Pale Fire: Human Image and Post-human Desire in Blade Runner 2049

  • Sharon Kim
Keywords: Blade Runner 2049, Blade Runner, Pale Fire, Philip K. Dick, simulacra, identity


In Blade Runner 2049 (2017), humans live surrounded by artificial versions of the human: holographs, digital AIs, android replicants, and others. Embedded within the film are references to the novel Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, which decodes these variant images by tying their proliferation to the experience of traumatic loss. In replicant form, human simulacra supplement a decimated human population, but they also master the human image so completely that they make both the image and the original unnecessary. Ironically, they also preserve a desire for humanity that the real humans may have lost. Recognizing this condition, Pale Fire supplies the film’s strategies for retrieving human meaning in the midst of technological replication. The central character, K, keeps a copy of Pale Fire in his apartment. Although the police use extracts from the book to keep K in subjugation, K’s private reading of Pale Fire empowers his trajectory in the film, an arc that parallels his changing relation to Rick Deckard.