Ryan Gosling is a replicant who is probably the most important police officer working for the order-that-be's police force. His job is to take out, to chase down and kill, the previous models of replicants, who are awry in the world in that they have been programmed with too much free will. As he goes about his business, probably for the fact that he could rip their arms off if he ever wanted to, people feel free to sneer at him for his non-human status but they don't dare touch him, so he more or less goes about the world as if he's got effective people repellent on him. That's on the streets. In the air, he's king, as he glides his vehicle through ample, uncrowded, city-scapes, like a drone providing us with Apple TV city vistas. And in the office, he reports direct to the police chief, who doesn't quite see him as human, doesn't see him as her level, but who clearly respects and likes him; takes more than a casual interest in him. And he never has to present a false front to her; oblige her in any humiliating way: terms are known, and they can be lived with. When he goes home, his apartment, though certainly far too trim to be a castle, is not exactly contrast to the palatial places we see a select few others live in: it's not just crowded tenement poverty, but a place, a downtown apartment, with it's own downcast 80s vibe, proudly one's own. A men's den, with, it needs to be mentioned, one hell of a balcony, that expands confidently into the city landscape. And the girlfriend who tends to him here is someone who genuinely likes his company, who genuinely appreciates the gifts he gives her, and who genuinely realizes what they do to expand her own life. It's not false.
Unlike him, everyone else in the city has souls, real memories, but we don't see much of what the hell this actually does for them. Their own memories of being bullied and having bullied are real. Clearly, because just look at their miserable adult forms! It doesn't do much for them, and he might even have gotten lucky, for unlike them, he might be the only one who had a memory of feeling loved -- someone gave him a wood horse as a gift: and though it's a memory opaque to his view, it must have been by someone who truly did love him, else it's unlikely he'd of had a memory of being willing to surrender his life in order to protect his gift from harm. It would be better for him if he knew this memory was real rather than a transplant, that someone out there, early in his life, really did love him in a much deeper way than his police chief does; which rivalled that his girlfriend currently provides him with. But at least he knows the memory wasn't planted there in order to manipulate him in decidedly cruel way; contrive him so that as it turns out with Decker he's programmed to come to love a particular person in a way fortuitous to massive corporation's designs. Only, rather, to fill him out a bit more as a person. Not a virus; it's something his makers are quite comfortable with him taking ownership of and playing with (as for example a orphanage "master" we meet later allows his wards -- play, that is -- because ultimately it's proven to work for him). A bit of freedom, genuine freedom, he's allowed, because it's part of making him function happily and well. Masters not so completely total in their control, as you long as you play within bounds. That's what he's got.
And if the memory-maker gave him a bit more to play with than they normally feel comfortable with, well, the best they managed to do is to get the genius memory-maker on contract, not own her, for in this world professionals clearly have their say too, and control over them is only ever partial. (Though to be a professional in this world means being marked by something which makes you more distinguishable form the norm than any replicant is: one looks like an imp, another is a bald albino, and she hasn't any gene to ward her against viruses, so lives in bubbles. And one notes, how all of this of course makes them great admixtures for Gosling in his role as important cop to bump into, for they punctuate the daily "grind" of downcast people like smart cocktails do a house bar otherwise, more rounds of whiskey.)
There ostensibly is a much better way of living than this, available to people in this world. The other replicants have it, the ones he's hunting down. The one wholly isolated, serving as a farmer -- he's got it. All we see is that he's got more living space -- for living on a farm -- than Ryan Gosling's got, but unlike him he's got to be ever-wary. And his only companions are dirt and grubs. He's seen true love though, better people than Gosling has... and he's stronger, prouder, and more independent for it. And this would seal the deal for him, if we believed it.
The problem for a movie is to make this work. And the only way I can think of doing so is through casting choices. We forget very quickly that Gosling's girlfriend in the movie is an artificially intelligent, digital simulation of one, one inevitably programmed to fall in love with its owner, because for all intents and purposes her love is played plausibly, and so our only real measure of whether he is slighted in having her as a girlfriend is if she as an actress doesn't measure up, as a human being, compared to some others we eventually meet in the film. There is indeed a moment later on where this kind of appears to be so. He meets a prostitute -- another replicant -- who engages with him with a little more knowing canniness, she's a bit prouder, likes herself more, has more -- perhaps ironically -- self-respect, and it's really for all this that his current girlfriend, who's all enveloping, self-sacrificing love, seems maybe due a moment's re-evaluation, than the fact that she's built out of an intricate matrix of three components while she has to try and make real and fulsome what is only a bunch of binary "twos."
And the replicants who are free do not convince (of their more solid "humanity") for their not appearing to be happier people than Gosling is. Mostly, they're considerably more dour. People in dark clothes with dark expressions who intend war and revolution. This wouldn't have been the case, though, if the actor playing the empowered hunter -- Gosling's role -- in the film, was, say, a known Trump-supporter, and the first replicant he came to kill was a known, very affable, progressive... someone like Mark Ruffalo. So, yes, if someone like Clint Eastwood's son came to kill Mark Ruffalo, and Ruffalo said, man, you are impoverished compared to me, it would seem real in a way it simply is not real in this film. We'd think, as might end up thinking, that if Trump's power grows larger and those who support him become empowered fascist policeman, and those in opposition to him never not know a very wary existence and become so impoverished, as all their wealth is taken from them, they start dining of things the rich consider not-foods, we'd still choose team Ruffalo because that's where the only real love lies, the only real self-respect.
It is for example the matter of casting choice that made Captain America: Civil War about making the party that didn't support joining the United Nations, the more evolved one. For the person advocating this choice was Chris Evans, a progressive person, while the person arguing the other side was Robert Downey Jr., someone whom we can't be sure how he'll vote politically a few years from now... the guy might go down for the choice which weighs against "the spoiled," as his character does in Civil War. Chris Evans stated in that film that the issue at hand was whether "we" are going to surrender our freedom because it's easier to put it into the hands of others, because we are afraid of what happens when we take ownership over it ourselves. And we compared the actors -- self-possessed Chris Evans vs. self-hating Robert Downey Jr. -- and decided that, yes, this is probably what it is actually all about, and decided for the outcast group (or hopefully we did) because not behaving masochistically, not throwing away our freedom, is what keeps us feeling like we are people with souls rather than automatons without them.