Blade Runner 2049 is a science-fiction movie that follows the story of agent K, a Los Angeles police officer whose task is to track down rogue replicants. Replicants are mass-produced bioengineered humans that are used as slave labour workers. It is the sequel of the original Blade Runner movie that came out in 1982. As the name suggests, the story takes place in 2049.
The movie offers a very pessimistic vision of the future, or a dystopia (as opposed to a utopia). It shows us what the world could look like if some of the problems we are facing now get worse. It addresses the issues of over-reliance on technology, the impact of man on the environment, overpopulation in urban areas and corporate power over democratic governments.
Overpopulation and unaffordable housing
The Los Angeles of 2049 is an overpopulated urban area made of giant buildings as far as the eye can see. There are no parks or any green spaces and the few animals we see are replicants, or artificial animals. It is a place where concrete has taken over nature. It is a society in which a full-time worker can only afford a tiny apartment in a dodgy neighbourhood.
The main character K (Ryan Gosling) lives in a apartment so small that it looks more like a prison cell than a proper apartment. One can’t help but wonder if this is what unaffordable housing will lead to in the future. In addition to house prices, low wages growth and an increasing job insecurity, owning a house will soon become the realm of science-fiction too.
Technology doesn’t necessarily mean progress
The society of Blade Runner 2049 relies heavily on technology, such as flying cars or holographic female companions. The main character K shares his life with a hologram named Joi. Joi is an artificially intelligent product whose purpose is to bring consumers happiness and companionship. There is a sense throughout the movie that technology has become toxic. To the environment first, and to the people who have become addicted to it, as seen in the main character K’s addiction to his holographic girlfriend.
Technology doesn’t necessarily mean progress. The mistake is to believe that because a new technology is available we should always use it. However we should carefully weigh the pros and cons of using a new technology and consider its long-term impact on employment, the environment and society in general. If a technology allows us to do the same amount of work with half the number of employees but puts millions of people out of work, should we use it? If a technology allows us to be more productive at the expense of the environment, should we use it?
Uber is today’s Wallace Corporation
Too many companies try to squeeze every single drop of life out of their employees in exchange of a minimum wage or questionable employments contracts. In Blade Runner 2049, the Wallace Corporation is the company that manufactures the replicants (the artificial humans) and uses them as slave labour workers. When a replicant rebels against the corporation, they are ‘dealt with’ (tracked down and killed) by the police.
A company like Uber is the Wallace Corporation of today. Their ‘partners’ as Uber calls them (understand employees with no social benefits) work for crumbs and can have their contracts cancelled at any time. An increasing number of companies are hiring people on a subcontractor employment basis because they don’t have to pay for entitlements such as holiday leave or superannuation.
Because something is legal doesn’t mean it is ethical
It is no secret, Uber’s ultimate goal is to get rid of all drivers and use self-driving vehicles instead. Removing the human factor altogether will reduce costs and increase profits. Which raises the question of ethics in business. Are employees considered assets that need to be looked after or overheads that need to be reduced to the minimum? With great power comes great responsibility. The growing power of corporations over governments gives them the responsibility to adopt ethical practices such as looking after their employees and the environment.
Blade Runner 2049 was released last year, 35 years after the original Blade Runner movie. The same issues are addressed in both movies, and the idea that in another 35 years we may still be facing the same problems is a great cause for concern to me. As a conclusion, let’s take a minute and reflect on this quote from the movie: ‘Every leap of civilisation was built off the back of a disposable workforce.’