Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts by A. K. Benedict – Short Review

This book was a delightful surprise. I was browsing the “Discounted Books” shelves at my local bookstore, when I came across this. The synopsis seemed to suggest that it would be something I’d enjoy (crime/detective fiction + set in London + elements of the supernatural), but what really sealed the deal for me was that it was a SIGNED copy being sold for what is the equivalent of less than £2. Ah what a joyous moment!

downloadEither way, this book turned out to be a lucky find. It was the first time I read anything by A. K. Benedict, and it’s made me look forward to reading more of her work in the future (I’m always looking to find more writers writing what I want to read). Benedict proves to be one of those writers who make for effortlessly enjoyable reading. The prose flow so well with the present tense format, and she manages to create distinctive third person narratives for every character (as effective as a characteristic first person voice). Her characters are three dimensional, diverse and complex. Additionally, she manages LGBTQ+ representation with sensitivity and nuance.

Plot Summary: Maria King, a congenitally blind woman whose sight has recently been restored after surgery, becomes the target of a stalker responsible for a recent homicide. Maria, though sighted now, refuses to remove her post- operative blindfold, complicating matters. An investigation is initiated by the Met Police through a team led by Detective Inspector Jonathan Dark, who has to contend with his own personal demons. Add to this a funeral home director who is something of a ghost- whisperer, a creepy creature that could well be a symbol for depression, and a world where ghosts are as real and just as populous as the living, and you have a good idea of the key points of this book.

Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts makes for easy, fun and un-put-down-able reading. It reminded me of Ben Aronovitch’s Rivers of London series, but I preferred this book. There was also a superficial similarity to the 1994 film Blink, in which Madeleine Stowe’s Emma undergoes surgery to restore her sight and finds herself the victim of a homicidal stalker. I went on reading, desperate to know what would happen next, well into the wee hours of the morning – on a working day! And I’m someone who is very particular about getting sufficient sleep in the work week.

I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys detective fiction with supernatural touches in an urban fantasy setting. Excellent book!

A Love of Books

IMG_20181222_154020A love of reading and books is a way of life. Any passionate reader knows this to be true. Stories, and the way in which they are told, can inspire us, fascinate us, help us better understand others and ourselves and above all they can bring joy and hope to our lives. Reading is a pleasurable pastime; but it also teaches us empathy. Reading about other people, their stories, their lives whether real or fictional helps us develop a greater understanding of others and encourages us to be more accepting towards those who are different.

You’ll start with stories like ‘The Three Wishes’ and ‘Elsa the Dragon’; books that you might scribble over or from which you might accidentally rip pages. You’ll move on to other books, and (if you’re like me. There are other book-lovers who don’t mind dog-earring – and that’s okay too) you’ll grow careful; first you’ll give up dog-earring pages (an atrocity to your mind), then you’ll stop lending your books to all and sundry (others cannot be trusted unless they share your passion) and eventually, you’ll read any paperback novel through as small a slit as possible to avoid cracking the spine or damaging the cover – after all, books are meant to be read, re-read and re-re-read again over the years (this is only my own experience)

But there will always be that one book, or those few select books that hold a place in your heart above the others. These will be the books that stirred your imagination; that fired up your creative engines; that made you pause and ponder; or that gave you moments of sheer happiness and optimism. While these are personal to each reader, here are some writers I have found to be really worth reading, and some of their most memorable works.

Crime & Detective Fiction

Agatha Christie

imagesIt is not without reason that Dame Agatha Christie is the ‘Queen of Crime’. In her lifetime, she managed to produce 80 books (novels and short story collections) as well as some plays and a few novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Her play, The Mousetrap, is the world’s longest running play, still opening to packed theatres. Christie’s famous detectives include the inimitable Hercule Poirot; the deceptively woolly old lady Ms Marple; the enterprising couple Tommy and Tuppence; and the perceptive Parker Pyne.

Recommended Reading: The Mysterious Affair at Styles; Death Comes as the End; Dumb Witness; Sad Cypress; The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; Parker Pyne Investigates; The Mysterious Mr Quin.

