Let’s Talk: Blade Runner 2049

My post about the first Blade Runner (1982) is still one of my favorite pieces on this site. (I know there aren’t a lot of pieces to choose from, but bear with me, I’m trying.) Blade Runner is a classic movie, in which I see a lot of negative things about women.  Having recently seen Blade Runner 2049, twice now, I want to talk about this sequel and how it treats women.

There’s two ways we can do this. We can go about this tick-for-tack, or look at the broader picture, or both… so let’s try both. Broader picture: Blade Runner 2049 is an improvement over the original in its treatment of women. That’s a low bar, but it passes. It even passes the Bechdel test, a feat the original is far from accomplishing. The original never gets two named female characters in a room together, not even Pris and Zhora who are ostensibly in the same boat as runaway replicants. 2049 accomplishes this a handful of times. (Though, only Joi and Mariette’s conversation passes the test. “You can go now, I’m done with you.” “Careful now, I’ve been inside you. Not as much there as you think.”) Luv is also seen talking to an unnamed female character, wherein she’s basically selling slaves to a customer; worth mentioning but not a Bechdel-test candidate.

I feel like I’m sliding into tick-for-tack territory, so why not dive in?

  • Blade Runner has three named female characters: Rachael, Pris, and Zhora. Two out of the three end up dead, or 66%.
  • Blade Runner 2049 has seven named female characters: Lieutenant Joshi, Joi, Luv, Freysa, Mariette, Dr. Ana Stelline, and *spoilers* Rachael. Four out of the seven end up dead, or 57%… hardly an improvement.

  • Blade Runner presents two out of the three female characters as antagonists (I’m counting Pris and Zhora as antagonists). Even if you feel a great deal of sympathy for Zhora for getting shot in the back, part of Decker’s mission is to hunt and kill her.
  • Blade Runner 2049 presents one out of the seven female characters as an antagonist. Mariette may be rude to Joi, and Freysa presented as mysterious, but only Luv is a villain.

  • Blade Runner features a disturbing sexual assault committed by its male protagonist, Deckard. (Blade Runner 2049 makes that even weirder by having Deckard and Rachael go on to have a child together.)
  • Blade Runner 2049 does not feature sexual assault. That being said, a “newborn” female replicant is murdered by being stabbed in the abdomen by her creator after being shamed for infertility.

Blade Runner 2049 sharpens the focus on humanity and their violence against replicants, but it’s hard to ignore how many women it kills in telling its story. Robin Wright’s Joshi is killed by Luv, on her mission to find “the child.”  Joi is killed by Luv, for no reason other than to hurt K. Sean Young’s Rachael dies during childbirth, *eyeroll* then remade by Wallace only to be killed again by Luv.  After Luv kills three named female characters, she herself is drowned by K. It’s a scene you’re not exactly happy about; K fights viciously to get the upper hand on Luv. it’s not clean, it’s not victorious, but it’s still violence worth examining.

Coming out of Blade Runner 2049 the first time, I found myself thinking about how our movies have to do better than making the “strong female characters” the villains who themselves have violence visited upon them. Two times in the movie I felt sympathy for Luv: once, when she’s crying while watching Wallace murder the newborn replicant, and again when she lashes out at Lt. Joshi for attempting to kill the miracle-born child replicant. In both scenes, you really feel like she has the replicants’ best intentions in mind, even if she’s subservient to Wallace. She’s destroyed that her creator can’t match Tyrell’s accomplishment, and furious that Joshi’s first instinct is to destroy a miracle just to keep peace between humans and replicants. When K finally drowns Luv, it’s not as tragic as it should be — because she destroys Joi out of sheer cruelty — otherwise her death might have matched that of Roy Batty’s.

Another death I keep reflecting on is’ Rachael’s. It’s devastating, quick, and brutal – and it shows how little Deckard’s learned in 30 years. He rejects this replicant created by Wallace, because her eyes are the wrong color — brown instead of green. It’s a way of throwing this “gift” in Wallace’s face, but it’s so cruel of Deckard. She’s immediately killed by Luv, because Deckard rejects her, and what did he think would happen? The movie doesn’t linger on this, but if it really cared about replicants as people, or women, it may have explored how Deckard basically got someone killed because of her eye color — a person with memories, feelings, and a potential future. (It’s also worth noting that Blade Runner 2049 opens with a shot of a green eye opening.)  

