Blade Runner 2049 spoilers: 5 crucial unanswered questions
Warning: this article contains details about the plot or Blade Runner: 2049. If you haven't yet seen the film, read no further
Blade Runner 2049, the belated sequel to Ridley Scott's 1987 sci-fi classic, has drawn lavish praise from the critics, but the plot has been kept under wraps following an anxious appeal from director Denis Villeneuve asking reviewers to "preserve the magic" of the film.
As it opens in UK cinemas today, audiences will finally learn what happens – and the ambiguous narrative is sure to leave them looking for answers. Here are five pressing questions still unresolved by the time the final credits roll:
1. Where next for Stelline and Deckard?
In the film's closing scene, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) finally comes face-to-face with Dr Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), the daughter miraculously born to his replicant lover Rachael (M Sean Young). Ultimately, bringing the two of them together was the mission that gave K (Ryan Gosling) a sense of purpose in life. But what happens next?
Earlier in the film, Deckard had made it clear that he feels a paternal bond with the girl, despite having abandoned her before she was born. In his words, "Sometimes, in order to love someone, you have to be a stranger." But will she see it that way? It's unclear how much of her childhood she remembers, although she certainly recalls her time in the orphanage. Will she resent the man who allowed her to be sent there?
Deckard didn't raise Stelline. If she thinks of herself as having a father in any emotional sense, it would be Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), the burly Nexus 8 who witnessed the "miracle" of her birth, and who helped Freysa (Hiam Abbas) to look after her following Rachael's death – though it's unclear how long Stelline spent with them. Unfortunately, K killed Sapper in the first few minutes of the film. Can Deckard fill his shoes?
2. What's the deal with replicating replicants?
There is also the nagging question of whether Deckard is Stelline's father in a biological (or mechanical) sense. It's implied Stelline is the only replicant to have been born "naturally"; the technology that made Rachael capable of childbirth was lost in a great technological blackout, following the death of her creator Dr Eldon Tyrell and the collapse of his company.
It's the mystery of her birth that makes her so important to the film's rival factions, as represented by blind billionaire Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and one-eyed robo-rebel Freysa. For Freysa, birth is a symbol of hope, and proof that replicants are truly the equals of humans. For Wallace, it's the key to limitless expansion for his business, which sells a subservient new model of replicant, the Nexus 9. In his words, reproduction was "Tyrell's last secret". So how exactly does it work?
Ridley Scott has repeatedly insisted Deckard is a replicant, presumably the same kind as Rachael, the naturally aging Nexus 7 (a model described by Scott, but never explicitly mentioned in either film). If so, Deckard could well have the secret of reproduction buried in his coding. It would lend a clever irony to Wallace's decision to ship him off to a space-colony; for a moment Wallace actually had he was looking for, but let it slip away.
However, Villeneuve's film leaves Deckard's true nature open to debate. If he's a human after all, and played a biological role in Stelline's creation, that would make her something extraordinary; grown from both organic and artificial matter, she would be definitive proof that there is no meaningful difference between replicants and humans.
All this is, of course, assuming that robo-parenthood requires a "special hug" between two people. But why should it? Rachael might have been capable of asexual reproduction. If so, it follows that Stelline would be, too – which raises some interesting possibilities for the future of replicant-kind.
3. Is Stelline able to leave the dome?
Can the world's leading memory-maker Stelline break free from her sterilised chamber, or is she trapped forever, like John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble?
We're initially told that Stelline suffers from a rare genetic disorder, a condition that left her with an immune system so weak exposure to the outside world would kill her. Is this merely a smokescreen to keep her safe and out of the public eye? The fact that she spent her early childhood in a decrepit and germ-filled orphanage would suggest so.
On the other hand, there's no reason why the "genetic disorder" story couldn't be true. Replicants have DNA, and that DNA can develop problems and degrade over time. It's the reason why the Nexus 6s only had a four-year lifespan.
Tyrell says as much in the original film. Trying to lengthen one android's life, he explains, "created a virus so lethal the subject was dead before he left the table." Trying to fix that would in turn "give rise to an error in replication, so that the newly formed DNA strand carries a mutation – and you've got a virus again".
The original 1982 ending to the film (excised from later versions) implied he'd finally cracked the aging problem with Rachael. If so, she was a prototype and could have had unforeseen bugs of her own, such as a late-onset immune disorder that she passed on to her daughter. One thing's for certain: Stelline would have trouble leading a glorious robo-rebellion from behind her wall of glass.
4. Is K her clone/brother?
It has been suggested elsewhere that K is a clone of Stelline. On a first viewing, the film seems to nudge us towards that conclusion: when K looks up her birth-date in the database, he finds records about a girl and boy with identical DNA. K was implanted with Stelline's childhood memories, so perhaps he was also given her DNA, making him a kind of walking decoy?
However, K never compares his own DNA with hers, so we're left guessing. Perhaps there never was a boy. We know Deckard altered the records, falsely registering the girl as deceased. Inventing a male twin could have been part of that same attempt to muddy the waters, deliberately leading the authorities in the wrong direction. If so, it worked: Lt Joshi (Robin Wright) and K were both convinced they were looking for a man, not a woman. Perhaps K wasn't so special after all.
5. Wallace v Freysa: does it even matter who wins?
Essentially, both Wallace and Freysa want the same thing: robo-babies. Freysa would like to see her fellow strong-willed replicants reproducing, thus cementing their status as humanity's equals, while Wallace wants to breed his obedient Nexus 9 "angels" to colonise planets across the universe.
But it's a false dichotomy: the Nexus 8s and 9s aren't as different as Wallace would like to believe. The supposedly docile K was able to break orders and lie to his superiors, thanks to the stirrings of existential doubt inspired by his implanted memories.
And he's not the only one. When K meets Freya, she mentions that other replicants had imagined themselves to be the missing child. Perhaps they were all given Stelline's memory of hiding that toy horse in the orphanage; she is Wallace's leading supplier of memories, after all. If so, the seeds of rebellion are already buried inside each one of them, waiting to sprout with just a little encouragement.
The Nexus 9s already have free will, but just haven't woken up to it yet. Wallace's right-hand woman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) is a case in point. Like the other Nexus 9s, she is meant to see android lives as worthless compared to those of her human masters. But her reactions tell a different story. She executes Lt Joshi without batting an eye, and is reduced to tears when Wallace kills a brand-new android in front of her. It's clear where her real sympathies lie.
It seems a replicant uprising is inevitable, regardless of who gets the upper hand. But would that really be such a bad thing?