In 1982, Ridley Scott directed the first Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford in the lead role. After nearly 25 years the sequel was directed by Denis Villeneuve starring Ryan Gosling as the lead runner. I’d like to announce that this article will, in no way, do justice to the cult followers of the film. However, recent viewers of the film had asked me multiple questions. So, I’ll do a walkthrough of both movies back to back. Here are the plots and endings of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 explained, spoilers ahead.
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Plot Explanation – Blade Runner (1982)
The story is set in the (then) future of 2019. Early in the 21st century, the Tyrell Corporation advanced Robot evolution into the Nexus phase – a being virtually identical to a human – known as a Replicant (A genetically engineered creature composed entirely of organic substance.). The Nexus 6 Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them. Replicants were used Off-world as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets. After a bloody mutiny by a Nexus 6 combat team in an off-world colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth – under penalty of death. Special police squads – Blade Runner Units – had orders to shoot to kill, upon detection, any trespassing Replicant. This was not called execution. It was called retirement.
The last of the Nexus 6 Replicants are looking to find a fix for an inherent issue they are facing – longevity. Their lifespan is only about 4 years. They are trying to get to their maker, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, to extend their life, and in general, stay alive. The last of the Nexus 6 Replicants are Roy, Leon, Pris, and Zhora.
Rick Deckard (Harrison) is a retired Blade Runner who is taken in by officer Gaff. He takes Deckard to his former supervisor, Bryant. They force Deckard to take up the mission to kill the remaining of the Replicants. They also show a video of Leon killing another blade runner and escaping.
Deckard meets with Dr. Tyrell where he meets Rachael. Deckard is asked to give the Voigt-Kampff test (a test to help identify a Replicant through a series of questions) to Rachael. Deckard realizes that she is a Replicant who believes she is human; the reason for this is that she’s been given false memories. I’ll go on a limb and say that she’s a more advanced model than the Nexus 6, perhaps a 7.
Death of Leon and Zhora
Roy and Leon find an eye designer and force the location of a Sebastian who can lead them to Dr. Tyrell. Rachael locates Deckard to confront him about her being a Replicant. Deckard tells her that her memories are someone else’s, she leaves. Based on a synthetic snake scale found in Leon’s place, Deckard locates Zhora who works at a strip club. A chase ensues, and Decards shoots and kills her. He sees Rachael in the distance and tries to follow her. Leon intercepts and gains the upper hand in a fight with Deckard. Just as he’s about to kill Deckard, Rachael blows Leon’s head open. Rachael is now on the run, and they want her dead too. Deckard takes a fancy to her.
Sebastian and Tyrell
Pris locates Sebastian and gains his trust. Roy arrives too. Sebastian has a health condition, and that makes him age faster than average. Roy and Pris are the only ones alive, and they also face the problem of aging too quickly. Sabastian, in sympathy, ends up taking Roy to Dr. Tyrell. Roy asks Dr. Tyrell to fix his lifespan for which he’s told that there is no fix. Roy kills Dr. Tyrell and Sebastian as well.
Deckard shows up at Sebastian’s place where he’s attacked by Pris. Deckard manages to get the upper hand and kill her. Roy returns, he’s at the end of this life, his body is dying. He wants to show Deckard what it means to live a life of being hunted. To live in fear. Roy doesn’t intend to kill Deckard, he merely wants to show him how wrong the human kind is. Deckard tries to jump from terrace to terrace and escape. He is unable to make the jump, and is left landing on a ledge. Roy comfortably makes the leap and saves Deckard.
Blade Runner (1982) – Ending Explained
After that, Roy says this:
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.
The Replicant, Roy, can feel and show more empathy than the human race that has made him. If this doesn’t make him human, what does? Roy dies. Deckard understands the pain.
