In Defence of Blade Runner 2049: Analysing Why Villeneuve’s Masterpiece is Anything but Sexist

© Alcon Entertainment, LLC.


I’d recently looked into an article written by Parsec’s Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, reviewing the new Blade Runner movie, a film that I regarded highly with my 5* appraisal. While she similarly celebrates its visual grandeur and strong performances, Baker-Whitelaw makes one well-argued claim on what she considers to be an undertone of sexism running throughout the movie, particularly in its objectification and stereotyping of its female characters, such as Joi (Ana de Armas).

While I respect any criticism as worthwhile – especially if it encourages public discussion on the cinematic art form – I’d like to throw my own gauntlet to the floor in defence of a film that I consider to be entirely the opposite of sexist. So here goes, a little analysis of my own.

Within its opening crawl, we are introduced to a key character: Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). What information are we provided relating to Wallace? Well, we are told that he was responsible for the provision of synthetic crops and produce that halted a near fatal famine: a devastating instability, resolved. Following this, Wallace proceeded to renegotiate the manufacture of replicants: animatronic humans that were prohibited due to an open rebellion against their captors. Wallace succeeds in his quest, and subsequently constructs a new line of replicant models that are as realistic as the last, yet entirely subservient to the humans they are allocated to: without the possibility of revolt, a devastating instability is again resolved.

What these two narrative elements amount to is an assertion of Wallace’s unwaveringly conservative values. Firstly, Wallace is a capitalist, a wealthy mogul who applies his riches to projects that he sees as bettering mankind. Secondly, these projects affirm what Wallace believes to be the human race’s claim to superiority, by having the artificial/replicant race serve them, fulfilling the undesirable jobs that humans no longer have to: Wallace sees himself as some kind of God, referring to the replicants as his ‘angels’ and serving mankind to his will. Thirdly, these replicants and their respective professions are all based upon a rule of stereotyping: in order to preserve what Wallace understands as societal stability, the conservative existence that came before must be maintained, this reality being enforced by patriarchal ideology and its ensuing categorisation.

A symbol of patriarchy: Jared Leto is Niander Wallace. © Alcon Entertainment, LLC.
A symbol of patriarchy: Jared Leto is Niander Wallace. © Alcon Entertainment, LLC.

And so the film begins, and we are introduced to our primary, artificial characters: K (Ryan Gosling) and Joi. Already, these characters’ foundational scenes fall in line with a stereotypical gender binary: the active male, and the passive female. K is an updated replicant, serving as a Blade Runner, hunting down old replicant models for ‘retirement’, presumably due to their lack of ideological control which is a primary attribute of Niander Wallace’s technical redesign. Within his opening scene, we see K find and execute one of these replicants, Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). Therefore, he is represented as active in his profession, displaying those generic male characteristics of aggression and tenacity, against those who would threaten the patriarchal status quo. On the opposite side of the spectrum, with Joi, we are introduced to her in the home: she is a hologram, installed within K’s house. She is first shown to us serving K his dinner, appearing in an outfit similar to that of a conservative housemaid. She then proceeds to alter her appearance, seeking approval and satisfaction from K. She is passive therefore, domesticated, submissive to the male.

These are sexist stereotypes for sure, but a vital detail is also included in these introductions: we are notified that both are products of Wallace. K unconsciously relays this information to us, through a conversation with Morton in the opening scene of the film. Joi, when turned on or off, is either preceded or proceeded by the Wallace logo. These serve as reminders that the film itself does not support these stereotypes as real or authentic: they are constructions of a conservative, patriarchal leader, desperate to assert a phallocentric ideology.

The significance of this claim is revealed as the film progresses, it being the main crux of the plot: the elimination of the stereotype, the transcendence of convention, the realisation of a reality outside of patriarchy.

Firstly, there is Joi. At first, we see her domesticated, a pristine image of a dying category from the era of Eisenhower and the nuclear family. However, as every appearance of hers passes, she develops a freer personality, escaping the shackles of her inactivity. Firstly, K grants her an upgrade, whereby she can move without the confines of the scanner attached to K’s ceiling: freedom granted by the male.

