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Blade Runner 2049: A loving review

As the new Blade Runner film dissipates from the cinemas, I feel it acceptable to write about it in-depth, given that (hopefully) those of you interested in it, would have seen it by now.

*****warning MAJOR spoilers ahead*****

First off, I’ve now seen it three times and it improves with every viewing. Every shot is a masterpiece of aesthetics and pace. From the opening scene to the last, the dedication to, and love for, the original and its thematic messages oozes from every scene. The visual poetry draws you in; the musical score swells the very soul; the suspense builds nerve-shreddingly carefully, and it then leaves you breathless by the conclusion. It is intimate and expansive, majestic and dutiful, full of dread for the future that may come, but full of hope for the wonders of the present.

I’ve read many articles that have unpicked the films motifs, themes and its beautiful politics, all of which say something new about the film. That there can be so many of these and they all be right, speaks to the wonderfully intricate and complex film that it is. But if there is one central pillar that supports that complexity, it is that in order to live, we need to love. But first… 

Eyes.

The original Blade Runner film used the eye forcefully throughout as a repeating motif, and Blade Runner 2049 builds on this theme. The most obvious is the opening close-up shot of an eye opening, which then cuts to overhead views of the vast solar panel fields (inspired by the PS10) mimicking the iris. K gouges out the eye of the first replicant he retires, the rebellion leader has no right eye, and even Deckard’s rejection of the new brown-eyed Rachel is because she “had green eyes” (even though she didn’t).

The link between Tyrell and Wallace is also via their eyes. In the first film, Batty kills Tyrell by squeezing his eyes into his head. In this film, Wallace is blind. He ‘sees’ through his ability to control (via a microchip in his neck) a suite of floating teardrop-shaped ‘eyes’ that circumnavigate around the subject. This is of course, deeply ironic given that he is unable to see what he so desperately wants, that is to create a replicant with reproductive capabilities.

But if our eyes are ‘windows into our souls’, then to explore what it is to be human is to look deep into our eyes; which is what the first film does so exquisitely. But Blade Runner 2049 uses this as the foundation, building upon this by using a different representative ‘hook’, namely…

Water.

Water clearly has a recurring motif throughout the film; because water is life. There would be no life on the planet without it. When searching for extra-terrestrial life on distant planets, we send probes to look for water. Biblically, in particular John’s gospel, the ‘living water’ has been used to describe the life-giving qualities of Christ. Judeo-Christian symbology is used heavily in the first film (as it is in much of Scott’s work), so it is little wonder then that Blade Runner 2049, with its preoccupation with what it is to live, uses water so prominently. In the Wallace Corporation’s building, water and its reflections flood the cinematography. From Wallace’s ‘office’ being surrounded by a reflective pool, to the shimmering and rippling reflections as Luv and K walk through the building’s cathedral-like interiors; water is utilised prominently. Also, the final climatic duel between K and Luv takes place in a raging sea, where ultimately K spares Deckard’s life. If the eye shows us humanity, water gives us life.

This is an important thematic development between the two films, because there is a deliberate attempt to position the positive affirmation of life through the most fundamental and visceral of ‘human’ emotions, that of…

Love.

As far as the film’s plot is concerned, it revolves around the character arc of K. As his journey throughout the film evolves, he becomes aware that to sacrifice yourself for a higher purpose, to be truly selfless (or even Christ-like), is to discover what it is to have a life-giving, very ubiquitous form of love; a love that transcends human life itself. His arc is intertwined with that of his live-in holographic girlfriend Joi. Her transfer from a domestic AI terminal, to portable holographic companion, to full-on physical lover is an important part of K’s realisation that love can indeed transcend the human-non-human divide. The constant visual cues that Joi is essentially a very advanced app (i.e. her continual transparency) butt up against the evolution of her love for K. By the time she is ‘killed’, her artificial yet obvious love for K is real, as it is for us as the audience. By juxtaposing the clear non-human Joi with the very human form of love, it forces us to consider that love can indeed be a transcendental, life-affirming force of ubiquitous agency. If machines can love, they can live.

And it is this live-giving love that K so realises when he is stared down by the gigantic, holographic, sexualised version of Joi later in the film. He realises then that their love was real, despite it being between two machines. Realising Joi was a product of the Wallace corporation is one thing, but loving her anyway is another.

Filled with this love, K then proceeds to carry out the wishes of the rebellion – to kill Deckard. However, K sets him free, at the expense of his own life. The Christ-like allegory here mirrors Batty’s actions at the end of the first film. Indeed, when K expires on the steps in the snow, he finally smiles (sort of) to the same ‘Tears in Rain’ soundtrack. Learning to love (as both K and Batty did), using that love to learn how to sacrifice yourself for others (be that a replicant rebellion or for a father yearning to see his daughter again); K’s actions really do teach us about the nuances of human life.

