Warning: SPOILERS for Blade Runner 2049 ahead
Like Blade Runner before it, most of Blade Runner 2049‘s characters inhabit a motivational grey area. Some of them do unambiguously make things difficult for our protagonists, but their actual role as someone “evil” is more a matter of perspective and how one defines “evil.” In an extension of the base themes of the film, most are only doing their job and fulfilling their base programming – they aren’t necessarily bad, just caught up in a system that deems their actions as such.
But there is one character who stretches this concept to its limit. Whose actions and motivations as defined on-screen make it difficult to make a case that there’s any way of redeeming them – one Niander Wallace (Jared Leto).
The successor to Dr. Tyrell, who was murdered by Roy Batty in the first Blade Runner, Niander Wallace is the new top-level manufacturer of robots and robotic engineering. As we know from the three shorts that were released, a new wave of replicants, called the Nexus 8s, were released and caused a great deal of controversy due to the fact that they were programmed with natural, human lifespans. Regular people didn’t take to sharing the world with the help, so an anti-robot movement started with people hunting down replicants, using the archives of deployment to find them. A band of androids decide to destroy these archives so they can live free, causing a blackout and the loss of huge amounts of data. This leads to the outlawing of replicants and their manufacture.
Wallace noticed that without replicant labour, the world was starting to crumble. Resources were draining and systems couldn’t sustain themselves. He pitched a new wave of Nexuses that were advanced, but ultra-obedient and could be trusted to not do anything mad like seek their own freedom in an effort to get their ban lifted, a pitch that proved successful bringing us to the events of 2049. Wallace’s new line of robots have restored a semblance of basic order to the bleak dystopia of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles, and everything is humming along. The replicants are farming and harvesting in various ventures, both on Earth and off-world, and even the police have adopted some robotic assistance, Ryan Gosling’s K being a replicant blade runner, his obedience and general lack of emotion an advantage as an enforcer of the law.
We see very little of Niander himself during the movie. His shadow looms over much of the plot, but his presence is kept secret, a meta-deification that reflects how little he interacts with the world at large. Although business is booming for the Apple of bio-mechanics, he has grander ambitions than making sure the human race can eat. He wants us to conquer, to go beyond this one measly planet and evolve and own the stars themselves. He believes with the replicants this is possible, but there’s a problem: he can only make so much and keeping Earth alive is taking practically all that he can make.
Enter 2049‘s main narrative crux – Deckard and Rachael, the blade runner and replicant couple we saw leaving together at the end of the first movie, had a child together. How exactly this happened, nobody is certain. The child is called a miracle early on by another replicant, and the film never moves beyond that descriptor. It’s an anomaly – a dangerous, wonderful anomaly. One can extrapolate that when Tyrell called Rachael an experiment, he meant it, and she was part of his testing for a new wave of Nexuses (what would become the 8s) and one of the results is that her body can reproduce. But as Tyrell is dead and the replicant/human civil war ended in a blackout that destroyed much of his records, the actual methods of whatever he was up to with Rachael is considered lost. Until Rachael’s remains are uncovered by K and the LAPD, that is, and Wallace finally has something concrete to analyze.
Niander is bored by the processes of simple supply and demand. His empire is as big as it’s going to get – Wallace Corp. headquarters dwarf Los Angeles – and he knows he’s now in the rigor of manufacturing. Maximum capacity has been reached and there’s no further expansion that can be done unless he figures out how to make replicants replicate on their own. If he can do that, suddenly his forces are endless and he can lead us to new frontiers unimaginable.
There’s a lot to consider philosophically with Wallace’s position. He hints at political control of the colonies, which are all kept running by replicants, and plans to transport Deckard up there to torture him for answers. So with his obsession with taking us out into space on the back of androids that can have children and create a self-reproducing workforce, it sounds like he wants to privatize humanity itself. He’s aware of how closely replicants mimic humans. He’s also very aware of the existential crisis that’s been looming in the back of K’s mind for years, since he commissioned the implanting of the more intrinsically made and believable memories for the modern models. He designed these things, and as their creator, he has an opportunity to become the greatest conqueror of all by using an army that can’t disobey him. A legion that are human without the part that causes people to question their destiny. He can build a kingdom that makes him a God by default.
Ironically, it’s the replicants that are most aware of this and who are doing the most to actively resist his hand. The resistance that caused the blackout helped Deckard get his child to safety are still active and doing their best to stay off the radar. The LAPD treat the evidence of Rachael giving birth like it’ll cause country-wide chaos and these replicant rebels seem to be slowly preparing for another civil war. Living in his massive base, Wallace doesn’t seem too pushed about that part. Who would he? He can just construct the replicants that’ll control the ones acting out and sell them as the protection. The disease and the cure at once, that’s just good business.
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