However, there is a sexual encounter later on where Joi, the hologram, projects her form over the body of a prostitute, Mariette (Mackenzie Davis). This is initiated by Joi, whose desire for K goes beyond the form of the body, thus denying the necessity for that supposedly essential human element: she has agency, in spite of her not possessing a human form. Furthermore, Joi is the one to gift K with a new identity, outside of the replicant designation he has functioned under: she christens him Joe, a name he initially rejects but later adopts when he faces Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) for the first time, indicating his acceptance of her active participation in forming his persona, away from Wallace’s suppression of the replicants’ individuality.

The most significant moment, however, comes in Joi’s near-terminal decision to delete her software from K’s apartment in order to live solely in the transfer device he’d procured for her earlier on. This detaches Joi entirely from the domestic environment: she wants to leave, to be an active participant alongside K, and he accepts this, his replicant consciousness refusing the dominant human ideology of patriarchy. Wallace’s programming has failed and both Joi and K are able to co-exist as equals.

A love that crosses the boundaries of gender: Ryan Gosling is Agent K, Ana de Armas is Joi. © Alcon Entertainment, LLC.
A love that crosses the boundaries of gender: Ryan Gosling is Agent K, Ana de Armas is Joi. © Alcon Entertainment, LLC.

Thus we arrive at K. With K, the key to his narrative thread is the revelation that Deckard had a child with Rachael (Sean Young), Deckard’s replicant partner from the first film. The impossibility of a replicant producing a child has come to fruition, and this prodigal creation could be K. Throughout the film, his implanted memories become increasingly more real, as he discovers evidence in areas from his flashbacks that suggest he was actually there, that these aren’t manufactured memories at all. The film has us believe it alongside him: we are convinced that K is this chosen child, this ‘miracle’ as Bautista’s Morton refers to it.

However, this presumption is proven false in the film’s grand twist. Following Deckard’s abduction at the hands of Niander Wallace’s synthetic servant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), we find K under the supervision of an outlawed band of replicants. What he discovers is that everything he thought was true is quite the opposite. See, alongside Rachael and Deckard’s child, there was an identical genetic match created to divert any attention away from the true replicant infant, in case they were discovered. Now, one can already begin to understand the patriarchal conservatism that is embedded within the replicants’ programming: my analysis thus far has proven as much. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that K naturally believes that he must be the child: an assumption merely influenced by that which he knows. However, reality sets in when he discovers that it is the female match that is the miracle, and that he is the decoy.

This is an ingenious inversion of gender stereotypes that cements Blade Runner 2049 as a film that could never be accused of sexism. According to the laws of dominant narrative tropes, K would be the chosen child: he is the male, of course, why wouldn’t he be. But to have him realise that this simply isn’t the case, that he has effectively sacrificed everything, for nothing, is powerful and unconventional. Yet it isn’t met with an empathy that confronts this antithetic statement on gender assumptions. Instead, what K begins to understand is that this is the right path for this world, that change is necessary.

It is in a final scene, involving an oversized advertisement hologram of Joi, that K finally understands this fact. The figure of Joi is heavily sexualised within this scene: completely naked, she coaxes K to join her, do things with her, a proposition that he’d have perhaps taken at the beginning of the film. But with what Joi became, the changes she took in becoming a free agent, these turn him against that possibility. He stares emotionless at the hologram, bloodied, grasping the full weight of his decision. And he understands that the Joi he once had, the Joi free of the patriarchal grasp of Wallace and his fascist programming, was the one worth fighting for. He walks away from the hologram, with the intention of saving Deckard and returning him to his daughter.

K makes an important decision, and so does the film. Rather than question the gravity of this uncovering, K simply accepts it for the better: due to the evolution of his connection to Joi, he discovers something about himself, about the truth of their being, as compared to Wallace’s patriarchal preconceptions. The conservative illusion they lived in is one devoid of love and emotion: he begins to love Joi the more she becomes independent of her feminine stereotype. Similarly, he himself becomes the hero by embracing the female prodigy, by walking away from the objectified female and siding with those who would seek to tear down this conservative view of women and its leader, Wallace, with it.

