If there ever was a slice of dialogue that hooked me, it was spoken in the final scene of the original Bladerunner (1984) when lead replicant Roy Batty said to Deckard, “Quite an experience to live in fear, that’s what it means to be a slave.” Saving Deckard, Batty ultimately frees himself from the slavery he speaks of—the slavery of being a replicant, of the inability to feel and becomes “whole” or what the film calls “human,” meaning he earns the experience of empathy, and his final, famous words: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die.”
It is a breathtaking scene, and yet, for the original film and the recent remake’s profound grapplings with what it means to be human and whole to experience all the shades of life in the context of a dystopian future, it makes one wonder why women in both of the Bladerunner films are regulated to positions of one-dimensional stereotypical tropes, distinctly created for and by man—without much room for any real sense of wholeness or humanity.
Focusing specifically on the new Bladerunner (2049), it is pretty clear that while the creators of this film tried really hard–too hard–to ask the larger questions of what it means to be human, they leave women in the dust of misogynistic ideals, dust kicked around from the heels of white men. Yes, aside from the film’s obvious sexism, it was also pretty racist, having only a few minor character roles for people of color.
Let’s start off with the main character (Ryan Gosling or Officer K in the film), a replicant who also serves as a Bladerunner, chasing down his own kind, employed by the Los Angeles Police Department. Joe is simply not complete enough a character without his own female hologram sex toy, who wants nothing more from life than to please him. She is the ideal woman from the lens of a male-dominated culture, too: A woman who never talks back, walks around in cocktail skirts, and pouty lips that constantly tell her male owner how “special” he is. Feeling that he is so special, she even gives him a name—calling him “Joe.” She could have more appropriately named him John—her John. She conveniently remains unnamed for much of the film—and ultimately voiceless, eventually killed off almost as quickly as she disrobes for his pleasure. But what really makes her the perfect female is a bit more insidious and it is a message we women are tired of hearing: A sexually experienced women is a spoiled woman.
Let me explain. Despite her character basically being a hologram prostitute, that is just the beginning. Her being fuckable is just the start. In order for her to be the truly “perfect” sex toy, she also has to be pure from the perspective of a patriarchal culture. So, she is portrayed as such: perfectly innocent, dependent and yes, a virgin until of course, the climax. No pun intended. So, the story goes: boy meets virgin hologram/prostitute, who finds herself desperate to please him with her body. This is tricky given that she is just a hologram. So, imitating—and perverting— the love scene from the film, “Ghost,” she hires a prostitute and for several disgusting minutes in the film, we see the main male character finally reach the arc of lust with two nameless women pleasuring him. Shortly after this, the hologram is killed off in the film. In the morning, after sex, the prostitute is paid off after searching for her clothes, nude, and discarded. To top it off with a sexist cherry on top, the prostitute makes a bitter comment to the female hologram, “I’ve been inside you and there is not much there.”
The backdrop to Joi and his unnamed sex toy are countless chopped up bodies of women—like random posters in the background (much like our everyday image-saturated society) At one scene in the film, these images take the form of giant statues of naked women, two of which the camera cannot help but focus on. The focused image is two lesbian female statues facing each other with pursed lips and oversized breasts, and, of course, erect nipples. These statues rest in what would be considered a dystopian Las Vegas and in this pleasure town I suppose it is only heterosexual men who needed pleasure because there are not any representations of giant naked men pandering to the female gaze. Driving this message further, there is an unrelated scene in the film that portrays one of the female characters in the film (Luietenant Joshi) wanting sex from Officer K, or Joe (a replicant) who does not oblige her. One has to wonder why Joshi’s human status did not give her access to a treasure-trove of pleasure model replicants for her sexual pleasure as it did the male characters–human or otherwise.
To add to this poster show of female bodies are several scenes depicting female prostitutes in titillating clothing wandering the street, and in one scene surrounding our Joe…John. Doing a freeze frame on this particular scene and we get the classic, tired, overplayed image: A clothed male sits in the midst of a sea of sexed up women. This is where we women yawn.
Another troubling scene depicts a female replicant being born in the nude and then killed. After her robotic birth, she is forced to stand as her creator (of course, a man) inspects her body, and then within minutes, she is brutally murdered because she does not meet the criteria he is looking for in a woman; in this case, the ability to procreate. This is not a new message for women; woman have been told for centuries that their inherent worth is in their ability to produce children.
The most troubling aspect of the scene of the stripped replicant was that she was killed off within minutes of her disrobing. I think the creators of this film could have been a little more sensitive in the depiction of this scene by either not showing the murder explicitly (knife wound to the abdomen) or not revealing in her flesh for several minutes before the murder. This scene only served to perpetuate the films—and ultimately society’s message that women’s bodies are disposable objects. Sadly, this is not the only female replicant who shows up for the purpose of a male character in the film and quickly killed within minutes after she, too, just doesn’t make the cut.
Thankfully, there is some redemption for women in the film that made the sexism a bit bearable—but not bearable enough, as the film depicts two main female characters who hold some significant power. However, one of the two does not have own agency–being an extension of the more powerful male character she works for, and ultimately both of these women are killed off, and both in gruesome ways while the two main male characters walk away to save the day, throwing dust on the erect nipples of the many female bodies, discarded along the way. Aside from these two women, there are a few other positive depictions of female characters that I also found to offer the movie some redemption. However, not enough for me to excuse the movie’s depiction of several throw-away female bodies. If the movie’s plot was dependent on some of the shady depictions of the degraded female characters, I could be more forgiving. However, many of this sexist scenes were almost forced in the film with the sole purpose of arousing the male audience, scenes so helter-skelter that they distracted from the message in the film rather than adding anything to it. The intentional splicing of women’s bodies haphazardly into the script with the pure aim of appetizing the male viewer is just disgusting—and quite frankly, a broken record women are tired of, and also unforgivable at this point.
I find all the sexism in this film pretty unfortunate given that it was a film not devoid of credible elements. The film portrayed some very powerful scenes, especially the impressive ending. It also had many very visually stunning and eccentric scenes that were enjoyable, too, despite many of them wallowing too long in eccentricity, and honestly trading style for substance. In sum, the film did not live up to the original Bladerunner, and that was not for a lack of trying. This film tried pretty damn hard— and still failed. The only thing the film did to eclipse the original Bladerunner successfully was upping the sexism. In that respect, it transcended the last film.
Ultimately this film’s knack to take powerful questions, concepts and ideas about humanity and making them one-dimensional in flashy scenes parallels its ability to take whole female characters, fully rounded with thoughts, ideas, wants and desires and radically reducing them to one dimensional holograms poised with erect nipples, as advertisements for men, thus rendered to an existence of slavery; slaves for men, much like Roy Batty.
And yes, quite an experience to live in fear, as women to live in a society that portrays the perfect female as a submissive, sexed-up hologram or a woman to be inspected for perfection—or face death and women reduced to the male perspective and gaze; sounds a lot like slavery to me.
Shedding light on the sexism in film, media and the larger culture via the written word is me—a woman—attempting a chance at freedom from sexism.
Please share any thoughts, ideas or concerns in the comment section.