Walking out of the theatre a second time, an older woman commented: “That was good, but pretty sexist. I get that the older movie was sexist, but why did this one have to be too?”

Blade Runner 2049 is an amazing movie, and a great sequel that stays faithful to the original universe, so much so that it falls into the same traps as the original. Violence against women is constant and predictable, the threat of sexual violence lingers in the air, women are used as sexual decorations in every corner of the cyberpunk city scape, and we continue to have a preoccupation with male protagonists. Again, I love the movie, but these things really matter! They matter to viewers, a larger number of whom are looking out for these things nowadays, and if you make viewers happier by representing women in better ways, you might also sell more movie tickets! Instead of generating conversations like “Wow, that was some old-school sexism” imagine if Blade Runner 2049 had started conversations like “Wow, their vision of the future is bleak, but at least it wasn’t especially bleak for women!” I like to imagine that movie, and it’s too bad 2049 wasn’t that movie.

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Call Me: Man-Womanly

“It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple;

one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. … Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One’s Own

Fatal. Deadly. Obsolete. Impossible.

To be a man pure and simple.

Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated.

What follows is not a pure endorsement, but a mediation on Woolf’s words. How I wish I could just embrace Woolf word for word, but I can only embrace Woolf for what I believe she was trying to say. In her words I see myself, and many others, struggling to define themselves within, or outside of, the two-gender spectrum.

Most of us know there are not two genders.

Still, that won’t stop me from using man and woman here, because that’s how so many people will define us. Woolf is, I believed, trapped in the language of her time. Terms like “opposite genders,” “woman-manly,” and “man-womanly” to me, speak of a system she’s aware of, but using the system’s language. Were it possible for her to be introduced to the modern gender studies vocabulary, I don’t doubt she would happily adopt in terms like “gender spectrum.”

She might instead say: “It is impossible to be a man or woman purely. Period.” It is not so much that opposite genders must be married, or consummated, but that on this gender spectrum, we all lie defined between two ideas. If “Particle A” was man and “Particle B” was woman, and the rest of us were just particles nestled in between, we could only be defined by our proximity to Particle A or B, but we could not occupy the same space. The manliest man that you can think of is not a man purely. Men and women are ideas, the manliest man you can think of is, or was a human being, and humans are not ideas.

 

Thoughts: On Donald Trump

For months this has been one of my least favorite pieces on the site but I’m not going to take it down. I can’t forgive people for voting for Trump, they simply put too many lives at risk by doing so, but, hey, this is how I felt immediately after the election so I’ll leave this garbage-take up for posterity.

Forgive and progress.

Democracy happened last night. The result was not what I wanted, and it kept me up at night, but I have no adjectives that you haven’t heard before. I could tell you that this was the most dangerous vote in our country’s history, I could say I feel ashamed by my country, I could express my fear, but others are already writing about this much better than I ever could. I don’t see a value in serving up the same emotions, in a diluted, weaker voice. I can’t serve up anything but an imitation of the real thing.

See, Women, Muslims, LGBTQ, POC; so many others have already given this election result the descriptions it deserves, and here I am, a part of the demographic that voted 63% in favor of Donald Trump. As a part of the 31% of white men who did vote for Hillary Clinton, I’m left with a lot of questions, and I’m holding out hope of finding answers.

There has to be a lesson here.

I trust the people I ally with when they say Hillary Clinton lost this election in part, or entirely because of, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and islamophobia. For the 59 million votes cast for Donald Trump, at least 1 of those 5 traits is present in each voter. For the 6 million votes cast for third-party candidates, I don’t know. I hear arguments that voting for ideology over the safety of say, the black community, is a form of racism, and I see where that’s coming from.

A part of me worries about the fact that white, rural America sent a message last night, and that progressives aren’t going to listen, and if we don’t listen, we don’t retake the White House in 2020. With a Republican Congress, Donald is going to get things done, and if he pleases his electorate, and has good approval ratings, he’ll run again. When he does, if progressives again call Trump supporters unquestionably racist, sexist, etc. we will lose.

