Consensual robo sex? The evolution of sex scenes in Blade Runner

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Spoilers ahoy for both Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017) AND trigger warning for rape. Flee to safety if you’d rather not stay.

From rape-y to space-y: The evolution of sex scenes in Blade Runner
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Warning: spoilers ahead for both Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), as well as a trigger warning for rape and non-consent.

In a very Her-like scene in the middle of Blade Runner 2049, Ryan Gosling’s “K” is able to have sex with his virtual non-human partner Joi (Ana de Armas) by means of a real life woman (Mackenzie Davis) in some kind of mind-meld three-way. The two women link their minds and we see Joi’s face flickering in and out while they get down to it. It’s space-y, it’s sort of sexy, it’s almost romantic.

We could debate the finer points of whether or not replicants, with physical form or not, can actually consent (shout-out to that discussion in Westworld), but I’m going to instead compare it to its predecessor, the original Blade Runner from 1982.

At the very least, the newer film has three individuals who are consenting to the activity. It’s one of the most mesmerizing and unusual scenes in the film. It even has some tender undertones as you see Joi getting ahead of herself in her passion and moving more quickly than her physical double.

From rape-y to space-y: The evolution of sex scenes in Blade Runner
Blade Runner (1982)

By contrast, there is a scene in Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner where Harrison Ford’s character, Deckard, gets non-consensual with Sean Young’s Rachael, preventing her from leaving and slamming the door shut to prevent her from getting away. He throws her against a wall, commands her to tell him to kiss her, and then has sex with her. You can see the scene here. The scene is disturbing and was likely intended to show Deckard as a flawed character. But there’s a difference between humanizing someone and excusing what is clearly rape.

Blade Runner (1982) is cultural phenomenon, so it’s easy to overlook that scene in favor of the broader picture.

While I enjoyed both movies generally (and this isn’t a review of either movie), I was relieved that my questions after the fascinating sex scene in 2049 were more along the lines of, “how’d they make that?” instead of “why’d they do that?” There are sometimes reasons to include a rape scene in a movie, but in this particular case, it seemed unnecessary and potentially damaging. Blade Runner (1982) is cultural phenomenon, so it’s easy to overlook that scene in favor of the broader picture.

It seems we can’t go a minute in the news without hearing about a man in power using his influence and strength to take advantage of situations with women (and with men, of which Terry Crews has recently spoken). Even our own president is among the accused. Harvey Weinstein is merely the latest and won’t be the last.

Ultimately, the broader universe in which Blade Runner exists is a male gaze riddled with female objectification and exploitation, which is sad but at least consistent from movie to movie. And that’s certainly not the only social problem in this particular dystopia. There are some great questions surrounding artificial intelligence and consent that we may debate in our future. I can only hope that in our actual 2049, we’ll have made more progress than this world has, and especially for actual humans.

Comments on Consensual robo sex? The evolution of sex scenes in Blade Runner

  1. I love Offbeat Home so much! Only on here would I start my monday reading about robosex! (And a well written point about female objectification and rape culture but the fact remains… Robosex!)

  2. I had tought about that scene in this way: Rachel also liked Deckard, it was in the atmosphere between the two but never said. Deckard decides to act (perhaps in an S&M way -because of the “say you want me to kiss you”) and Rachel likes it/feels good about him putting it out in the open and gives in to her desires. As much as you can say there was never explicit conscent from her, you can say she never said she didn’t want it and was then forced to do so. And then, for me, the conversation would revolve around the explicit/inplicit forms of conscent in an S&M relationship (and the important of stating how that works between a couple before engaging into it).
    Is a matter of interpretations on the scene. With your interpretation of it, I really LOVE your reflections on our world and what we’re normalizing, but I don’t think “it clearly is rape”.
    Now, if I was watching this with a kid (which I wouldn’t because, for tricky details like this and just the movie in general I don’t consider appropiate for them to entretain) by some chance, I would be REALLY careful to explain to her/him how IRL you need to make sure people are agreeing with you before you do anything (and, on the other side, always make sure your feelings about what you want to do perfectly clear without fear), because for them things are more straighforward and could interpret it in a way that says “oh if the boy does that is romantic/normal to give in”. But I think for adults that have experience with sex and how sometimes sexual relationships develop between adults the scene could be interpreted in other ways, and as this is a movie for adults, that was what I personally interpreted the director wanted me to see. (Like how, at the end, when Decker finds the unicorn origami I didn’t interpreted “he found a unicorn” but instead “the unicorn was there to reflect, beyond what is seen, that Decker is a replicant because he had a dream about a unicorn and it’s the way of the other policeman to tell him his memories were also inserted”).

    • Just wanted to add and be clear in that I am in no way saying your point of view isn’t valid and I do agree that we see noromalized objectification/violence in movies, TV shows, games, etc without even realizing we are doing it or reaizing we are seeing it, and that it is dangerous for our quest in teaching the next generation better, for women’s rights, and just plain wrong. Also, I like taking that interpretation of the scene to talk to more people about violence towards women. But I just wanted to point out that there might be other interpretations that can also bring very interesting (and necessary) conversations… like about conscent! And the dangers of implicit conscent, which is something that also happens in real life.
      Maybe we can actually take these scene to discuss various interpretations and moral dilemas that might arise? It never ocurred to me this scene could be so interesting and so openning to many ideas.

  3. I would say more that the scene supports narratives of rape culture than that it depicts a rape. We actually don’t know whether it depicts a rape, although I think it could – she acquiesces, and although many, many victims of rape do so to appease their attacker, she could be in earnest. The truth is in her head, and as she’s a fictional character, we can’t exactly ask her how she felt in the moment.
    It seems to me that when she tries to leave, she isn’t trying to get away from Deckard, but rather the inner turmoil that the information he gives her is forcing upon her. She’s trying to escape the truth about herself, and by keeping her with him and continuing their intimacy, Deckard is forcing her to face the truth about herself. From a purely symbolic perspective, sex being a primal, organic act, his having sex with her could in a way be looked at as affirming her legitimacy as a person, human or replicant.
    Now, how much does that really matter? I do agree that depicting an encounter of that nature can support rape culture – the concept that Deckard knows better than she does what she wants in that moment is dangerous and upsetting, and as for affirming her personhood, how about supporting her bodily autonomy? But as to whether the actual act is A RAPE, I’m less clear on that.
    As to BDSM, well . . . look, the standard that the BDSM community aspires to is clear, affirmative consent, unless specifically agreed otherwise prior – “Do you want this thing? Yes? Then we will do it until one of us says stop,” OR “Are you giving me blanket consent to do anything I want within a previously agreed-upon framework? Ok then, I will assume I have consent until you indicate that you want to re-examine that framework – and I will check in often, because that’s common sense.” If the scene between Rachael and Deckard happened at a BDSM party or club, it would be considered negligent at best, and lucky that they SEEM to have ended up both happy about the encounter. Staff and people designated to monitor activity would almost certainly get involved to make sure everything was kosher. Rather, I think it’s frankly more like a BDSM FANTASY – you know, where people don’t have to explicitly state their desires and boundaries because in the realm of porn, people can read minds or something. It’s “Don’t try this at home” because the rules of reality are suspended.
    So, certainly the scene merits discussion and reflection. Behaving that way in real life with another person would be pretty irresponsible, to say the very least, and I agree that it definitely shows something about Deckard’s character. But I also don’t think this is necessarily an actual rape scene. And I don’t think it has to be an actual rape for it to be upsetting and not ok.

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