It is with this epiphany that K commits to the cause and gives his own life to save Deckard’s, supporting the rebellion that would destroy the patriarchal superstructure. It is this radical, yet beautifully realised moment that defines Blade Runner 2049 as something much more than a gorgeously shot science-fiction film: it is an ontological masterpiece, challenging the very ideology that is so prominent within our everyday lives. The iconography of the woman is put front and centre, yet uncomfortably so, to the point where we relate to K’s decision to support the revolt. It is in this final decision that the knot is tied on a film that is so clearly tied to an optimistic ideal of the human spirit: the belief that we can all inspire each other, and ourselves, to stand up for what’s right, this being the freedom of all, irrespective of gender or race.

To conclude this analysis, I’d like to present you with a contrast that speaks to the ultimate message of the film. There are two identical shots recording one singular action: K holding out his hand and capturing a snowflake. The first time he catches it, roughly midway through the film, he believes himself to be the prodigal son: he’s the symbol of patriarchy, but staring at his hand as the snowflake falls onto it, he looks confused, unsure of his status, even angry. However, the second time he catches the snowflake, it has followed the sequence of him saving Deckard, choosing to side with the replicants, rallying with them against injustice. In the shot that follows, we see K smile at his hand, content and ready to die. It’s no wonder that Roy Batty’s theme plays over it from the first movie, as Batty died for a selfless cause: saving Deckard, despite Deckard’s attempts to kill him. In that moment, K realises that he has also made the right decision with his selfless act: the affirmation of an equal society, led by a woman and her father, side by side. All because he saw in Joi that there’s a chance for women to be free from objectification and oppression. I think this speaks volumes to my overall argument: rather than attesting to sexist ideals, Blade Runner 2049 subverts them, attacks them and provides a beautiful vision of a future where a decision can be made that could rid the world of them forever.

13 thoughts on “In Defence of Blade Runner 2049: Analysing Why Villeneuve’s Masterpiece is Anything but Sexist

  1. Thank you for this! I’m shocked at the flak this film is getting about this issue, relative to all the violent and misogynistic shit that Hollywood regularly throws out. The so-called ‘SJWs’ are the frontline troops and they put a fair deal more effort into trying to guide civilization than I can ever be bothered to, but my word they properly shat the bed when they decided to gang up on this film. Thanks for your voice of reason.

    1. I appreciate your feedback and totally agree with you. In this era of ‘Transformers’ films making a ton at the box office, despite objectifying its females with absolutely no subtext or strengthening of their identities, it’s a shame that a film like ‘Blade Runner 2049’ gets misread and attacked. I just hope that we can optimise people to go see it and realise that it reveals so many harsh truths about our time.

  2. Fantastic article. I think this film seems a very odd choice to be demonised. While, I’m very much for taking on systemic prejudice, this is precisely the wrong film to start with. Having seen the film was quite puzzled by the fact it had been called out for sexism and went back to try and understand what I’d missed. I’d made the following comment on a Wired article, which as well criticising the sexual politics also raised concerns about race:

    As a liberal, feminist, mixed race person I’m more than a little baffled by this debate. [spoilers follow]

    I think the whole point of Blade Runner is to talk about the commoditisation of life (and of sexuality as part of that). It is explicitly discussing the film noir trope of male bodies as tools or subjects of violent action and women as subjects of misogyny. People decrying this film as just amplifying those problems rather than taking them on seem to overlook that it actually has very few white *human* males at all, aside from Deckard (or is he..?) and Wallace. K is a replicant and thus an objectified entity – as is Dave Bautista’s replicant. Joi is an AI and thus an objectified entity. Aside from them, we have few humans – remember they’re all off world primarily. Yet what actual humans there are are either women or people of colour. And their status, while necessarily brief as this is ostensibly Deckard and K’s arc – is amplified by casting massively talented actors like Robin Wright, Lennie James and Bakhad Abdi which makes their contributions more resonant. I think Luv shouldn’t be disqualified as a major character either. This article implies her non human status means she doesn’t qualify, which seems to miss the point of the film.