We’re going to need some of Donald Trump’s 59 million voters on our side in four years.

In the GOP postmortem of the 2012 campaign, it was concluded, more or less, that you can’t win the Latinex vote if the first word out of your mouth is “deportation” or they won’t listen to the next sentence. Progressives have no ground to gain by calling 59 million Trump voters racist, as they will too, ignore our very next sentence. We cannot and will not give up our morals and principles though, it’s the right thing to do and it makes us who we are. Young people, by and large, are on our platform, and they’re passionate about it, but old, generations-long racism and sexism, status-quo gender and sexuality norms, and deep-rooted Christianity is not going to die out in four years.

We’re going to have to teach and educate some people, and out of those 59 million people, some are redeemable. If you don’t believe that, then where is the hope? The time to forgive is coming soon; forgive those sins, heal, teach, and progress.

Let’s Talk: Blade Runner (1982)

I heard Netflix was going to pull Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner on May 1st, which was the incentive I needed to finally watch this landmark film that I had ignored on my “Watchlist” for years. All I really knew going in was that this was a defining film in the Cyberpunk genre, starring Harrison Ford and dealing in topics of Descartes reality; what is real, how can we tell what is real? Perhaps I’m forgetting my philosophers, it’s been years since I’ve taken a philosophy course.

Anyways. First things first: did I like the movie? Yes, but it’s not perfect. For the record, I watched the theatrical cut – and from the sound of it I would have much preferred the director’s cut, which doesn’t include the really cheesy ending. That Rachael is this extra special Replicant that won’t die in four years feels overly optimistic; especially when Tyrell establishes with Roy how difficult it is to make the Nexus 6 Replicants live as long as they do. The ending of Deckard and Rachael driving off into the woods, with that line about Rachael being special and all of that, made me want to gag. There was already such a great “ending” with Edward James Olmos’ line “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?” Deckard reflects on that line  one more time, takes Rachael into the elevator to escape, and fade to black. Perfect ending; the Blade Runner goes on the run with his last target. My only problem with this is that this pivotal philosophy comes from EJO’s character Gaff, who isn’t established at all. Here’s all you, as the viewer, know about Gaff.

  1. Deckard’s former boss.
  2. Has a thing for origami, which makes him mysterious, I guess?

That’s really it – and maybe I’ll pick something up on a second view, but just because he’s mysterious doesn’t exactly earn him this moment. He needed dialogue. He needed something to make this turn in the story earned. Under-use of EJO = Strike #1.

Rachael Is Sorely Under-Used = Strike #2

I’m almost of the mind set that this should have been Rachael’s story. Deckard serves as our noir detective, and as a genre piece this is important, if not crucial. But it is easy for me to re-imagine this movie where Rachael is the focus, and Deckard the supporting character.

I’m not sure what the trajectory of Deckard’s character is. He’s tired of violence, does his “one last job” falls in love and runs away. I suppose he comes to understanding the humanity of the Replicants; but as someone tired of killing them, he must already be sympathetic on some level. Deckard isn’t so different from an American Slave Hunter, right? These Replicants that are Tyrell Corp. property occasionally escape the off-world colonies where they are forced to work, and as a Blade Runner it’s his job to retire them. Roy and Leon even explicitly say to him how “To live in fear… that’s what it is to be a slave.” Is Blade Runner basically the story of a reluctant Slave Hunter realizing his targets were more human than he could have imagined? I guess I should say that I’m absolutely sure of Deckard’s trajectory, I’m just not sure whether it sustains the movie on its own. It leaves me with a lot of philosophical quandaries; very few regarding Deckard, and almost all concerning Rachael.

Rachael is a Replicant who doesn’t know she’s a Replicant when we first meet her. It’s only the Voight-Kampff test administered by Deckard that builds any sort of doubt about her reality, and their confrontation in his apartment  that shatters her reality. We see plenty of Rachael, all her scenes are pretty pivotal, all give the mind so much to chew on… even the uncomfortable scene where Deckard forces himself on her (which I’ll come back to later…)