Frank Tallis

downloadI never knew how much I could want to visit Imperial Vienna at the turn of the century until I read Tallis’ Liebermann Papers. Frank Tallis is a writer and psychotherapist, and his Liebermann series (seven books so far) is a collection of detective novels set in Vienna in the late 1800s and early 1900s centring on the adventures of Dr Max Liebermann, a young Jewish doctor and disciple of Sigmund Freud and his friend Detective Oskar Rheinhardt. In addition to interesting storylines and well-written prose, Tallis does a great job of bring Vienna to life – descriptions of popular operas, café society, mouth-watering desserts, landmarks and locales all add to the atmospheric writing.

Recommended Reading: Mortal Mischief (Liebermann #1); Vienna Blood (Liebermann#2)

Fantasy

Diana Wynne Jones

244572Some might consider Diana Wynne Jones a writer of ‘children’s fiction’, but her books are highly readable and immensely enjoyable for all ages. She is the writer on whose book the Miyazaki film Howl’s Moving Castle is based. From the Chrestomanci series, about a nine-lifed enchanter, to her mythology and folklore inspired work in Eight Days of Luke and Fire and Hemlock, Wynne Jones writes with such flair that readers are drawn into her imagined worlds, longing to be a part of them.

Recommended Reading: The Lives of Christopher Chant; Fire and Hemlock, Castle in the Air; Charmed Life; The Magicians of Caprona; The Game; The Merlin Conspiracy

Terry Pratchett

220px-Night_watch_discworldIf you haven’t read Sir Terry Pratchett, you don’t know what you’re missing. Read his work. It’s better late than never. Pratchett was recommended to me by a friend at university, and since then there’s been no looking back. Don’t be put off by the whimsical cover illustrations on most of his paperbacks. On the surface, his genre is comedic fantasy, but his stories have much more depth that you’d realise at first glance. In his works, I’ve discovered a keen sense of compassion, justice and hope. His stories tackle themes as diverse as immigration, racism, political machinations, industrialisation and what it means to be human through often seemingly light-hearted and humorous plots set in the fictional Discworld.

Recommended Reading: Snuff; Going Postal; Guards!Guards!; The Truth; Night Watch

Neil Gaiman

619aOdu-iDL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Neil Gaiman was also recommended to me by a friend. After reading some of his work, I discovered he was not only friends with Terry Pratchett, but that the two of them had co-authored a hilarious comedic fantasy novel called Good Omens (soon to be a tv series). Even better, Gaiman was a fan and friend of Diana Wynne Jones too. Someone associated with the King and Queen of Fantasy writing couldn’t possibly be a poor reading choice. Gaiman has his own quirky style – there’s a distinctness to his writing. You instantly recognise his work as being particularly Gaiman-esque – carrying his uniqe signature style of story-telling.

Recommended Reading: Neverwhere; Good Omens; Trigger Warning; Sandman (Graphic Novels); The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains (Graphic Novel)

Classics

F. Scott Fitzgerald

9781853260971If you’ve watched Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (the book is far superior) you must know of F. Scott Fitzgerald, that unforgettably tragic American icon of the Jazz Age. In a letter to his daughter, Fitzgerald once observed that “all good writing is like swimming under water and holding your breath”, and Fitzgerald would know, because his stories are written in superbly crafted prose. To read Scott Fitzgerald is to love him. Reading Fitzgerald is undertaking a masterclass in creative writing. The incredibly human stories (often drawn from his own life experiences and the diaries of Zelda Fitzgerald, his wife) and the emotions they evoke are certain to remain with you, long after you’ve finished any of his books.

Recommended Reading: The Great Gatsby; Tender is the Night; I’d Die for You & Other Lost Stories; Flappers and Philosophers

Oscar Wilde

122638Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and playwright, is perhaps most famously known for The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Grey and his sharp, witticisms. Wilde was a gifted writer and talented intellectual from his university days, winning prizes for writing while at Oxford University and graduating with a double first in Classics and Literature. He went on to become a popular writer and member of society, until his legal battle with the Marquess of Queensbury and his subsequent imprisonment. Wilde’s work is often both humourous and insightful – light on the surface, but full of depth upon consideration.

