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This book provides a collection of Lacanian responses to Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 from leading theorists in the field.
Like Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner film, its sequel is now poised to provoke philosophical and psychoanalytic arguments, and to provide illustrations and inspiration for questions of being and the self, for belief and knowledge, the human and the post-human, amongst others. This volume forms the vanguard of responses from a Lacanian perspective, satisfying the hunger to extend the theoretical considerations of the first film in the various new directions the second film invites. Here, the contributors revisit the implications of the human-replicant relationship but move beyond this to consider issues of ideology, politics, and spectatorship.
This exciting collection will appeal to an educated film going public, in addition to students and scholars of Lacanian psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic theory, cultural studies, film theory, philosophy and applied psychoanalysis.

Year:
2021
Edition:
1st ed.
Publisher:
Springer International Publishing;Palgrave Macmillan
Language:
english
Pages:
237
ISBN 13:
9783030567545
Series:
The Palgrave Lacan Series
File:
PDF, 2.32 MB
Download (pdf, 2.32 MB)

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THE PALGRAVE LACAN SERIES
SERIES EDITORS: CALUM NEILL · DEREK HOOK

Lacanian
Perspectives on
Blade Runner 2049
Edited by

calum neill

The Palgrave Lacan Series

Series Editors
Calum Neill
Edinburgh Napier University
Edinburgh, UK
Derek Hook
Duquesne University
Pittsburgh, USA

Jacques Lacan is one of the most important and influential thinkers of
the 20th century. The reach of this influence continues to grow as we
settle into the 21st century, the resonance of Lacan’s thought arguably
only beginning now to be properly felt, both in terms of its application
to clinical matters and in its application to a range of human activities
and interests. The Palgrave Lacan Series is a book series for the best new
writing in the Lacanian field, giving voice to the leading writers of a new
generation of Lacanian thought. The series will comprise original monographs and thematic, multi-authored collections. The books in the series
will explore aspects of Lacan’s theory from new perspectives and with
original insights. There will be books focused on particular areas of or
issues in clinical work. There will be books focused on applying Lacanian theory to areas and issues beyond the clinic, to matters of society,
politics, the arts and culture. Each book, whatever its particular concern,
will work to expand our understanding of Lacan’s theory and its value in
the 21st century.

More information about this series at
http://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/15116

Calum Neill
Editor

Lacanian Perspectives
on Blade Runner
2049

Editor
Calum Neill
School of Applied Sciences
Edinburgh Napier University
Edinburgh, UK

The Palgrave Lacan Series
ISBN 978-3-030-56753-8
ISBN 978-3-030-56754-5
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56754-5

(eBook)

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature
Switzerland AG 2021
This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher,
whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights o; f translation, reprinting,
reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical
way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software,
or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed.
The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this
publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt
from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use.
The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this
book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the
authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained
herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with
regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Cover illustration: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo
This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland
AG
The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

For Claire,
with one more kiss, dear.

Contents

1

2

3

4

5

From Voight-Kampff to Baseline Test: By Way
of an Introduction
Calum Neill

1

Do Filminds Dream of Celluloid Sheep? Lacan,
Filmosophy and Blade Runner 2049
Ben Tyrer

13

Blade Runner 2049: A View of Post-Human
Capitalism
Slavoj Žižek

41

Between the Capitalist and the Cop: The Path
of Revolution in Blade Runner 2049
Todd McGowan

53

‘To Be Homesick with No Place to Go’: The Phantom
of the Sinthome and the Joi of Sex
Daniel Bristow

83

vii

viii

6

7

8

9

10

Contents

Home Bodies: Prosthetic People and Economies
of Desire
Timothy Richardson

103

Object Oriented Subjectivity: Capitalism and Desire
in Blade Runner 2049
Matthew Flisfeder

121

What Happens When the Replicants Become
Extimate? On the Uncanny Cut of the Capitalocene
in Blade Runner 2049
Alexander Bove

139

In Anxious Anticipation of Our Imminent
Obsolescence
Scott Contreras-Koterbay

167

“Before We Even Know What We Are, We Fear
to Lose It”: The Missing Object of the Primal Scene
Isabel Millar

189

11 Women Between Worlds: A Psychoanalysis of Sex
in Blade Runner 2049
Sheila Kunkle

209

Index

229

Notes on Contributors

Alexander Bove is an associate professor of English at Pacific University, where he teaches courses in nineteenth-century British literature,
critical theory, and film theory. His articles have appeared in several journals, including LFQ: Literature/Film Quarterly, Mediations: Journal of the
Marxist Literary Group, ELH: English Literary History, and V21 Collective. He is author of the book Spectral Dickens: The Uncanny Forms of
Novelistic Characterization, forthcoming on Manchester University Press,
and is currently at work on a book entitled Extimate Materialism that
Explores the Relation Between Film and the novel through critical theories
of comedy, the uncanny, and characterization.
Daniel Bristow is a psychoanalyst and writer, and co-creator of the
Everyday Analysis project. He has published widely on Lacanian psychoanalysis, critical theory, and politics, and is author of Joyce and Lacan:
Reading, Writing, and Psychoanalysis, and 2001: A Space Odyssey and
Lacanian Psychoanalytic Theory, which is also in the Palgrave Lacan Series.
Scott Contreras-Koterbay received his Ph.D. from the University of St
Andrews and is a professor in both the Department of Art & Design

ix

x

Notes on Contributors

and the Department of Philosophy & Humanities at East Tennessee
State University, where he teaches aesthetics, the aesthetics of technology, artistic identity and contemporary art history as well as being
the Director of the Bert C. Bach Fine & Performing Arts Scholars
program in the Honors College. He is the author of The Potential Role
of Art in Kierkegaard’s Description of the Individual (2004) and co-author
with Łukasz Mirocha of The New Aesthetic and Art: Constellations of the
Postdigital (2016).
Matthew Flisfeder is associate professor of Rhetoric and Communications at The University of Winnipeg, Canada. He is the author of Algorithmic Desire: Toward a New Structuralist Theory of Social Media (2021),
Postmodern Theory and Blade Runner (2017), and The Symbolic, The
Sublime, and Slavoj Žižek’s Theory of Film (2012), and co-editor of Žižek
and Media Studies: A Reader.
Sheila Kunkle is associate professor of Individualized Studies at
Metropolitan State University. She has published numerous articles on
psychoanalysis and culture, and contributed chapters on the psychoanalysis of film to Psychoanalyzing Cinema (Jan Jagodzinski, ed. 2012) and
Lars Von Tier’s Women (Rex Butler and David Denny, eds., 2017), as
well as edited the collection, Cinematic Cuts: Theorizing Film Endings
(SUNY Press, 2016).
Todd McGowan teaches theory and film at the University of Vermont.
He is the author of Universality and Identity Politics, Emancipation After
Hegel , Only a Joke Can Save Us: A Theory of Comedy, Capitalism and
Desire, and other works. He is the co-editor of the Diaeresis series with
Slavoj Žižek and Adrian Johnston at Northwestern University Press and
editor of the Film Theory in Practice series at Bloomsbury.
Isabel Millar recently received her Ph.D. in psychoanalysis and philosophy from Kingston University. Her thesis is entitled “The Psychoanalysis of Artificial Intelligence.” Her work has appeared in Stillpoint Magazine, Psychoanalytische Perspectieven, Vestigia, JCFAR journal , and forthcoming publications for the Courtauld Institute of Art and Precog Magazine. She is also a screenwriter and psychoanalytic script consultant for
film and TV.

Notes on Contributors

xi

Calum Neill is associate professor of Psychoanalysis & Cultural Theory
at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland, and Director of Lacan in
Scotland. He has written a number of monographs, including Without
Ground: Lacanian Ethics and the Assumption of Subjectivity (2011) and
Jacques Lacan: The Basics (2017). He is the co-editor of both the Palgrave
Lacan Series the three volume guide Reading Lacan’s Ecrits (2018–2021).
Timothy Richardson is associate professor of English at the University
of Texas at Arlington, where he teaches courses in theory, media, and
writing. He is the author of Contingency, Immanence, and the Subject of
Rhetoric (2013) as well as articles in such journals as Kairos, Pre/Text, and
Enculturation.
Ben Tyrer is a lecturer in film theory at Middlesex University. He is the
author of Out of the Past: Lacan and Film Noir (Palgrave, 2016) and
co-editor of Psychoanalysis and the Unrepresentable and Femininity and
Psychoanalysis (both Routledge, 2016 and 2019). He is a member of the
editorial board of the Film-Philosophy journal and co-coordinator of the
Psychoanalysis in Our Time research network.
Slavoj Žižek is senior researcher at the Department of Philosophy,
University of Ljubljana, Slovenia; co-director of the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck School of Law, London; and visiting professor at the
Kyung Hee University, Seoul. Fields of work: philosophy, political theory,
critique of ideology. Latest publications: HEGEL IN A WIRED BRAIN
(London 2020), PANDEMIC (New York 2020).

List of Figures

Fig. 5.1
Fig. 5.2
Fig. 5.3

Incomplete/incompletable circle of the desire
for completion
Assumption of sinthome ‘tying up’ the gap
The utopian as non-sinthomic recathexis

88
89
97

xiii

1
From Voight-Kampff to Baseline Test:
By Way of an Introduction
Calum Neill

The original Blade Runner film, set in November 2019, opens with the
now iconic scene of Leon, a replicant, undergoing what appears to be a
psychological association-reaction test. He complains of getting nervous
when he takes tests but is told not to worry. “You’re in a desert,” Holden,
the test administrator, tells him, “Walking along in the sand, when all of
a sudden you look down…”
“What one?” Leon interrupts. He is told it doesn’t matter, that it is
completely hypothetical. But he persists, asking how he would have come
to be there.
“Maybe you’re fed up.” Holden tells him, adding some emotional
flavour. “Maybe you want to be by yourself. Who knows?” Then he
continues with the script. “You look down and see a tortoise, Leon. It’s
crawling toward you…”
“Tortoise? What’s that?”
C. Neill (B)
School of Applied Sciences, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK
e-mail: c.neill@napier.ac.uk
© The Author(s) 2021
C. Neill (ed.), Lacanian Perspectives on Blade Runner 2049,
The Palgrave Lacan Series,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56754-5_1