I Just Wish We Could See More Of That

Following Rachael’s doubt about her humanity, the destruction of her reality, and then the discovery of her purpose – to live and enjoy life – changes the movie completely. In the already packed 2 hours of Blade Runner, I understand we can’t both have this Cyberpunk detective story and a gripping tale about an AI realizing it’s an AI. That might not even make for a great movie, but I think it’s a movie I prefer rather than an uninteresting detective story set in an interesting world. Does that make sense? The world of Blade Runner and the crisis that Rachael and the renegade Replicants face is very interesting, but watching Deckard track them down… isn’t. It’s a means to an end of getting to that philosophical stuff. Since it’s just a means to an end… we could hypothetically trim that down and see “more of that.” By the way, since the unicorn dream sequence doesn’t exist in the theatrical version, the idea that Deckard is a Replicant never really came to pass, even though I was waiting and waiting for that shoe to drop.

Also, No Means No

I’m sure somebody’s going to think that I can’t have fun or I’m not thinking out Deckard’s state of mind here… but Deckard forcing himself on Rachael was weird. He kisses her, she tries to leave his apartment, he forces her to stay, and “teaches” her to enjoy physical contact? That’s the implication at least but noooo. It makes Deckard feel like a creep, why does he just assume Rachael, being a Replicant, can’t decide on her own that she does not want any part of this kissing? Rachael is established as having emotional responses, valid emotional responses, so I’m just not sure why Ridley Scott, who has a pretty good track record with his female characters, had to have her “transformed” in this way. I suppose, maybe, if Deckard is a Replicant and you think of this scene as the one where he discovers emotions… ah I don’t know. No matter what, this scene just felt weird =Strike #3. 

Still, all of those strikes basically amount to me enjoying the movie a little bit less. I’d give Blade Runner a 4/5 as a movie, and like… a 2/5 on the feminist scale of 5 being “most feminist,” and 1 being “not feminist at all.”

 

Thoughts: On Kim Kardashian

Kim Kardashian is a person I honestly, somehow, know close to nothing about.I know she’s of Armenian decent, and that she starred in a realty tv show, she has a video game that makes a lot of money, and she has two children with Kanye West. Oh and, she’s related to Caitlyn Jenner, but I don’t think by blood. And there was a sex tape. Even that I don’t know too much about.

Put briefly, I have never kept up with the Kardashians, let alone the most famous member of their tribe. So why do I want to talk about her?

Because nobody will stop talking about her*

*And more importantly, it seems like people won’t stop telling Kim Kardashian what, and what not to do with her body. This Sunday, March 6th she posted a mostly nude selfie that seemed to blow up the internet more than her Paper Mag cover did. I didn’t hear about this until it trended on Monday. Once I satisfied my curiosity with this supposedly shocking selfie (it was, you know, whatever) I proceeded to turn the Kim Kardashian part of my brain off for another day.

It wasn’t until today, International Freaking Women’s Day, that I had to think twice about this whole issue.

Suddenly that Paper Mag, which once featured Kim Kardashian, now featured Anita Sarkeesian, started to make sense.

Did Kim Kardashian earn a spot in the Feminist Hall of Fame? Maybe not, but her naked selfie, and the debate over it has drawn lines about what types of feminists people are. You either fell into the “This is an irresponsible example for Kim Kardashian to set and this is bad for women” camp, or you fell into the “Kim’s allowed to do what she damn well pleases” camp.

Now, to all my people in the first camp – I don’t think your feminism is necessarily bad, it’s just narrow. I bet you see a famous celebrity, who many young girls look up to, and you fear that by seeing her take nude selfies, or profiting off of her body in any way, young girls will think that’s the only way to feel good about themselves. You may be afraid that Kim Kardashian is reinforcing an expectation of feminine bodies…

But isn’t that the classic example of tearing down a woman in a patriarchal system, and explicitly, not the system itself? You can hide all of the Kim Kardashians in the world and it wouldn’t erase the burden of objectification in society. So that can’t be it. It must be this “responsible role model” concept then, right?

If a 35 year old mother of two, having the confidence to pose nude for millions to see isn’t inspiring in some way, then what will be?

I get it. We want young girls to be able to aspire to be many things.We want to promote the visibility of women in STEM so that they can have those types of role models; but let’s junk this notion that women in STEM are the best, or the superior role model. Women in art are inspiring. Women in music are inspiring. Women in film production are inspiring. And yes, women posing nude can be inspiring.