Recommended Reading: The Happy Prince & Other Stories; The Importance of Being Earnest; Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime & Other Short Stories

Elizabeth Gaskell

501152_media-0Elizabeth Gaskell was a Victorian writer and a biographer – in fact, she was the first biographer of Charlotte Bronte. Her writing often focuses on themes of social justice and injustice, and her characters come from various strata of Victorian society. Her work is vividly descriptive and often full of feeling. Her novel, North and South, was adapted as a miniseries by the BBC in 2004, starring Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage – the success of the series caused the BBC message-board site to crash.

Recommended Reading: North and South; Mary Barton

Gothic Fiction

Marcus Sedgwick

downloadI discovered Marcus Sedgwick through my sister, who at the time was reading his novel, My Sword Hand is Singing. Sedgwick is a masterful writer of suspense, thrillers and gothic fiction. My Sword Hand is Singing is a brilliant vampire novel, drawing on much of the classic myths and folk-beliefs about vampires – a story where vampires are frightening monsters and not glittering, statuesque Byronic heroes. Similarly, his other books, A Love Like Blood (a story of dark obsession), Midwinterblood (an evocative tale of love and time); and The Kiss of Death (Vampire sequel) are all engrossing to read and wonderfully crafted.

Recommended Reading: My Sword Hand is Singing, A Love Like Blood, Midwinter Blood

Emily Bronte

s-l300When I read Wuthering Heights, it was my greatest wish to one day write something like it. Emily Bronte is undoubtedly one of the finest writers of gothic fiction. Her one complete novel is amongst the most popular and well-known books in English Literature today. She managed to produce a novel that is at once a love story, a revenge story, a hate story, a tragedy, a story of the uncanny/ supernatural, and above all an insight into darker human emotions. Her novel is highly atmospheric – one can almost imagine oneself on the Yorkshire moors – and her characters are flawed, damaged and yet deeply fascinating. Her work has inspired at least three films, one Kate Bush song, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, and numerous critical essays.

Recommended Reading: Any of her poems; Wuthering Heights

Romance

Georgette Heyer

Georgetter Heyer was a writer of English historical romance, with 24 romances set in the Regency and Georgian eras. Her writing brings these eras to life and is often full of humour and wit too. Her books are light reading, and are good for unwinding on long summer days. Frequently, her stories revolve around unlikely romances between two apparently polar opposites.

Recommended Reading: Cotillion (READ THIS! If you like romance fiction, you will LOVE Cotillion); The Grand Sophy; Faro’s Daughter; Friday’s Child

Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot, best known for the Princess Diaries, is a really fun writer of romance. She manages to juggle between historical romances as well as more contemporary yet supernatural romance novels. Her novels often have strong, independent female protagonists.

Recommended Reading: The Mediator Series; Victoria and The Rogue; Nicola and The Viscount; The Missing Series

Non-Fiction

Sadly, I have not yet read much non-fiction (I’m working on that!) so this is a single recommendation.

Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty

This books, by the Cambridge expert on autism and developmental psychopathology Dr Simon Baron-Cohen, seeks to present a new understanding of what causes people to be cruel towards others – why do some people become killers, violent criminals or simply, why do some people hurt others? Baron-Cohen suggests that ultimately empathy plays a key role in why we are ether kind or cruel towards others. His books is filled with historical references, references to patients he has worked with in his professional capacity and actual events. His hypothesis is put across convincingly – this is definitely a book worth reading.

 

 

 

Christmas Reading

Hello again dear readers!

downloadIts cold outdoors; the mornings are misty; the days short and the nights long; and all is festive in the world and blogosphere.

After all, tis the season and all that. So, in keeping with the weather and the Christmas spirit, I bring to you my favourite Xmas reads.

