05 November 2017

Blade Runner 2049: a surprising metaphor in the love scene between Joi and K

This post has a mild spoiler...

In Blade Runner 2049, the Ryan Gosling character, K, returns home, where his holographic AI lover, Joi, played by Ana de Armas, has hired a replicant sex worker, Mariette, played by MacKenzie Davis, to enable K to make love physically with bodiless Joi. Joi projects her hologram over Mariette’s body, so that K sees Joi while actually having sex with Mariette. The overlap is a little imperfect, with vestiges of Mariette emerging from the Joi projection at times, probably to remind the viewers that the body is  not really Joi's. K is a replicant, a kind of android manufactured by the Wallace Corporation and Joi is an AI, whom K has purchased. She too is a product of the Wallace Corporation. Both K and Joi, despite their artificiality, are real persons. K’s love for Joi is reciprocated by Joi’s love for K.

Love is real, but it’s not entirely real. I was startled and moved by the love scene, which very concretely mirrors the psychological  projection that nearly all of us do with our lovers, as well with other persons in our lives and experiences. Originally, psychological projection was seen (by Freud for instance) as a process in which negative and unacceptable parts of one’s unconscious are projected outward into the world onto other people who are then seen as evil and inferior. Negative psychological projection has always seemed to me to be the best explanation on a personal level for racism and bigotry. Of course there are political and economic explanations as well, but these work more on a social level. 

There is also positive psychological projection, in which something greatly valued in the unconscious is projected outward onto a person who then becomes an idealization. Seeing this idealization coming to life in another person can lead to love, or in other situations to blind faith in a political leader, or many other emotional attachments. 

The complexity of what happens in this scene in Blade Runner  2049 comes from its multiple layers. K loves Joi, who as a virtual AI is already, in a sense, an idealization. He is projecting something in his unconscious onto her, which further idealizes her and gives rise to his love for her. She then projects her holographic image onto Mariette, making the metaphor of projection (imagine a video projector)  literal and concrete. Does K now project his unconscious idealization onto the Joi-encased Mariette?

I am happy to have seen this scene, which brought home to me very strongly what is unconsciously going on in my own emotional attachments. I love, and I know that in doing so I am projecting something inside myself onto my lover. I delight in this projection because in it I can see something of my unconscious self. At the same time I attempt to see the real person underneath the projection and love her for who she really is. It's complicated.