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2017-11-22 17:22
By Kim Joo-young



Recently, I visited a theatre where Blade Runner 2049 (2017), a reboot of the “Blade Runner” (1982), the sci-fi masterpiece that envisioned 2019, was released, and I noticed many elderly viewers in the room. It has been 35 years since the first Blade Runner was released, so they must have been feeling nostalgic. What exactly was the future they had imagined Decades ago, when sci-fi films were booming?

Science fiction is often known for its prophetic nature. The submarine Nautilus from Jules Verne’s novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (1870), a radical concept at the time, eventually became real military technology. Inspired by these neo-futuristic stories, other authors started enthusiastically penning more stories about advanced technology, like nuclear power. However, nuclear power is already being phased out, and are no longer in the realm of  the imaginations of current literary pioneers. Instead, as audiences have seen in in recently released sci-fi movies, they envision cutting-edge starships that deploy solar sails to be propelled by solar energy.

There is a saying that the futures described in sci-fi works reflect the present; in other words, the human imagination draws on historical recollections and the present for context. Ridley Scott, the director of the original “Blade Runner,” described Los Angeles as a damp and dusky forest of skyscrapers blanketed in thick fog, which is not a surprise, as he was a contemporary witness to The Great Smog of London in 1952.

Actor, Ryan Gosling, who plays Blade Runner 2049’s protagonist, commented about the appeal of a sci-fi film, saying it gives people a picture of the worst scenario. The reboot, directed by Denis Villeneuve, shows us the two worst possible scenarios our generation faces. The opening scene of the movie shows Ivanpah, the world’s biggest solar thermal generation facility located in California, which boasts about its plans to cope with climate change through its mega energy plant that transmits 400 megawatts to 140,000 neighboring households. The lofty smokestack of Ivanpah, however, didn’t release steam over the sky throughout the movie. The aftermath of climate change and nuclear war, which painted a world that is gray and orange, overpowered even the use of renewable energy.

Our real world has likewise been severely damaged. The reality is still full of conflicts, and the Koreas peninsula, comprised of the North and the South, faces one of the most dangerous situations among the various regions of the world. But Korea is blissfully ignorant of it.

At the end of the movie, there is a building written as “haengwoon,” which means “fortune” in Korean. Seeing Korean letters in the Hollywood movie out of the blue made me and the elders in the audience giggled. In the final scene, Harrison Ford, the actor (born in 1942) who played the protagonist in the first Blade Runner, and Gosling (born in 1980) encountered each other, fought and fortunately, made up. There are various interpretations of this scene. For me, it reflects Korean society, which has been wounded and split by the discord between conservative elders and progressive youths and by the anti-nuclear movement that emerged after the Shin-Kori reactor disaster. There is the generation gap behind the clashes on all of these matters. I think, perhaps, reconciliation between the old and the young can bring the luck we need as we approach our uncertain future. In the end, the movie was a cautionary tale for all generations.


The writer (joonimitime@snu.ac.kr) is enrolled in the master’s program in environmental management at the Graduate School of Environmental Studies at Seoul National University.


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