I rewatched Blade Runner 2049. It is a masterful, though sometimes flawed, movie. Let’s save the discussion of the plot flaws for another day. What I’m interested in is what makes Denis Villeneuve stand apart from so many other directors. I think it’s pretty simple: he lets actors act.
Some might scoff at that comment, especially considering Ryan Gosling is the lead actor, and he is renowned for playing emotionally devoid characters. But there’s more to acting than delivering lines of dialog. Much more. And in this aspect, Ryan Gosling shines. In fact, all of the actors do because Denis Villeneuve knows how to coach great performances out of his actors.
Loading words instead of firing them
Before a word is spoken in the movie Villeneuve sets up a palpable conflict. We’ve seen two characters and we know that conflict is inevitable. What’s more, the characters know this as well. Dave Bautista’s character pauses before entering the house. He knows someone is waiting inside for him. He knows there’s nothing he can do but face it. He shows us this with his expressions and body language as he pauses before reluctantly entering the room.
It’s a full 5 minutes and 40 seconds into the movie before a word is spoken, “I hope you don’t mind me taking the liberty. I was careful; not to drag in any dirt.”
Both characters deliver their lines as if each word is a bullet loaded into a gun clip.
K: What do you farm?
Sapper: It’s a protein farm. (Puts grubs on the table.)
K: Is that what I smell?
Sapper: I grow that just for me. Garlic
Another director might be tempted to play this scene as both men force their words out, like firing them from a gun. Giving the impression that they are men of action, using their words to express their willpower. That’s the simple, amateurish way to play this scene. Instead, we can tell that neither character wants what’s about to happen to happen. They banter, dreading that it has to end. This is what great directing looks like.
Tears in the rain
I would like to think that the scene where K gives Joi, the hologram played by Ana de Armas, her emitter, and she goes out into the rain is a tacit nod to the original Blade Runner “tears in the rain” scene. There are lots of scenes with rain, but this is the first and special meaning given to the raindrops as Joi adapts to project the appearance of rain falling on her holographic skin. If this was intentional then kudos to the writers.
And this is another example of good writing/directing. Instead of giving K some dialog to express his reaction we get this change in Ryan Gosling’s expression.
It isn’t as easy to detect in still shots, but Ryan Gosling gives the faintest smile, providing all of the meaning we need.
A main character, with one scene
The Coen Brothers are perhaps the very best at giving a character with only one scene in the movie a presence as if they are the main character in a parallel movie that intersects in one scene. Denis Villeneuve achieves the same thing with the “archives” character. He is the main character in the scene that he has with K.
Setting the character K up to believe that he is the only child born from a replicant was a brilliant job of writing, directing, and acting. First, K’s boss asks for a story from his childhood. It doesn’t feel like it’s going to be important and K even says, “It’s not my memory.” But through a sequence of tightly-knit scenes we next see K searching archives and finding something that links to the child he’s looking for. Admittedly, this scene where he’s staring at DNA sequences is a bit clumsy, but in the end, we understand that there’s further evidence that K’s memory is somehow wrapped up with the replicant offspring, though at this point, he thinks it is just a coincidence.
When K and Joi go to the LA dump, that is hilariously San Diego, K discovers the actual wooden carving of the horse from his memory.
A writer/director who is unsure of themselves would put another character in this scene. Perhaps K brought Joi with him and when he finds the carving they could interact. This would give the writers/director an easy way to express what they want the audience to know. Just to make sure they get the connection. But the writers and Villeneuve trust that they have set the scene up so that all we need to see is K’s epiphany that he is the offspring of the replicant. Let the actor act. Ryan Gosling displays a cacophony of emotions in this scene.
The next scene goes to the “Memory creator” in her bubble room. The importance of this scene isn’t apparent until the end of the movie, but placing it directly after K’s epiphany scene really helps tie it together.
One thing that I’m confused about is that this memory is supposed to be the bubble girl’s (Dr. Ana Stelline) memory, right? But she said her parents went off world when she was eight and they left her in the bubble. So how could she ever have been in the orphanage? Maybe I missed something, again. I did say that the story has it’s flaws.
I love that they included a version 2 of Pris. Mackenzie Davis was a perfect choice for the almost-lookalike. And the scene where she and Joi merge and have sex with K was really interesting. Technically, that must have been hard to work out, getting both actresses to almost mirror each other in different takes and then digitally overlay them. It was nice work.
There’s no question that Denis Villeneuve is a huge science fiction nerd. He never passes up an opportunity to impress the audience with epic sets.
Villeneuve the fearless
Let’s face it, making a sequel to Blade Runner was a bold move. If it goes bad it could have set Villeneuve’s career back decades. But it didn’t disappoint and he followed that up with DUNE parts 1&2. Arguably an even bolder undertaking. Next up after DUNE part 2, is Rendezvous with Rama, an epic space tail by Arthur C. Clarke. I don’t know if Villeneuve is fearless or such a geek that he doesn’t care about the risk and only wants to work on cool stuff. Whatever the case, you do you sir and I’ll keep going to your movies.
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Aspiring author. Would like to finish his “Zombie Revelations” trilogy if he could break away for working on RunPee and the cottage he’s building for RunPee Mom.