2017, Denis Villeneuve
4.5 out of 5 stars
Set in a hyper-manufactured future where authenticity is a scarce and precious resource, it is no surprise that every design element in this world seeks to either project or mimic the real. One person confesses they have never seen a tree in person before. When the movie first opens with a bird's eye view of California, any sign of a natural landscape is nowhere to be found. The city is a machine with no discernible purpose. Once the camera descends down into the domestic scale this problem of the real is still there.
When we look at a person we search for clues to tell us whether they are a Replicant or a human. We question their humanness and wonder whether our eyes are being deceived. When a person enters the frame we don't ask who they are but what they are.
At first it was difficult to form a human connection or feel empathy towards someone who we know isn't human, even if they were carefully designed to embody the essence of one. Only tiny serial numbers embedded into their biology would tell you that they are human-made. Or they look human until you realise they are slightly translucent. They are made of light and projection. Eventually these artificial surfaces collapse from the sheer weight of authenticity that these non-humans convey. In the words uttered by one of the Replicants: "we are more human than humans."
A buried box propels the mystery that sets off the plot but its stories of love that underpin the entire movie. Love stories with a science-fiction twist. It reminded me a lot of Spike Jonze's HER, another movie that asks how two people can love when one or both don't possess a body or soul.
One love scene in particular is one of the saddest and sweetest things I've seen this year. Watching the characters try to search and feel something close to love - something they were never made for - was intensely moving. Making great use of visual effects, for intimacy rather than spectacle, it conveys so much of what the film is questioning. The real, the imagined, the projected, the manufactured, the human and the human-like merge and coalesce into something sublime.
What is admirable about Villeneuve is that he never gets carried away with the concept. Like his previous film ARRIVAL, in my view one of the best science-fiction films made this decade, he never forgets the emotional core that anchors the ideas. The way story is crafted and arranged is always to serve the purpose of delivering insight into how humans behave, think and feel. To say more about this would give too much away. But at its close, and especially in the second viewing, I found the movie's pace and structure designed deliberately to culminate to a poignant conclusion.