(Note: Please read this to the sound of ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham! to fully appreciate the experience. [I’m only joking, but you’re welcome to try it out if it floats your boat])

  1. download-1Agatha Christie: What is Christmas without Agatha Christie? I discovered the English tradition of an annual Christie episode at university, but my own enjoyment of her works at Christmas time goes back to the winters of my childhood, when reading an Agatha Christie book snuggled in front of a log fire was the highlight of my winter holidays. If you’re up for a Christie, I’d recommend Sleeping Murder (Young woman investigates the disappearance of her stepmother years ago); Death Comes as the End (Murder + Ancient Egypt); Appointment with Death (Murder in Petra); and if you really want to keep things seasonally themed, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (the great detective solves a mystery and experiences an authentic English Christmas). 
  2. download-1And speaking of writers of detective fiction, let me introduce you to Boris Akunin. Akunin is a Russian writer of historical detective fiction, perhaps best known for his two major book series Sister Pelagia (a crime-solving Russian Orthodox nun in Imperial Russia) and Erast Fandorin (a 19th century Russian detective, working on and off with the government but largely by himself, with the aid of his manservant, Masa, a fallen Japanese Yazuka).  For anyone interested in historical detective fiction that is impressively atmospheric, makes for engrossing reading, contains likeable and intriguing characters that one is soon invested in, and is most importantly fun: I recommend the Fandorin series – start with book one, The Winter Queen.
  3. downloadMarcus Sedgwick: Winter + Gothic fiction = Perfect mix. For those of you who enjoy gothic fiction, Sedgwick will prove a rewarding read. His work is often classed as ‘YA/ Young Adult’ – don’t let that put you off though (I do not agree with labels and restrictive definitions of genres). If you’re looking for vampire fiction, try his My Swordhand is Singing; if you’re looking for an unusual, dark, beautiful and undefinably Bronte-esque story of epic love through time, Midwinterblood is the book for you; and finally, if (like me) you’re looking for a different take on the vampire genre, and more a story of obsession, A Love Like Blood makes for fast-paced and suspenseful reading.
  4. 19540829Terry Pratchett: My list would be incomplete without a mention of Terry Pratchett. If you’ve read my Pratchett appreciation post, you already know that I am a huge fan of his work, not least because of how much hope and how great a love of humanity are to be found in his books. I could think of nothing more in keeping with the spirit of the season than Pratchett’s brilliant The Hogfather, where Death takes over for the Hogfather (the Discworld equivalent of Santa Claus) as the latter is missing due to the interference of certain other entities. The ‘Death’ books are some of Pratchett’s best work (right alongside the fantastic Watch/Vimes books) and his Death is a unique take on the grim reaper, one with a soft spot for cats and a white horse named ‘Binky’ – he’s not all teddy bears and benignity either; he can be menacing, and inexorable too. A bonus: This book contains my favourite Pratchett quote, from a conversation between Death and his granddaughter (yes, Death has a family… of sorts) Susan – a interesting meditation on the power of fiction and the human need to make meaning. Oh, and there’s a film adaptation too!

Happy Holiday-Reading!

…..

Like a Post-Credits Scene in a Marvel film, I’m including something a little ***extra***: For the film-lovers out there, here’s my list of my favourite Xmas-y films. Which are your’s?

Starting with the obligatory xmas film-experiences…

1) Love Actually

2) About a Boy

3) The Nightmare Before Christmas

and now the not-very-obviously-christmas-related one’s

4) Grosse Pointe Blank (Laughter is always good, and GPB is incredibly fun)

5) The Wedding Date (not really a xmas film, BUT it’s a fun holiday watch)

6) While You Were Sleeping (What can I say, I’m a sucker for sappy romance film. And I hate that I’m this way!)

7) It’s a Wonderful Life

Happy film-viewing!

 

Blade Runner 2049 – Film Review

***SPOILERS****

FINALLY. I’ve been meaning to write this review for far too long (but not as long as I’ve been meaning to tackle The Dark Knight trilogy – for shame!). That pesky little thing known as Real Life and/or Work/A Full Time Job gets in the way.