1

2

C. Neill

Holden asks him if he has seen a turtle and tells him it is the same
thing. When Leon says that he’s never actually seen a turtle, Holden
begins to show irritation. Leon picks up on this and reassures Holden,
saying “But I understand what you mean.”
Holden resumes, “You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on
its back, Leon.”
But Leon is having trouble focusing. “Do you make up these questions, Mr. Holden? Or do they write them down for you?”
“The tortoise lays on its back,” Holden continues, the audio track
reverberating, presumably allowing us, the viewer, to enter into Leon’s
disorientation, “its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs, trying
to turn itself over. But it can’t. Not without your help. But you’re not
helping.”
“What do you mean, I’m not helping?”
“I mean, you’re not helping. Why is that, Leon?”
Leon’s distress is now quite clear. Holden changes his tone and
attempts to reassure him.
“They’re just questions, Leon. In answer to your query, they’re written
down for me. It’s a test, designed to provoke an emotional response.”
It appears to have succeeded. “Shall we continue?” Holden asks. He
continues.
“Describe in single words only the good things that come into your
mind, about your mother …”
“My mother?”
“Yeah.”
“Let me tell you about my mother,” replies Leon, leaning forward, his
hands under the table. And he shoots Holden.
The Voight-Kampff test is, as Holden says, designed to provoke an
emotional reaction. The apparatus Holden unfolds at the outset of
the test, functioning a little like a lie-detector, measures physiological
changes, with a particular emphasis on eye movement. The logic of
the test appears to be rooted in emotion. Replicants, the humanoids
manufactured by the Tyrell Corporation, emerge as fully formed adults.
They have no childhood and therefore no childhood memory. They do,
however, appear to be capable of desire, with the suggestion, then, of
some kind of emotional attachment. The test, in the small samples we

1 From Voight-Kampff to Baseline Test …

3

are shown of it, seems to operate on the basis of provoking the exposure of the gap between the awareness of the appropriacy of emotion
and the lack of such appropriate emotion. When Holden describes the
overturned tortoise, Leon appears to know that a reaction is expected of
him and yet he doesn’t know, or doesn’t feel, what this reaction is.
The dénouement of the scene, with the invocation of the mother,
seems pertinent in a psychoanalytic context. Where the tortoise merely
provokes discomfort, the mention of his mother provokes a strong,
violent, or murderous, reaction. Except Leon doesn’t or didn’t have a
mother. It is plausible that Leon’s reaction is nothing at all to do with
the specific content of Holden’s questions and is simply a pre-emptive
reaction to the obvious point that he is about to be found out as being a
replicant. And yet, the content cannot be ignored.
The test can be understood to operate on a logic of difference. The
presence of an appropriate reaction––whatever that might be––would,
presumably, indicate a likelihood that the subject is not a replicant. We
might assume then, that the absence of an appropriate reaction would
indicate that the subject is a replicant. However, this is not the case. It is
the anticipation of the absence of an appropriate emotional reaction on
the part of the subject themselves which appears to be the true point of
confirmation. The test centres on the subject’s own knowledge of their
status, whether this knowledge is consciously known or not. It is not,
however, a knowledge of what is but, rather, a knowledge of what might
not be.
This point of anticipation exposes something crucial of the Cartesian core of the original film. The three central characters each occupy
a particular stance towards the question of their knowledge of their
own essence. Roy Baty, the leader of the rogue gang of replicants
knows that he is a replicant. Rachel, a prototype of a newer model
of replicant, appears to know that she is a replicant but struggles to
acknowledge this knowledge. She knows but does not believe (Neill,
2018; 218). Deckart, the Blade Runner, we might, then assume, knows
he is not a replicant. A key driver of the film, however, is the uncertainty of this knowledge. We, the spectator, are led to doubt the veracity
of Deckart’s knowledge, without this doubt ever settling into a new
certainty. Forty years after the original film’s release, through various

4

C. Neill

alternative cuts and sequels (Blade Runner 2049 was preceded by three
interim short films), both Deckhart’s ontological and epistemological
status remain uncertain. Even the screenwriters and directors are not in
agreement.
The status of replicants, by the time of 2049, appears, on the surface
at least, more definite. The new model of replicant, the Nexus 9s, and
the older models, whom the Nexus 9 Blade Runner, K., is deployed to
terminate, are equally aware of their replicant status. Like Rachel, they
have their own memories, developed since their inception, and they have
implanted childhood memories. Like Roy Baty, they are clear as to their
replicant status, both in terms of their fundamental being and in terms
of their subordinated social position. Where, however, Roy’s certainty is
an unhappy one, and one which motivates the failed rebellion he instigates, the Nexus 9 replicants have been designed such that they can sit
with their status and will obey humans unfailingly. To ensure this obedience and safeguard against the risk of revolt, the Nexus 9s are subject to
routine tests, referred to as the Baseline Test.
The Baseline Test consists of a disrupted recitation of a section from
the central poem from Vladimir Nabakov’s Pale Fire. After the replicant’s initial recitation of the section, selected words are abstracted and
repeated, intercut with provocative questions. The task appears to be for
the replicant is to repeat the abstracted words without being drawn into
or disturbed by the questions.
The section of the poem from Pale Fire, lines 703–707, reads as
follows:
And blood-black nothingness began to spin
A system of cells interlinked within
Cells interlinked within cells interlinked
Within one stem. And dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.

The first time we see K. subjected to the test, the repeated words are
‘within’, ‘cells’ and ‘interlinked’, either alone or as phrases. The second
time we see him take the test, the words ‘dreadfully’, ‘distinct’ and ‘dark’
are added. The abstraction of the words, and the questions which follow
them, draw our attention to two sides of language. On the level of
what we would, in a Lacanian idiom, call the symbolic, language has no

1 From Voight-Kampff to Baseline Test …

5

meaning. Language, and constituent bits of language, such as words or
phrases, may have functions and links, but there is no meaning which is
inherent to them. Meaning requires interaction with language. Meaning
has to be, and routinely is, imputed to language. This allows what we
would usually understand as the human dimension of language. Conventionally, we might even assume that the meaning precedes the language
which then functions as a kind of vessel for the meaning. I express myself
with (the tool of ) language. Even in this conventional model, the separation between the base materiality of the language component––what
it looks or sounds like––and the meaning that is supposed, is evident. I
pick what I think are the best words to convey what it is I want to say
but there is always room for misunderstanding. What the words mean
to me, may not be what they mean to you. In fact, if we think about it,
the words are highly unlikely to mean exactly the same thing to you and
me. We will have learned the words in different situations, encountered
them in different context, used them differently, heard them in different
voices, associate them with different experiences and bits of the world.
All these aspects which would allow us the possibility of receiving words
with the impression of meaning may overlap to a greater or lesser extent,
but the configuration will remain unique.
Requiring the replicant to recite the words of the poem, and only the
words of the poem, even if abstracted from the poem and presented out
of order, is to require the replicant to operate on a purely symbolic level.
A replicant is, after all, a machine. They ought to be able to function
in this machinic manner. The insertion of the questions, articulated to
or echoing the words of the poem, appears, then, to execute a number
of overlapping functions. The questions seek to engage the replicant in
something akin to a conversation, expressing an interest in the replicant’s
life, perspective, feelings etc. The questions, that is, perform the engagement with the replicant as a human being. In so doing, the questions
invite the replicant to identify; to identify as one who may have a life,
a perspective, feelings etc. or one who might hold such things as something of value. On a seemingly more mundane level, the questions, by
repeating elements from the small section of the poem, seem clinically
designed to distract. This obstacle to concentration, combined with the
invitation to identify, functions to provoke a reaction. What it doesn’t

6

C. Neill

allow is the anticipation of certain termination that the original VoightKampff test triggers. In the replicants’ world of 2049, there is nothing
to anticipate. Not only has castration has always already occurred, as, of
course, is true for the replicants of the original Blade Runner, but, moreover, the acceptance of castration as an irreversible fact is established from
the off.
The relationship between castration and language is paramount here
and underscores the significance of the shift from Voight-Kampff Test to
Baseline Test. Against the commonplace notion that language is a vessel
for the transmission of preformed ideas, Lacan helps us to appreciate
that something like the opposite is true. For Lacan it is not that I, as
agent, select the appropriate pieces of language to convey my already
existing thoughts. Rather, for Lacan, I am myself produced as an incomplete entity on the basis of a language which precedes and envelops
me. Language exists as an impersonal, temporally infinite and always
incomplete chain of elements or signifiers. These signifiers, which have
no meaning, articulate to each other and, in the process, articulate the
subject. The signifiers are, quite literally, cells interlinked. In terms of
signification, they are a black nothingness, a conceptual emptiness, an
imposing lack, wanting to be filled. This is the castration of language.
Without it we are lost to the nothingness. With it, which is the only
meaningful possibility at all, we are lost to ourselves.
To speak of castration here, then, is to speak also of lack and of desire.
It is to speak, then, of the replicant as a subject. But as what kind of
subject? This is a question which is picked up in various ways through
the different chapters of this book. The already and irrevocably castrated
subject who knows their castration is beyond both question and repair,
is a subject without hope. It is not, however, a subject without desire.
Beyond hope, the subject is locked in place. But without desire, the
subject would not be a subject. Thus, while the hypercapitalist context
of the Blade Runner cinematic universe invites comparisons of the replicant to the slave or the disenfranchised labour class, more than anything,
it invites comparison with the quotidian subject of capital. We might
say that it is precisely this combination of hopelessness and desire which
not only defines the subject of capitalism but facilitates capitalism’s
continuation.

1 From Voight-Kampff to Baseline Test …

7

The irrevocably castrated subject is what might conventionally be
called the male subject. As we know from Lacan’s formulae of sexuation, it is not that women are not castrated, but rather that they are ‘not
all’ castrated, with all the ambiguity that that ‘not all’ invites (Lacan,
1999; 101). In the original Blade Runner, there are few female characters
and, with one exception, they are presented as pleasure or entertainment
models. They exist as the plaything or for the titillation of the male characters. The exception, Rachel, does not veer too far from this template.
She is not explicitly created exclusively for pleasure but, nonetheless, she
is an object of exchange for the male characters.
Representations of femininity abound in 2049. They are magnified, in
terms of their representative scope, their ontological status and their sheer
volume. The characters occupy a greater variety of roles, from police chief
to prostitute to rebel leader to corporate enforcer to holographic housemaid, although only one of these is human. The landscape of the city is
surfeit with images of the female body, emphatically in the singular, as
the same body appears to be repeated in various sizes. Echoing this, when
K ventures out Los Angeles in his quest to find Deckard, he is welcomed
to Las Vegas by towering statues of the female form. The plot itself, while
ostensibly focused on a male character, sees him move from one woman
to another, pursued by one, seeking another. Where the female characters
in Blade Runner are there to be desired, the basic plot of 2049 seeks to
foreground a different role for woman; child birth. But where this shift
folds back on itself is in that, even in this move towards an ‘essential femininity’, it is still presented as being for the male. Miraculously, Rachel,
the exceptional replicant from Blade Runner, has had a child. K. is tasked
with tracking down the child but, erroneously, convinces himself that the
child is himself. It is only at the end of the film, when we discover that
K. had been but a diversion, that it emerges that Rachel’s true offspring
is a woman. This liminal woman, Ana, who can be categorised neither
as a replicant nor a human, is the creator of the pre-formation memories
which are subsequently programmed into replicants. Powerful and gifted
as she may be, she is effectively another slave of Wallace.
Femininity and capitalism emerge then, not simply as key thematic
talking points of the film but, much more than this, they can be seen
to be the entwined pillars of the film, each supporting the other and