The first Blade Runner hinted that to be human is to fear death, but Blade Runner 2049 asserts that to be human is to have been born, to ‘have a soul’ as Lt. Joshi reminds us. It echoes the finale of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series, in that the fate of humanity revolves around a replicant-human hybrid (that is if you side with the reasoning that Deckard is a human), brought into the world and hidden by a radical, selfless and rebellious love (and the handy continuity of the presence of Edward James Olmos).

–||–

There are plenty more themes to tease out; feminist struggles (that Luv is killed by being pressed up against a glass ceiling is telling), capitalist realism (the survival of brands and child-labour sweatshops even in the aftermath of ecological catastrophe and artificial intelligence is striking) the fragmented nature of memory (allegorised neigh-on perfectly by the broken Elvis simulator) and even a smattering of geopolitical tensions (the talk of walls and rebellions is very Trump-era language). But the film anchors all these in the fundamental questions about our future that plague the struggles of the present; questions of an empathetic humanity, a more forceful love and a better life.

So, if the first Blade Runner film showed us what it is to be human, then Blade Runner 2049 shows us what is it to live.

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The loss of an icon? The Crescent Pub in Salford

The Crescent Pub, Salford (image taken from their website, http://www.thecrescentpub.com)

On Sunday after a weekend visiting the old haunts in Manchester for the weekend (and spending a day watching Jimmy Anderson skittle out South Africa’s batting line up), I took a slow drive along Chapel Street as I made my way back to the motorway. I wanted to see my old employer, the University of Salford as well as the changes to the area that I’d heard about from ex-colleagues. I was taken aback by the raft of identikit housing, the beautified (and frankly much better) ‘shared space’ of the new road layout, and the new cladding on the previously tired looking Salford Crescent Station. But the main draw for me was my old watering hole, the Salford Crescent pub. However, after noticing a small white notice on the window of the pub, I stopped the car to take a closer look. “Closed until further notice”. It was a troubling sign, not least as it meant I couldn’t pop in to have another look around.

But it wasn’t until this news article appeared that I now realise that me peering at that sign was probably the last time I’d see that glorious little pub. If the rumours are to be believed, it faces imminent closure and probable development into luxury housing or some other equally stereotypical gentrified usage.

Anytown, UK. The new (identikit) look of Chapel Street

Public houses are shutting across the country, so why is this one any different? Well, the Crescent isn’t just any pub. It has been a tavern since the 1830s, is a focal point of the community (hosting live music, meetings, and social events), a hub of student activism, and most famously, it is supposedly where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels met to discuss writing the Communist Manifesto. None of these things class a pub from being exempt from closure of course. But they combine to create a little island of anti-corporate sentiment being besieged by capital flows that are transforming the neighbourhood. Yes, it is a commercial venture that survives by having to sell goods and services, but it’s rich socialist history and its distinct community-orientated present operates within that to offer services that are now, sadly, genuinely unique.

Salford itself is also a city rich in working class history. The squalid conditions that Friedrich Engels encountered within the slums of Manchester and Salford inspired him to write The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. Since then, the city has been somewhat of a cauldron of working class struggles. It has a proud industrial history, and its politicians were instrumental in national welfare reform in the nineteenth century. It is also home to the Working Class Movement Library, and just last year, the University of Salford unveiled a statue of Engels on their central campus, a simulacrum to a communist history in the heartland of the commercial university. Over the last few years though, as Manchester has grown, it has begun to engulf Salford. The location of MediaCityUK in Salford Quays was a major coup for the city. But it has catalysed the extension of Manchester’s transport links to permeate Salford, blurring the boundaries of the two politically and in the general zeitgeist (speak to laymen and the BBC’s northern base is in Manchester, not Salford). This inevitably leads to the larger city dominating the smaller one, with Salford now struggling to maintain its identity amidst Manchester’s global city ambitions. The development of Chapel Street only serves to blur these boundaries further, turning it into little more than a commuter community for central Manchester.

The imminent closure of this pub then is somewhat of a symbolic watershed moment. The runaway gentrification of Chapel Street, the erosion of Salford’s rich socialist and communist history into a simulacrum, and the loss of a genuine community space in the midst of all this, all combine to make the loss of the Crescent particularly saddening for me. If it does ever open its doors again, I urge everyone to soak up the atmosphere (as much as the carpet soaks up the split ales) one last time, for it really is one of a kind.

 


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Scrolling Beat ’em ups, urban blight and the neoliberal city

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The best scrolling beat ’em up: The ultimate neoliberal fight against urban decay?