Gaff shows up and congratulates Deckard on completing his task. He says – “You’ve done a man’s job, sir”. Here’s where things get a little twisted. Does “a man’s job” refer to the fact that Deckard is otherwise not human? As Deckard goes to retrieve Rachael and make a run for it, he sees a little origami unicorn on the floor. Decard remembers Gaff’s lines “It’s too bad she won’t live. But then again, who does?”; he’s referring to Rachael. Gaff is shown to be making origami items throughout the film. The fact that the origami unicorn was placed there tells Deckard that Gaff knew about the location of Rachael and allows them to escape. The critical bit of information is the unicorn itself. There is a sequence, earlier in the film, where Deckard is playing the piano and is daydreaming; he sees a running unicorn like it’s a memory. We could assume that it’s a vision he sees periodically. Gaff leaving a unicorn at the end indicates that he knows about Deckard’s vision. This could mean that the memory/vision is not real and is inserted; that Deckard is not human but a Replicant too. Perhaps like Rachael, more advanced, and doesn’t know it yet. Deckard gives an acknowledging nod and leaves with Rachael. The film ends.
This leads to the premise of the next film.
Plot Explanation – Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
What happens after the first film?
Deckard and Rachael lead a life and eventually have a child. This means that Replicants don’t need to be made, they can reproduce. As a race, they would evolve to be more human than humans. Rachael dies in childbirth. They have a girl (which is disclosed only at the end of the film). To keep the girl safe, they create a male Replicant with the girl’s DNA and insert memories of the girl into him. This male Replicant is K (Ryan). Deckard believes himself to be the biggest threat to his daughter and stays out of her life. He hands his daughter to a “Replicant Freedom Movement”. The daughter is processed in Morrill Cole Orphanage. In the orphanage, there is a moment when she’s chased by other kids to get a wooden horse she has. It is later shown in the film that Deckard makes these wooden animals. She holds the horse special and hides it. It has the numbers 6-10-21 engraved on the bottom, her birthday. The rest of the kids beat her up, but she doesn’t disclose the location of the horse. This memory is inserted into K.
The records are modified to state that there was a boy there as well, a twin with identical DNA, and that the girl died and the boy went missing. This way anyone looking for the Replicant child will look for a male, misdirection. She is given the name of Ana and is also declared to have a compromised immune system. This way she’s put in a safe, sterile environment and can stay alive even though she’s in a glorified cage all life long. Ana grows up with no knowledge that she’s born to a Replicant.
After the girl is born, there was a moment in time called the Blackout. It’s not mentioned why it happened, but there were ten days of darkness (Blade Runner Black Out 2022 explains that a few technicians attack Tyrell Corp). Every machine had stopped cold, and when the lights came back, they were wiped clean – photos, files, every bit of data, bank records, too. After this, the information of the girl was lost to time. Even Deckard couldn’t have found her if he wanted to.
The Tyrell Corp
After a series of violent rebellions, their manufacture became prohibited, and Tyrell Corp went bankrupt. The collapse of ecosystems in the mid-2020s led to the rise of the industrialist Niander Wallace, whose mastery of synthetic farming averted famine. Wallace acquired the remains of Tyrell corp and created a new line of Replicants who obey. Many older model Replicants – Nexus 8s with open-ended lifespans – survived. They are hunted down and ‘retired’. Those that hunt them still go by the name – Blade Runner.
K and Sapper
K is one such Blade Runner. Yes, he’s a Replicant who hunts other older rogue Replicants. He knows that he’s one and all of them have memories of a childhood that never happened. As part of his mission, he first locates and kills a Replicant by the name of Sapper Morton. This is how the film begins. K discovers a box buried under a tree (this is where Rachael was buried).
Initial research tells them that the bones belonged to a Replicant who had given birth by c-section. Lt. Joshi instructs K to locate and kill this Replicant child born into the world so that a possible revolution between humans and Replicants could be averted.
K visits Wallace’s office and meets with his first in command Replicant – Luv. He learns that the bones belonged to a Replicant by the name of Rachael and was the love interest of Deckard. Wallace wants to be able to scale up his Replicant creation and finds that one way to do this would be ensuring Replicants can reproduce on their own. For this, he needs the child and instructs Luv to follow K and grab the child before he does.
K goes back to Sapper’s place and notices the numbers “6-10-21” engraved on the tree. It’s the day when the child was born; Rachael’s death as well. K recollects “his” memory of the horse with the same number. While he’s been thinking that his memories were fabricated, this particular one seems to have some reality to it.