8

C. Neill

each demanding an excavation of the other in order to further an understanding of how we consume the film, consciously or not. To be a
human, to be, in Lacanian terms, a subject, is to be a sexed subject and
to be human now, to be a subject of capitalism, is to be a sexed subject
of capitalism. One’s sexual position is not then an adjunct to one’s place
in society. It defines it. The peculiar binary that late-capitalism offers is
sexual but it is not a binary of distinct and pregiven positions. It is a
binary of exclusion.
It is perhaps not accidental then that, not only are all of the female
characters in the first Blade Runner replicants, but the majority of the
replicants are female. Even Roy Baty, hypermasculine in some regards, is
presented, in terms of Lacan’s formulae of sexuation, as logically female.
By the time of 2049, this position has shifted, at least in emphasis. The
cast of replicants still seems to be female, although now many, like Luv,
are logically male. The central replicant, however, is now resolutely male,
just as resolutely male as Deckard in the first film, a coincidence which
perhaps lures the viewer into the trap of assuming K to be Deckard’s son
and propels us back to the question of the relationship between human
and non-human. This conceptual passage has always been a key element
in theoretical discussions of the original Blade Runner. The film raises
questions regarding what it means to be a human and how we relate to
that which is non-human, particularly when the non-human’s appearance and character appear to offer the opportunity of misrecognition
with our own.
Blade Runner 2049 can be understood as developing, problematising
and extending many of these questions. Key motifs of sex, social order
and the rule of capital, which are clearly evident in the first film, are
fruitfully extended in the sequel. The intersection of these concerns with
the core question of being is, then, similarly extended, and psychoanalytic theory can help us both grapple with and further problematise
the issues raised. Such grappling and problematisation are the focus of
the first essay following this one; Ben Tryer’s ‘Do Filminds Dream of
Celluloid Sheep?’. Exploring many of the conceptual extensions, and
short-circuits, in the relationship between the original and the sequel,
Tryer masterfully explores the central concerns of being and knowledge,
showing how even a less than favourable reading of 2049 can help us

1 From Voight-Kampff to Baseline Test …

9

to move beyond the Cartesian coordinates of the original Blade Runner
and open up an understanding of film, and this film, as operating on and
with the unconscious.
The place of the unconscious is also a central question for Slavoj Žižek
as he seeks to explore how we understand the unconscious as we accelerate into late techno-capitalism and how the film’s depiction of the
conceptual relation of human to the nonhuman opens up this vital question and allows us to posit the replicant as an adumbration of the worker
of the future. This reading, of the replicant as a foreshadowing of the
worker or, we might say, the subject of late capitalism, is continued in
many of the essays which follow.
Focusing on the inherent tension capitalism presents between the
unfettered market and the need for social control, Todd McGowan
argues that this tension offers up a revolutionary potential. Harking
back to the Cartesian subject who establishes his own existence through
the certainty of the fact of doubting, McGowan deftly argues that
the very cynical distance that capitalism encourages is its own protection. It is only as that cynical distance diminishes and something like
belief emerges that doubt again becomes a possibility. This potential for
social revolution is further developed in Daniel Bristow’s essay where he
explores the place of the sinthome and how this might articulate with
utopian urges to resist the fatal flaw of the utopic itself; the contradiction of its closing down. For Bristow, the sinthome is precisely what
might allow the utopic to be maintained as unobtained, allowing persistent productive potential. Such, albeit cautious, optimism is offset by
Timothy Richardson’s essay which warns of the recuperative nature of
fantasy in late capitalism. Against a commonplace understanding of
fantasy as an escape from real life, Richardson emphasises a Lacanian
understanding of fantasy as that which allows the possibility of subjective life. The danger in the system of capitalism is that, no matter how
individually construed, fantasy is forged on the basis of social discourses
which tend to be controlled by capital. Thus, the very fantasy of escape,
the awakening of constant K.’s inconsistency, is the lure that returns us
to the market. As the object of desire, for which fantasy provides a scene,
is never it, so desire continues. While such desire may, as McGowan and

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Bristow suggest, open up the difficult possibility of change, it can just as
easily be mobilised to maintain the circulation of capital.
Matthew Flisfeder, Alex Bove and Scott Koterbay all pick up on
themes of anxiety in relation to the posthuman and the perceived threat
of technology, drawing our attention to different aspects of the film and
how it can be read in such a way as to highlight different and related
concerns in late capitalism. Drawing on the theory of Object Oriented
Ontology, Bove argues that 2049 unsettles the very distinction that we
might want to hold between human and object to disconcerting effect.
Continuing this engagement with OOO and the contemporary anxiety
over automatism, Flisfeder argues that the film opens a discourse on
the manners in which we experience fantasy, desire and enjoyment in
late capitalism. Such a discourse allows us to appreciate the shift from
positing the subjugated other as object to perceiving them, however
anxiety provoking it might be, as subjects. These anxieties are explored
further in Koterbay’s essay where he argues that technological progress
and advances in artificial intelligence are increasingly overshadowing the
human being in a manner that poses what we might call an existential
threat. As such artificial intelligences come to operate as subjects with
their own desires and, indeed, anxieties, we begin to see the mirror reflect
our own imminent obsolescence.
Maintaining a focus on fantasy and desire, Isabel Millar turns our
attention to the place of the woman, both in the film and in late capitalism. As noted above, the relative proliferation of female roles, in
relation to the original Blade Runner film, and the various manners in
which they provide structure for the otherwise hollowness of K.’s subjectivity, allows 2049 to be read, perhaps against itself, as a presentation of
the failure of masculinity as it struggles to disavow the feminine as something irrecuperable to its own form. This notion of the female characters
as sustaining the possibility of subjectivity is picked up upon by Sheila
Kunkle, although she warns of the fragility of this position in the face of
patriarchy’s tendency to recuperate, drawing our attention to the film’s
ending which, once again, places the male at the centre of the narrative.

1 From Voight-Kampff to Baseline Test …

11

References
Blade Runner. Dir. Ridley Scott. Warner Brothers, 1982. Film.
Nabakov, V. (1962) Pale Fire. London. Penguin.
Neill, C. (2018) Do Electric Sheep Dream of Androids? On the Place of
Fantasy in the Consideration of the Nonhuman. In G. Basu Thakur and J.
M. Dickstein (eds.) Lacan and the Nonhuman. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lacan, J. (1999) The Seminar of Jacques Lacan Book XX: Encore––On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge. London: W.W. Norton &
Company.

2
Do Filminds Dream of Celluloid Sheep?
Lacan, Filmosophy and Blade Runner 2049
Ben Tyrer

Introduction: Psychoanalysis and Avoidance
At the origin of the “Blade Runner” universe is a question: Do androids
dream of electric sheep? It brings together two key phrases from Dick’s
novel: Deckard’s question, “Do androids dream?” and the figure of the
“electric sheep”. At first face, this curious title already seems to put us on
a road—as Freud once said—to knowledge of the unconscious: or rather,
here it puts the unconscious in question. Do androids dream? Do they
dream of sheep? Are they electric? In a properly psychoanalytic context,
these latter two should be subordinated to the main inquiry: the “content” of such dreams being secondary to the very fact of dreaming itself,
which suggests a certain structure of desiring. If androids dream, then
we could say that the unconscious is in play. However, closer inspection
of Dick’s novel reveals that what is meant by “dream” here is closer to
B. Tyrer (B)
Middlesex University, London, UK
e-mail: b.tyrer@mdx.ac.uk
© The Author(s) 2021
C. Neill (ed.), Lacanian Perspectives on Blade Runner 2049,
The Palgrave Lacan Series,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56754-5_2

13

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“aspire” and the “electric sheep” is not the manifest content of a nocturnal
psychosis but the robotic replica of the living Ovis ares: a highly-coveted
object in the world of Rick Deckard. As much as it is an interrogation of
identity and posthumanism, the novel is thus a story of consumerism and
commodity fetishism (for example, instead of eloping with his replicant
partner, Deckard ends the novel still very much human, in a troubled
marriage and tending to a valuable “electric toad” that he has recovered
from the desert). Rather than a journey along Freud’s via regia, then, this
in fact aligns the work with the historical uptake of psychoanalysis in the
USA as “ego psychology”. Seeing it as based in notions of strengthening
the ego, Lacan considered the practice—as Jane Gallop observes—as
“a deformation of psychoanalysis peculiarly suited to American values,
giving the American people what they want” (1987: 57). Ego psychology,
in Lacan’s estimation was the handmaid of the dream of electric sheep,
facilitating the individual’s pursuit of happiness (via commodities) rather
than the encounter with unconscious desire.
Similarly, while shifting registers quite radically, we can observe
another avoidance of the unconscious in the contemporary field of Film
Studies. Not unlike the Wallace Corporation of Blade Runner 2049
(Villeneuve, 2017), Daniel Frampton’s Filmosophy project posits (or seeks
to create) a new form of (artificial) thinking and feeling by conceiving of
cinema itself as a kind of mind: a filmind . He presents a partial overview
of film theory and philosophy that has already attempted to consider film
in relation to ideas of thinking and mental processes, and then proposes
a novel form of “film-thinking” as a means of conceptualising the ways
in which the medium creates meanings and affects. Constituting, as I
will explain, a key example of the movement away from psychoanalysis
in Film Studies, Filmosophy figures the thinking of Freud and Lacan (and
the film theorists they have inspired) only at its margins: even where it
would seem to come into close proximity to notions such as dream and
fantasy. Psychoanalysis seems to haunt Filmosophy at various points, but
this spectral presence becomes further distorted by the strange disavowals
of the unconscious that Frampton expresses. And nowhere is this clearer
than in the single explicit reference to Lacan (or at least “Lacanians”)
for whom, Frampton asserts, “the subconscious [sic] is structured like a

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language” (2006: 150). Frampton is clearly not unaware of psychoanalysis, and even offers a lengthy footnote that aims to spell out some of the
difference between “unconscious” and “subconscious” in his estimation
(2006: 230n6), but such a direct error in relating perhaps Lacan’s most
famous dictum can only be read symptomatically.
As Todd McGowan observes, “replac[ing] the term ‘unconscious’
with ‘subconscious,’ as often happens today (…) minimizes the alien
status of the unconscious and serves to domesticate it” (2015: 19).
Frampton’s slip here attempts to disempower the psychoanalytic project,
which would seek to emphasise the significance of the slip itself as a
means of approaching the alterity of another mode of thinking: in the
unconscious. Reflective, as I’ve said, of a more general retreat from
psychoanalysis, the filmind of Filmosophy needs to be re-encountered
with the unconscious in order to consider the cinema experience once
more. In what follows, then, I will ask whether filminds dream of celluloid sheep: which is to say, contrary to Dick’s formulation, whether the
encounter with the “Blade Runner” universe and psychoanalysis would
insist upon a wholesale rethinking of Frampton’s project (or perhaps just
a slight Lacanian adjustment). In order to offer an answer, I aim to chart
some of the ways in which film and philosophy alike have attempted to
avoid, ignore or otherwise deny the alterity of the unconscious through
an approach to the questions of the subject and repetition in Blade
Runner 2049 via both filmosophy and Lacan.