The first computer game I can recall playing was Target Renegade on the Amstrad. Essentially, you would scroll through various urban landscapes, kicking and punching other men (and some women) along the way. You had to walk  through car parks, urban streets and snooker clubs(?!) using nothing but your fists and feet (and the occasional appropriated weapon; a baseball bat, chain, mallet and yes, a snooker cue) to fight your way to the end-of-game boss. A tried and tested format which became one of the most important computer game genres of the 80s and 90s.

Of the many scrolling beat ’em ups that adorned our consoles over those years – Final Fight, Streets of Rage (1 and 2, 3 not so much) and even Two Crude Dudes – there was a similar trope being played out. A violent crime syndicate had taken over the city, and a group of dedicated, tough and very talented mercenaries took it upon themselves to clean up the streets, and perhaps rescue a loved one along the way. Like other cultural artefacts, do these games (and the genre more widely) reflect their contemporaneous social trends and anxieties, in this case, US inner-city decline of the 70s and 80s and the rise of neoliberalism and ‘enterprising self’ as the mode of social progression?  Continue reading


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Why you should do Cultural Geography

Flowers planted in used tear gas grenades form a memorial garden on the spot where, in a 2009 demonstration in the West Bank village of Bil'in, Bassem Abu Rahme was shot and killed with a high-velocity tear gas grenade fired by Israeli soldiers, Bil'in, West Bank, October 4, 2013. The grenades are left over from clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians during the weekly protest in Bil'in.

Flowers planted in used tear gas grenades form a memorial garden in the West Bank village of Bil’in, source here

With 2016 finally behind us, many of the New Year’s resolutions have been to roll up our sleeves and get to work protesting the perceived injustices of more intense neoliberalism, creeping fascism, growing wealth and income inequalities, and further environmental degradation. Resistance to these large-scale ideological movements is in many, many forms; for example taking to the streets post-Trump’s election, the massive demonstrations in Seoul, industrial action from junior doctors and other public sector workers, organised campaigns such as Black Lives Matter, and a multitude of anti-gentrification campaigns; and these are just the few that have held my attention over the last 12 months or so – there are many, many more. Continue reading

Walking Heathrow: Exploring the fissures of infrastructure

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Landscape Surgery

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As I’m sat in my car, parked in the Hatton Cross Station Car Park, I watch as the dark blue hue of the cold November morning sky slowly turns to a light grey, as the sun struggles to pierce the thick blanket of cloud above. Planes rumble up the runway, the end of which is about 100m in front of me separated by three rows of chain-link, razor-wired fence and a buttress of thick orange scaffolding supporting runway lights. These slender machines soar over my head, jetting off into the turning sky, roaring their ascent to the awakening population beneath them. In a few minutes, I was due to meet a traveller from New York. He had a 6-hour lay over and wanted to walk the perimeter fence of Heathrow, roughly 13 miles or so. The banality of such an undertaking bemused many when I told them I was doing…

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Brexitrump, neoliberalism and microfascism

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Fascism arrives as your friend….?

Fascism has been catapulted into the mainstream narrative of late, thanks to the election of a certain Mr. Trump to the position of ‘leader of the free world’ (perhaps the most oxymoronical statement of them all). The comparisons to Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s have not gone unnoticed, and the genuflection of the current administration to the ‘smooth transfer of power’ that is enshrined in Constitutional dogma has many rightly angry at their capitulation. There are obvious parallels with Brexit, and ominous precursors to what Le Pen, Wilders and others are attempting in Europe. The commetariat articulating the rise of fascism have much to be concerned about.

Furthermore, many MANY column inches (and whatever the online equivalent is) have been given over to how Brexitrump is a reaction to years of injustice; how many people (not just the working class of course) voted in reaction to the tyranny of the status quo. Neoliberalism’s limits have been reached; it is now the ideological enemy, and nationalist popularism is the remedy.

These two narratives are perhaps seen as distinct; in so much as neoliberal globalisation is being replaced by a proto-fascist authoritarianism. However, as I peruse the seemingly endless op-eds and blog posts (yeah, sorry for adding another….) I find myself returning to the seminal work of the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari and their warnings of how fascism comes into being, and how it relates to those who have theorised neoliberalism more recently. Wait, let me explain… Continue reading


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CfP Boston #AAG2017: Rage Against the Machine: An exploration of the multiple geographies of rage, anger and hatred

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Organiser: Oli Mould (Royal Holloway, University of London)

The twenty-first century has been dominated by increasing ideological conflict. This has often manifested in ever-increasing political contestations, urban conflicts, religious fundamentalism, social polarisation and cultural marginalisation. The rise of far right and left political parties, the Arab Spring and the global Occupy movement, unfettered expansion of neoliberal philosophies, religious extremism, increasing wealth inequalities, homelessness; the symptoms of a multiplication in differing philosophical and ideological tendencies, all rubbing against each other within the every day.

Many of these phenomena are characterised by an articulation of rage.

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