Let’s cut to the chase, Blade Runner 2049 has problems.
In one scene, superior Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) propositions the replicant K (Ryan Gosling) with sex, which he declines with that broody stare that gives every single moviegoer palpitations. Lt. Joshi, understandably upset by being denied the chance to be up close and personal with that broody face, leaves K’s flat.
Compare this to a scene in Blade Runner (1982) when replicant Rachael (Sean Young) attempts to leave the flat of Deckard (Harrison Ford). Deckard stops her, locks the door, pushes her to a wall and demands her to say ‘kiss me’ and ‘I want you’. Which she does. And that was romance in 1982, people.
Lt. Joshi, however, commands K to share an implanted memory with her but simply accepts his refusal to have sex. She could have commanded him, like Deckard did way back when. Maybe she is just a better person than Deckard, the supposed hero of the original film. She clearly thinks replicants are inferior, as her primary motive throughout is to maintain the divide between replicants and humans. So why doesn’t she command him?
It’s more than likely that watching Ryan Gosling (and that broody, broody face) being forced to have sex would be horrific for modern audiences. Because, you know, rape is horrific.
While Lt. Joshi is denied sex with a replicant, K literally keeps his love interest, Joi (Ana de Armas) in his pocket. When she is introduced, Joi is a holographic AI that is projected from a console in his flat. Later, as a gift, K presents Joi with an Emminator, a handheld projector, so she can have a little more freedom and go outside. Freedom being the misleading word here. Joi remains tethered to K at all times. There’s even a threesome with a sex worker replicant in which Joi ‘sync’s with her for K to experience some semblance of how sex would physically feel with his loved one. He’s literally projecting his fantasy onto a sex worker because the woman he wants is unable to be physical. This is complicated by the fact that Joi isn’t real. At all. The sex worker is a replicant but in this world they are already established as real, just inferior. Joi is not real. A later scene emphasis this when a 100-foot, nude advert of Joi talks to him. So it’s not just that he’s projected his fantasy onto a sex worker but Joi has been designed to be his projected fantasy. And K’s fantasy is a woman who awaits every beck and call, waiting at home, cooking food or sitting in his pocket.
Sure, Denis Villeneuve is possibly showing a dystopian world stifled by the patriarchy. But, the story is concerned with life, birth and souls, all typically linked to femininity. With Rachael killed in the events between the two films and Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) as the primary creator of the new replicates, the female point of view is dismissed. It’s there, somewhere, buried beneath the brooding, handsome men of Hollywood, but it’s not developed. It’s neglected.
A case could be made for subtlety, something Blade Runner fans prize dearly. But when you have 100 foot statues with stone breasts keenly framed, all with suggestively open mouths or bent over, and colossal pirouetting holographs, any subtlety just took the nearest fire exit out of the cinema. With everything on screen so impeccable placed and framed, this is no coincidence. Coupled with the complete focus on broody men, what they want and where women fit into this, the placement of immense nude women becomes laughable.
Sure, it all looks great but if this is an attempt to comment on an overbearing patriarchy, Blade Runner 2049 confirms, without subtlety, that this is the current state of Hollywood anyway.
Wee side notes:
Despite this scathing criticism, I still liked the film. It’s an audio-visual marvel for sure. If you’re going to see it, go to the cinema and see it in all its splendour. I had a few problems with some pointless cuts, as the story seemed happy to languish but the camera wouldn’t sit still when it seemed the perfect opportunity. Early on, there’s a scene when K walks from his ship to a small farmhouse and we cut to about three or four different angles of him walking to the door. This was made completely redundant by the fact we had already seen multiple angles of the farm when he was landing. It’s a little distracting and pointless. I would have happily taken more static shots of the world over Gosling’s face.* But, it is still good and I might even prefer it to the original.
*I genuinely don’t know if this is a lie.