*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
Joi is introduced to us as K’s live-in hologram girlfriend and designed as the ultimate companion, she can play the role of Suzy Homemaker, a sultry dancer, a traditional Chinese housewife, and basically anything else K desires on a whim. For more on Officer K, read my critical analysis!
Created as a product from the Wallace Corporations who's consistently marketed in giant neon letters as:
Everything you want to see. Everything you want to hear.
Now, the Blade Runner franchise is known for raising the philosophical questions of what it means to be human and the ethical issues that arise from the future. This film adds an extra layer to those questions with the introduction of sentience of artificial intelligence to this universe's caste system. Like with Deckard in the original, what makes Joi the most interesting character in Blade Runner 2049 is that we as an audience question her legitimacy her love story provides to the overall narrative. Did she really love K? Is it possible for her as A.I. to develop genuine emotional attachment, or was it just part of cutting edge technology?
The answer could go both ways, but from our standpoint, Joi really did in fact love K. At least the one that he built a life with did.
Before we dive into our reasons, let's take a look at Joi herself and how she came to be. In 2049 world caters to these species in order of importance:
Joi and her kind are dead last. Particularly, as a hologram she represents another lifeform created to be exploited by both humans and replicants alike. Suffice to say, it’s interesting that by being created as another subservient piece of technology, one can see how she’s victimized by the replicant’s “human nature.” Ironically, as replicants are a symbol for slaves and suffering by the hands of monstrous humans, the holograms receive and endure cruelty from the replicants in a vicious cyclical course of abuse.
But this is the Joi product exists at all. Because what could a holographic companion provide that a replicant pleasure model (fancy words for prostitute) can’t? Brothels and sex cafes are rampant in this futuristic era, which certainly implies that sexual liberation is at an all-time high, but this doesn’t apply to Joi as she can’t give the physical gratification a replicant can. The answer is because she was made in order to placate replicants.
Wallace stated that replicants were designed as a disposable workforce used to create wondrous achievements, much like the slaves from generations before. But unlike their human counterparts Replicants have superior strength, intellect, durability, and are consistently more resilient compared to the average human. This can be explored and seen with replicants such as Sapprer Morton, Freysa, Mariette, Roy Batty, Pris, Zhora, Leon and etc. who have all rebelled against the status quo. In order to keep them in line they have implanted memories, plus a male or female friend to maintain their needs. Joi and her male equivalent are products to satiate the replicants and to lesser degree, allow them to function in society, much like their implanted memories.
Joi's Personality Develops Over Time
In the beginning her personality seems phoned-in, almost generic with her responses like a virtual product would be. But after receiving an emanator, or the device that allows her to be mobile, she starts to exhibit more real emotions and the capability to have independent thought. Similar to a rebirth, or being granted a soul. Her reactions are depicted as less and less constructed, and more intricate.
Joi Still Cares For K Even When He Isn't Watching
After K’s spinner is shot down and he crashes into unconsciousness, we see Joi screaming at him in a desperate struggle to revive him. The look of despair as she tries her hardest, even going as far as to teleport outside and bang on the windshield of his vehicle, while she glitches uncontrollably, signifying her love for him. As K was unable to give her a command, and she was unable to receive any conscious signal we can see that her reaction was indeed genuine.
She Asks To Be A Real Girl (And Acts Like One Too)
After receiving an emanator, or the device that allows her to be mobile, she starts to exhibit more real emotions and independent thought. Like Plato's Allegory of the Cave, being able to leave the cave (or home in this instance) opens her to a wide arrange of new feelings experiences. Her body is able to take in the sensation and duplicate that effect on her clothing and self.
Later on when they are hunted by Wallace, she asks K to delete her files as so they could never use their conversations or love against him. K is at first unhappy with this idea, but decides to comply when she reasons that it makes her feel like a real girl. Being solely attached to the emanator without backup files is symbolically her effort to be human.
Just before she gets killed by Luv, she tries to tell K she loves him without regard for her own well-being. Which allows us to go on to our next point.
Joi Gives K Unconditional Love, Despite Her Own Feelings
Likewise, there is a scene in particular where Joi has taken the initiative to arrange a threesome with K, Mariette, and herself. Mariette, a replicant pleasure model (or euphemism for prostitute) was someone K was sexually attracted to at first glance, which prompted Joi to act according to her own interest to be 'real' for her lover.
K: "You were right. You were right about everything."
Mariette: "Thought you weren't interested, working man."