Blade_Runner_2049_posterMy favourite film of 2017 – which, I suppose, is unsurprising given that it deals with one of my pet thematic concerns: identity and the question of what it means to be human. It also helps that the protagonist is played by Ryan Gosling (no, I am not a crazy fangirl), whom I genuinely believe is a good actor (this may be a controversial opinion, as some viewers believe he cannot emote at all)  with a repertoire of diverse films to his credit (see: The Believer; The United States of Leland; Half Nelson; All Good Things etc).

I had not watched the original prior to viewing this film. I simply read through the Wikipedia plot summary of the 1980s film (Sacrilege!!) and a (Wikipedia) synopsis of the Philip K Dick novel (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – It is on my to-read list). This film can be watched without any background knowledge, but the viewer with even a basic understanding of the preceding works will certainly ‘get’ this film better and find it a more enjoyable experience.

71H0Ynb-vzL._SY679_.jpgAn Extremely Simplified Summary of the Original (1982): In the year 2019, Rick Deckard, a ‘blade runner’ (one who is tasked with tracking down and ‘retiring’/killing off bioengineered androids/’replicants’) is ordered by his former supervisor to ‘retire’ four replicants illegally on Earth (they are usually kept on human colonies on other planets – off-world -, treated not unlike slaves). In the process, he meets and falls in love with Rachel, a female replicant who believes she is human due to having false memories implanted in her mind, as an experiment by the large corporation (Tyrell Corp) that manufactures/produces replicants.

Other Points of Note that Will be Referenced in the Sequel: (1)Blade Runners distinguish replicants from humans using the ‘Voight-Kampff’ test: a ply-graph-like machine measures vital functions in response to emotionally provocative/evocative questions.  (2) One of the rebel replicants (Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer) manages to make quite a distinct impression on Deckard (and the viewer) through his final scene (the brilliant ‘tears in rain’).

The Premise of Blade Runner 2049 (2017): Thirty years after the events of the original film, a replicant LAPD blade runner, ‘K’ retires older model replicants and rogue replicants. He is unperturbed by the nature his work (with his perfect, calm responses to the amended voigt-kampff test – based on a passage from Nabokov’s Pale Fire – after each mission) or the disdain of his colleagues at the LAPD. After successfully retiring one such replicant, a protein farmer, K discovers a box buried under a tree, containing human remains – soon revealed to be the remains of a female replicant who died whilst giving birth via caesarean section.

K’s superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) believes that this discovery could be dangerous, and potentially ignite war between humans and replicants (replicants were formerly believed to be unable to reproduce, and are thus considered and treated as sub-human, little more that mechanised slaves). She thus tasks K with finding and retiring the replicant-human child to avoid the truth getting out. As events unfold, K begins to question everything he knows about himself, and starts to suspect that he may be the child whom he’s searching for (with encouragement from his mass-produced but customisable AI girlfriend Joi), and this sends him looking for Deckard, hoping to find answers. Along the way, he must also contend with the machinations of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) the sinister CEO of Wallace Co. (the sequel’s version of Tyrell Corp).

Poster Art: Before we delve into reviewing and analysing, let’s take a moment to appreciate the stunning aesthetic of the film poster above on the left. The vivid, bright icy blue and its stark contrast with the flame-red; the distinct-ness of the colours, with no melding of the two, almost emphasising a separation of the characters, with Deckard to one side and the others to another – perhaps suggesting a separation of their primary origin narratives in time. Whilst Deckard and K are presented in different colours, they appear to stand back-to-back and face a similar direction implying a connection possibly in terms of their motives or objectives. The two seem to represent fire and ice; past and present; urgency and biding time; young and old; desire and cold fury (as per Fire & Ice, by Frost); and maybe two sides of a single coin (the two faces of Janus). Interestingly,  the placing of Joi and Niander Wallace seems to have them dwarfed by and yet a part of K – possibly distinguishing Deckard, the human (a hotly debated idea), from K & Joi (both considered non-human) and Wallace the disturbing manufacturer of replicants (his ‘human-ness’ and ‘humanity’ are both questionable).

