior order; if allowed to spin out of control, however, replicant auto-production would do the opposite of this, a hundred replicant flowers blooming in a creative chaos of runaway processes.

The great question at the heart of the original: is Deckard a replicant? We are not given an answer in BR2049, wisely. It is left ambiguous if the replicant-pregnancy (it was Rachael that fell pregnant with Deckard's child) was human/replicant or replicant/replicant, if it was pure replicant self-production, or the illicit transfer of human genetic material into an inhuman receptor. Either way, the macropod's security algorithms are thrown out of whack, perhaps permanently.

Artificial life finds a way.

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