After a 35 year wait filled with seemingly endless new edits and versions of the original cinema classic, movie audiences were finally able to return to the futuristic noir dystopia of Blade Runner. Film critics have rightly marveled at the visual achievement of the two hour and 43 minute long Blade Runner 2049, which pairs Ryan Gosling with original star Harrison Ford in a new tale about human replicants.
But even with the elegant and immersive score, cinematography, solid casting, and direction from Denis Villeneuve and executive producer Ridley Scott, Blade Runner 2049 has a huge issue. As one writer put it on opening weekend: A Woman Problem. Here we’ll take a look at why Blade Runner 2049 has a woman problem.
First and foremost, Blade Runner 2049 flunks the Bechdel Test.
We aren’t taking anything away from the immense talents of gifted performers Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, or Mackenzie Davis. It’s the script that undermines them. The “Bechdel Test” questions whether a story features a scene with at least two women talking to each other about something other than a man.
Blade Runner 2049 flunks this test. Despite its nearly three hour run time and excellent casting choices, there are only a handful of scenes that feature two women speaking to each other, and in each of them, they are talking about a man. Even when two of them may or may not be talking about a – spoiler alert – off-screen female character, at least one of them doesn’t know that, and it’s still in the larger context of a conversation about the whereabouts of Ryan Gosling’s male detective.
Even The Stepford Wives managed to pass the Bechdel Test. Yes, both versions, even the remake with Nicole Kidman. For that matter, 1953’s How to Marry a Millionaire passes. Blade Runner 2049 fails. The women of Blade Runner 2049 each fall into some type of male fetish archetype.
Robin Wright gives us a sleek, whisky drinking, all black wearing, hardened dominatrix like authority figure, who nevertheless sexualizes the movie’s hero.
As the male villain’s chief assassin, Sylvia Hoeks operates within similar parameters. She’s a tough-as-nails femme fatale in heels, coldly flirtatious, deadly murderous. As if to seal the deal with the audience, she even plants a laughably improbable and out-of-nowhere kiss on Gosling in the film’s climax straight out of an S&M dungeon.
Then we have the subservient fawning kitten that is Joi, a purchasable housewife style AI program whose greater yearnings all revolve around her devotion to Joe.
Carla Juri plays a manic pixie dream girl, damsel in distress, “woman in a tower,” living in Blade Runner’s literal glass cage.
Blade Runner 2049 also gives us a bunch of dudes running around motivated by the deaths of women, from the off-screen death of the original movie’s Rachael to the – Spoiler Alert – murder of Gosling’s A.I. powered pretend 1960s style housewife.
Blade Runner 2049 criminally underuses Mackenzie Davis as a “hooker with a heart of gold,” a movie trope so tiresome and old school it’s almost nostalgic.
Sean Young’s character from the original becomes alternately a Mother Mary type figure, bearer of this society’s messiah, and disposable robot facsimile who serves merely to tempt a heroic character into betraying the good guys to the bad guys.
Speaking of which, this brings us to one of the biggest gender related problems.
75 year old Harrison Ford is presented to us in Blade Runner 2049 as a hardscrabble, sensitive, gun-toting brawler, capable of getting the drop on 36 year old Ryan Gosling and trading punches with him like a couple of prize fighters. But as for Ford’s Blade Runner costar and love interest, Sean Young? She’s almost 20 years younger than Harrison Ford. But she’s nothing but a memory. Aging Arnold Schwarzenegger gets to return again and again to the Terminator franchise, but replicant beauty Sean Young can only return to Blade Runner as she looked in 1982?
The women in Blade Runner who were designed as fetishized archetypes to please men could be construed as social commentary, one might argue. The problem with this argument however is that such an approach would undermine the story’s other themes involving miracle children and whether Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
If we are to suppose that the replicants who populate this world are possessed of souls, despite their origins, then the tropes the women represent remain problematic. After all, the male detective at the center of the story has hopes and dreams beyond stereotypes, like his yearnings to be loved and for a greater purpose.
But Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t present a single woman who isn’t motivated by helping or hindering the hero’s journey of Ryan Gosling’s character, despite a few lines of dialog about either protecting the social wall between humans and replicants or the grand possibilities of this miracle child. Which are both conversations that involve Gosling anyway. Never mind that the leaders of the good guys and bad guys seem to have the same goal: getting replicants to reproduce.
MAJOR SPOILERS HERE:
Blade Runner 2049 punts on the whole “is he or isn’t he?” replicant question, simultaneously referencing the debate about Rick Deckard with a ham fisted bit of fan service exposition from Leto while simultaneously chickening out on an answer.
This means we never learn whether the Miracle Child of this movie was the result of two replicants getting it on or sired by a human man and replicant woman. Yes, there’s a version of this where the Chosen One of the Blade Runner universe was the result of the magical powers of the male hero rather than two of the oppressed class.
We loved the cast, immersive visuals, sound, and cinematography of Blade Runner 2049. But yes, Blade Runner 2049 Has a Woman Problem.