by Haley Goetz
I’m a hardcore science fiction nerd and always have been. Films like Alien, Akira, and Children of Men have influenced me far more than any other pieces of cinema have been able to. This probably stems from the fact that the genre of science fiction as a whole tackles the world with all of its problems head-on, in an unflinching manner that allows for reflection in the truest possible sense. Science fiction films grapple with modern-day problems and illuminate them in sometimes fantastical ways in order for the audience to make connections and perceive things differently. But no science fiction film has quite changed the game as much as Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterwork Blade Runner.
The atmosphere in Blade Runner is terrific due to how multi-layered it is. Resplendent with fog, eerie neon lights, and giant advertisements that take up entire high-rise buildings, it does an absolutely incredible job of building a futuristic world from scratch. There are obviously some problems that come with the film at the same time, however. Scott as a film director has always done an exemplary job of representing women. From the absolute badassery of Ripley in Alien to the leading ladies of Thelma & Louise, Scott allows strong female leads to take centerstage in his films. Blade Runner strays a bit from this narrative, as the two memorable female characters are only there mostly to function as love interests in the overall story. There was a striking chance to redeem this, though, in 2017’s Blade Runner 2049.
From my perspective, I just felt uncomfortable with the general depiction of women in this film. It seemed like they were only there to service three main functions; to be a sex symbol for men, to be a sexual object to be used by men, or to assist a man. Returning back to the idea that Blade Runner is all about atmosphere, special effects were certainly prevalent in Blade Runner 2049. A big addition to the universe in 2049 were large-scale advertisements spaced across the vast cityscape. Most of these advertisements featured scantily-clad women advertising their sexual services. At one point in the film, there was an unnecessarily long sequence in which an advertisement of a topless woman interacts with K. There really was no point to this scene other than pure voyeurism. I did not see why it needed to be added, as it did nothing to move the plot forward.
Lieutenant Joshi(Robin Wright) seemed, at times, like she was only present to be the hardass woman who is just there to give directions. Since she was tasked with managing K’s(Ryan Gosling) unit, which dealt with the extermination of human-resembling replicants, it was if she had absolutely no empathy whatsoever. K faltered at a point when it came to retiring a replicant and she tells him that his is a job completely devoid of normal human emotions. Continuing on this idea of female characters not being allowed to show emotions in this film while their male counterparts are able to, Luv’s(Sylvia Hoeks) only function is to be a relentless killer. While it is true that she exists to help Wallace in his domination over the replicant-making business, she definitely takes her job into her own hands at certain times. It almost seems that Wallace himself doesn’t completely advocate for her nonstop violence, but she nonetheless takes it upon herself to kill absolutely everything in her way.
The character I was most disappointed with by far was that of Joi(Ana de Armas). She reminded me of Samantha, the humanistic yet invisible AI from Spike Jonze’s Her, as she and K had an emotional relationship that ultimately seemed rather superficial as it revolved mostly around physical looks. Why would K stay interested in a hologram of a person if she wasn’t super attractive to begin with? Joi is a fantasy for K throughout most of the film, as she is there to feed him, listen to him, and finally be there for sex. While I can easily see how a relationship such as this can function well within a science fiction narrative, having Joi be the only love interest is a bit problematic. The relationship she has with K is also weird in that it is depicted to almost be true love, while also staying far enough back that the audience realizes the love between them is a fantasy rather than a reality. When Joi inhabits call girl Mariette’s(Mackenzie Davis) body in order to have actual sex with K, it’s a weird sequence because the audience (maybe just me) felt far more sympathy towards Mariette than anyone else. Having a lot of similarities to Her once again, this scene wasn’t that great because Mariette was cast aside as soon as the act ended. I didn’t like the fact that she wasn’t really given a voice, because I felt like developing Mariette’s character would have been a wise choice.
Denis Villeneuve has a very impressive and wide-ranging filmography as a director. A lot of his great previous films such as Incendies, Sicario, and Polytechnique are such great pieces of cinema because they concern themselves with fully-fleshed out leading women. While I completely understand that the original Blade Runner does center around a man, Villeneuve had creative freedom to add different characters in 2049 and thus shape up the story a bit more. He ultimately did not take that path in Blade Runner 2049, which to me was a huge disappointment. The genre of science fiction, whether it be through films or literature, has never been female-centered. This is a shame, but it also means that there is plenty of room for the genre to evolve over time and allow for better female roles. Science fiction is and has always been my favorite genre, and by stepping out into hopefully making works of science fiction cinema in the future, I intend to change things a bit.