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Time to Die

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Stephen Vaughan/Warner Brothers Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

At its heart, the story of the blade runner demonstrates the importance of human feeling over machines. The blurred line of this story (as in the first installment, released in 1982 and again in 1992 in a director’s cut) is the problem that comes when the machines are designed to have human feelings, too. It’s unusual to see a movie exploring what it means to have a body. The failure of “Blade Runner 2049” is how it discriminates between men and women, and how that discrimination surpasses the distinction between human and machine. That failure leaves you with no hope for the future.

Screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green have written a sexist masterpiece and should hang their heads in shame. Women – whether they are real, or the almost-human ones known as replicants – are either all-seeing killing machines or “pleasure models.” Men are all killing machines, but some of them are thoughtful about it. It’s lazy. It’s boring. It’s insulting. And it fulfills the most dangerous male fantasies that have gotten us the world into so much trouble in the first place. The absolute disinterest of men to accept women as well-rounded people with interests or desires of our own is the driver for a lot of tech. The movie’s whole plot is to kill something that prevents men from putting their own desires first, and anything that stands in the way of that must be crushed. This disgusting, lazy, immature, selfish, repulsive, shameful fantasy absolutely must be called out because the real-world consequences are all around us, and, like Jared Leto’s character, most men and women seem blind to the real-world impact of these appalling choices.

K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner – i.e. a replicant, who is also a cop, who specializes in “retiring” older replicants who were mistakenly built with immortality. He works for Joshi (Robin Wright, whose career resurgence is one of the most gladdening things about current Hollywood), a standard-issue human police sergeant who is devoted to maintaining the segregation between humanity and replicants. On a devastated farm, K retires a replicant called Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista), and then makes a discovery so startling that it threatens the entire planet. Joshi is very clear; it must be crushed at all costs. So K obeys, as he is programmed to do.

Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins combine brilliantly to create a devastating, dirty world full of arresting images. Few other people currently working understand what “cinematic” means, and how to fill a screen with images that are simultaneously complex and extremely simple. K is sent to a private orphanage inside a partially-dismantled aircraft carrier, and enters an old loading bay where hundreds of children are picking apart old motherboards. It’s shocking, and more effective that its brutality is left for us to observe and consider while K argues with the owner (Lennie James) about some paperwork. The killer replicant working for a private corporation (Sylvia Hoeks, who was clearly cast for her resemblance to Sean Young from the original, but who does a neat job at both stillness and danger) might be able to control armed satellites while having a holographic manicure, but it’s K who walks into the correct rooms and notices the small clues that explain everything – a carving on a dead tree, pages torn from a book, a fake tooth left in a pocket.

The smallness of the clues in contrast to the great scope of the images is the movie’s cleverest idea. Rarely has a film so played on the senses; K and Sapper even discuss the smells of the farm before their big fight. The blind scientist who invented replicants in the first place (Mr. Leto, whose post-Oscar career arc is a fascinating display of how far one award can be milked) lives in an enchanting office that is suffused with golden underwater light on every level. It’s an interesting metaphor for heaven. The future Los Angeles is a combination of grey buildings and neon signs, as well as dancing holographic advertisements (of naked women, ballerinas and panty-flaunting schoolgirls; not one man, even fully dressed) in the streets. There are still vodka bottles and bento boxes, analogue TV screens and holographic recordings of Las Vegas nightclubs. But there’s only one animal, a shaggy dog, and its authenticity is never determined.

The dog lives with Deckard (Harrison Ford) in a booklined apartment in the top-story bar of an irradiated casino. The billing and the marketing materials should not have spoiled Deckard’s presence. But the worst part is that Deckard’s actions are portrayed as a noble choice, in fact the only possible one given the stakes. But Mr. Ford’s presence in the film makes glamorous an evil life choice far too many actual men make: that the best future a man can offer his family is by abandoning them.

This denouement is only possible because of that aforementioned fake tooth, which is left in K’s pocket by a whore (Mackenzie Davis). She is only able to access K’s apartment due to a profoundly offensive plot device. You see, K shares his home with Joi (Ana de Armas), a hologram programmed to meet his every desire. Her falseness is emphasized early on, when she is physically frozen, overridden by a call from work, right as he is about to give her a kiss. For him, it seems to be a real relationship, which is pathetic. The interplay between K and Joi also seems to have charmed most of the male reviewers of the film. K keeps buying upgrades, so Joi can experience more human sensations, and eventually Joi somehow hires the whore so that they have can sex. Mercifully that isn’t shown, but there is an extraordinary scene where Joi’s hologram layers over the whore’s face and body as they commence foreplay. The real hands and the imaginary run through K’s hair in an extended sequence that the CGI gremlins must have created one-handed. It’s spectacular, but it’s also vile. This is shown as the apex of human feeling, hiring a real person’s body in order to fuck a figment of your imagination. How dare they.

If women want to be in the world, this movie gives them two main choices – to be a real killing machine or a robotic one, to be a real prostitute or a fantasy one. Well, there is also the choice of what Erma Bombeck called the second oldest profession, but I am trying to keep spoilers out of this review. And don’t get me started on the sequence, visually lifted whole from “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence,” where a man stabs a female replicant, naked and covered in goo, in the uterus. Women are disposable; women exist only to serve men’s needs; women are not real; real women do not exist. The fact that the B.B.F.C. has rated this a 15 (i.e., children over the age of 15 can see it) demonstrates this appalling prejudice is everywhere. It’s R in the U.S., and should have been NC-17.

The screenplay passes the Bechdel-Wallace test though! But only when Ms. Hoeks’s character, who is called Luv, har-de-har, comments on the darkness of Joshi’s office before getting down to talking about men. That test was supposed to highlight the bare minimum of characterization normally shown onscreen and inspire male filmmakers to do better. Instead, it seems they are too busy focusing on how to cheat at it instead of making real change. Of course, real change would have involved not making this movie in the first place.

In 1982, the original “Blade Runner” was soundly attacked for the stereotypical way it handled its three female characters – two of whom were also whores – but they had names and personalities, and absolutely had their own ideas about who they were and what they wanted. Ridley Scott’s film was a feminist masterpiece compared to this pandering to the men’s rights brigade. Mr. Villeneuve has made an absolutely gorgeous piece of misogynist propaganda. What a shameful failure of the imagination, on every level. If this is the future men want, they can keep it. And whatever they paid Ms. Young for her involvement, it wasn’t enough.

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