My husband alerted me to an extended archives scene in 2017’s Blade Runner 2049, a scene that helps set in motion the background and plot for the film. And it felt like perfect timing, as I recently deep-dived into real-life archivists critically examining portrayals of reel archivists.
Let’s dive into this film now!
Blade Runner 2049 is not a remake of the 1982 cult classic Blade Runner; rather, it is a continuation, with Harrison Ford reprising his role as Deckard. Ryan Gosling stars as K, a police officer assigned to track down a rogue replicant. He begins by going to the Wallace Corporation’s Earth Headquarter archives.
Here’s a teaser trailer for the film:
Meet the archivist:
The archives scene begins 30 mins into the film. K stands at a long, wrap-around counter, behind which sits the archivist, played by Icelandic actor Tómas Lemarquis. It’s interesting to note that although this character is titled “File Clerk” in the credits, the subtitles refer to him as “Archivist.” I will refer to this character as the archivist throughout the remainder of this post.
Here’s their opening exchange, or rather, their initial reference interview:
K: Just checking in on an old serial number.
Archivist: Confirmation DNA?
K: I got hair. [hands him an evidence baggie]
The archivist then drops the hair into a scanner, which immediately brings up information on a central screen. I found it interesting that the archivist did NOT wear gloves to handle the evidence. (And put a pin in that, as we will revisit that point later.)
The archivist reacts swiftly and strongly to the information on the screen. I *loved* the archivist’s facial expressions during this scene.
Archivist: Oh! An old one. Pre-blackout. Huh. That’s gonna be tough. Not much from then. And what’s there is [clicks tongue] thick milky.
Luv, a replicant who is assistant to Mr. Wallace — remember, they’re at the Wallace Corporation’s Earth Headquarters — then gets an auto alert about the serial number and DNA scan. She asks to reschedule the client meeting she had been conducting.
We then cut back to the archivist, who is leading K down rows and rows of what look very similar to old-fashioned card catalog drawers. The cinematography is quite striking in the film in general, but particularly so in these scenes. The atmosphere feels almost holy and reverential, with the rows of card catalogs akin to pews in a church. But instead of feeling warmth or comfort from the reverence, we instead get a feeling of severity and sterility… perhaps because all the pre-Blackout data has been wiped? All of these records are blank, useless, broken. Yet they remain a monument to what was.
While they walk, the archivist chatters to K.
Archivist: Everyone remembers where they were at the Blackout. You?
K: That was a little before my time.
Archivist: Mmmmm… I was home with my folks, then ten days of darkness. Every machine stopped cold. When the lights came back, we were wiped clean. Photos, files, every bit of data… Fttt! Gone. Bank records, too. [Chuckles] Didn’t mind that. It’s funny it’s only paper that lasted. I mean, we had everything on drives. Everything, everything. Huh. My mom still cries over the lost baby pictures.
K: Well, it’s a shame. You must have been adorable. [deadpan sarcasm]
The archivist then opens a drawer and rifles through what looks like plexiglass microfiche, even holding one up to the light.
Archivist: Pretty fractured. Not much on it. One of the last gens, pre-Prohibition. Standard issue. Made by Tyrell.
Their exchange is then cut short, as Luv appears behind them at the end of the row. The archivist immediately shuts down, and in silence, bows to Luv, walks over, hands her the file, and then walks away. There is no question who holds the power in this scenario.
Luv then closes the drawer, introduces herself, and offers more help to K:
Luv: Another prodigal serial number returns. A 30-year-old open case finally closed. Thank you, officer. I’m here for Mr. Wallace. I’m Luv… Follow me. The ancient models give the entire endeavor a bad name. What a gift, don’t you think, from Mr. Wallace to the world? The outer colonies would never have flourished had he not bought Tyrell, revivified the technology. To say the least of what we do.
During this exchange, they walk through another collection of Mr. Wallace’s, a collection of rogue replicants encased in glass. This is the second peek into the Wallace Corporation’s archives, which are eclectic indeed. And not a little creepy.
Luv and K then continue down a shadowy corridor, the off-site storage for archives. No longer in the main cathedral of the archives, it’s like they are now walking along the cloisters.
Luv: Here. All the junk is in here. Lucky for you, Mr. Wallace is a data hoarder. [the door sticks.] No one’s been down here in ages. [shoves open the door] Sorry about that.
The lights automatically come on as they step in the room.
As Luv walks over to a specific drawer, she slips on a white glove to handle a “memory ball.” So the iconic white glove of the archivist DOES appear in the film — just not on the archivist! 😉
Luv: All our memory bearings from the time. They were all damaged in the Blackout. But there are sometimes fragments.
As the memory ball is read by a scanner, a computer screen reads: “Tyrell Archives: Video document.” I appreciated that this screen did confirm that we were, indeed, in the archives. 🙂
The video flashes fragments of an interview between Rachael and Deckard, an interview from the original film. This then sets up the eventual connection between Deckard and K.
The archives scene lasts about seven minutes in total, but sets the rest of the film’s plot in motion. It also emphasizes how vital archives are in society — and how the loss of archives adversely affects a society — as well as how important access is to archives.
The archivist and Luv both highlight the “Blackout,” when all electronic records were wiped out. This reminded me of this specific exchange in the 1975 classic Rollerball:
Librarian: This is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to misplace things.
Jonathan: Misplaced some data?
Librarian: Hmmm, the whole of the 13th century.
It’s clear that more than just the 13th century was wiped out in the Blade Runner universe, but there is a hint that some paper archives still exist, as when the archivist mused, “It’s funny it’s only paper that lasted.“
This is a major theme in the movie, that data is the soul of memory. And with no data or records, what happens to memory? What happens to our souls?
And I’m not the only one who thought along these lines. I came across this tweet from Dan Cohen, Dean of Libraries at Northeastern University:
Let’s talk about archives in Blade Runner 2049. There are multiple archives accessed during the film, and *implied* archives that no longer exist. They are all critical to the story.
Indeed, the story of archives parallels the story about memory.
— Dan Cohen (@dancohen) January 7, 2018
The last word?
Finally, I want to revisit the character of the archivist. While revealing vital background information about the world they live in now, the archivist reveals his personality. The archivist, although he looks quite severe with his leather shirt and bald head, comes across as animated, chatty, a little nerdy, even humorous. He definitely has no problem attempting to have a conversation with K, and it is not until Luv shows up that the archivist shuts down emotionally, like he has been “put in his place.”
Before Luv shows up, the archivist smiles quite a bit and infuses his lines with real feeling, as well as making amusing sound effects (like clicking his tongue), and making hand gestures. His vivid personality is notable in a film of blank demeanors and flat line reads from the replicant characters. My hat is off to the actor, Tómas Lemarquis, who makes quite an impression for just a couple of minutes of screen time.
Ultimately, the reel archivist in this film winds up in the Information Provider category. And the personality that shines through this reel archivist’s portrayal lands the film in the Class III category, film in which the librarian(s) plays a secondary role, ranging from a supporting character to a minor character with perhaps only a few lines in one memorable or significant scene.
Have you seen Blade Runner, the original or the recent sequel? What are your thoughts about this reel archivist character? Please leave a comment and share!
- Blade Runner 2049. Dir. Denis Villeneuve. Perf. Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto. Warner Bros., 2017.
- “Blade Runner 2049” via Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0.
- Rollerball. Dir. Norman Jewison. Perf. James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck. MGM/UA Entertainment, 1975.