By Christopher King
Blade Runner has a sequel. Thirty years after the original film was released we have Blade Runner 2049, which moves on in the story of the first film with new and old characters, the old character Deckard being played by Harrison Ford.
In what is supposedly a modern take of the film, Blade Runner merely reduces women to alluring sex objects with whom consent is not required. The film’s regressive take on womanhood is furthered by showing all of the female characters who have speaking roles, bar two, naked at some point, while none of the male characters appear naked.
Much of the movie featured statues of naked women with exaggerated features of what it means to be feminine. While it can be argued that this objectification is meant to highlight the omnipresence of the android-producing corporations thriving in a sexist dystopian world, the laisse nature of the depictions appear to be making no more of a statement than the male director and production team wanting viewers to get their daily dose of media sexism in.
One of the non-naked characters is Lieutenant Joshi, played by Robin Wright. She is a morally ambiguous Police Lieutenant asking Ryan Gosling’s ‘K’, to act off the books. She is a breath of fresh air in this film as a woman who has character, even if that character isn’t explored in much depth. Her final scene in the film shows her defiance and strength to do what she feels is right at any cost. But it is entirely pointless, her self-sacrifice being undone within 20 seconds as the villain Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) turns Joshi’s computer on and pushes her dead face into the retinal scan. It’s comforting that the character is willing to die for a cause, but if that death is futile then the character ends up lacking depth.
Then there is the female AI, Joi, the love interest of the hero. She lacked the emotional depth or personality of similar characters like Scarlett Johansson’s AI character in HER and it was too difficult to tell if Joi was deliberately written to be vacuous and entirely dependent on the hero, or if her character was merely poorly written.
Her role certainly fits into the themes of the film – the existentialist idea that no one who is born special. There are thousands of Joi. Though there are no appearances of her in the background to show how common her model is, she is continually described as a product. We are left in no doubt that she is not unique to Officer K. In one of the final scenes, Joi appears as a giant naked 3D advert promising to love and say anything required of her by the purchaser. This leaves K with a nihilistic enlightenment that he is not special to her – he is just one of thousands of people she is seeing.
These AI have a role in helping lonely people not feel so lonely. Joi’s taglines are about love and fulfilling desire, with a naked animation. It is obvious that Joi is for sexual purposes. There is no suggestion that there are male versions available, making Joi – like the movie – designed for the hetero-male. The film keeps its focus on the men and their desires i.e. what they want and what they fight for. There is even a gratuitous threesome wherein Joi wants to be a real girl and therefore brings another girl into her sex life with K. A scene as pointless as this only serves to satisfy a stereotypical male fantasy.
Products similar to the AI in Blade Runner already exist. An anime girlfriend/companion in Japan called GATEBOX provides functions similar to Joi in the movie. A little computer animated character sends loving texts during the day, gives a morning news and weather update, and can be linked up to lights and kettles to turn them on before the purchaser arrives at home in the evening. This reality causes one to suppose – does this mean we, as a species, have developed since the last Blade Runner came out decades ago? Or does it mean that we, as a species, have not progressed on our view of women?
As far as female representation in media is concerned, we are obviously not where we need to be. However, while people are far more aware of this lack than they were thirty years ago, the new Blade Runner shows us that we should never assume that flat, objectified female characters are adding to the film rather than, say, an unnecessary flaw.
You don’t have to boycott the movie, just be aware of what brings down what could have been a really great film.
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons