What is the significance of the book, Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov in the movie, Blade Runner 2049?

The book influences three scenes.

In two scenes, Officer K is being psychologically tested by a machine saying these lines from a poem to him. He replies with specific words from the poem. In both scenes, he has to do the test after returning from a police job where he killed somebody.

Cells interlinked within cells interlinked
Within one stem. And dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.

In another scene, Officer K goes home to dinner with his holographic companion, Joi. She offers to read Pale Fire to him, but (if I remember correctly) he declines saying he really doesn't like the book. Knowing that the lines said during his psychological fitness test are in the book, it seems bizarre for Joi to offer to read that book to him.

Why did the director, scriptwriter, or producer include these references to Pale Fire? Does the choice of book have anything to do with its content or extremely unusual structure?

Please provide answers based on statements by the movie cast or crew.


2 Answers 2


In the book "The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049," actor Ryan Gosling says the script did not specify what the significance of the Nabokov quote in the Baseline Test was. According to the same book, the Baseline Test, as we see it in the film, was largely developed by Gosling himself in his research for the character.

When Joi asks if K wants to read, I understood him to reply "you hate that book." The original post seems to think it is K who dislikes the book, but I think that's a mistake.

I've only just started reading "Pale Fire," so I can't comment on the content and how it may relate to the themes of the film. However, there may be something to be said about the 'metafiction' of Pale Fire:

Nabokov (real author) writes a novel about a fictional author (Charles Kinbote), who is writing about a poem (another creative work of fiction).

In Blade Runner 2049, real humans have created K (a replicant). K, in turn, owns an artificial life form in Joi.

A flimsy analogy, perhaps, but it would explain why Joi hates the book--it reminds her that she's completely artificial, and has no real agency of her own. She's not even a replicant, she's one rung below them.

Here is a quotation from the book (page 117)

The Baseline was always a scene to me that held the key to understanding K. I wasn't sure what that key was during the preparation period of the film. In the script, the character was meant to read a small passage from Nabokov's Pale Fire, but there wasn't any insight as to why.

In order to better understand the meaning of the passage and to give it a personal meaning, I enlisted the help of a wonderful vocal coach named Natsuko Ohama. She suggested a technique called 'Dropping In.' In this technique, you explore the meaning of each word of the text by exhausting every conceivable context in which the would could be used.

The process is very long and repetitive, but it has a trance-inducing effect that can be very powerful and unsettling. I felt that if that technique were extrapolated into K's experience, it could be used to penetrate his psyche. I believed we could learn through a process of psychological erosion what his true emotional state was.

I was very grateful to Denis for incorporating it into the film, because it unlocked my understanding of K, but also provided insight into the state of mind of those who would force this burden upon him."

Gosling's text is prefaced by a note by author Tanya Lapointe:

On July 14th, Day 4 of principal photography, Ryan Gosling delivered and alternate Baseline script that lasted eight minutes. On this page the actor explains his process in achieving such a hypnotic performance.

  • Can you provide links to the quotes by Ryan Gosling? Or post exact quotes from him in your answer? That would earn my upvote. Could you also find anything from the scriptwriters about why they chose Pale Fire? I would approve an answer for that. :-)
    – RichS
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 7:15

Now it has been a long time since I read Pale Fire, so some of my details may be off, but there is a crucial scene that plays directly into the motifs of Blade Runner 2049 that I remember quite vividly.

Let's look at the line, "tall white fountain". The main character is an editor for a newspaper, and it is his job to sort through poems coming into the paper. He reads a poem written by a man in which he shares the feelings and images he experiences in a near death experience. He mentions seeing a tall white fountain.

Things get even stranger when, reading another newspaper, another poem apparently detailing a near death experience also states "a tall white fountain". This is, of course, extremely odd. The chances of two people seeing such a random object in their near death experience are very unlikely. This raises all types of questions. Are these visions linked? Is this evidence of an afterlife?

So he begins investigating. The woman who originally wrote the poem has since passed away, so he reaches out to the editor to get answers. He asks the editor if the poem he published is exactly similar to the what the woman claims to have seen in her vision. He says something along the lines of "Yes, I didn't change anything about her poem. However, when I published it,I accidentally wrote 'fountain' instead of 'mountain'. It should be a tall white mountain." Thus blowing his entire theory of an otherworldly connection apart.

This is exactly similar to K's search for answers, believing he was the "chosen one", when in reality he was chasing shadows.

  • The main character is a poet, but I don't think the second "white fountain" was in a poem, just a newspaper article. Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 12:30
  • If this is the correct answer it might also be a meta reference to the later cuts of the original film, and the supposed "unicorn memory means Deckard's a replicant" idea - specifically, debunking that idea as a mistake/coincidence as in Pale Fire.
    – Cugel
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 18:03
  • To add to this, the passage "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." was also used in the movie. To me this passage is realized within the movie as the white tree at Sapper's house/farm. The "dark" is the dystopia they all live in, and the "dreadfully distinct" is a reference to the replicant baby that the tree symbolizes. It may be a stretch, and may not be the Director's true intent of using it, but I like how it feels connected. Commented Dec 30, 2017 at 2:32
  • 1
    I think this is on point until the last sentence, but I just wanted to add that in Pale Fire the confusing red herring of the newspaper article /itself/ gives Shade hope that he can find meaning and purpose in the world at the end of the Canto in question. This directly parallels the way in which K, having falsely thought Ana's memory was his, is similarly inspired by the uncovering of this red herring towards his final purpose: to reunite Ana with her father. In this reading K is not futilely chasing shadows: he finds his eventual purpose from "not [the] text, but [the] texture" of the dream.
    – Sempliner
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 21:41
  • ^To expand on the first sentence in case it's unclear: Shade eventually finds renewed purpose in his life not because he thinks they saw the same thing in the afterlife, but precisely because he discovers, in trying to determine whether the fountain was 'real,' that this misapprehension was, in a certain sense, a sham or coincidence.
    – Sempliner
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 21:44

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