Unthinking Film-Thinking
In order to establish the conceptual coordinates of this chapter, it will be
necessary first of all—continuing along this line of inquiry into (missed)
encounters with the psychoanalysis—for me to take a brief excursus
through the field of film-philosophy to help further clarify the methodological framework with which I will approach Blade Runner 2049.
This begins with Frampton’s Filmosophy, which introduces itself (on the
book’s front cover) as “a manifesto for a radically new way of understanding cinema”. In nuce, Frampton’s claim—drawing on Deleuze and
Vivian Sobchack—is that we should conceive of the film experience as

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an encounter with a mind , but one utterly different from the human
mind: a “filmind” (2006: 6). The film is thus “thought” by this filmind,
which creates a world that should be understood as intended —in the
philosophical-phenomenological sense—by the filmind in its capacity to
produce and organise images and sounds. This “film-thinking” (2006:
6) has the benefit, Frampton suggests, of providing the “filmgoer” with
a poetic means of contemplating and experiencing the film on its own
terms, free—for example—from what he considers to be the deadening
language of neo-formalism and the suffocating methods of technicist
film analysis. Instead of “tracking shots” and “graphic matches”, the film
“thinks” its world in terms of a forward or sideways movement or even
“feels” it in terms of intensities of colour and shape. This is not, to be
clear, an ontological claim: Frampton is not asserting that film literally is
a mind but an articulation of the film experience in terms of the concepts
of mind and thinking.
Frampton’s project is situated, if not always explicitly, in opposition to
psychoanalytic thinking on film. As I have argued elsewhere, the recent
turn towards philosophy in the field of Film Studies has been predicated on a rejection of a particular version of Lacan.1 However, such
engagements with psychoanalysis are often severely limited, being based
on a view of only certain very specific elements of Lacan’s work, while
not taking on board both his wholesale re-evaluation of Freud’s legacy
and the various reversals and developments in his own thinking of the
unconscious. This refusal reverberates throughout Frampton’s version
of the history of film theory, which provides only a partial take on
thinking cinema and mind together that does not engage with psychoanalysis in any meaningful way. Filmosophy, however, continually evokes
psychoanalytic concepts and processes without acknowledging them as
such. Frampton states consistently that the concept of filmind should
be opposed to any understanding of the human mind: “filmosophy does
not make a direct analogy between human thought and film, because
film is simply different to our ways of thinking and perceiving” (2006:
7). He explains, “It is called ‘filmind’ because, simply, it is not a human
mind. It is another kind of mind, its own mind, a new mind” (2006:
73). If it is the case, as Frampton claims, that “To find objectifications
of the mental—to theorise an external consciousness, to see a mirror to

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the soul—is to drag film down to our cognitive-rational level. Film is
more than this” (2006: 26), then a psychoanalytic theorist would agree.
For example, the cognitive, mind-as-computer model of film experience
is severely limiting: but then, as we shall see, without a place for the
unconscious so is what Frampton offers in its stead. Indeed, where he
claims, “film-thinking is not mappable by the terms of human thinking”
(2006: 151), I would add that neither is psychoanalytic thinking, if we
conceive of “human thinking” as something that excludes the unconscious. In fact, the model of “human subjectivity” that Frampton rejects
as a basis for filmosophy is precisely the model that psychoanalysis rejects
too.
While filmosophy refuses an analogy between filmind and human
mind, Frampton’s understanding of this “human mind” is limited—
I’d argue—to what Mladen Dolar identifies as the “cogito” of
modern philosophy (1998: 11). In a discussion of film-thinking and
phenomenology, Frampton notes that Sobchack’s approach allows her
to posit film as “think[ing] its objects” as an intentional, embodied
subject, it thus becoming an “animate, conscious other” (2006: 44).
However, he reproaches her for what he sees as the anthropomorphism
that phenomenology implies: reducing film to a “human-like” expression and vision, which “‘makes visible’ acts of consciousness” (2006:
46). Frampton rejects the notion that film has such human qualities, but
does not interrogate the underlying assumptions about the subject determining his own analysis. His critique of Sobchack reveals his project’s
implicit theory of the “human subject” as philosophy’s “self-transparent
subjectivity” (Dolar 1998: 12). Frampton observes, apropos of Sobchack,
that “if we were to call [filmind] ‘subjective’, it would be a different
subjectivity to that which we express and hold” (2006: 42): a formulation that seems to imply an autonomous individual somehow separate
from their subjectivity (we hold it rather than it holding us, for example).
Frampton’s charge of anthropomorphism thus stands only if we accept
the coincidence of the “human” and the “subject”. However, Lacan’s
crucial insight is his insistence on the radically anti-human subject:
one that cannot be reduced to or understood in terms of the (liberal
humanist) self-transparent individual of filmosophy (and, as Dolar notes,

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the last three hundred years of Western philosophy in general [1998:
11]).
This is where the philosophical import of Lacan’s project—as a science
of the subject—becomes apparent. The Lacanian subject is not the
ego and—for that matter—neither is the psychoanalytic ego equivalent to the subject of modern philosophy (qua “cogito”); it is not an
autonomous agent but an illusory wholeness formed through alienating
identification with the image of the other. Nor is the Lacanian subject
equivalent to modern philosophy’s “cogito”, but then—for Lacan—this
“cogito” is not equivalent to Descartes’ cogito, the I of the “I think”,
either (cf. Dolar 1998). Lacan’s resituation of the cogito is largely beyond
the scope of this chapter—although Žižek elaborates this idea in relation to Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) in particular in Tarrying with the
Negative (see 1993: 12, and below)—but for now we can observe that
when Frampton rejects anthropomorphism for filmosophy, psychoanalysis would be in agreement: the Lacanian “subject”—as the subject of
the unconscious—is not an anthropomorphic model, either. Frampton’s
understanding of the individual holds no place for the unconscious, just
as his vision for filmosophy hold no place for psychoanalysis: but in both
instances the Lacanian subject haunts the scene.
As Lacan states, “the unconscious is the Other’s discourse” or “the
unconscious is the discourse of the Other” [discours de l’Autre] (2007:
10; 1977: 45). Lacan moves understanding of the Freudian unconscious
away from an individual unconscious grounded in speech to a transindividual unconscious related to the Symbolic. He states that “this so-called
internal monologue [the individual unconscious] is entirely continuous
with the external dialogue, and indeed this is why we can say that
the unconscious is also the discourse of the Other” (1993: 113). The
Other is thus constituted not as a person but as a place—“it must
first of all be considered a locus” (1993: 274)—and the register of the
“truth” of the subject, moreover, is “situated somewhere else altogether:
at the very foundation of intersubjectivity” (2007: 13). It is the locus
from which the subject “receives his own message in an inverted form”
(2007: 30); whence the symbolic Other “returns” the message in its
true form, as formations of the unconscious. In this context, therefore,
where Frampton asserts that film creates its world “not from a ‘point

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of view’, but from a realm, a no-place, that still gives us some things
and not others” (2006: 38), I’d be tempted to return his message—in
its true, inverted form—restating it thus: the filmind produces sounds
and images from an-Other realm, the “no-place” of the unconscious.
If, for Frampton, film doesn’t show us “human thinking”, then neither
does psychoanalysis. If “human thinking” is the rational, conscious agency
implied by Frampton and assumed by, for example, cognitive philosophers and film theorists, then psychoanalysis stands as directly opposed
to it as filmosophy does. And where Frampton relates the filmind to
Deleuze’s “spiritual automaton” as “a mode of thought that is alien and
outside to this normal thinking” (2006: 65), I would assert a direct
connection to the thinking of Lacanian unconscious once more.
Indeed, as Žižek observes, in making “the radical externality of the
Other the place where the truth of the subject is articulated” (1992: 76),
Lacan shows the unconscious to be an extrasubjective locus rather than
an intrasubjective agency. The unconscious is realised in the Other and
if it seems as though this is “interior” it is because its true relation to the
subject is blocked by the Imaginary. Lacan insists that, “[t]he fact that
the symbolic is located outside of man is the very notion of the unconscious” (2007: 392). This Other is the Symbolic order in its individual
relation to the subject, and its radical alterity is therefore the otherness
of the unconscious. As subject of the unconscious, the Lacanian subject is
thus ex-centric and heteronomous to itself. The unconscious is “external”
to the subject, yet it seems to meet the subject at an uncannily intimate place. It is “the mode of absolute subjectivity, insofar as Freud truly
discovered it in its radical eccentricity” (2007: 347). And this, moreover,
can be connected to Lacan’s neologism, “extimacy” [extimité ], which
emphasised the feeling of “exterior intimacy” evoked, for instance, in the
experience of the uncanny (1997: 139). The extimate is thus the position of the unconscious for the subject; it is the decentred-centre of the
subject, what Miller calls the “intimate that is radically Other” (1994:
76). The unconscious is thus the “Kern unseres Wesen, ‘the core of our
being’” that is simultaneously a foreign body (Lacan 2007: 437).
The unconscious, then, is not a “humanlike” mind; it is alien and
uniquely particular to its own dimensions, terms and processes, just like
the filmind . Frampton presents filmosophy as a “humanist poetics” and

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asserts that “The concepts of filmind and film-thinking naturally give
birth to humanistic terms of intention (belief, empathy, etc.)” (2006:
175, emphasis added), but we could consider it to be the humanist practice of an encounter with a “thinking” that is fundamentally non-human.
Conversely, Lacanian psychoanalysis is—as Mark Fisher observes—
“untethered from any naturalisation or sense of homeliness” (2016): an
anti-humanist encounter with an anti-human thinking. The unconscious
marks the inhuman core of the individual, the void that constitutes (and
in which is constituted) the subject and renders it not-at-home, out-ofjoint with itself: it cannot be bound to anything we would recognise as
the humanist individual (inner essence, organic unity, etc.). The Lacanian subject is fundamentally anti-human(ist) because—as I have noted
elsewhere—it is constituted not as a pre-given individual but at the intersection of various agencies, drives and structures that we identify with
names such as “sexuality” and “the unconscious”.2 And here my discussion leads us back to Blade Runner: as Calum Neill notes in his reading
of Deckard’s predicament, “The final flaw in the temptation to anthropomorphise is not that we read human traits into the nonhuman [which
would be Frampton’s defence of the filmind] so much as we read them
into the human” (Neill 2018: 222). Indeed, where Frampton’s conception of the “human” (and consequently the non-human) refuses the
anti-humanist practices of psychoanalytic insight, I’d argue that it also
maps to a significant degree onto a Lacanian understanding. Frampton
suggests that film-thinking exceeds our own thinking; our “impower”,
he insists, “lies in being unable to think images (or image-concepts) as
clearly as film. Deleuze called this gap in our ability the unthought in
thought” (2006: 166). I would call the “unthought in thought” simply
the unconscious: the nonhuman gap asserted by Lacanian psychoanalysis
in any conception of human identity.
Furthermore, in attempting to sum up the significance of the
project of Filmosophy, Frampton states: “Being always conscious (always
filming), [the filmind] has no ‘subconscious’, and relates more to prereflective consciousness” and emphasises once again that his project
“reveal[s] the distance between film and human consciousness” (2006:
203). Here, I can only agree. From a Lacanian perspective, I would
equally reject any notion of “subconscious”; while I would also assert

