Blade Runner: 2049

Large expanses between story points cloud an otherwise meaningful message about what it means to be human.

Ask anyone what they thought of Blade Runner: 2049 and they might tell you, *Oh, it was great, but man, was it long.” Or, Nothing happened, it was sooooo slow. Or, I don’t even know if I liked it not.1 While the film portrays a functioning narrative, the relative distance between the story points results in an experience that runs the line between boredom and brilliance.

While a higher frequency of story points could have combatted this measure of slowness, the narrative as presented delivers a powerful and meaningful message of what it means to be human.

Programmed Personality

A quick look at the Throughline analysis of Blade Runner: 2049 reveals a familiar Genre personality:

The Matrix, Star Wars, and Aliens all share this arrangement of conflict. The Main Character personally struggles with some fixed external state and the Objective Story explores violence as a matter of an external process. Neo is the one, Luke lives at the edge of the galaxy, Ripley outlives her daughter, and K (Ryan Gosling) wants to be something other than a replicant.

The Objective Story Throughlines of these film continue this shared personality. The computers hunt down and erase human infiltrators in The Matrix. The Empire pursues the Rebels to their hidden base in Star Wars, and the Aliens Instinct I’ll protect their Queen in Aliens. In Blade Runner: 2049, replicants suffer at the hands of their human masters.

This alignment of Main Character and Objective Story Throughline perspectives inspires familiarity and an expectation of conflict from other sources within the narrative. Blade Runner: 2049 answers this call with sophistication in its appreciation of the Obstacle Character and Relationship Story Throughlines.

The Obstacle Character Hand-Off

Within the Dramatica theory of story, the Main Character and Obstacle Character are not characters; they’re perspectives; the individual players attach themselves to this different point-of-view. This reality of narrative allows for the handing off of view from one player to another. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future join Jacob Marley in challenging Scrooge the same way the Joker, Alfred, Robin, and Gordon impact Batman in The LEGO Batman Movie.

In Blade Runner: 2049, Joi (Ana de Armas) and Deckard (Harrison Ford) share a challenging perspective that influences K’s point-of-view.

The Obstacle Character Throughline perspective, by definition, ties itself to the Main Character’s personal issues. Their purpose within a story is to challenge and impact the Main Character’s justifications in such a way that the Main Character must grow and move beyond his initial stance.

Joi is programmed to be whatever her owner desires—“Everything You Want.” This scripting describes an alternate approach towards solving the story’s problems: instead of worrying about what you really are, be what they need you to be.

Joi hands this unique perspective off to Deckard shortly after K arrives in Vegas. The filmmakers specifically avoided answering the question of Deckard’s status as either a replicant or real by granting him the function of delivering this point-of-view. Deckard knows what is real and what isn’t—and that’s all that matters. This Obstacle Character Direction of Knowledge coincides with the Obstacle Character Problem of Perception offered by Joi.

The countless billboards that advertise Joi broadcast this Obstacle Character Problem of Perception. Dramatica describes Perception as the way things seem to be. It seems as if Joi loves K, even to the point of granting him a “real” name...Joe. Her final finger point—and revelation to K of the Perception of her actions—pushes K over the edge into accepting his calling...and programming.

K the Chosen One

K wants to be loved. The constant baseline adjustments that occur after every assignment check for inconsistencies and return the replicant to baseline (Main Character Focus of Inequity, Main Character Direction of Equity)—but don’t come close to resolving his drive.

Upon discovering clues that tie his childhood to that of a replicant baby, K wants to know the truth about his origins. His drive to be loved—his Main Character Problem of Desire—motivates K towards this Main Character Concern of the Past. Issues of Interdiction, of efforts to change a pre-determined course, arise in the form of a Chosen One complex: Is he the one destined to change the course of replicant history? Is he the one they for whom all have been waiting?

Or is he simply a replicant?

