Neon Lights & Future Heights

A discussion of the similarities between Blade Runner 2049, Mute and Altered Carbon.


After the much-anticipated Blade Runner (1982, Scott, USA) sequel was released last year, Blade Runner 2049 (2017, Villeneuve, USA) continued the futuristic, sci-fi genre in much the same cinematic stylings as the recent series Altered Carbon (2018, USA) and the film Mute (2018, Jones, USA), both originating from Netflix’s US production line. In the imagined future of these fictional worlds, pollution and greed have paved the way for a destruction of natural resources and an increasing mechanisation of society, resulting in dirty streets and dystopian lives.

Each of the narratives follow a male protagonist, in search of answers and a resolution for a better future. Blade Runner 2049 sees ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) on a quest to uncover the truth to save humanity, with the help of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). In Mute, Leo (Alexander Skarsgård) goes in search of his girlfriend after she goes missing, while in Altered Carbon, Tak (Joel Kinnaman) is forced to investigate the murder of one of the richest men in a different body to his own. These white male protagonists suggest their continued privilege way into the future, all the while they are attempting to right the wrongs of their worlds, as other disagreeable characters seek violent revenge in chaotic and dirty surroundings.

The three images below, captured from each dramatisation, exemplify the stylistic similarities between these worlds and suggest the dark times to come for our society. Bright neon signs light up the cityscapes, with flying vehicles and polluted air act as a suffocating surrounding for our protagonists.



Top – Blade Runner 2049; Middle – Altered Carbon; Bottom – Mute

Altered Carbon is based on the novel by Richard Morgan from 2002, and the Netflix adaptation highlights the contrast between rich and poor, under extreme circumstances. The small rich percentage of the population – the “meths” – live high above the clouds in the tallest of skyscrapers, and look down on the rest of society in more ways than one. The rest of ‘future New York’ live on the ground, in the city, or camp out on the bridges. Discrimination is consequently rife and arguably reflective of continuing tensions surrounding race, social status, and other current issues in both the US and the UK.

The trend in representations of the future as negative, violent societies, where women are increasingly used as sex objects in futuristic brothels, is ongoing in the film industry and relevant to current debates. They act as a warning about the treatment of both women and our planet, with pollution and overcrowding also clear problems within these narratives’ realms. With the possibility of real female sex robots on our horizon (see The Sex Robots Are Coming, Channel 4), we might not be all that far away from the cyborg-style of prostitution present in Altered Carbon. The white male protagonist navigates through his world, while women are in the background, and his mission to unearth the “truth” is in the foreground of his mind and actions.


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