*WARNING* This post is a critical and comprehensive analysis that contains MAJOR plot spoilers for Blade Runner 2049. I would very much recommend not reading until you’ve had a chance to see this gem for yourself. Tickets are available here
Officer K is a Nexus-9 and the main protagonist to Blade Runner 2049. Spending most of his life following orders and living on the fringe as a hated skin-job (derogatory word for replicant) by humans and a pariah by fellow replicants for hunting his own kind, K is the very definition of a tragic hero. He is a complete and utter sham with nothing real to tether him to life. Nothing he has is real and everything about him and his life is false—including his hologram girlfriend and implanted memories. He lives his life through agency and has an unquestioned loyalty to his job and superiors. He's always lived this way and it is the only thing he knows.
But is he really just a replicant? Or perhaps something more? Are the memories he has from childhood, or are they implanted?
The majority of the plot centers around K's journey to find out if he is in actuality a real life person who was born with a soul, or just another skin-job. The clues he finds shed a glimmer of hope for him with the promise that he could be the prodigal son and the missing link between humans and replicants. A common trope in classic tales has a ‘chosen one’ figure akin to both Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter from the Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises, respectively. These characters are given epic destinies that shape the landscape of their worlds and the impact of their actions create a rippling effect that spawn sequel after sequel, adding more layers to their mythology. In essence, their lives are so important that without them, the story would cease to progress without them. K is not that fortunate.
Fun Fact: Did you catch that reference to the origami unicorn in the original Blade Runner? The wooden horse figurine K had a memory of as a child had a stub on top of its head that indicated it was a unicorn that had lost it's horn. Much like K who dreamt of becoming something special (like a mythical unicorn), his horn was broken when he realizes the truth that he--just like most people are average (like a typical horse).
Over the course of the film we learn that K's quest to become something extraordinary is completely shattered when his quest reveals that he is not the child of Deckard and Rachel, but merely another replicant, another nobody in the grand scheme of things. Dr. Ana Stelline is the true prodigal daughter, and she bestowed him all the memories he believed were his. As the audience we are heartbroken to see all his efforts amount to nothing, but it sets itself as an earthshaking reality:
Not all people are meant to be special.
Everybody aspires to be the next Bill Gates, Leonardo Dicaprio, Mark Zuckerberg, Beyoncé, or any of the celebrities/influential people of the world. It's an admirable goal to strive to become one of the greats, but is that an attainable goal? Perhaps, but in most cases it’s not—it can’t be, at least not for everyone. As a millennial, I understand what it is like to be constantly built up to be something great. We are told at an early age that we can do anything we put our minds to. We go through school and given shiny trophies, gold stars, and other accolades as we continue to pass tests and climb up a never-ending ladder to some predetermined concept of success. It puts a chip on your shoulder and when reality kicks in and goals don’t align, it is devastating. We are devastated. The truth is, not everyone born has to ability to attain the greatness of our heroes.
Some people have to remain a service person or perform tasks considered to be menial, or average. Does that mean we should give up? At one point near the end of the movie K almost does, especially when he loses his girlfriend Joi in a ambush by Luv. The manufactured man who was born with nothing real suddenly loses it all. The dream of being real and the only person he ever loved. This is his lowest point, and at that moment when he reflects on his poor life, a naked walking Joi advertisement tries to solicit him with sexually charged banter and charm. He stands there silently and his face blank and emotionless; he's battered and covered with blood, sweat, and rain from the previous skirmish which mirrors what he feels now. He's not standing before Joi, he's standing in front of a complete stranger and in that moment he makes a decision.
Before his final showdown with Luv and the climax of the movie, the replicant resistance movement leader Freysa urges him to kill Deckard and stop Wallace from gaining access to creating more replicants. With no familial ties to Deckard and being relieved of his former blade runner status earlier, K has no obligation to help anyone. He is a nobody, another manufactured product. Despite this, he makes his own decision for the first and goes on a suicide mission to save Deckard, thereby giving his own life meaning by rescuing him from Wallace’s clutches and finishing off Luv once and for all.
Afterwards he takes Deckard to his daughter, Ana, just before shortly succumbing to his injuries. The film ends on this bittersweet note, with the music from the original Blade Runner soundtrack, “Tears in the Rain” plays as both a homage and direct reference to Roy Batty’s death and how Batty originally saved Deckard from falling to his demise. It is a nice callback with a very powerful message:
Life has meaning when you make the choice to bring meaning to it.
As previously covered with the Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter examples, Officer K is not like them because anyone in his shoes could have accomplished what he had and that is what makes his character shine so brightly. Unlike Luke who was the only one capable of using the Force to stop the Death Star or Harry Potter, who was the only wizard able to stop Voldemort, K remains the tragic hero who manages to do something great even though destiny was against him. He is no more special than any average 'Joe,' which he ironically and symbolically takes as a name at the earlier suggestion of the then-living Joi.
We should not give up on ourselves or our dreams despite possibly never reaching society's views of greatness because that isn't the way to give life meaning. All we can truly do is wake up every morning and take the day head on, always trying to be the best possible versions of ourselves. Ultimately, in living life the way we want we will become special. Each path diverges into a different one, one that changes by our action or inaction, and isn't that the most beautiful thing of all?
For more on Blade Runner 2049, you can read my piece on the character Joi here.