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the distance between my own approach to film and any understanding
of “human consciousness” not grounded in Freud’s insights. Frampton
does hint that the filmind “is perhaps its own nestled nonconsciousness”
(2006: 203), and—the metaphor tending towards depth psychology
notwithstanding—I would claim once more the corollary here between
cinema (and the filmind) and the properly psychoanalytic “nonconsciousness”: the anti-human unthinking of the Lacanian unconscious.
A first working thesis, then, would be to assert the speculative identity of filmind and unconscious: seemingly opposed by Frampton but
coinciding in notions of “thinking” distinct from human agency. The
idea that the filmind is the unconscious is not an assertion that film
“visualises” the unconscious directly, as might have been claimed by
the Surrealists; rather, it is the claim that what Frampton identifies as
a wholly new way of thinking—film-thinking as analogous in some
way but distinct from “human thinking” and as that which transforms
reality into a new world—has long been thought by psychoanalysis as the
working of the unconscious. We might consider, then, that the encounter
between film and filmgoer is akin to the encounter with the unconscious, as an alien thinking outside of ourselves. This would constitute a
degree of synthesis between filmosophy and psychoanalytic film theory
as formulated by McGowan, for instance, who claims that film presents
an encounter for the spectator with their own traumatic desire by taking
the form of the unconscious (2015: 10). McGowan suggests that films are
created in order to appeal to the desire of the spectator, and relates this
to the psychoanalytic understanding of dreamwork as a formal construction giving expression to unconscious desire: it thus becoming a sort of
signifier of the Other’s desire. But rather than as an attempt to engage
the spectator qua Other, we could conceive of the film experience—via
filmosophy—as something more akin to an encounter with the Other of
the unconscious itself: the type of encounter that usually comes about
only in everyday life through slips, jokes, etc. or in the specific setting of
the clinic. An encounter with film(-thinking), then, is like an encounter
with the “unthinking” of the unconscious: it obeys its own logic(s) and
produces meanings and affects in its own ways. Dreams and filminds
alike must be taken on their own terms and interpreted individually as
an organised system.

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Can I Offer You Thinking-Without-the-Unconscious,
Instead?
One of the crucial questions Frampton poses in his filmosophy is: How
does the filmind think about its characters, spaces and themes? What
is its attitude towards them? (see 2006: 7). In brief, I could say here
that the “Blade Runner” films in general “think” the desires of replicants
through dreams, memories and fantasies: through the stuff of the unconscious itself. And in order to continue this encounter between filmind and
unconscious, I will elaborate this answer in relation to Blade Runner and
Blade Runner 2049: charting different modulations of subjectivity and
articulations of the unconscious as presented in Lacanian psychoanalysis. As such, I’d argue that Deckard, Rachael and, moreover, K in 2049
embody different (and differing) modes of negation of the “gap” between
a knowable self and the unknowable unconscious. In this context, I’d
note that Neill is indeed correct to identify knowledge and belief as the
crucial categories concerning the central “Blade Runner” question (Am
I a replicant?) (2018: 318); however, I’d argue that they operate slightly
differently from the way in which he suggests. Roy is, as Žižek recognises, “the subject who knows he is a replicant” (1993: 40; emphasis
added)—he knows in full , closing the gap in the subject and standing
for an impossible totality, a psychotic structure where there is no repression of knowledge, nothing is unknowable (not even mortality), and the
unconscious is foreclosed—but knowledge plays different roles for both
his Nexus kin and their descendants. Moreover, I would agree with Neill
that Roy knows and believes he is a replicant, while Rachael knows but
does not believe (cf. 2018: 318); the corollary of which would be that
while Roy knows and believes he is not human, Rachael knows she is
not human but doesn’t believe it. However, where Neill suggests that
“Deckard is the final piece in the puzzle” because “we are left unsure of
[his] status” (2018: 318), I would counter that it is precisely because we
do appreciate his status (as replicant) that Deckard offers a special case
here as compared to Roy (or even Rachael). In the Director’s/Final Cut at
least, there is much less ambiguity regarding Deckard’s identity: as Žižek
observes, there is an overt parallel between the revelation of Rachael’s
artificial memories (predicated on a photograph) and the placing of the

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unicorn daydream during the subsequent scene in which the camera
lingers on Deckard’s own family memorabilia (1993: 11). This is, moreover, anticipated by prior the match cut from the owl to Deckard (as each
looks from right to left) in Tyrell’s office, and his question to Rachael:
“Artificial ?”, and these rhyming shots are affirmed, quilted even, by the
knowing smile with which Deckard acknowledges at the film’s end the
origami unicorn that seems to confirm what he, we and Gaff now know.
Following Neill’s insistence on the epistemological coordinates of
Blade Runner, then, in Deckard’s case it becomes clear that what is at
stake is a question of unconscious knowledge (or knowledge in the unconscious) specifically. It is the inaccessibility of the self to the self that makes
it an I; or, as Žižek explains, “the paradox of self-consciousness is that it
is only possible against the background of its own impossibility” (1993: 15).
I am only conscious of myself to the extent that I am beyond my grasp
as a Thing that thinks. In more classically Freudian terms, Žižek renders
this as: “I am not simply identical to myself but have an unconscious,
insofar as I am prevented from having direct access to the truth of my
own being” (1993: 31). In relation to this, he cites Deckard’s astonishment that Rachael doesn’t know what she is: the implication being that,
in fact, the only way we can know anything about ourselves is via some part,
a “kernel of being”, that remains unknown and unknowable. This inaccessibility of the Thing that thinks, Žižek designates at the “primordial
repression” (1993: 15), that nucleus of the unconscious which attracts all
other (secondarily) repressed material.
For Rachael, and certainly moreover for Deckard, that inaccessible
kernel of being—that which is primordially repressed—is the unconscious truth that they are replicants. In order to maintain a belief in their
own self-identity, this wound or lack of being must necessarily remain
repressed: and can only be expressed symptomatically in, for example,
Deckard’s unicorn vision (an “unnatural” creature galloping through
woods, like a replicant in the world) that Matthew Flisfeder astutely
describes as the “repressed” content of the US Theatrical cut of the film
(2017: 123), which then returns in the Director’s Cut and beyond. The
passage towards such knowledge is of course the project of a psychoanalysis, but Deckard’s intervention with Rachael is too direct: attempting to

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force the brute fact of her identity in the place of coming to the unconscious through interpretation (as a means of shifting belief about one’s
self ) and as a result, Rachael’s belief remains obdurate. It is not enough
simply to know the truth of my symptom; I have to believe it too in
order fully to assume its identity.3
Žižek frames such a question in terms of a relation of transference: “It
is this [inaccessible truth of my being] that I am looking for in others:
what propels me to ‘communicate’ with them is the hope that I will
receive from them the truth about myself, about my own desire” (1993:
31). The Voight-Kampff test short-circuits this relation—it is a sort of
technocratic fantasy of an instant psychoanalysis machine that reveals
one’s inner truth at the press of a button—and this is why its subjects
react so negatively (recall Leon’s violent outburst and Rachael’s continued
denial). However, the bond between Deckard and Gaff comes closer to a
therapeutic relationship: with the origami unicorn, Gaff communicates
a signifier to Deckard that allows him to come to an understanding
about himself. The folded paper is yet another “purloined letter” by
which Deckard receives his own message from the Other: the truth
he has always known about himself, which he finally accepts with a
nod of the head. What I am claiming, then, is that at the outset of
Blade Runner, Deckard and Rachael both operate under a “normal” or
neurotic structure, predicated upon repression. The unconscious truth of
their identities is constituted as inaccessible to them, and their trajectories through the film mark versions of a successful and an unsuccessful
analysis, respectively.
Officer KD6-3.7 of 2049, on the other hand, presents a different
articulation of this relation to belief and self-knowledge that, in short,
suggests the clinical structure of perversion. All “Nexus 9” models are
created by Niander Wallace knowing that they are replicants. There
can be no quests for self-knowledge or throes of existential angst if
the replicant subject already knows precisely what it is. And in one
sense, Wallace’s vision here would seem to be that which I have already
suggested is shared by Frampton and what Dolar calls the “cogito
of modern philosophy”: the totally self-transparent individual without
unconscious. Structurally speaking, then, in all three instances we find a

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sort of psychotic subject—one without repression, where no part is inaccessible—but certainly lacking the violent outbursts of the “Nexus 6”
series such as Roy. As such, K has been designed both to know and to
believe that he is a replicant. There is no space for doubt or variation
in Wallace’s template. As the “baseline test” makes clear, obedience and
consistency are carefully measured and controlled each time K has been
in the field. Yet K does come to believe that he is something more or
something different from all the other “skin jobs” in 2049, and—as I’ve
said—it is this interplay between knowledge and belief in Villeneuve’s
film that is crucial for our concerns here.
First, there is K’s belief in the difference between human and replicant:
which can be described as a basic natalist position. When he wavers in the
face of Lt. Joshi’s request to “erase” all trace of Rachael’s child, including
the child itself, he explains to her:
K : I’ve never retired something born.
J oshi: What’s the difference?
K : To be born is to have a soul.

K thus defines the individual as having a “soul”. His belief in humanity
can be summarised as: A human is born and is thus granted a soul. A
replicant is made and thus granted nothing. The “soul” here signifies the
symbolic—and perhaps for K, even metaphysical —difference between
human and replicant as being of woman born. Joshi herself reaffirms
this distinction as she sends him out on his mission with the rather
hollow words of encouragement: “Hey. You’re getting on fine without
one … A soul”. This belief in the difference between replicant and
human is fundamentally what will lead K to question his own certain
self-knowledge.
He clings to a childhood memory—of bullies and a carved wooden
horse—that he knows must be artificial because he had no childhood
to be remembered. However, his self-knowledge shifts as he comes to
believe a different version of this history. In fact, K comes to believe
that this isn’t a simple implanted memory, designed—as its creator, Ana,
explains—in order to make replicants behave in more predictable ways
by giving them mnemic frameworks for processing and understanding

