Bladerunner 2049 was a marvel of a film. It built on the legacy of its predecessor and added more depth to an already compelling universe.
Like the original movie and the novel it was based on, Blade Runner 2049 raised questions about the nature of sentience and what it means to be alive. But it wasn’t the replicant characters that raised these questions. It’s taken as read that the replicants are as ‘real’ as humans from the outset of Blade Runner 2049.
Instead, it’s left to Joi to put questions about reality in the audience’s mind. Which is why she’s the most interesting, and possibly the most important, character in the whole film.
The below points go through why she might be ‘real’ or not. After which you can decide if you think she is real. Or if it matters at all.
Joi is aware she is manufactured
Joi is aware she is just code. We know this becuase When K is looking at DNA strands she comments that she is made up of a sequence of two digits (0 and 1) whereas K and humans are made up of sequences of four digits.
This shows that Joi understands her nature. She is self-aware. This elevates her above the level of a computer programme or a holodeck character in Star Trek. She also appears to have a concept of her own mortality and to have genuinely feared death.
If a being is able to attain this level of sentience surely they must be considered as real?
Joi cares when no-one is watching
After K’s spinner is shot down and he loses consciousness, we see Joi screaming for him to wake up. We also see her angrily confront Mariette when Mariette is touching K’s wooden horse.
In neither of these scenes is K aware of her actions. In the former K is knocked out and in the latter he is in a different room. Showing that she cares for K’s welfare even when he is not there to see it.
Joi’s personality develops through memory and experience
We see adverts for ‘Joi’’ a few times throughout the movie. She is also referred to as a product a couple of times. It appears clear from this that Joi is simply programmed to give her owner the experience they want. Her name is even a play on a pornographic genre. It’s almost sad seeing how dearly K cares for her when you consider all of this.
Yet there is more to Joi than this. Joi stores data about and alters her personality accordingly. When put like this, Joi sounds like a complex programme but a programme nonetheless. Not entirely ‘real’ some might say.
Yet, humans are basically genetic code that is slowly molded into something unique through memory and experience. Are we more ‘real’ simply because we’re made of meat and Joi is made of 1s and 0s?
If she believes she’s real – she’s real
Before his climactic rescue of Deckard, K is approached by a giant Joi advertisement. The advertisement calls him ‘Joe’, which was Joi’s pet name for K.
At this point, K appears to come to some sort of realization about his relationship with Joi. It’s been assumed by many that K is coming to terms with the fact that Joi wasn’t a ‘real girl’. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
Perhaps K comes to pretty much the opposite conclusion. Perhaps K realises that Joi may have started as a piece of code, but Joi adapted and learned and believed she was ‘real’. This made K realise that if he believed he was ‘real’ then his existence, like Joi’s, was just as valid as any humans. It would then be this that led him to his suicidal mission to save Deckard.
Does it matter if Joi is real or not?
Of course, to all of these points, you could simply reply that Joi is simply a well developed AI. An AI designed to please its owner. A glorified Tamagotchi.
And that’s the beauty of Joi. Her character forces you to ask questions like: is she real? How could we tell if she was? Does it matter?
We cannot know whether Joi really thinks she is alive, or if she ‘thinks’ at all, or if she is simply code. But, isn’t one of the prevalent themes of the Blade Runner Universe that if she thinks she is alive then, for all intents and purposes, she’s alive?
It’s these type of questions that were key to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and it was great to see them resurface so subtly in Blade Runner 2049. If you liked Blade Runner 2049, why not take a look at the other films on our Ultimate Science Fiction Movie List.