Suffice it to say, there are about as many garbage takes and fan theories popping up all over the internet in the wake of the release of Blade Runner 2049, and I really don’t mean to be contributing to that heaping pile.
Yet after watching the film for a second time this weekend and in light of watching the original this past weekend on TV, I was struck by an odd and intriguing notion about the nature of one of the characters. And no, it’s not who you might think.
Spoilers follow this image of Harrison Ford punching Ryan Gosling for real.
First off, I picked the header image out specifically to fool you people — director Denis Villeneuve doesn’t come down on either side of the “Is Deckard a Replicant?” debate, and I think that’s to the film’s credit. Secondly, I’d like to emphasize that this is one pretty dumb dude’s opinion, and that there’s better stuff to talk about regarding this film — for instance, the fascinating gender politics of the movie, which haven’t been well-served by a rash of reactionary articles fresh from a first viewing — and in no way do I think the text genuinely offers support for this theory. There is, however, enough there for the meager beginnings of a thought experiment, whose thesis is posited as such:
What if Niander Wallace is a replicant?
Yes, that’s right — Jared Leto’s blind mega-industrialist with a messianic complex regarding both agriculture and replicant life is himself an artificial being, at least in this light. That’s a pretty weird thing to suggest as well, as so much of the conflict of Blade Runner seems to be about the fight between “slavery” (i.e., the eternal purpose of replicants as stated by Wallace and his forbearer, Tyrell) and self-determination (as embodied by Ryan Gosling’s K and Hiam Abbass’ Freysa, the one eyed-leader of the replicant rebellion), and having one of its major players be one of the class he’s attempting to oppress is, well, counter-intuitive. Yet all this theory does is shed some more light on Wallace’s motivations, and perhaps places him in a more relatable emotional setting for us- a sort of deconstruction of the heavy that gives us new meaning.
Much of my pet theory has to do with his eyes. His blindness is an interesting aesthetic choice for a number of reasons: It lets Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins play with creepy floating objects (essentially smaller versions of the ship in Arrival) that help Wallace see, and his blindness is an interesting direct allusion to Tyrell’s blinding by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) as he kills him. We’re going a bit deeper than that. Sure, you’ve heard about the “struggles” Leto had to endure wearing blinding contacts in order to play Wallace, but the otherworldly effect they achieve is utterly eerie, and also deeply reminiscent of an effect in the first Blade Runner.
I’m talking about the glow that you see come from the eyes of each of the replicants in the film, first glimpsed in the owl seen in Tyrell’s office and then seen frequently in Rachel and Roy’s eyes. You’ll even see it once or twice in 2049, or at least you will think you have, because I could have sworn I saw it in K’s eyes’ at least once during a scene in the police station. Scott himself claimed it was a little telltale design flaw that helped to set them apart from humans, and Leto’s (artificial?) eyes seem to directly evoke this as well, constantly glowing monstrosities peering at you always with a coldness much like that of an owl’s.
His eyes also help to inform my second piece of evidence against his humanity — or rather, I should say, their lack does, which the scarification underneath his sockets seem to suggest that they are implants. Remember Freysa, the resistance leader who I mentioned a paragraph or two earlier? Well, she hints to K that she had her right eye removed so that she couldn’t be scanned and ‘retired’ by blade runners much like he did to Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) earlier in the film. They were both Nexus 8 models (Rachel and presumably Deckard are Nexus 7 models, though it’s never outright stated in the film), given an open-ended lifespans much like their forebearers, and given serial numbers beneath their right eyes. My question is this: what if Wallace removed his eyes to avoid the Voight-Kampff machine and the testing that follows? That’s the polygraph-like test Deckard and other LAPD officers employ in the first film, which measures the contraction of the iris muscle above all other factors. It would make sense, especially after the data loss after the blackout, where a machine, through the right surgeries and fictions, could make himself a man.
Finally, and most spuriously, his language in describing himself and his offspring. Tyrell, for all of his bluster and grandeur, was a man and nothing more; his language is that of the businessman more so than the Jobsian inventor, and his only biblical allusion is one asserting Roy’s small humanity, framing his as “the prodigal son” right before his creation kills him. Batty and Wallace favor religious grandeur, describing replicants as “angels,” and evoking alternately Milton and other poets in their phrasing. Batty’s ultimate goal, as well, is selfish through and through — his initial attempts to preserve his life give way to his final attempt to preserve his memory through his beautiful monologue to Deckard at the end — and I find a similar unempathetic selfishness here in Wallace.
One could assign any number of motivations behind this: He wants replicants to reproduce and endure because it fulfills his ambitions for his race, or feeds his god-rivaling ego, or simply to ensure that his corporation is forever profitable, and those all work well enough, some even without the argument that I’m making. Yet I’d attribute this mainly to his own sterility — notice how irked he grows when Deckard surmises that he doesn’t have any children, to which Wallace responds that he has “created millions” — and this emptiness has fueled his creative impulses as an inventor. It’s absolution that Rachel’s great gift offers him on any number of levels, and that can lead someone to do terrible things in its fulfillment. It would separate him tremendously from the Freyja and the rebels, who have found community and family in each other and seek to present that to the world rightfully, and his deep megalomania offers a compelling contrast.
Again, I’m not saying that the text strictly supports any of this — the aesthetic reasons I’ve mentioned previously are justification alone for his appearance and characterization — but it’s just fun to think about, as all good little theories are. Also, given that they’ve shaped our thinking about Blade Runner for the past three decades, it’s just bound to come with the territory. But next time you watch 2049, keep this little theory in your brain and see if it fits as congruously as I think it does. Who knows, it might help you prove your humanity one day.
Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus. Header image courtesy of Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment. Punch image courtesy of Geektyrant. Rachel and Wallace images taken by screenshot.