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emotion. Rather, K comes to believe, following his encounter with Ana,
that it is a genuine memory hinting—not unlike with Deckard, to whom
it would ultimately connect him—to a repressed truth, expressed once
again symptomatically in the image world of the protagonist’s psychic
reality. This time, however, the situation is reversed: where Deckard’s
unicorn “dream” disclosed the unconscious knowledge that he was in
fact a replicant, here K’s horse “memory” seems to disclose the opposite,
that he is “human” (or at least is in possession of a soul ). The reason
for K’s shifting belief is Ana’s ambiguous answer to his question as to
whether the horse memory was artificial or in fact remembered. She tells
him: “No one invented that. It was a real moment (…) Someone lived
this. This happened”. To K, this confirms his creeping suspicion that he
is different, that his self-knowledge is flawed and that there really is some
part of himself inaccessible to himself. In short, Ana’s response convinces
him that—despite Wallace’s design—the unconscious is in play for K:
that he is a Lacanian subject (qua Thing that thinks) after all.
K has been primed for this belief by his companion, Joi. There are
no doubt extensive Lacanian studies to be done of this digital girlfriend
as Lacanian Woman (La femme), the next stage in the evolution of
the masculine-technicist libidinal economy that brought us Samantha in
Spike Jonze’s Her (2013). The latter I have explored elsewhere—and I do
not intend to re-tread that argument here—but in short, we can observe
that, like Johansson’s digital assistant, Joi is another fantasy image: a
digital Echo, precision engineered to reflect the desires of the masculine ego back upon itself in a compliant and sexually alluring way.4 Joi
is a virtual cold reader, programmed to pick up on the subtle signs of
her “Joe’s” personality and present herself accordingly. It should therefore come as no surprise when we recall a prior scene in which K is
scanning the genetic archives in search of a missing “orphan”: Rachael’s
seemingly abandoned child, whom K is now beginning to believe is he.
She stands at his shoulder and coos in his ear: “I always knew you were
special. Maybe this is how. A child of woman born. Pushed into the
world. Wanted. Loved”. And then, when K visits the orphanage and
recovers the wooden horse—concealed two decades before in the ash of
the furnace—she declares to him: “I always told you. You’re special (…)
A real boy now”. Like any good Woman, she tells him precisely what

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he wants to hear, what he wants to believe. And so, despite his certain
knowledge to the contrary, K now fully believes that he is a “real boy”. In
fact, I’d even be tempted to claim that he now believes in the unconscious
(as a sort of inaccessible, mythical origin that would explain his being).
This wavering between certain belief and equally certain knowledge
to the contrary is of course what puts K in the realm of the classic
fetishist: the one who, in Freud’s estimation, maintains belief in the
maternal phallus even in the traumatic knowledge of its absence. This
curious vignette has never made much sense in its own terms but what it
does usefully point to is the capacity for doubling and splitting belief in
perversion, as elaborated of course in Octave Mannoni’s famous phrase,
“Je sais bien, mais quand même…”. K knows very well that he is a replicant, but at the same time he still believes that he is special: that he was
born with a soul. The narrative of 2049 is thus driven by K’s perverse
fantasy of the unconscious itself, grounded in a misinterpretation of the
mise-en-scène of memory: it is the trace’s author, Ana, who lived this
experience, not K. She is the one who was born, wanted, pushed into
the world. He is just another Joe. Like Deckard before him, K is haunted
by an equine image and, as we discover, Deckard is its ultimate source:
having carved the wooden toy for a child (Ana) that he was compelled
to abandon in order to secure its future. And like Deckard, this equine
image leads to a profound realisation about his nature: it reveals once
more that—despite his belief—K is nothing but a replicant.
When Freysa reveals the truth of the horse memory to K, she recognises the shattering pieces of his splintered fantasy: “You imagine it
was you? Oh. You did, you did. We all wish it was us. That’s why
we believe”. Where Roy aligned belief to human limitation (“I’ve seen
things you wouldn’t believe”), addressing Deckard finally as if he were
human and insisting on that which he would be incapable of conceiving,
Freysa connects belief to a desire for human capacity: to desire itself.
But unlike the replicants of Blade Runner (Deckard, Rachael)—who
initially believed themselves to be human and then underwent a degree
of subjective destitution through the revelation of their replicant identity,
reducing them, as Žižek stated, to the pure form of the Lacanian subject
(see 1993: 10)—2049 ’s K is simply returned to his initial state of being:
not “human” (i.e. born) but just another replicant dreaming of a soul.

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He shifts from a perverse position (of the replicant who believes he is
human) back into the psychotic structure of the replicant who knows he
is a replicant.
Villeneuve’s film thus conjures similar problematics to its predecessors—drawing on Dick’s original inquiry into what it means to be human
and grounding this visually (like Scott) in the psychic image world of
dream and memory—but finally 2049 shifts the emphasis away from
this new protagonist in order to rehumanise the original figure, Deckard,
in a sense through the position of the Father. K is stripped of his
(nascent) humanity, and ultimately his life, as contact with that inaccessible kernel of the unconscious is denied to him once more. In the “Blade
Runner” universe, as in Filmosophy, then, the unconscious is a question.
The replicant, as it differs across Blade Runner (Deckard) and Blade
Runner 2049 (K), offers two models for conceiving of both the subject’s
relation to the unconscious and of film-thinking. The replicant is a kind
of artificial mind: in Blade Runner it is artificial thinking with the unconscious (i.e. it does not know it is a replicant); while in 2049, it is artificial
thinking without the unconscious (i.e. it knows that it is a replicant, there
is no repression). Similarly, filmmaking in the light of Filmosophy could
even be considered as akin to creating a (fil)mind. But where Frampton
would reject the analogy between the replication of human thinking
and the filmind (the latter not being a mirror of human thinking), his
conception of filmind (as artificially created organic thought) nonetheless tacks closely to Niander Wallace’s conception of the replicant mind
without unconscious (rather than Tyrell’s thinking Things, for example),
in that Frampton continually rejects, disavows or mischaracterises the
place of the unconscious in film, film theory and his own film-thinking.
In point of fact, Frampton explicitly presents the filmind as thinking
without the subconscious; however, as the famous joke from Ernst
Lubtisch’s Ninotchka (1939)—“I am sorry sir, but we are out of cream.
Could it be [coffee] without milk?”, first highlighted by Alenka Zupančič
(2005: 173)—insists, what is negated matters and has a bearing on
the identity of that which is affirmed. In this context, I’d suggest
that Frampton’s filmind—just like Officer KD6-3.7—is presented as
a thinking-without-unconscious (and moreover, that thinking-withoutunconscious does not simply equate to conscious thought, as Frampton

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seems to argue, but to an impoverished understanding of the possibilities
of thought itself ). However, the traumatically repressed truth in Filmosophy (just as it is in Blade Runner ) is the truth of the unconscious: for
Deckard it is the truth in the meaning of his daydream of the unicorn
(i.e. that he is a replicant); for K it is the absence of truth in the horse
memory (i.e. that he is still a replicant); while for Frampton, it is the
inescapable proximity of his supposedly novel means of thinking film to
the unconscious (i.e. that filmosophy is, in a sense, an unconscious replication of psychoanalytic thought). Film-thinking-with-the-unconscious,
then, is the model that I wish finally to propose: and, I suggest, it
allows us to approach 2049 at a more profound level than Frampton’s
articulation of the filmosophical filmind would initially permit.

Rethinking Blade Runner, 2049
Thinking Blade Runner 2049 with-the-unconscious, then, should immediately take us towards the question of form. Psychoanalysis is, fundamentally, a formalist practice. What is at stake in The Interpretation of
Dreams, as I have noted, is the relation between the content of the dream
(both manifest and latent) and the “disguised wish”—or desire—that cuts
across the content, in the process of the dreamwork, and distorts its form
in the very production of the dream. Moreover, the central aim of Lacanian psychoanalysis is, as Lacan explains in Seminar XI, “the elaboration
of the notion of the subject” (1978: 77). It is an approach to the question of the subject in terms of its form, which is to say at the level of the
cogito. Lacan shows the Freudian unconscious to be a subversion of the
Cartesian subject, while in fact remaining Cartesian in its origin. It turns
the cogito inside-out because it is the unconscious that “thinks” on ein
anderer Schauplatz. Lacan reformulates Descartes thus: “I am thinking
where I am not, therefore I am where I am not thinking”, in the extimate big Other (2007: 430). The “I” of “I am thinking” is therefore split,
between “the level of the enunciation (énonciation) [and] the level of the
statement (énoncé )” (Lacan 1978: 139). The subject of the enunciation is
the subject of the unconscious: not present in the statement but presupposed by it, whereas the subject of the statement is the self-conscious “I”

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of the ego. The subject of the unconscious is thus the subject at the level
of pure form: the “Thing that thinks” of the cogito, to which I alluded
above and that Žižek aligns with the basic subjective level of the replicant
in Blade Runner.
By the same token, the great benefit of Frampton’s project in Filmosophy is certainly the (re)turn towards form that he insists upon in the
philosophical consideration of film (i.e. film thinks in form). Where such
a theoretically-oriented mode of inquiry focuses on concepts there is
sometimes a tendency to discern them at the level of narrative, theme and
characterisation (the arguably more “literary” aspects of film, at which
ideas might seem more readily available). However, rather than simply
rejecting so-called “content analysis” in film, Frampton notes: “Form
has still been seen as separate, usually brought in only when its actions
confirm an interpretation of the film’s story. This last point is important,
as the route to interpretation should always be via the whole film, not
biasing form or content” (2006: 169). In parallel to this, McGowan also
insists on an approach to cinema at a formal level. He suggests that film
is created by a filmmaker in order to appeal to the desire of the spectator,
and works this through in relation to the psychoanalytic understanding
of the dreamwork (as I have already suggested) as a formal construction
giving expression to desire: the filmmaker working like the unconscious
itself, creating an experience for the subject in sound and image.
The connection between dream and film at the level of form is
of course crucial (and has been recognised by the earliest film theorists from Maxim Gorky’s “Kingdom of Shadows” onwards). However,
what McGowan offers is effectively a theory of spectatorship—of the
viewer/unconscious as it encounters the film—while what I am seeking
here is a theory of the film form itself grounded in the same principles.
It is not so much that the form of the film holds the secret of either the
desire of the filmmaker or the spectator but that it holds the secret of the
film(ind) itself, where the latter is understood as a Lacanian reframing of
Frampton’s film-thinking: as a kind of thinking thing analysable along
the same lines as the Thing that thinks. As McGowan insists, “psychoanalytic interpretation involves examining the form of the film as it relates
to the unconscious in some way” (2015: 11). And this is undoubtedly
true for the spectator but I suggest we could take such a formulation

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even further: as I have already begun to suggest, we should approach
film as we approach the unconscious, not only to discern the desires to
which it might speak in the spectator but also—crucially—to consider
how we might conceive of the film as (being akin to) the unconscious,
itself, speaking.
I am not, to reiterate, relying on the idea of the unconscious of
the artist manifesting through the art—filmmakers may well reveal
certain aspects of themselves in their work, of which they are themselves
unaware—but, rather, I am claiming that we should conceive of film
itself—along the lines of Frampton avec Lacan—as a kind of “thinking
being”. This would not be the “rational agent” of the modern cogito
but the properly Lacanian cogito—the subject of the unconscious—that
expresses itself through sounds and images (much like the dreamwork)
but nonetheless remains opaque to itself (and others) except where
careful attention is paid to the particular affects and signifiers presented.
As I proposed above, an encounter with film could be conceptualised as
being like an encounter with the unthinking of the unconscious: it obeys
its own logic(s) and signifies it its own ways. The interpretation of films,
then, really is like the interpretation of dreams in that each formation
much be taken on its own terms, requiring a skilful analyst to determine
what is at stake and—crucially, this is what I would add to my original
proposition—to understand the ways in which the film speaks in excess
of itself , as the ça parle of a filmind-unconscious.
Approaching 2049, then, directly at the level of form, there is—I’d
argue—an overwhelming sense in which it presents as a sort of replicant
film: a (slightly vacant) simulacrum of an earlier model. Indeed, 2049
positions itself overtly as a self-conscious “replication” of Blade Runner.
Apart from being a direct sequel to Scott’s film—which of course entails
any number of continuities in terms of style and narrative: the replicants
and their implanted memories, bounty hunting blade runners, artificial animals, and holographic adverts of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles
and the off-world colonies, etc., Eldon Tyrell resurrected as Niander
Wallace, and Deckard, Rachael and Gaff all returning in various forms—
Villeneuve’s contribution is littered with explicit references to the sounds
and images of Blade Runner: K’s use of the “pilot fish” drone to scan
and enhance images of Las Vegas evokes Deckard’s ESPER machine; the

