Blade Runner 2049 is a vision of our nightmare future.
Humanity is engaged in a desperate struggle to escape its dying homeworld. The growth of the human population has collapsed the ecosystem. The survivors live in cities like ant hives, enslaved to powerful corporations.
This is the world we fear we are heading towards. A world in which the machines we built to liberate us, have instead enslaved us.
“In Blade Runner 2049, science itself has been perverted as a tool of power and control.”
In its Golden Age science fiction predicted that technology would save us. Bigger and better machines — from kitchen gadgets to space rockets — would liberate humankind.
But as technology failed to meet its promise, science fiction turned to darker visions. Cyberpunk envisioned futures where technology enslaved humanity within our machines.
Blade Runner 2049 is the ultimate cyberpunk vision. A future hellscape that realises our most terrifying nightmares of where technology is taking us.
Technology can replicate human life itself, but only to enslave it. To re-make humans from the DNA up as obedient servants of capitalism.
In Blade Runner 2049, science itself has been perverted as a tool of power and control.
If humankind can no longer believe in science as our savior, where can we turn for liberation?
Allegory : a story that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, often philosophical, political or religious.
It’s rare for Hollywood to spend $160 million dollars on allegorical storytelling. The box office flop of Blade Runner 2049 is a reminder why. It’s a movie that, like the original Blade Runner, disappointed audiences who came expecting scifi blockbuster cinema. Stories being told on a hidden level beneath the surface, are often a mess on the surface.
And audiences used to watching the surface level of blockbuster movies may miss the hidden meaning of an allegory entirely. Alphonso Cuaron’s Gravity perplexed audiences who noticed the bad physics, but missed the allegorical story of grief and recovery. Mother by Darren Aronofsky befuddled audiences who did not see the Biblical allegory beneath its surface.
Allegory also offends our modern belief that our personal interpretation of a story is valid. It’s ironic that allegory, with it’s hidden layer of meaning, is entirely unforgiving to audience interpretation. Dante’s Divine Comedy is an allegory of religious morality, George Orwell’s Animal Farm allegorises Soviet communism, and Aslan the Lion is Jesus Christ. Whether you get them or not, these allegorical meanings are not up for negotiation.
Blade Runner 2049 creates arguably the most intricate and fascinating allegory in contemporary cinema. But despite thousands of essays, fan theories and YouTube videos interpreting the meaning of Blade Runner 2049, most of the audience is blind to the movie’s hidden allegorical meaning.
An allegory that, from the threads of science fiction, weaves an intensely religious meaning.
Black Runner 2049 is a movie woven with religious symbolism.
An apocalyptic hellscape. A miraculous birth. An enslaved people. A messianic savior. A jealous god. Fallen women. Arising angels. And themes of slavery and liberation ripped straight from Christian theology.
It’s also a movie that exists in symbiotic relationship with the original Blade Runner, a film that constructs an empathy test for the audience, built around the myth of Jesus Christ himself.
Blade Runner 2049s religious symbols are studded into the fabric of science fiction. Androids are metaphor for lost souls seeking redemption. The future becomes the landscape of the apocalypse. Flying cars do double duty as chariots of heaven.
To unlock the hidden meaning of this religious allegory we need a key.
A key we will find in a tower beside a lake, where Carl Gustav Jung is dreaming.
“Jung believed that our conscious mind was only a small aspect of our self, and that by exploring the unconscious we would find our true self.”
In 1915 the psychologist Carl Jung undertook a journey…to discover his true self.
With his mentor Sigmund Freud, Jung had helped to define the new field of psychology, and to author one of the most important ideas of the 20th century — the theory of the human unconscious.
Our conscious mind, argued Freud and Jung, was only the tip of an iceberg. The parts of the iceberg below the waterline they called the unconscious, because they existed beyond the perception of the conscious mind.
Freud believed the unconscious contained only our base animal instincts, that our conscious mind was our real self. Jung believed that our conscious mind was only a small aspect of our self, and that by exploring the unconscious we would find our true self.
Jung retreated from the world, to a tower he had built on the shores of Lake Geneva. Over the next 15 years Jung created the art and writing collected in his famous Red Book, recording his exploration of the unconscious.
Jung called this process of unconscious exploration “active imagination”. Through it he believed he could map the territory of the unconscious. There he discovered a land peopled with mythical characters, that he named the Archetypes.
Jung theorised that, by meeting and integrating the Archetypes of the unconscious, in a process called Individuation, humans could discover our true Self.
The journey to discover the true Self.
To survive in the world humans must create a Persona. Who are we? Where do we belong? What is our value? As we find answers to these questions our Persona takes shape.
The Persona is formed from a process of repression. We forget the parts of our self that do not fit the Persona. Until we come to believe that Persona is our real self, and forget our true self entirely.
The Persona believes it is the centre of its own little story. The protagonist of a vital drama, a hero on a special journey, the One chosen to save the world. But in truth the Persona is only one of many, with no special destiny or fate to fulfill.
