Just Like A Real Girl: Blade Runner 2049

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writers: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green

Recommended? I dunno.

Blade Runner 2049 is a movie about women, and it’s a shame that the people who made it didn’t realize that. Almost every interesting idea that lies untended in the fallow thematic field of the movie is about women. Almost all of the interesting characters in the movie are women. Hell, most of the characters with power and authority in the film are women. Which, it’s curious to realize, doesn’t make the film passably feminist in any regard.

My science fiction was being watered down by the All-American lowest common denominator.

As I patiently sat through the previews in the theater, I got my first inkling that not all was right in the world. Previews are matched for the audience, right? Instead of science fiction, I mostly saw previews for movies about American white men who have hard lives because they kill people of color overseas. I mean… one could make a comparison between the replicants-killing-replicants of Blade Runner and the working-class-killing-working-class of warfare, but I didn’t get the impression that was what the people who matched the previews to the movie were going for.

Blade Runner came on, and by the time our protagonist changed his name from the objectively-cool “K” to the are-you-fucking-kidding-me “Joe,” I realized what was happening: my science fiction was being watered down by the All-American lowest common denominator.

To be clear, it was probably the most beautifully-shot movie I’ve seen in my life, and I’m certain I’ll watch it again. But in the first movie (which I’ve seen more times than I can justify), Deckard strong arms Rachel into loving him with that trademark Harrison Ford lack-of-caring-about-consent and in the second movie it’s just the same shit, repackaged for the modern palate.

There are plenty of garbage misogynist films in the world, but what got me, what sat under my skin and left me uncomfortable for an entire day, is just how goddammed many interesting themes about women, trans and cis alike, could and should have been explored in Blade Runner 2049.

The movie wasn’t subtle in the way it represented the sexual objectification of women. From the protagonist’s AI girlfriend to the time she hires a sex worker as a stand-in, to the ten-story nude dancing girl advertisements and giant apocalyptic sex statues, it’s a movie that wants us to know it knows that sex sells. As if anyone didn’t fucking know that.

I don’t even want to touch on the whole “the villain is a villain because she’s a robot doing what she’s told and also she wants to be the best at serving her master” thing, nor how she, super-strong, has to fight exclusively by high-kicking. Or the ableism of the magic blind evil mastermind.

What I want to talk about is the “real girl” scale and all the subtle (and by subtle, I mean “I’m making them up”) trans undertones in the film. Our protagonist has a holographic AI girlfriend. Joe is presented as heroic, a real romantic type, in that he turns down sexual advances from his boss/owner because he’s so in love with his AI girlfriend; but the thing about a holographic AI girlfriend that you own is that literally her entire existence is based on you continuing to choose to be with her. You can turn her off and on whenever you want and you could turn her off forever and no one would bat an eye. That’s not romance. (Or if it is, it’s the Harrison Ford style romance that most of us would like to pretend has gone extinct.) Actually, that sounds a bit like traditional marriage.

The reason that the AI isn’t a real girl is that she can’t fuck him. The reason replicants aren’t real girls is because they can’t have children. It’s just that you don’t have to be a real girl in order to be servile to or objectified by men.

Then there are the replicants. The AI hologram refers to a replicant sex worker as “a real girl” plenty enough for us to get the hint. I’m probably always going to root for replicant women more than any other character in fiction. As an aspiring artificially-constructed woman, I can relate. The thing is, though, only an AI would see a replicant as a “real girl.” Even the protagonist, a replicant himself, asks “is it real?” when he sees a probably-artificial dog.

The reason that the AI isn’t a real girl is that she can’t fuck him. The reason replicants aren’t real girls is because they can’t have children. It’s just that you don’t have to be a real girl in order to be servile to or objectified by men.

I like dark movies that explore dark topics. The problem with Blade Runner 2049 is that director didn’t earn the right to discuss those topics. If the film had been about any of the women involved, instead of about Joe America’s existential crisis and Harrison Ford’s absentee father complex, it could have earned it.

The women have their own fucking stories and even the movie knows that their stories are more interesting that Joe’s. Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t know that it’s a film about what happens to society when artificially-constructed women become “real” women—about trans pregnancy or even trans acceptance. It doesn’t know that it’s a film about emotional and sexual labor and what happens to women when those social roles are fulfilled by technology. It doesn’t even know that it’s a film about objectification. It seems to think it’s a film about America Dad who just really wants to reconnect to the child he abandoned, and it’s wrong.

Goddam the cinematography was beautiful though.

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