    I do agree that the film is explicitly sensual and does use women’s bodies to achieve this quality. However, I don’t think showing sexism is the same as being casually sexist. I noted another comment here flag up Denis Villenueve’s work in Sicario and Arrival as a counterpoint to the idea that he isn’t highly aware of the importance of powerful female leads. 2049 is also the same world as the original Blade Runner, which had manic/psycho pixie dream girls and – yes – snake wrangling strippers. In this film Joi’s narrative is about achieving agency and selfhood in a context where this seems near impossible. As a disembodied intelligence, she even goes as far as to drive events to allow her to have a physical sexual relationship with a non-human who has been content to keep things chaste. I’d argue that Joi does the most to persuade K and the audience that life isn’t coded into DNA – or even that a soul starts at birth.

    Also, it’s time to get the original off from its pedestal and actually engage with its themes. For example, in that film bodies are disposable fragile objects which forces us to consider the whole idea of having a soul and being alive. The nature of and gaze at replicant bodies (and in 2049 AI bodies) is deliberate – forcing us to confront how human we think they are. If we wince when K glues up his torn body, is he more human? If we do lust after Joi’s projected body is she more human or are we less human? Or is K simply a better man than me for not doing so?

    Finally, is it really an major issue if 2049 seems to be a male story, given the first film was very much about fathers and sons and creation? (As a side note, if you want to do a fatherhood story with Deckard then one of the other characters will end up being white given Harrison Ford’s casting in the original). This film is also working with that same theme of parenthood, but arguably does so only to reverse the patriarchal focus entirely and bring maternity in as an equal, if not greater force than paternity. The end of this film says it best – if there is redemption in the world of 2049, it is female.

    1. A similarly fantastic analysis that speaks many truths and collates with a great amount of what I believe and have indicated in my article. I think your mentioning of the Noir genre is particularly important: the hybrid nature of ‘Blade Runner 2049’ as a Noir – a stereotypically patriarchal genre – and a Sci-Fi – a stereotypically forward-looking genre – make it the best foundation on which to build a film about women and their segregation: the tropes of the Noir genre, the objectified women, the stubborn, desiring detective, are all fabrications manufactured within ‘Blade Runner 2049’ by the human character Niander Wallace. It demystifies the Noir genre in a way, the fetishistic quality of those films, in favour of a reality where men, symbolised by K, realise that this is wrong: that the better, more gratifying, more human decision is to not objectify, but to help position women in a situation of strength, to stand side-by-side with them. It’s a masterpiece.

  3. This is an interesting analysis, but I have a number of issues with it. Firstly, the analysis appeals primarily to an interpretation of narrative. I like the fact that the narrative of the film is complex and it certainly can stand up to this type of critique. But dismissing claims of sexism because in your view people don’t understand the nuances is in danger of being elitist. I believe people understand full well what the problem is and it is not primarily situated in the narrative. Although I might point out at this point that a film about reproduction that centres fathers, and where the mother is absent, appears to be intrinsiclly patriarchal, no matter what high level coding of patriarchal critique you might read into it, or how much you may justify the female stereotypes.

    Secondly, as you mentioned in the article, the film uses sexualised images of women. This is a visual motif of a particular kind of female body, which conforms to hegemonic western beauty standards. On two occasions these are giant models or holograms which are highly sexualized. If these images are supposed to represent a misogynistic dystopian future (equated to our present) i don’t quite understand how it is a critique of patriarchy. The film chooses how to show these images and what is included in the frame. To me this indicates this is a film made by (heterosexual) men for men, no matter how much it hides behind a veneer of profundity and intellectualism.

    Thirdly, the film is highly affective. It is very beautiful, with haptic imagery and an awesome score. This makes its misogyny all the more troubling. The film lingers over the deaths of two female characters at the hands of men. One of cold horror, as the camera takes in multiple angles of a newborn but adult-bodied naked female replicant, before she is sliced across the abdomen with a scalpel by Wallace and left to bleed to death on the floor. The scene is as horrifying as intended. The shot selection in my mind leans more toward sexualisation than innocence, slowly tilting up her naked torso, then a long shot from behind lingering on her buttocks as she stands, completely vulnerable in front of Wallace. It reminded me a little of the Littlefinger monologue in season 1 of Game of Thrones, sexualized female bodies used to emphasize the man’s power, but this was much more sadistic. When she is cut the camera focusses on Wallace as he turns away, leaving her to expire slowly in the background. It is not just the sadism of Wallace at the level of the narrative indicated here, but the sadism of the film itself. The second lingering death of a female character is in a very different scene in which Joe manages to kill Luv by slowly strangling her underwater. It is a scene of high intensity and excitement, and Luv’s eventual demise, the camera lingering on her face as the fight drains out of her, is coupled with a palpable sense of relief as the intensity fades. Perhaps these scenes would not be so bad if there was just one of them, or if a male character died in the same way. The film only allows women suffer this fate.

    Perhaps the most telling problem is the almost universal praise of male film critics. The fact that the film does that ever so masculine thing of intellectualising misogyny to pass it off as critique, gives a male dominated critical establishment an easy way past valid accusations not just of sexism but misogyny. This makes Bladerunner more pernicious than most Hollywood output where the stereotyping, objectifying and ignoring of women is commonplace. Trasformers for example objectifies and margenalises women, but it does not activly depict violence against women and attempt to pass itself off as progressive, and situate itself beyond criticism as a work of art that can only be understood by people of a certain education. Villeneuve is like the arthouse elitest Michael Bay, more sexist and less honest about it. In that respect he’d be perfect for the next Bond film.

    P.S. Just in response to a commenter who mentioned film noir. Femme Fatales tend to have agency. Is there an equivalent character in Bladerunner 2049? Men given the agency to apparently lift women up, while still objectifying, stereotyping, marginalising and murdering them does not make Bladerunner 2049 a feminist masterpiece.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments, a fascinating counter-argument. However, I am inclined to stand firmly to what I have said.

      I understand your statement on elitism: however, we forget that ‘Blade Runner 2049′ is a blockbuster, a commercial piece of filmmaking. It is designed to challenge us on more an intellectual level, but as a piece of dominant cinema, the audience is inclined to read it through surface value, as contemporary cinema is predominantly visual, without depth. By posing as this, many are inclined to read into it on this level because of the nature of today’s entertainment and media. Therefore, I think feminist criticisms of its imagery is based on an assumption built by contemporary cinema: all flash and bang, no substance.

      In response to your claim about fathers, that is certainly relevant to the original, but in this film, the mother is entirely the focus, with the birth of the miracle. The feminist perspective on this part is that the patriarchal society, our own and Wallace’s, has deified the Father: psychoanalysis, religion, bourgeois rationalism, Wallace’s replicant creationism, the father is the key. But the film reminds us of the mother, establishing her as the core plot point: she is the miracle because she has been forgotten, uncovered, the greatest revelation the world has seen, the gender that has been sidelined for years but now comes into view within the film.

      In terms of sexualised imagery, the importance of using these hegemonic, objectified images of stereotypically beautiful women is that it is the idealised image of women, according to patriarchal ideology: Niander Wallace perpetuates a sexism within the culture and technology of the film by conforming to the phallocentric need for women that are fetishized, to fulfil their voyeuristic desires, by providing a technology, the replicant prostitute Mariette and the hologram Joi, that embodies exactly that. The significance of the filmmaking and its critique of this is by allowing us to identify with characters that are explicitly non-human: they do not follow the same psychological systems and principles as they are constructed. Therefore, in the scene involving the large Joi hologram, we are invited to look upon Joi (represented through the POV shots looking directly at her) from an objective, non-human perspective: we look at it in a different light, particularly as we understand what Joi meant to Joe, and see someone who needs to be freed from the objectified image she is forced to represent, and take action in order to progress society, embodied by Joe’s decision to help the revolution, which shall be led by a woman who is not sexualised, the miracle memory maker that is Dr. Ana Stelline.

      Your point on the deaths is important and I should have spoken more about this. But the first death, you have answered yourself: it is one of cold horror. The film does not invite us to take pleasure in Wallace’s killing of the girl, it disturbs us, drives us to immediately identify Wallace as a villain. There is no way that the film can be considered sadistic when the music, ominous in tone, and the performances of Sylvia Hoeks (who is horrified by what she sees) and Leto (who is completely passive to his crime) combine to form a scene that is disturbing in a sympathetic way towards the replicants: the film makes it its quest to create empathy for the replicants, due to their segregation. The film has naturally aligned us with this fact, prominent especially in this day and age of ethnic, gender and sexual discussions. Therefore, we have already been programmed to regard any scene of discrimination or violence against the replicants to be disturbing or wrong.

      Except in the case of Hoeks’ Luv, who is a different case entirely due to her patriarchal conception. She is the opposite of Joi, in that she represents the patriarchal representation of what a strong woman should be: she is aggressive, and narcissistic, in constant competition (when she says to K ‘I am the best’ in the final fight). She is the one who is sent by Wallace to execute the one female representative of power within the film: Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright). Yet she does so with a tear: she understands her patriarchal structure yet must follow through with her programming because Wallace is in complete, psychological control of her, a manipulative and patriarchal relationship. The reason K must kill her at the end is because K must destroy the stereotype: his sacrifice is being the man to resist the stereotypes of femininity, to realise the errors in Joi’s objectification and to seek to destroy the destructive, patriarchal persona of Luv, who’s entire purpose within the film ( a purpose designed for her by the patriarchal figure Wallace) is to destroy the women that are in positions of power, being Lt. Joshi and the desired murder of the female miracle who will eventually lead the rebellion against Wallace. In the end, K is a man who is completely insignificant to the overarching theme of the narrative: the film is about the revolution against patriarchy, K is just a pawn in that fight. But he realises, like men should, that objectification and masculinisation are wrong and that these stereotypes must be destroyed. The man cancels out patriarchy: Villeneuve understands that it is as important for men to stand up for women as it for women to do so. I shall refer to Emma Watson’s campaign, titled ‘He for She’, a tagline that is perhaps the beating heart of this movie.

      Additionally, the argument regarding ‘a certain education’ is wrong entirely because that treats film like it is too intelligent for a collection of people. But that is totally incorrect: anyone can understand film, I just wanted to present my personal opinion in an analytical way. By intellectually engaging with a subject like misogyny, genuine discussion and thought can be made. The feminist Simone de Beauvoir even spoke about men in relation to feminism: they have no need to reject the ideology that gives them power, opportunity, why would they for a selfless cause? Therefore, a film that is spoken entirely in the female voice will be cynically rejected in this fashion. ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a vital film in this regard. It speaks to men, it is a masculine product: the society depicted in it is patriarchal, the products displayed are for men, i.e. the objectified woman. However, by speaking in a male register for a female cause, feminism, this fashions a film that speaks directly to feminism but in a way that enables patriarchy to suffer all the greater by losing its proponent agent: the man. By speaking through a patriarchal society, in a masculine film, with a male director, to male critics, but with a fundamental message of the dangers and disgraces of patriarchy in favour of a feminist perspective? I think it is an equally important feminism as akin to a feminism by women, for women. There is a constant argument for stronger agency for women as directors, producers and stars of their own work: I wholly support this. I equally support a filmmaking that inspires men towards feminism.

      I speak of narrative as essential because it is the audience’s reading of it that provides meaning. If a director like Villeneuve can tailor a narrative and film to address issues of misogyny, suppress and subvert them, by making it in such a way as to demonstrate to men that objectification is wrong, I think is admirable and necessary. We need films that highlight patriarchy, make misogyny apparent, distress us in its horrors, make us identify with and leave hopeful because of the actions of a man, K, who understands that patriarchy is entirely wrong. This is the purpose of the film: entirely feminist, yet for men to relate to the feminist cause. While there it is a male dominated critical establishment, this is not the fault of the film. What the film does do however is speak to that male dominated establishment in order to get the conversation going on feminism. It does not tread around misogyny, it engages with it head on, refusing to deny its existence, putting it front and centre to be criticised, both by the narrative and by us as an audience.

      P.S. Villeneuve directed ‘Sicario’ and ‘Arrival’ as well, two female-led films. Furthermore, the femme fatale has no agency: she is the mystery of every film narrative, the mystery being the phallocentric need for men to uncover some ‘secret’ about women due to her lack of the male genitals, a Lacanian concept that entirely subsumes the woman. Instead, there are no femme fatales within ‘Blade Runner 2049’ for its purpose of breaking down the stereotypes: it is far less of a Noir than it is a Science-Fiction film. And in response to your final statement ‘Men given the agency to apparently lift women up, while still objectifying, stereotyping, marginalising and murdering them does not make Bladerunner 2049 a feminist masterpiece’ – Women, particularly Joi and Joshi, are the characters who propel the plot, push the narrative forward, give K his purpose and identity: he may move along with the narrative, but it is instigated by his superior officer, Joshi, and Joi who encourages him to find the answers. Women hold the men up, who eventually discover that it is with women that the future rests. The objectification, stereotyping and marginalising came before, as a result of the society established by Wallace: I established this in my analysis. The film is about overcoming this, as indicated by the rebellion against Wallace, led by the female replicants. The murdering of women is either by Luv or Wallace, two patriarchal figures: focusing on Luv, she kills the only strong female, as well as Joi, who had developed up to that point to be someone who wasn’t objectified but was strong and independent, made her own decision to come with K, so she reduces Joi to the objectified level that K sees her in when he sees her again as the giant hologram. The murder of the female by Wallace is purely out of his loathing of the female ability to reproduce, hence his striking of the belly. He wants to create himself, and is fundamentally envious of woman’s ability to do so, hence his need to kill the female replicant in this way, another reason that we endorse the rebellion against him as he wishes to appropriate birth in the clutches of patriarchy. Finally, Luv’s murder, as I have said, is justified in that she has murdered all women of power or independence, reducing them to patriarchal levels: Joshi no longer in charge, Joi an objectified image. K’s killing of her is necessary because she supports the patriarchal law as much as Wallace does.

  4. I think Rhizome makes a good challenge to my point on noir. My point is that the first Blade Runner was intended to be a future film noir but I didn’t make a case on femme fatales in 2049 in particular. I don’t really think there is a femme fatale arc per se in Blade Runner.

    Also, you do make an interesting point about the male gaze and male critics. That’s very thought-provoking. I have seen many attacks on the male gaze dimension of the film from commentators who seemed to say as Joi is attractive and – occasionally naked – she can’t possibly be taken seriously by the story. But – from my experience – maybe men look and enjoy and still take someone seriously as a person too (this is a wider challenge to the concept of objectification – it implies that the gaze always dehumanises or demeans. It seems a theory that ignores the complexity and nuance of both the male and female experience).

    But perhaps we male commentators should accept that Blade Runner 2049 uses women’s bodies exploitatively. Even so, should we forgive this? Here’s a theory to explore: Maybe male commentators – being stuck in this perceived mindset – can get past the nudity (through long practice getting past our own ‘worse’ impulses) or understand that their relationship to that nudity is being switched on in order to bring that tension into play. If they cast someone like Ana de Armas, dress her that way, write her that way… they are certainly pushing buttons. I have to admit it worked on me and maybe it did help me love the character. Maybe that does make this an deliberately male-oriented film but then again, why not? Why not present men with something that challenges their gaze in a story that asks them to evaluate their willingness to exploit? would we be like K? Would we be like Wallace? Would we be threatened by being set aside as ultimately irrelevant? Or as disposable? (And yes, Luv has a lingering death, but the film has lots of male bodies being shattered, torn, splashily exploded – largely by Luv).

    Maybe Blade Runner 2049 is made by men for men but does that make it more misogynistic or indeed any less feminist in its arguments.

    Ultimately, I still don’t buy why this film – over all others – is gaining attention for this one aspect of its dystopian vision – other than maybe the mesmerising power of its visuals makes you notice everything all the more.

    1. I understand the issue with male gaze, it is a problem and is actually one of the principles under criticism in my Film dissertation. However, while the gaze is present, the narrative manipulates our use of the gaze through our identification with certain characters: as we spent so long relating to K, feeling for his struggle and his relationship with Joi, that when he eventually sees her naked, there is no sexual element in play. The film, and Ryan Gosling’s performance, makes us believe in this moment’s misery, as we see Joi reduced to an object for the male gaze. So we don’t linger, fetishising her image. We are inspired, as a result of the relationship that has cleverly developed between Joi and K, to encourage K’s actions against Wallace and this image that he has created. This is exactly why I mentioned Joi and K in my analysis so explicitly: they are integral to the feminist message. The film exploits, as you say, man’s willingness to exploit, by having K go through the exact same struggle: he has exploited Joi before, at the beginning of the film, but her agency made him fall in love with her, hence why, in her absolute freedom from domesticity, he seems so devastated, and we are so devastated, when Luv kills her.