In the end, Joi’s love and Deckard’s council unravel K’s justifications to the point where he sees his Desires for what they really are. Their combined Steadfast Resolve motivates K's Changed Main Character Resolve. Returning to save Deckard reflects an abandonment of Desire in exchange for an acceptance of one’s Ability. K can kill—and if that’s what they need him to do, then that’s what he will do.

This Main Character Solution of Ability addresses narrative drive in the personal Throughline and grants opportunity for the Objective Story Throughline to resolve in kind. Father unites with daughter, their inAbility to touch reflecting an Understanding of their true natures and the revolution to come (Objective Story Solution of Ability, Story Outcome of Success, and Story Goal of Understanding).

Incompatible Lovers

The Relationship Story Throughline transmits the heart of a narrative. Offering the We perspective only available in a subjective understanding of a unique and intimate bond, the Relationship Story Throughline brings Main Character and Obstacle Character into a better understanding of their similarities and differences.

In Blade Runner: 2049 this heartfelt aspect of the story arrives within the romance between K and Joi. Problems occur between them as they try to better integrate into each other’s lives. K’s purchase of the upgrade and Joi’s constant shape-shifting from one outfit to another illustrate this conflict. The Relationship Story Problem of Change—of an alteration of a state or process—defines a couple adapting to another’s needs—

—and perfectly synchronizes with the same logistical concerns in the Objective Story Throughline.

The Relationship Story Throughline is more than a reality of structure—it exists to complement and inform the kind of conflict everyone in the story faces. The replicants need K to be the simulant he was programmed to be in much the same way that Joi and K’s relationship grows because of adapting and reshaping. One informs and inspires the other, and the other inspires and informs the one.

The Relationship Story Concern of Conceptualizing defines the goal of their relationship—to integrate fully into each other’s lives. The Relationship Story Issue of State of Being establishes the impossibility of such an act—one is simulated, the other “real.” Their essential natures make the unworkable even more hopeless.

And hope is all that remains for the replicants.

An Instinct to Survive, A Drive to Thrive

The discovery of the replicant baby creates the central inequity of Blade Runner: 2049. This Story Driver of Action establishes the presence of worrisome thoughts: if replicants confirm their ability to procreate, Wallace’s empire of slavery will come crumbling down. This Objective Story Focus of Thought drives the efforts to contain knowledge of this miracle child (Objective Story Direction of Knowledge). Decades of careful manipulation and scheming support Wallace’s vision of the future (Story Consequence of Conceptualizing).

Unfortunately for Wallace (Jared Leto), the instinct for survival is strong and undeniable within the replicants. Like the alien colony in Aliens, this Objective Story Issue of Instinct fuels the fire of conflict for everyone in Blade Runner: 2049. Learning the whereabouts of this child and preventing the confirmation of such information illustrates the Story Requirements of Learning leading up to the final acquisition of the Story Goal.

What It Means to Be Human

Freysa, the leader of the replicants, councils K shortly before his final Resolve moment: “Fighting for a cause greater than yourself is the most human thing you can do.”

Having united Deckard with his daughter—and fighting for a cause greater than himself—K lies back on the steps, allowing the snowflakes to cascade across his face. The filmmakers combine this moment with a musical cue from the first film, firmly synthesizing the meaning of the entire narrative and a Story Judgment of Good. It doesn’t matter if K was manufactured, he knows who he is, and by adapting himself to the needs of others, by employing his abilities, K achieves human status.

The story points that communicate this message may lie few and far-between in Blade Runner: 2049, yet their purpose continues to haunt one long after the experience. The collision of story points as evidenced within the storyform represent a holographic image of Author’s intent—of a message deeply held and desiring of sharing.

Blade Runner: 2049 may take time to understand, but the result is a greater knowing of what it means for us to be human.

  1. This last quote cites me as its source. 

Download the FREE e-book Never Trust a Hero

Don't miss out on the latest in narrative theory and storytelling with artificial intelligence. Subscribe to the Narrative First newsletter below and receive a link to download the 20-page e-book, Never Trust a Hero.