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surf-sprayed nocturnal showdown between K and Luv restages Roy and
Deckards’s own rain-soaked conflict, as in fact does the mano-a-mano
combat between K and Sapper Morton that opens the film; the bees that
cover K’s hand in Las Vegas recall Deckard’s question during Rachael’s
Voight-Kampff test regarding a wasp crawling on her arm (but where she
exclaims that she would kill it, he allows them to settle harmlessly around
his fingers); both films feature extreme close-ups on the eye in their
opening sequences; and Hans Zimmer’s score frequently recalls Vangelis’
electronic instrumentation, explicitly quoting the melody of “Tears In
Rain” as K lays down to die (like Roy) at the end of 2049.
And while, as I have already noted, each protagonist is haunted by an
equine image (Deckard’s unicorn, K’s wooden horse) that seems to point
to the fundamental question of identity, these other instances add up to
a collection of surface images rather than anything more profound. This
is perhaps best exemplified by Gaff, who continues in 2049 to populate his paper menagerie with origami specimens but where, as I have
noted, he leaves Deckard a symptomatic unicorn, for K he constructs
a knowingly metatextual sheep as a nod to Dick’s novel. This would of
course be very much in keeping with the terms of Scott’s Blade Runner
as postmodern text par excellence, which presents a Jamesonian pastiche
of ‘40s noir stylings: the future-retro of 2019 offering empty parody of
historical moods and a depthless play of images. Indeed, charting the
fully seven different versions of Scott’s film, Flisfeder suggests that “From
Electric Sheep? To The Final Cut, Blade Runner is inherently a product of
postmodernity, a constant simulacrum of itself. It is impossible that any
one version is more authentic than the others; it is also difficult to say
which one is truly the ‘original’” (2017: 97). Now 2049 offers a further
iteration of this logic: yet another copy of a copy of a copy without
true origin. Ultimately, 2049 seems to eschew the existential dilemmas
that drove its predecessors: constantly skirting the question of Deckard’s
status, the question is deflected instead to his dog. K wonders whether
it is real or artificial but Deckard’s only response is, “I don’t know, ask
him”, rejecting the question of origins once and for all in favour of the
simulacra.
This replicant logic in 2049 finds its purest expression in the most
overt call back to Blade Runner: the (re)appearance of Rachael in

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Niander Wallace’s chamber. The main innovations of Villeneuve’s work
are produced by “retconning” the 1982 film (inserting certain elements
into Blade Runner ’s narrative in order to provide retroactive continuity
with the present story). Wallace thus rewrites the encounter between
Rachael and Deckard in Tyrell’s office as an event engineered in order to
cause them to fall in love and produce a child, recasting her as the biblical
Rachel who was infertile until God granted her a son. First introduced
in 2049 as an anonymous box of bones buried beneath Sapper Morton’s
tree, and then as a fragment of a voice recording in the Tyrell/Wallace
archives, Rachael now returns to life as Deckard’s promised reward if he
will betray their child. A distinctive silhouette scales the steps of Wallace’s
chamber and glides towards Deckard: at first the effect is so convincing
that it seems unclear whether this is in fact a flashback to Blade Runner
or a new staging for 2049. The dress, the hair, the lipstick, Rachael looks
just like that day when we first met her: as if she has emerged directly
from Deckard’s memory (or fantasy). Like 2049 itself, she is a beautiful
reproduction of the 2019 model of Scott’s film. But the effect does not
quite work. There is something slightly off about her: the shape of her
mouth, the play of light on her skin, her very presence in the chamber,
none of it wholly convinces. The digital overlay of Sean Young’s face
from 1982 onto an actor in 2017 sits as awkwardly as the Rachael of
2019 does now in the new world of 2049.
Strikingly, this failure of the VFX here resonates powerfully with her
diegetic significance: Rachael’s presence is not quite right for Deckard—
“Her eyes were green”, he notes—and it is not quite right for the
spectator either: more than just eye colour, she does not traverse the
uncanny valley from simulacrum to human. Freud famously suggested
that the return of the dead was one of the many avatars of das Unheimliche and here there is, I might say, a double uncanny at play: Deckard’s
repulsion in the face of Wallace’s “gift” is matched by the spectator’s
disquiet in witnessing Sean Young’s digital revenant. The slopes of that
valley here might be said to work in the film’s favour, resonating shock
and unease from the diegesis outwards. In the existing terms of film analysis, we might observe that Rachael thus becomes what Kristen Whissel
calls an emblem: an instance in which VFX directly embody the themes
and narrative concerns of the film (see 2014), the double uncanny of

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Rachael’s presence triggering a similar response in the spectator as it
does in Deckard. However, there is also an extra dimension at play here,
which takes this effect beyond the diegesis and towards a commentary
on 2049 overall. This moment signifies far in excess of the film itself,
pointing to the fundamental logic that determines its organisation: and
this is where it is vital to discern the film-thinking-with-the-unconscious
beyond Filmosophy that I am proposing.
Frampton rightly criticises approaches to film analysis that see
elements of style as a deviation from a formal norm, rather than as
“thinkings in their own right” (2006: 108). He notes that “cognitivists
always see style in relation to a base normality (while for filmosophy it is
exactly this ‘beyond’ that is of interest)” (2006: 108). However, I would
argue that a “beyond” or excess in film is precisely what filmosophy fails
to conceptualise. As I have already noted, Frampton repeatedly frames
film-thinking in explicitly phenomenological terms, in which the film
image is intended by the filmind; however, there is a significant tendency
in the language of Filmosophy towards a more everyday understanding
of “intentionality”. For example, in the showpiece chapter on “filmthinking”, Frampton asserts apropos of the close-up that “The filmind
wants us to know how important the preceding moment is for the character involved, or wants to make us ask ourselves what it means for
another, seemingly peripheral character” (2006: 128; emphasis added).
In effect, every part actively contributes to a unified, meaningful totality
of the film. In response, the psychoanalytic question—posed by filmthinking-with-the-unconscious—must be: What about (film-)thinking
that is in excess of itself , giving rise to meanings and affects perhaps
even in spite of itself? Indeed, where Frampton insists—in a filmosophical restating of the classic notion of the syuzhet or story—that the
filmind “[has] the whole film in its knowledge” (2006: 137) again I
wonder: What is not in the filmind’s “knowledge” (as it is formulated
in Filmosophy)? Of what order is the filmind’s non-knowledge (i.e. the
unconscious)?
In this light, I would contend that filmosophy would not be able
to account for the effect of Rachael’s presence in 2049. In short, I am
claiming that Frampton’s model of the filmind leaves no place whatsoever for such excess. If we can consider Rachael as the emblem of

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2049 ’s replicant filmind, then she is a visual manifestation of the depthless, iterative logic of the film itself. Rather than simply presenting
a synthesis of form and content in 2049, however, Rachael’s appearance signifies extra-textually: pointing towards the general problem of
Villeneuve’s film. The failure of the VFX here—in the sense that, while
within the diegesis Rachael is presented as a flesh-and-blood synthetic
human like any other replicant, perceptually she lacks the photorealistic
presence onscreen offered by live action counterparts such as Wallace
and Deckard—matches a certain failure in the overall experience of
2049. As critics have observed, the film feels almost as empty as Sean
Young’s digital facsimile: Jake Coyle calls 2049 “resolutely gorgeous”
but “broken” (2017), and K Austin Collins deems it “a Stylish but
Hollow Spectacle” (2017), for example. Most notably Richard Lawson
in Vanity Fair comments on the film’s “Jaw-Dropping Style but Too
Little Substance”, observing that Villeneuve “tends to create gorgeous,
but rather empty vessels”; and where he notes that “Denis Villeneuve’s
sci-fi sequel looks amazing, yet left us cold”, he is not explicitly referring
to Rachael but could just as easily be relating Deckard’s encounter with
her simulacrum (2017). Like their creation Niander Wallace, Villeneuve
and Roger Deakins have a flair for style and precision-engineered spectacle but, as Collins again notes, “it feels a bit empty” (2017). Such
determinations would be beyond the scope of Filmosophy, where this
meta-textual aesthetic compromise would have to be conceived of as part
of the film’s intended totality, rather than the symptomal point within
the form that signifies its greater (unintended ) truth. The 2049 filmind
may have given the ersatz Rachael an uncanny, not-quite-human-enough
CGI patina but it did not decide to index this to the overall compromises
of the work: the effect is in excess of whatever it might have “intended”.
The part really does contain the truth of the whole here but not, perhaps,
as Frampton might have supposed.
The unconscious, then, figures first of all in Filmosophy as a blind
spot—its position cannot be countenanced in the elaboration of
Frampton’s project—and yet, I argue, much of what he claims for filmosophy can equally be claimed for psychoanalysis (the unconscious as
trans-subjective no-place, for example). But moreover, film analysis also
requires a place for the unconscious, for what exceeds the terms of the

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cinematic experience. These two claims thus have different implications
for our understanding of filmosophy. The first—what is said about the
filmind can also be said about the unconscious—would fundamentally
leave Frampton’s project unchanged: there might be a slight psychoanalytic corrective to the way that Filmosophy is situated in relation to
the field but the two discourses could exist in harmonious parallel. The
second—that the filmind requires an understanding of film-thinkingwith-the-unconscious—does necessitate a re-evaluation of foundational
terms and concepts: Filmosophy cannot emerge unscathed from this
encounter with Lacan and Blade Runner 2049. As the resurrection of
Rachael demonstrates, where the film operates in excess of itself what is
required is an appreciation of the intentionality of the unconscious rather
than a notion of film-thinking as intentional totality. Filminds, then,
really do dream of celluloid sheep.

