Blade Runner: First we discuss the original

If you’ve ever mentioned 80’s sci-fi to me – even in passing – there is a 100% possibility that I then brought up Blade Runner – and not in a good way. The original Blade Runner is the kind of film I hate to love, and love to hate.

It’s beautifully shot, it’s packed meaning into every interaction, every lighting detail, and the entirety of the mis-en-scene. That’s that shit I love in sci-fi. It’s anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, and contemplative of body autonomy and what it means to be human.

But it also does that shit sci-fi so often does. You know the thing.

Sexism.

The original film is so deeply sexist, but like – totally accidentally. Which is almost the worst kind of sexist. A sub-conscious sexism that says “this is the way things are and it’s totally normal”.

The most basic, and unsurprising of its sexism, is the way it represents women. Firstly, there are no human women (bar the Asian lady who speaks to Deckard from her shop for like, 0.5 seconds). All women worthy of interaction and screentime are, in Blade Runners eyes, obviously Replicants. And this is problematic in and of itself.

The idea that women have less body autonomy and unique thought than men is not exactly new. It’s an idea that pervades the majority of our media. And yet a film that so very much wants to explore what it means to be autonomous, barely brushes on the fact that this is very much a minority and female experience.

But OK, whatever. This concept could simply be a lame attempt at discussing womens roles in society, and comparing the Replicants to the female experience. So we’ll brush past it.

But then there’s what role it gives its females within the narrative. There are but 3 women Pris, Zhora, and Rachel.

Pris and Zhora are part of the rebel group who have returned to Earth to extend their lifespans. Pris, is a “pleasure” model Replicant, therefore it is almost no surprise to us that she is barely dressed in a single scene.

Zhora however, is a military model Replicant – highly skilled and trained in combat – so tell me why the fuck when she returned to Earth, her first move was to join a strip club where she “takes the pleasure from the snake”? This is disturbing, disrespectful, and just honestly, fucking gross.

But, this is still just the tip of the iceberg. Death is where things get really sticky. You see, this film also dabbles in discussions of what it is to die, and what it is to live. So tell me why the male Replicants die quickly, with minimal blood, but Pris and Zhora both flail on the ground for about a minute each, covered in blood and almost ZERO clothing? We afford respectable, and almost noble deaths for men, but the women die in gruesome, drawn out, and sexualised ways. No bueno boyz.

And yet – these are still not the most sexist aspects of the film. The one scene which absolutely, one hundred percent is unforgivable in my eyes, is the rape scene.

Wait, what rape scene? There is no rape scene?

That’s what everyone tells me – at least until I get them to rewatch the Deckard and Rachel sex scene without their sexy jazz music rose tinted glasses on.

It doesn’t look like a sex scene to most, because I firmly believe Ridley Scott did not intend it to be one. Why else would he overlay it with the sexy jazz music?

And yet it is a rape scene.

Rachel, only a day into finding out she is not body autonomous, and is in fact a Replicant, is crying and trying to escape Deckard’s apartment. As she goes to the door to leave he slams it shut and she gets thrown back. She’s cowering and crying. He makes advances on her to kiss her and she very clearly pulls back.

And then Deckard feeds her lines.

“Say ‘kiss me’”

Rachel hesitates – “kiss me”

And so ensues our sexy jazz music.

Except – this isn’t sexy, this isn’t romantic, and this sure as heck isn’t consensual.

This is terrifying.

Rachel is very much displaying the distress of someone fighting for their individuality and freedom, and here is another man feeding her lines and emotions. What’s a robot gal to do?

The fact that this is rape is not the most disturbing thing to me. What is most disturbing is that this is intended NOT to read like rape. This is intended to be romantic.

Which is why Rachel and Deckard are supposedly such a beautiful couple.

I think not.

And yet, I can’t help enjoying this film – and I hate myself for it.

The film is shot stunningly, and it grapples with the Reagan era it was created in, as well as capitalism, multi-nationalism, and classism.

It does this in both obvious and subtle ways, but its strongest motif is very much lighting.

In Blade Runner’s world, light is a sign of wealth and a show of power. Unless you have money in this film, your apartment is completely devoid of light. The only time Deckard or his peers get light within their homes, is when surveillance spotlights are searching through their blinds, or when giant screen billboards flash a new purchase opportunity.

This is a stark difference to Tyrell’s quarters, which are bathed in artificial and warm light. A bright gold – like money.

Ridley might be absolutely tone deaf when it comes to women, but the man sure as hell understands that wealth and power often have a lot more benefits than just nice clothes or homes. Wealth and power is as undeniable as being able to turn on a switch.

So, how does the new film compare? That’s a loaded question – which is why I split this into two blogs! Soz if you thought I was done, BR pt2 coming soon…

3 thoughts on “Blade Runner: First we discuss the original

  1. I knew about the rape scene. Even on my first viewing, it made me uncomfortable. When it finished, I was like “That was rape, wasn’t it?” And it’s funny, too, because 2049 tries to paint their relationship as so romantic, and just the best couple ever, but I just can’t see it that way. A relationship based on fear and power imbalance doesn’t sound very perfect to me.

    What were less obvious to me were the other more subtle forms of sexism in the film. 2049 is way more blunt, but I never realized that all the women in og BR were replicants. On reflection, their deaths are totally torturous and sexual, but I hadn’t really noticed that when I last watched it. It is a gorgeous movie, and in my opinion, one of Ford’s worst roles (the rape scene did not endear me to him here), but it definitely wasn’t speaking for women. I can’t wait to see your feminist view on 2049; I’m still considering my own thoughts on the film.

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    1. Thanks for such a great comment! I’ll admit, I wouldn’t have noticed the more subtle forms of sexism – but I studied this film about 5 times in film school – and from a feminist perspective. What I found was that this film is a great way to introduce people to concepts of benign sexism. The kinds that stay hidden, and are accepted by society. It made me really look at myself and realise I was complicit too. My blog on the second will be up in the next few days!!

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