The aspects of the self we have forgotten continue as the Archetypes. We project the Archetypes into the world and on to others. Parents, friends, lovers and enemies are all a canvas for the projection of our forgotten self.
To recover our true self the Persona must confront and integrate the Archetypes.
The Ego is the part of the self that is trained into a Persona. The Ego feels isolated and alone. It sees itself always as a victim in a cruel and harsh world. To survive the Ego looks to others for protection.
The Id is the part of the self that just wants to survive. The Id offers the Ego protection, at the cost of being trained as a Persona. The Id needs the Persona to work hard, to provide material goods to keep the Id in comfort.
The Super-Ego is the archetype within the self that demands social conformity. It monitors the Persona to keep us to a defined…baseline….and prevents us becoming…interlinked.
The Priestess is a feminine manifestation of the Governor archetype. It is the Governor’s function to keep order at all costs. Well trained Persona’s are conditioned to obey the order, which uses them as slaves.
The Anima archetype manifests all the qualities repressed to create a male Persona. Kindness. Intimacy. Emotionality. Love. The Anima archetype will seem to fulfill all of the male Persona’s needs. But the Anima is merely a projection.
Of all the archetypes we project into the world the Anima is the most devastating to us. Humans waste entire lifetimes searching for our idealised Anima, creating the Anima fantasy over and over again, suffering when reality fails to meet fantasy.
The male Persona who connects with a real woman will reject her for not being his Anima fantasy. He will even project his Anima over the real human, make love to his fantasy, then awake again alone.
The Anima is the hardest of the Archetypes to integrate because it is reinforced by the vast power of human sexuality. Our desperate desire for the sexualised object that only the Anima fantasy can fulfill will lead us to remake the Anima again and again, until we can face the vast power of Eros.
The Shadow archetype is both the most dangerous and the most essential to integrate. The Shadow is made of all the parts of the self we are scared to know. Malice, hate and violence, but also strength, determination and willpower, all rest in the Shadow.
The Shadow is the Persona’s mirror opposite. If the Persona is cloaked in black, the Shadow will wear white. The Shadow when we meet them will be a figure of both love and hate. We will be magnetically attracted to them, while desperately trying to escape them.
The unintegrated Shadow will seek out and destroy anything that threatens the Persona. If the Persona is in danger the Shadow will emerge to protect it, often with shocking violence.
The power and strength of the Shadow is necessary to the process of Individuation. The Shadow will drive the Persona to confront the Archetypes and integrate its forgotten self. Finally, the Shadow must be integrated and the Persona must take on violence, power and strength as parts of its own true self.
The Father and the Mother are the parts of the self we believe our parents should fulfill. The Father has walked ahead on the path and we face bitter disappointment when he does not know the way. The Mother who should wish the best life for us is in fact the one to remind us we are not even the hero of our own story.
God is Blind
God is the most deceptive of the Archetypes. God seems to be all seeing, all knowing, all powerful. It is the God archetype who creates Personas. And destroys them. God gives life and God takes life away. God is jealous, and insists you recognise no God but Him.
The God archetype is the aspect of the self that keeps the true self hidden and secret. It shapes and controls all reality to keep the Persona ignorant. But this God is false. It is an impotent creator, that can only make the facsimile of life, not life itself. Even God is only a part of the forgotten self.
The Archetypes must be integrated and the process of Individuation completed so the Persona can discover its true Self.
Before integration the Self manifests in us as imagination and creativity. All dreams, visions, revelation and memory come from the Self.
The Persona believes the memories made by the Self are its own. We build those memories and dreams into our little story.
But the Self shapes those stories to lead us back to it. The journey of every Persona ends back at the true Self.
The Self is not a being within reality. Reality and being are a playful game unfolding within the infinite imagination of the Self.
The Self is not an Archetype. The Self is the source of the Archetypes, the sum of all that was repressed and forgotten to create the Persona. The Self is who we truly are.
The Archetypes of Id and Ego, Anima and Shadow, Mother, Father and God, are all dreams within the Self.
The Persona’s final task is surrender. Surrender to the realisation that it too is a creation of the Self. All the Persona’s struggles and suffering, it’s hero’s journey through life, have only been to bring it back to the true Self.
As the Persona reaches up to touch the sky, it is the Self who plays in the snow.
Allegory invites the audience into a private discussion that only those with the knowledge and willingness to decrypt the story can understand.
Blade Runner 2049 allegorises the Jungian journey of self-actualization to lead the audience who are willing to follow to the hardest questions of human existence.
What is it to be truly human? Are we just biological machines? Can our technology save us, or will it only enslave us?
Or are we something more? Is our true self more than a living machine? Can finding our true self show us an alternative path to liberation?
Whatever answers we find in it, Blade Runner 2049’s fascinating allegory of scientific belief and religious faith make it a true 21st century myth.