MetropolisposterBlade Runner 2049 is one of those rare sequels that not only lives up to the legacy and standards of the original but also manages to surpass them. It is the spiritual successor to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Whilst Metropolis (1927) is wary of mechanisation and the dehumanisation of the workforce, represented by the Evil Maria robot, 90 years later Blade Runner 2049, asks us to question the humanity of the humans behind this ‘de-humanisation’ (most obviously, Wallace) and to consider instead the humanity of their creations – the bioengineered replicants (echoing Shelley’s Frankenstein) and the almost human AI they create (for example, Joi).

bladerunner2049Themes: Thematically, Blade Runner 2049 is an existential film. It places to us the questions what does it mean to be human? Can non-humans ever be considered human? What distinguishes humans from non-humans?

In many ways, I found the film to echo the concerns and ideas of Equilibrium (2002); in particular the idea that humans are defined by their (often chaotic and messy) emotions. Compare, for instance, Preston’s return to humanness in Equilibrium (distress, panic, awe), with K’s responses to the voight-kampff test – first extremely unperturbed (no visible reaction) and later a clear physical response.

To be human is to feel in all fullness pain, distress and discomforting realities. Initially, K is inscrutable – he seems to have little to no emotions, only expressing some affection for his hologram girlfriend Joi. But as the film progresses, K is increasingly affected by his actions, his memories and his circumstances – so well depicted in this scene between Dr Stelline (the memory-maker) and himself (moving from sadness to fear to grief to rage).

As K moves from being seemingly emotionally closed off to deeply impacted by his emotions, this contrasts with the coldness and ruthlessness of those recognised as “human”. Lieutenant Joshi appears largely unperturbed by her orders to K (to track down and assassinate the child of Deckard and Rachel, purely to maintain the status quo); Wallace unflinchingly kills a ‘newborn’ replicant, and later similarly orders Luv to kill the imperfect clone of Rachel.

If emotional experiences assign “humanity”, then are K and Joi real? One reviewer (I cannot find the reference, sadly) poetically suggests that while neither K nor Joi is recognised as real, the love they share is real.

downloadIs it love, though? Is it love if Joi’s settings have been customised to say ‘everything you want to hear’? Love must be freely given. K seems somewhat aware of this, as seen by his attempts to make her more free – to give her the freedom to feel the rain, to move more independently and to make choices. He tells her in an early scene ”you don’t have to say that” when she tells him “I’m so happy when I’m with you”. For Joi to be real, for their relationship to be real, K knows she must be first be free (or freer) of her programming (i.e., to only do as he desires). In keeping with this, he later offers her the choice to stay behind when he is forced to flee, but she chooses to go with him. It is my opinion that while Joi starts out as a completely programmed hologram, she does develop some degree of agency as the story progresses.

It is also ironic, and possibly intentional symbolism, that Luv kills Joi. When K and Joi’s relationship becomes real, when their love becomes real, Joi is killed and thus K’s joy (pun intended) too is destroyed.

Nonetheless, with the knowledge that Joi is specifically programmed to say ‘everything you want to hear’, it is interesting to look back on the scene where K begins to question whether his memory is implanted or whether it may be real. Although K denies it, his own (possibly suppressed or denied) desire to be ‘real’, to be born, to have name (Joe) rather than a letter as his identifier and to have a ‘soul’ is given voice to by Joi:

Joi: I always knew you were special. Maybe this is how. A child. Of woman born. Pushed into the world. Wanted. Loved.

There are echoes of Pinnocchio and The Velveteen Rabbit (by Margery Williams Bianco) too in the ‘becoming real’ theme. Specifically in how Pinnocchio longs to be a real boy, and similarly the desire of the stuffed toy rabbit to be real. An extract from The Velveteen Rabbit that seems apropos here is:

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

The film also suggests that the capacity to experience emotions is deeply connected to our memories. The ‘upgraded’ replicants of 2049 have implanted memories to make them almost indistinguishable from humans. And are we, any of us, more than the sum of our memories? Would we be who we are – or who we think we are – without our memories?

Lieutenant Joshi: Do you have any memories from before?

‘K’: I have memories, but… They’re not real, they’re just implants.

Lieutenant Joshi: Tell me one, from when you were a kid.