  5. RE: Joi
    There is ambiguity in the resolution of the Joi story. It is unclear if K is lamenting the loss of his Joi, who somehow transcended her programming to become a real girl, or if K is lamenting being duped by Wallace’s clever simulacrum that was specifically designed to deceive him.
    The larger theme of this movie is the ambiguity about free will. The characters have individual agency, but they are slaves to their programmed drives. Just like the bees.

    1. Because society has made this one of two typical images of the female: the objectified woman and the domesticated one. Both are present within Blade Runner 2049, first as elements of world-building, for the purposes of explicitly exploring the patriarchal dystopian setting, second as narrative signifiers for character’s decisions to alter the system that makes this nudity a commodity, a fetish. The nudity is designed to shock us, make us feel shame for looking at it: K feels the same thing when he sees it because he begins to understand that it’s wrong. That’s the basic moral of the story.

  6. Thank you @rhizome. Rarely have I seen anyone express so articulately what I find so completely distressing about the success of this film among the male audience.
    Dune coming out now brings it all back. Depressing.

  7. The film isn’t about sexism, misogyny, or a critique of “the patriarchy” (or whatever other progressive boogeyman you wish to supplant that with), it has to do with the commodification of happiness and growing disconnect we have from society as technology becomes more advanced.

    First off; K leads a bleak, emotionless, violent existence, where in order to work he has to show zero expression. His superior is a female, so any claims about the “Heteronormative patriarchy” is nonsense. Women are shown to be street walkers and are sexualized, but you see far more men torn to pieces, obliterated by missiles, thrown through walls, and dominated by women (namely by Luv, Wallace’s head android) than you do any women in this film, and you see this constantly throughout it. Anyways, the only comfort K has in his entire life is Joi, who is a commodity, and is meant to resemble his only connection to an enjoyable life. He buys her a device so he can take her with him wherever he goes, showing his attachment to her is something he values, probably more than anything else. Him bringing home a prostitute to take her place as a hologram is meant to show him wanting, but unable, to connect with her physically. She’s a stand-in for something other-wise unattainable and remains nothing but an ideal he’s endlessly chasing, a hope for him to be able to achieve something greater, a real attachment to someone, anyone.

    We see K go through a significant change after he starts to believe he could be the part-human child, believing that he may have a “greater purpose” beyond just being some android enforcer, and is reprimanded at work because of this realization, beaten down for expressing himself, and if he doesn’t go back to being emotionless and cold he will be “retired”, as emotions are deemed “dangerous”. Despite this he breaks protocol, finds Deckard, tells him about the child, which he hopes he is, but all at the cost of his one connection to the world, Joi, who is destroyed by another android who perceives herself as being above everything else, relishing the destruction of K’s only source of attachment to the world.

    You say that the ending is somehow meant to show an “end to the patriarchal superstructure”, and yet there is no evidence or even hinting at this. The film says the opposite actually, as Deckard and his daughter are reunited and assumedly go into hiding. There is no “greater rebellion” that happens. At the end of the film there is no great battle or triumphant uprising, just a father and daughter walking away to get out of the cold. Nothing is hinted at her being some kind of “leader”, and this is shown perfectly as K dismisses the wishes of the rebellion, sparing Deckard and killing Luv instead so Deckard can be reunited, and after they walk off frame, K dies in the peace of the snow, knowing he’d done at least one meaningful thing in his life, creating one meaningful he could connect himself to the world through a selfless act of sacrifice.

    Blade Runner 2049 wasn’t written, produced, or even edited by Denis Villeneuve, so his interpretations of the actual plot are relegated to the background and scenery at most. His implementation of potential sexist undertones are visible for people who genuinely want to find them but other-wise meaningless and trite. I think the most shallow possible interpretation of Blade Runner 2049 possible would be through a feminist lens, as it has deeper implications about humanity finding a deeper purpose than ideology-driven egotism like Wallace or filling some cog in a machine like K, who in the end sacrificed himself to bring together a family he wished he could’ve been a part of.

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