Joi: "You liked her, I could tell. It's okay, she's real. I want to be real for you."
K: "You are real for me."
Because she is a hologram, she can never give him the physically engage him sexually in the way real couples can and that motivates her to find alternate means. Whether or not this based upon Joi's mechanical construction to fulfill his inner most desires and needs out of love is subjective, but it obviously bothers her, which can be seen afterwards in a tense exchange between herself and Mariette.
Joi: "I'm done with you. You can go now."
Mariette: "Quiet, now. I've been inside you. Not so much there as you think."
As seen from above, she isn't doing this because it pleases K as he has already affirmed her of his devotion, rather it is a clear indication that it was based on an act of love--an uncondtional one at that.
The Film's Emotional Climax Tells It All
The below text is taken is taken directly from the shooting screenplay. In bold I outlined the most important takeaway from what I consider to be the emotional crux of the film. This scene takes place shortly after the 'death' of his beloved, Joi. He is walking along the streets of Los Angeles when he comes across a walking adverisement.
REVEAL: ON THE NEXT BUILDING, 30 STORIES HIGH, A 120 FOOT VERSION OF JOI LOOKS DOWN AT THE CITY. AN ADVERTISEMENT. LOUNGING RECUMBENT, ELBOW BENT TO PROP HER HEAD.
K is dwarfed by the enormity of her. A man standing before the sun. He stares up at her like she was a holy site.
“JOI” sees him down below, begins to vamp and twirl. An interactive ad. Immediately selling. Everything about her a vulgar exaggeration. Her voice heard above the city din:
“JOI”: "Hello, Handsome. What a day, hmmm?"
K looks up to her, eyes full of longing and need. Sees only the “dead leaf echo” of his Joi. Charmless and generic.
K searches her face for an answer. Can only see THROUGH it.
“JOI” (cont’d): "You look lonely. I can fix that."
She gives a crass laugh. K stares and stares. Desperate to find any spark of the woman he loves... praying some part of her is still in the network, still extant...
“JOI” (cont’d) "Aww..." (leaning down) "You look like a good Joe."
The NAME goes through K like an arrow. Joe? Jo? His mind fills with doubt and hope and doubt again. Was it all part of her program? Was she ever real?
No answers from “Joi.” Only a knowing wink and her mannequin smile as she looks back out on the city. Selling herself to the world.
CLOSE ON K. His eyes close. As if saying goodbye. To her. To everything he learned from her to dream and hope for.
His eyes open on the sky as lightning kindles. A storm. A decision made.
The importance lies in the choice of name spelling. The name 'Jo' is featured prominently in the script as opposed to a 'Joe', the latter which appears in G.I. Joe or Average Joe and often used as placeholders or nicknames during the Vietnam War and American culture, respectively. Why does this matter? It is a subtle spelling alteration, but from this perspective we can see that Joi pulled something from herself, out of her predesigned memory bank as a symbol of love and affection. To name someone or something is to give it significance, and within a world where everything is fake, that means the most of all.
We can see this In the opposite case for Luv, the secondary antagonist of the film, who is ironically given her name not out of love (Luv, get it?), but because that is the way Wallace generally speaks. He bestows this name and she takes as a way to add more meaning to her position as the "best angel" but we know as the audience that she is just another tool.
In The End, Does it Even Matter?
Linkin Park references aside, despite all these points one could simply argue that it was all due to cutting edge A.I. technology and there would be evidence to support that theory as well. She could be an A.I. designed so well, that every action is based on innate programming and adaptation from years at being at K's side.
But that is the beauty of Joi's character and what ultimately makes her the most interesting. She forces us to ask the question: Is that hologram girl real? Will we ever know? Does it really matter?
Answer: No. No, it does not.
After 35 years Deckard has come to terms with what it means to be real and not real truth is: it doesn't matter. This is one of the hallmark themes in Blade Runner explores and the fact is, whether or not you are real or not doesn't matter in the slightest. Everything depends on your actions and the way you live. More human than human. Replicants and other synthesized beings can possess greater humanity than someone naturally born. Bottom line then is If she thinks she is alive, then for all intents and purposes she is. If K feels love towards a hologram, does that bring any less gravity than love for a human being? Of course not.
It's these types of questions that rose from the original Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? novel, and it was wonderful to see them resurface again for the next generation of moviegoers in Blade Runner 2049. So even if there are definitive answers to these questions, we can count on them to be asked and debated again and again, adding more fan theories and fun for years to come.
For more Blade Runner 2049, you can read my Officer K Character Analysis