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Time to Die

Stephen Vaughan/Warner Brothers Pictures

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.


I would agree that the sexism is rampant throughout the film. But to think that the film is a valid depiction of a future that men want is wrong. It is a depiction, not a standard. Nor is it celebratory.

The sexism, including the holograms, statues, and portrayal of females is awful and disgusting. It's very clearly being shown as a vile place, especially towards women. I would hardly say that the cultural atmosphere in 2049, created by Villeneuve but founded in the original film, is being praised or validated. It presents a grimy, sexist world, and it's trying to show you that our current society is also this way far too often. Villeneuve said himself, when pressed on the movie's treatment of women, that "cinema is a mirror on society. Blade Runner is not about tomorrow; it’s about today. And I’m sorry, but the world is not kind to women." It's also of note that the previous nine films that Villeneuve directed, six of them had females in the lead roles.

To disregard the rest of the movie because it is not a champion of women is to lose out on the rest of the film and its beauty. Yes, the world of 2049 is depicting women as disposable—and that is disgusting. But it is not always a negative thing to portray content that is something we may not want to see, or a world we want to avoid. I agree that the film can be taken the wrong way, and should be watched with a keen eye. Viewers should be sure not to think that the extreme sexism is validated. It is ugly, and it's a mirror in which we can see what we DON'T want in the future. Do all films set in the future need to show a wonderful, peaceful world?

I would argue that the character played by Robin Wright, Joshi, is underutilized by the film. But you fail to mention her positive role as a decisive leader, even if it should have been more played out. It's not helpful that Deckard's daughter is a feeble, sick woman in a birdcage, but she is also decisive in her actions. She even says, "I take my freedom where I can get it." That's a chilling phrase when compared to the current social climate. Women have to take their freedom where they can get it, and that's not right. But seeing it in a well-made film has helped me think about it more clearly.

In essence, this film is more about what it means to be human, and it's from a male character's perspective. We need more films from a females perspective, I agree. But if you can set aside your need to have a female in every lead role then you would find quite a bit more in this film that what you see.

Woosh! Right over your head. The thing about dystopian sci-fi is that it's dystopian. It's a nightmarish peak into the future. You're not supposed to like the future it depicts. First of all, how many people in the film are even supposed to be human? Of the main cast, I count two, Wallace, and Lt. Joshi, also the other cop that gets killed. Even Deckard is a replicant, we have learned. Everyone else is either an extra, or a slave including the protagonist. Some of the few humans you see are homeless male squatters looking enviously at Joe, the "skin job" who actually has a job and a home. Humans in the film are almost totally obsolete! The only one with any real power is an elitist CEO of a tech company who sees himself as God. You seem to think that women in the film are targeted as disposable, yet humanity itself is all but completely disposed of by one man. The world has become so artificial that artificial men are having pretend relationships with holograms. It is pathetic as you state, but you seem to think that subplot is glorifying the concept. I think the "fauxmance" is meant to seem pathetic and because of how dramatized it is, and how seriously this fake man takes it, we the viewers can either A. blind ourselves to the truth as he has and weakly succumb to the illusion, or B. feel discomfort at the concept and see it as a mockery of what a real relationship should be. I choose B. They drive the point home later that Joi is a figment, programmed to tell you what you want to hear, completely artificial. She looks pleased to be upgraded to a more mobile status because she's coded to be such. Her design is to fool you into thinking she's real but as she states, she's 0's and 1's. It's not a glorification, I would go so far as to call it satire.

The subtext is that the only humans left with any quality of life are wealthy/privileged slaveowners and have long since fled earth, otherwise they are either A. homeless/getting phased out and hate replicants for replacing them, or B. they are propping up the system of slavery including Lt. Joshi. You The whole film paints a very bleak picture of humanity, not women or men, all of us. There are zero heroes in this film that are actually human.

Also, I have to say that your criticism of Deckard's sacrifice is puzzling. This sacrifice is purely circumstantial and yet you compare it to a completely different circumstance of paternal irresponsibility. Do you have so little esteem for the intelligence of the viewer that you think adults everywhere will put their selves in Deckard's shoes and think "If I abandon my kids I will be a hero!". If so, then I think you have overestimated your own intelligence. So tell me, do you think members of the military that are called to active service should bring their kids with them to the front lines? Being a good parent does not have a single definition or method. Perhaps you missed the higher concept that a responsible parent does whatever they can to ensure the welfare of a child. That can result in a lot of different scenarios.

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