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.
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.
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.