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WTF Moments: Why does Jared Leto kill a newly born replicant in Blade Runner 2049?
It's hard to beat the 65-course tasting menu of cinematic wonder that is Blade Runner 2049. The film takes everything that made the original Blade Runner a classic and ramps it all up through the roof. When you're not dazzled by the museum-quality perfection of every single shot, you're dazzled by the deep themes and ideas that are bending your mind.
It is a symphony of sci-fi joy, but it is not immune to a WTF moment. It contains a rather large one, one that puzzled me when I first saw the movie and continues to puzzle me every time that I revisit it.
Both of the Blade Runner films — the first by Ridley Scott, who produced Denis Villeneuve's sequel — have some WTF involved, that's part of the trip. You don't always know what is going on, who's who, who is real, etc. That's the point. We still don't know for certain whether Rick Deckard is a replicant, though everyone has their own ideas and theories about it. In lesser movies, such an open-ended question would be annoying, but here it's part of the majesty.
There's one WTF moment, however, that is not a part of the majesty. Unlike the rest of the unanswered questions in these movies, this one doesn't seem to have any real answer at all.
The moment comes courtesy of Jared Leto, an actor who provides WTF moments in vast quantities. If Leto were to open an Amazon store tomorrow, and the store sold nothing but balloons filled with elephant blood, I'd think, "Yeah, that scans." As Niander Wallace, Leto brings a weird menace to his scenes in 2049, and gives the movie a WTF puzzle with no real answer, rhyme, or reason.
When we first meet Wallace, the blind replicant creator who has taken over production from Tyrell, he makes it clear that he has a massive god complex, and that he loves to go monologuing. That's fine, because the writing is exquisite and the performance is fine. One of the first things he does in the movie is deliver a monologue to his chief replicant assistant, Luv.
He does so while unpacking a new replicant, a female who drops out of a plastic bag. She's covered in ooze, and she lies on the floor in a shivering mess. He inspects her while he monologues, talking about how every civilization has built itself on the back of a disposable workforce. He also drops a key line, saying, "... but I can only make so many."
For all of his greatness, Wallace can't do what Tyrell managed to do in the first film — he can't create replicants who can reproduce on their own. He doesn't just want an army of replicant slaves, he wants a flock of them who will then go on to swarm the stars.
This replicant is not going to give him that, but that shouldn't mean that she's useless. You'd think that Mr. Wallace, with his goals so loftily established, would want to keep every single replicant he can, right? Especially one that is deemed to be perfectly acceptable, aside from the reproduction angle?
Not the case. Stab Town, population 1.
At the end of the scene, Wallace finishes monologuing as the replicant finishes inspection. Yay! A new member of the family! Let's give her a welcome to the world party!
This doesn't happen. There is no party, unless you count Jared Leto gutting you with a knife a party. Wallace ends the scene by murdering this replicant, leaving her dead on the floor. Next scene!
Yes, Wallace is a sociopath, and he's the "villain" of the movie, for lack of a better way to say it. We get this. We didn't really need to see him gut a naked female replicant for the movie to drive this point home. Perhaps the movie wants us to think, "This guy's so bad, he kills his own work!" Fair enough, but if I make a great cup of coffee, I wouldn't go and flush it down the toilet because it can't make more of itself.
The moment wouldn't give me the WTFs if Wallace didn't utter the line, "… but I can only make so many" a few moments prior. That's a problem when you're trying to build a disposable workforce, I can't relate, but whatever. Yes, reproduction is the key to his next step, and this model has let him down. His grotesque action also has a definite effect on Luv, who is seen shedding a tear. Still, if he can only make so many, and he has not cracked reproduction, wouldn't he need every replicant that he can get? Why stab a "newborn" to death simply because she can't reproduce? Wouldn't not killing them whenever you feel like it help your cause rather than hinder it?
This replicant does not go higher, further, faster, or funnier than the others, but she still works. She still exists. She can't reproduce, but that does not mean that she's worthless. Wake up and smell the 2049, Niander. He is revealed to be misogynist, short-sighted, and just kind of a dick ... is that the point of including this moment? If his work isn't perfect, unable to storm Eden and retake it, then he just murders the work? If that's the intended takeaway, well, we kind of already get it. I suppose we really get it after this.
He's only down one replicant in the grand scheme. For him, it's just another burning dollar in the pond. He is so casual about this brutality that it's easy to imagine that he's done this many times in the past. Does he still kill the replicant if no one is watching? If he's just performing for himself, do the models have to die?
Why? Why, Mr. Wallace? Why, and may I add, WTF?
Is this method meant to keep the other replicants (such a Luv) in fear, and if so, how does the daily death of replicants by his own hand hurt Wallace's profit margins? Is this something that Jared Leto just did on set, and due to potential lawsuits it had to stay in the movie?
I've lost more than a few nights of going down internet rabbit holes looking for answers. I'm not the only one — if you type "Why does Wallace" into Google, it'll fill out the rest with "kill the replicant?" For all of the theories and reasons that fans have put forward for the repli-killing (including some of the notions mentioned above), I've never read one that tonally fits. It has to tonally fit somehow, because everything else in the movie tonally fits. This is what I keep telling myself.
I guess everyone can decide for themselves why Niander Wallace just up and stabs a naked woman to death? The Deckard-as-replicant question was left as it is intentionally, but this moment does not feel like that. It feels like there's a reason for it, but for the artificial life of me I just don't see it. Maybe I do see it and I just can't face it. Maybe I, myself, am scared of Niander Wallace. Perhaps the real lessons were the murdered replicant friends that I made along the way.
Sci-fi movies are full of WTF moments, and we have to write about all of them. This WTF article, despite my efforts, cannot reproduce itself ... and I can only write about so many. Since it can't spawn, I am going too erase this entire article and throw my laptop into the fire. Makes perfect sense.
It doesn't make sense, no sense whatsoever. Seriously, WTF? WTF Niander Wallace? WTF Jared Leto? What needless slaughter hath thou wrought this time? You'll never retake Eden acting like such a messianic prat.