Popular Culture
October 15, 2017
“Blade Runner 2049”

The following review spoilers various plot points of the movie, though doesn’t give away any major twists. In writing this review, I have profitted from an interview with philosophy professor Timothy Shanahan on the movie.

This film is a splendid spectacle of overflowing visual imagination. If for nothing else, the film is worth seeing. More importantly, Blade Runner 2049 also manages to capture the mood of its predecessor—a bleak universe in which intensely lonely people, powerless in the face of a corporatist police society that controls and destroys them at will, face their own existential despair. Like Blade Runner, this film does not depict a primarily social or political dystopia; what we first and foremost see is a dystopia of human existence: an unflinching assessment of what it means to be an anonymous no one in the face of a hostile mass society, existentially powerless in the face of death and forces that seem to determine one’s life, and deeply uncertain about one’s individuality.

Combined with its circling, slow approach to its central themes, Blade Runner 2049 has ensured that it won’t be a great commercial success. The film has avoided the obvious temptation to turn itself into yet another action film franchise, distinguished from, say, Captain America only by being a bit darker and more broody. For that itself it deserves high praise. In short, this is a very good sequel, one that does justice to the original, and is faithful (perhaps even overly so) to its aesthetics and mood. If a sequel had to be made, it is unlikely that one could have hoped for a better one.


April 7, 2017
“Ghost in the Shell” (2017)

(This review spoilers both the 1995 and 2017 films.)

Ghost in the Shell comes in several instantiations—the original manga, two movies, two anime series, and now the Hollywood movie. The outstandingly best of these is the first movie, also named Ghost in the Shell (1995). The 1995 movie follows an elite Japanese security unit, Section 9, that tracks a mysterious hacker, the Puppetmaster. After a series of dead ends—witnesses who have been “ghost-hacked”, their cyber-brains stripped of their memories and identity—the Puppetmaster presents himself to Section 9 in a cyborg body, claiming to be a computer program that has gained consciousness—a “ghost” in the series’ terminology—on the net, and asks for asylum. The Puppetmaster’s body is whisked away by a competing government agency, Section 6.


January 9, 2017
“Westworld”, season 1

The basic premise of Westworld is based around some well-known sci-fi tropes. In a not-too-distant future, rich guests entertain themselves in a Western-themed entertainment park, populated by human-looking, life-like androids (“hosts”). The park is a stereotype-laden dreamland in which hosts have to fulfil their guests’ every wish. Predictably, everything starts to slowly unravel as some of the hosts break through their programming; all isn’t well behind the scenes either: various forces engage in competing plots to force their own visions on the park.


December 16, 2016
“Rogue One”

“Rogue One” is supposed to be a “Star Wars story”: a film set in the Star Wars universe, but falling outside the plot of the main movies. This was a great opportunity, then, to expand and deepen the universe, and especially to experiment with it: to introduce not only new faces and planets—a must-have for any Star Wars movie—but also new concepts, visuals, factions, and ideas. “Rogue One” does decently enough on the first part, but it utterly fails in the second. It obligingly delivers the thrills that come with the modern blockbuster, but in everything else, it is exceedingly cautious in saying or showing anything controversial or original that doesn’t toe the established Star Wars line.