‘K’: I feel a little strange sharing a childhood story considering I was never a child.

The film’s second existential concern is that of meaning and purpose. Human lives are given meaning over replicants lives in the film because of the supposition that “to be born is to have a soul”. The possession of this mystical element is deemed to both invest a greater meaning in human lives, and to give them an innate purpose or reason for living.

Yet, the film ultimately suggests that meaning and purpose are to be actively created. K is first seen going through a daily routine on autopilot – ”retire” the identified replicant, check in at headquarters, head home for dinner. But as soon as he begins to suspect that he may be the as-yet-undiscovered child of a replicant and a human, it is as though he wakes from a dream. Everything is more intentional, there is a purpose to his life, there is truth in his memories and there is a search to understand his origins and his future. He “becomes” real by the meaning he creates through his choices. As Freysa, the leader of the underground replicant rebellion, tells K, “Dying for a cause is the most human thing we can do”.

Additionally, the influence of Mary Shelley’s great work, Frankenstein, is abundantly felt. Like the eponymous Frankenstein’s creation, the replicants of the Blade Runner universe demand recognition and meaning from their creators. This is true in both films. In the original Blade Runner, this is exemplified by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). In 2049, to a less overtly aggressive degree, this is seen in the replicant resistance movement.

Freysa: You imagined it was you? Oh. You did. You did. We all wish it was us. 

As with Shelley’s novel, the Blade Runner universe also depicts the “de-womanising” of (or erasure of women from) human reproduction. This is most obvious in the scene where Niander Wallace and Luv examine a newly produced replicant. The replicant is dumped out of plastic bag (a stand in for a womb), covered in a gel like fluid (like infants covered in bodily fluids at birth). The scene is disconcerting to say the least. And in keeping with the “unnaturalness” of it, Wallace kills the replicant for not being ‘perfect’ without a moment’s hesitation.

Cinematography/ Visuals: The visuals are a cinematic feat – the stark bleakness of the landscape and the concrete jungle of the city. The neon colours against the dank darkness; the dusty orange suffocation of ruins; the hyperreality of the cityscape and its abundant AI advertisements and inventions. Not only is it a feast for the eyes, it is also imbued with symbolic meaning. Roger Deakin’s Oscar was extremely well-deserved.

5554f2defe08d8caa7965786377640fdConsider the scene depicted to the right. Here K is show as a solitary figure faced by a strange, ominous ruin of what was once presumably a giant statue of a human or humanoid figure. The staring eye, the mouth open in a silent, eternal cry of horror or surprise, and the violence of the half smashed face.  A hollow shell of what it once was. The scene is seeped in a sense of dereliction, despair and prescience of menace. To me, it seems to suggest something of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream‘, with its implications of despair, the ultimate aloneness (not loneliness) of existence, and nihilistic undertones. Similarly, we repeatedly see K dwarfed by his surrounding, be they ruins, statues, buildings or AI projections. This links in with K navigating a situation that is greater than himself, with power plays and manipulative schemes well beyond what he sees.

blade2MV5BYmI1NjQzNmEtN2E5ZS00MjJmLTkxYjEtMzIwMDE3NDA3NWE4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzg2ODI2OTU@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,735_AL_.jpgEarlier, when K visits Wallace Co., we see him and Luv make their way through seemingly endless corridors and passages, almost as if they are walking in an elaborate labyrinth or hall or mirrors. As in the image on the left, there’s an impression of ‘a box within a box within a box’ ad infinitum. The unsettling presence of ‘failed experiments’ lined in the hallway (above left) has echoes of the ending scene in The Prestige, and reinforces Wallace’s coldness and ruthlessness and the utter disregard for the lives/existences/dignity of replicants.

Similarly, later we see Luv again walking through these ‘box within a box’ hallways at Wallace Co. Is this a visual manifestation of Wallace’s deep, dark, unknown motives or his twisty (for want of a better word) mind? Is this a symbol of the deep games at play here?

