This essay contains spoilers for Blade Runner 2049.
Blade Runner 2049 is a movie I very much enjoyed (you can read my review here) but it's an interesting film for me because I realized it nicely inverts a lot of what was inherent to the original movie. I disliked The Last Jedi for having what I felt was a message that didn't fit with the Star Wars universe that is somewhat reflected in this film but worked better in the last one. Specifically, it's the somewhat family unfriendly aesop that nobody is actually important and it's the freedom of recognizing this fact which will set you free.
|Corporations love telling you to be an individual by buying what everyone else is.|
I didn't think much of the plot initially until it occurred to me that not only did the movie subvert the fact the protagonist wasn't the "Chosen One" but it turned out the actual Chosen One is not special in any way shape or form. Doctor Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) designs memories for the Nexus-9 Replicants but is forced to live in a bubble because of her condition. She's in no condition to lead any sort of revolution or lead her "people." In fact, she's a key point in the machinery that allows them to be produced and enslaved.
|He's not looking for reality.|
Even Doctor Stelline's role as a symbol of human-Replicant equality is something that may not be all that threatening. While Lieutenant Joshi says it will "break down the wall", it's not like humanity has ever had much difficulty dehumanizing people that they can breed with. Mixed populations have existed throughout history and often get spit on from both sides of their heritage. They may eventually rise high but Replicants are already human in every way that matters. Adding another humanized element to them isn't going to convince most racists to stop treating them like garbage.
|Wallace believes he's God and is the most pathetic of the characters as a result.|
In the year 2049, Replicants have grown in number and rights enough that Nexus-9 are allowed to live on Earth and hold jobs they're paid for. They can be killed at any time by their masters but they are considered valuable property by all but Niander Wallace (who kills humans with equal ruthlessness as Replicants). This is a sharp contrast to the destitute who are left to die in the streets or chained together in horrific sweatshop conditions. The poor thus hate Replicants even more while the Replicants see nothing in common with the destitute in their struggle for freedom.
|Is being special really important?|
Niander Wallace has saved the world from starvation, reintroduced Replicants, and colonized six worlds but remains an ultimately impotent figure. His delusions of godhood with millions of Replicant "children" don't change the fact he's just a man. He is a man surrounded by slaves but seems to lack even Tyrell's humanity. He is only able to relate to individuals around him as master and slave, leaving him in a lonely but gilded cage.
|Lieutenant Joshi thinks humans are special and Replicants aren't. She's half-right.|
This depressing message is even located in the central "romance" between K and Joi. K adores Joi, his Siri-like A.I. companion, and treats her as a real girlfriend in all respects. He brings her presents, tries to give her freedom, and holds lengthy conversations with her. However, Joi is a product produced to give their owners the experience they desire. Which, in K's case, is a constant reminder he is special and unique despite this being manifestly untrue.
|Deckard is himself. Human or replicant.|
I should note Joi a character who adds her own influence on this theme whether you view her as sentient or not. As a facilitator of unearned self-image, she makes her lonely heterosexual men (or homosexual women) owners feel great about themselves no matter what their actual qualities. However, if you view her as a sentient being, she also is someone who willingly sacrifices and gives to the point of self-destruction. It's perhaps why K loves her as she is someone who represents selflessness in a world completely absent these qualities (even in himself). It might be an illusion that she's a real person but her example inspired him.
|He's a good Joe.|
One area which does go against my interpretation of the film, though, is the fact Deckard rejects the Second Rachel on the grounds of her being a poor imitation of his wife. Deckard rejects the clone of her because while individuals may not be of any grand importance to the universe, they are certainly so to him. His memories and experiences with his wife would be sullied by accepting a replacement copy. In that respect, I feel for the Second Rachel because she was judged by an impossible standard and no more guilty of being there to seduce Deckard than the original probably was. So even in a movie about how we're all just cogs in an impossibly large machine refuses to argue against personal importance. Indeed, that is the only kind it seems to acknowledge exists.
|A single dot in an enormous field of lights.|