Conclusion: The Electric Dream
Frampton’s conception of film-thinking—like Niander Wallace’s conception of the compliant replicant in 2049 —leaves no place for a (filmind)
unconscious, for any locus outside of the conscious intention of the
thinking being: “every frame is intended” (2006: 84). Filmosophy constitutes the film as a meaningful totality, a mind that has total knowledge of
its content, whereas Lacanian psychoanalysis would emphasise the very
form of this knowing in the empty place of the cogito. I have argued that,
in 2049, an example of this effect of excess to the intentionality of the
filmind can be found in Rachael’s resurrection. The “failure” of the film
form in this instance to transcend its digital limitations certainly evokes
the thematics of Villeneuve’s film and re-emphasises Deckard’s shock and
disgust in the face of this pale imitation of his lover. And if that were the
full extent of the effect, this would no doubt remain congruent with
Frampton’s vision of the absolute synthesis of form and content in the
encounter with a filmind. However, as I have argued, the impact extends
beyond the text itself and can be found reverberating in the popular and
critical response to the film: in particular, it seems as though viewers
of Scott’s iconic—if flawed—postmodern classic are similarly dismayed

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at the visage of Blade Runner 2049: its too-perfect surfaces concealing
only the lack of depth beneath. Where Dick’s originary enquiries into
the “electric dream” were transcribed into Blade Runner ’s meditations on
mortality and identity, 2049 reduces the question to notions of natality
and paternity. And where, as I have explored, previous iterations of the
replicant put the properly Lacanian subject in play (as the pure form
of the cogito qua Thing that thinks) both 2049 and Filmosophy seem
to rely on specifically limited forms of mind, modelled on the notionally self-transparent cogito of modern philosophy. It has been the gaps,
oversights and lacunae in this latter understanding of “mind” that I have
attempted to highlight here and, in the final analysis, what Filmosophy
and Blade Runner 2049 alike insist upon is a return to the dream, the
memory, the fantasy: to the truth of the unconscious as it is found in
Lacanian psychoanalysis.

Notes
1. See Out of the Past: Lacan and Film Noir (Tyrer 2016: 6–10).
2. See “Under Her Skin: On Woman without body and body without Woman”
(Tyrer 2019).
3. This is one way of understanding Žižek’s famous joke about the man “cured”
of his belief that he is a grain of corn: “I know I’m not but has anyone told
the chicken?!”. The truth must be subjectively assumed in the unconscious
(“by the chicken”) in order to be operative. See Žižek (2006: 351).
4. See Tyrer (2019).

Bibliography
Collins, K. A. (2017) ‘Blade Runner 2049’ Is a Stylish but Hollow Spectacle.
The Ringer. Available from: https://www.theringer.com/movies/2017/10/5/
16429424/blade-runner-2049-film-review-ryan-gosling-harrison-ford-denisvilleneuve. [Accessed 22 February 2018].

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Coyle, J. (2017) Review: Gorgeous ‘2049’ breaks the ‘Blade Runner’ spell. AP
News. Available from: https://apnews.com/b377bb2396e647a6bf373de2aa8
f4535. [Accessed 22 February 2018].
Dolar, M. (1998) Cogito as the Subject of the Conscious. In S. Žižek (ed.)
Cogito and the Unconscious. Durham: Duke University Press.
Fisher, M. (2016) The Weird and the Eerie. Watkins Media: Kindle Edition.
Flisfeder, M. (2017) Postmodern Theory and Blade Runner. New York: Bloomsbury.
Frampton, D. (2006) Filmosophy. London: Wallflower Press.
Gallop, J. (1987) Reading Lacan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Lacan, J. (1977) Écrits: A Selection. Trans. by Alan Sherdian. London: Tavistock.
Lacan, J. (1978) The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Trans. by A.
Sheridan. New York: Norton.
Lacan, J. (1993) The Psychoses. Trans. by R. Grigg. New York: Norton.
Lacan, J. (1997) The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. Trans. by D. Porter. New York:
Norton.
Lacan, J. (2007) Écrits. Trans. by B. Fink. New York: Norton.
Lawson, R. (2017) Blade Runner 2049 Review: Jaw-Dropping Style but Too
Little Substance. Vanity Fair. Available from: https://www.vanityfair.com/hol
lywood/2017/10/blade-runner-2049-review. [Accessed 22 February 2018].
McGowan, T. (2015) Psychoanalytic Film Theory and The Rules of the Game.
New York: Bloomsbury.
Miller, J.A. (1994) Extimité. In Mark Bracher et al. (eds.) Lacanian Theory of
Discourse. New York: New York University Press.
Neill, C. (2018) Do Electric Sheep Dream of Androids? On the Place of
Fantasy in the Consideration of the Nonhuman. In G. Basu Thakur
and J.M. Dickstein (eds.) Lacan and the Nonhuman. London: Palgrave
Macmillan.
Tyrer, B. (2016) Out of the Past: Lacan and Film Noir. London: Palgrave
Macmillan.
Tyrer, B. (2019) Under Her Skin: On Woman Without Body and Body
Without Woman. In A. Piotrowska and B. Tyrer (eds.) Femininity and
Psychoanalysis: Cinema, Culture, Theory. London: Routledge.
Whissel, K. (2014) Spectacular Digital Effects: CGI and Contemporary Cinema.
Durham: Duke University Press.
Žižek, S. (1992) Looking Awry. Cambridge: MIT Press.

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39

Žižek, S. (1993) Tarrying with the Negative. Durham: Duke University Press.
Žižek, S. (2006) The Parallax View. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Zupančič, A. (2005) Reversals of Nothing: The Case of the Sneezing Corpse.
Filozofski vestnik, 2, 173–186.

3
Blade Runner 2049: A View of Post-Human
Capitalism
Slavoj Žižek

How are capitalism and the prospect of post-humanity related? Usually it
is posited that capitalism is (more) historical and our humanity, inclusive
of sexual difference, more basic, even ahistorical; however, what we are
witnessing today is nothing less than an attempt to integrate the passage
to post-humanity into capitalism. This is what the efforts of new billionaire gurus like Elon Musk are about; their prediction that capitalism “as
we know it” is coming to an end refers to “human” capitalism, and the
passage they talk about is the passage from “human” to post-human capitalism. Blade Runner 2049 deals with this topic—here is the storyline
(shamelessly borrowed from Wikipedia).1
In 2049, replicants (bioengineered humans) have been integrated into
society as servants and slaves. K, a newer replicant model who is created
to obey, works as a “blade runner” for the LAPD, hunting down and
“retiring” rogue older model replicants. His home life is spent with
his holographic girlfriend Joi, an artificial intelligence product of the
S. Žižek (B)
Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia
© The Author(s) 2021
C. Neill (ed.), Lacanian Perspectives on Blade Runner 2049,
The Palgrave Lacan Series,
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-56754-5_3

41

42

S. Žižek

Wallace Corporation. K’s investigation into a growing replicant freedom
movement leads him to a farm, where he retires rogue replicant Sapper
Morton and finds a buried box. Forensic analysis reveals the box contains
the remains of a female replicant who died as the result of complications from an emergency caesarean section. K finds this unsettling as
pregnancy in replicants was originally thought to be impossible.
K is ordered by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi, to destroy all evidence
related to the case and to retire the child. Joshi believes the knowledge
that replicants are able to reproduce to be dangerous and that it could
lead to war, since it blurs the clear line of separation between replicants and humans. K, disturbed by his orders to kill a born individual,
visits the headquarters of the Wallace Corporation and meets its founder
Niander Wallace who identifies the body as Rachael, an experimental
replicant. In the process, he learns of her romantic ties with former
veteran blade runner Rick Deckard. Believing that reproduction in replicants can bolster his production and expand his off-world operations, but
lacking the technology to give them this ability himself, Wallace sends
his replicant enforcer Luv to steal Rachael’s remains from the LAPD
headquarters and to follow K to find Rachael’s child.
Returning to Morton’s farm, K finds a hidden date that matches a
childhood memory about hiding a toy horse, which he later finds at
an orphanage, suggesting that his memories—which he thought were
implants—are real; Joi insists this is evidence that K is in fact a real
person. While searching birth records for that year, he discovers that
twins were born on that day with identical DNA except for the sex chromosome; only the boy is listed as alive. K seeks out Dr. Ana Stelline, a
memory designer for the Wallace Corporation, who informs him that it
is illegal to program replicants with humans’ real memories, leading K
to believe he might be Rachael’s son. After failing a test of his replicant
behavior, K is suspended by Joshi, but Joshi gives him 48 h to disappear. After transferring Joi to a mobile emitter, despite knowing that if
it is damaged she will be erased, K has the toy horse analyzed and finds
traces of radiation that lead him to the ruins of Las Vegas, where he finds
Deckard. Deckard reveals that he scrambled the birth records to cover
his tracks and was forced to leave a pregnant Rachael with the replicant
freedom movement to protect her.

3 Blade Runner 2049: A View of Post-Human Capitalism

43

Luv and her men murder Joshi, track K’s location and arrive to kidnap
Deckard. They leave a badly injured K for dead and destroy Joi’s emitter.
He is later rescued by the replicant freedom movement who were also
tracking him. He is told by their leader, Freysa, that he is wrong to
think he has a unique role to fulfil in the movement, and that Rachael’s
child is actually a girl. K deduces that Stelline is Deckard’s daughter, as
she is the only one capable of creating the memory and implanting it
into him. Freysa urges K to prevent Wallace from uncovering the secrets
of replicant reproduction by any means necessary, including killing
Deckard.
In Los Angeles, Deckard is brought before Wallace, who suggests
Rachael’s feelings for him were engineered by Tyrell to test the possibility
of a replicant becoming pregnant. When Deckard refuses to cooperate,
Wallace has Luv escort him to off-world outposts to be tortured for information, but K intercepts them, killing Luv and staging Deckard’s death
to protect him from both Wallace and the replicants. He leads Deckard
to Stelline’s office and laments that his best memories belong to her.
Deckard cautiously enters the office and approaches Stelline, while K
succumbs to his wounds…
So why is the fact that two replicants (Deckard and Rachael) formed
a sexual couple and created a human being in a human way, experienced
as such a traumatic event, celebrated by some as a miracle and castigated by others as a threat? Is it about reproduction or about sex, i.e.,
about sexuality in its specific human form? The movie focuses exclusively on reproduction, again neglecting the big question: can sexuality,
deprived of its reproductive function, survive into the post-human era?
The image of sexuality remains the standard one: sexual act is shown
from the male perspective, so that the flesh-and-blood android woman
is reduced to the material support of the hologram fantasy-woman Joi,
created to serve the man: “she must overlap with an actual person’s body,
so she is constantly slipping between the two identities, showing that
the woman is the real divided subject, and the flesh and blood other
just serves as a vehicle for the fantasy“ (McGowan). The sex scene in the
film is thus almost too directly “Lacanian” (in line with films like Her ),
ignoring authentic hetero-sexuality (in which the partner is not just a
support for me to enact my fantasies but a real Other).2 The movie also

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S. Žižek

fails to explore the (potentially antagonistic) difference among androids
themselves, between the “real flesh” androids and the android whose
body is just a 3-D hologram projection: how does, in the sex scene, the
flesh-and-blood android woman relate to being reduced to the material
support of the male fantasy? Why doesn’t she resist and sabotage it?
The movie provides a whole panoply of modes of exploitation, inclusive of a half-illega