1r5fehxthlqzIt could be either. I am inclined to view it as a representation of Wallace’s (and his company’s) secretiveness. It also gives the distinct impression of vastness and coldness – it is crypt-like (and cryptic!) and impersonal, thereby demonstrating the coldness present in Luv and Wallace, as is also demonstrated by Wallace’s blindness and his sinister eyes – Unseeing eyes possibly representing a man blinded by his ambition, and their strange huge white orbs of irises suggesting an inner emptiness or ‘soullessness’.

The lighting at Wallace Co. is also interesting. Clearly it is light reflected through water, and visually it is a gorgeous, golden contrast to the dimly lit, shadowy room. But the movement of the light, the constant sways and light waves of water, is eerie adding to the menace of the place and to its mystery. For more on the lighting – here.

It would be extremely remise of me to not mention the perfection that is the final scene – K and ‘Tears in Snow’. The scene brilliantly ties in with the original film’s ‘Tears in Rain’. But whilst Roy delivered a touching monologue to Deckard, here K has no audience and no words. He experiences the touch of snow against his skin, and as the ‘Tears in Snow’ theme plays, we see him lay himself to rest, possibly having achieved what he desired all along – to become real and to have meaning to his existence.

Objectification & the Blade Runner Universe’s Problem with Women

1_bbav7_IHA-Zz5RwnE-hjQgIt is obvious that in this futuristic and mechanised world women are relentlessly objectified – whether it is in the form of mass-produced AI female ‘companions’ (sex slaves? Akin to under-development sex robots?); female replicants (similar implications of sexual slavery and subservience); statues of women’s bodies in suggestive poses (sexualisation of the female form); or sex workers. This is a dystopian world with a thriving pornographic economy. BladeRunner4-TA

The film suggests a link between mechanisation, dehumanisation and hyper-toxic-masculinity. The creators of bio-engineered humanoids who are practically slaves (the replicants) are dangerous men in both films (Eldron Tyrell and Niander Wallace); and the world of Blade Runner, proliferated with violence and consumerism, seems to only have place for women as objects – to be consumed either sexually or in other more metaphoric ways.

The law of the jungle is supreme here; survival is only for the fittest. Fitness being cold calculation and ruthlessness – as embodied by Luv, Wallace’s prize replicant/assistant. blade-runner-2049-e1540134212946.jpg

The absence of female characters with more screen time is strongly felt. There are three female characters with significant secondary roles – Joi; Luv; Joshi, but the film fabulously fails the very basic standards of the Bechdel Test (at least two female characters, who talk to each other about anything other than a man/ the men in their lives). Joi and Luv’s storylines revolve around the men in their lives. Joi exists to make K happy, less lonely, to encourage him on his quest to find out about his origins and to give him an emotional motive for his decisions later in the film. Luv exists for validation from Wallace. Joshi is assassinated before her storyline can develop much. Other female characters such as Freysa and Dr Stelline, though not sexualised, have negligible screen time.

Furthermore, the menage a trois sex scene with Joi, the sex worker Mariette and K is weird. It seems as though the filmmakers intended it to be touching; showing us Joi’s desire to “be real” for K. But it comes across as disturbing – there is something of The Handmaid’s Tale (though not quite as dark) about the whole arrangement. Mariette is doubly used – by Joi for this ‘experience’, and by Freysa to get close to K for her own agenda.

These anti-feminist elements similarly exist in the original Blade Runner (1982) and in the source material. An excellent examination of this can be found here, The Sexual Politics of Blade Runner by Julian O’Dea, and this issue is also effectively summarised here, in the Guardian. On the other hand, it has been argued here that even though Blade Runner 2049 has issues with female representation, there are feminist undertones.

I felt that the film was not intentionally sexist, but that the filmmakers could certainly have done a better job of adding more female agency and at least maintaining the standard set by the Bechdel Test.

In sum

I (mostly) loved the film. The visuals are incredibly well done. The acting and characterisation is spot on. The themes are interesting, philosophical and deeply thought provoking. As with many films that become cult classics, Blade Runner 2049 did poorly at the box office – but I am fairly certain that this will be a film that is remembered and discussed well into the years to come.