We are shown a little earlier that K has a virtual AI girlfriend by the name Joi. She’s confined to the house using a holographic projector. K gets her a portable device so that she can begin accompanying him anywhere he goes. K and Joi seem to love each other.
Joi tells K that his dream was real hence he was the one who was born into the world. That he is special. When K goes through the police records and locates a set of identical DNA on two different children – a girl and a boy. He finds this suspect as no two people could have the same DNA. He traces this back to the orphanage and heads there. The locals attack him, but Luv gives a helping hand and blows up the assailants. K finds that the records for that year at the Orphanage have been torn out. However, he traces his memory from the orphanage to discover that horse with the numbers inscribed.
K is confused how a fabricated memory is part of reality. He goes to meet Ana who is now one of the leading memory makers. She has been locked in a sterile chamber at 8, so if she wanted to see the world, she had to imagine it and got very good at imagining. She confirms that the memory of the horse is real and not a fabrication. She also sheds a tear, this is because it is “her” memory. But she doesn’t say anything. K leaves believing “he” is Deckard’s son.
At the LAPD headquarters, he lies to Joshi saying that he has found and killed the child. And that is the reason he has failed his post-traumatic baseline test. The failure also means that he is now rogue and needs to be retired. Joshi gives him a 48 hr headstart.
Back at home, Joi has invited a hooker, Mariette, who K took fancy to earlier and drops her virtual self on her so that K could have a “real experience”. But Mariette is part of the resistance and has been instructed by Freysa to put a tracer on K and she does.
Next day, Joi asks to be permanently transferred to the portable device. They wind up and leave. Analysis of the horse reveals that the radiation on it came from Las Vegas, which is now in ruins. K travels there and finds that someone lives there in the middle of the ruins. Meanwhile, Luv talks to Joshi and learns that the child has been killed. Luv kills Joshi and traces K’s vehicle and goes after him.
Deckard Is Alive
K finds Deckard and confronts him with some questions about Rachael. Deckard says that he never got to see his child and his role in all of this was to show how tracks could be covered and then disappear. K believes he’s talking to his father. Luv shows up and takes Deckard, she “kills” Joi (destroys the portable device) and leaves K there to die.
Mariette, too, follows K and helps to fix him up. K then meets the leader of the freedom movement – Freysa. It is now that he is told that the child born was female and not male. Which also means that he was merely the decoy. K perhaps also remembers Ana tearing up at the memory. Based on the time-frame and age he concludes that the child had to be Ana. K doesn’t tell anyone though. Freysa asks K to find and kill Deckard before he gives away the freedom movement’s location.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017): Ending Explained
Wallace meets with Deckard and offers a clone of Rachael in exchange for the location of the child. Wallace also says this – “Did it never occur to you that’s why you were summoned in the first place? Designed to do nothing short of fall for her right then and there. All to make that single perfect specimen”. Wallace implies here that Deckard too is a Replicant and this was all part of the big plan. Well, Wallace might just be screwing around here. Deckard states that their love was real and not engineered.
They take Deckard Off-world to have him tortured for information. Before they can, K locates and takes down the convoy. Luv and K engage in a fight. She wounds him mortally, but he’s able to down her. K makes it out with Deckard and also declares that on record it could be that Deckard drowned at sea (so that people stop looking for him). K takes him to Ana and says she is his daughter. As K lies in the snow, he now knows that he has seen the miracle that Sapper was talking about. Satisfied, knowing his life had a huge purpose, K seemingly dies from his wounds. Deckard goes in and meets his daughter for the first time. The film ends.
This film, too, doesn’t directly address the question of “Is Deckard a Replicant?”. The reason it doesn’t is because it doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether Deckard is a Replicant or a human, he is able to so show emotions of love and is ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of it. Everything Deckard is is human. I believe one of the central themes of the movie franchise is to address the question of what is “being alive”. And Deckard, Rachel, K … regardless of what they were, they were all alive.
Barry is a technologist who helps start-ups build successful products. His love for movies and production has led him to write his well-received film explanation and analysis articles to help everyone appreciate the films better. He’s regularly available for a chat conversation on his website and consults on storyboarding from time to time.
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