Saturday, October 28, 2017

Bladerunner - Sexism, French Dialogue, and No Tears In The Rain

The major success of director Denis Villeneuve's Bladerunner 2049 is that it does not feel like a true sequel to Bladerunner. Like James Cameron's Aliens, the only other successful continuation of a singular Ridley Scott film narrative, BR 2049 is a story told in different corners of the same universe, but without the slavish need to follow the main characters and the headliner actors that play them around the same old set pieces. By contrast, sequels and prequels like Alien 3-5 and Covenant are burdened by canon in their attempt to milk more profit out of the cash cows they attempt to turn into franchises, causing them to fall short in vision and originality.

BR 2049 has largely escaped the sequel trap. It envisions technology (AI, drones, memory design, medical superglue, and more) that far outstrips the dated low res screens of its predecessor. It's colour washed landscapes open the world past the rainy, claustrophobic cityscapes of the original. We are shown more than the cops, techs, and skin jobs of the first film, and meet instead company clerks, police coroners, dream designers, prostitutes, protein farmers, trash scavengers, child work slaves and their unscrupulous master.

In short, BR 2049 is a fascinating development of the world of Bladerunner, an updating of its vision of the future, and a welcome pan around the universe so narrowly glimpsed in the first film.

It is sad, then, that BR 2049 falls short in its updating of its gender discourses, and its lack of emotive dialogue. These two criticisms have been made in many other places, so I'll give my short take on them here.

First, the depictions of women in BR 2049 vacillate between a fresh take on the femme fatale in the form of Luv, and unbelievably trite forms of fetishized female bodies in the forms of holographic love interest Joi and the unnamed replicant prostitute who lends her body so that main character K can consummate his love.

I loved Luv, as I did K's superior at police headquarters. Both women are driven, pragmatic, and ambitious, the former killing mercilessly and robbing corpses to fulfil her mission of finding the secret to replicant birth, the latter ordering K to break rules, destroy evidence, and murder a child to prevent this.

However, other than these two standouts, women are either holographic stokers of the male ego, bio-engineered strokers of the male libido, or discarded carriers of the male seed. Even the two standouts mentioned above are killed in the course of a mission assigned by a male superior, in this case Nexus 8 creator Niander Wallace and his quest for turning replicant women into baby-making machines.

This flaw is particularly glaring in the comparison between how the original's leads were incorporated into the film. Harrison Ford is dug up to impotently threaten the new lead before dumping plot info and morphing into a damsel in distress, while Sean Young is literally dug up as a box of bones before being copied merely to tempt Harrison's Deckard (Dick Hard, seriously?), and discarded when this plan fails, despite the evident cost and trouble gone to recreate her. When Harrison gruntingly explains, "She had green eyes," he is succinctly expressing how the film's male gaze reduces women to body parts, whose value is entirely decided at the whim of men. In light of Rogue One's controversial use of CG to recreate young Carrie Fisher, one could almost be tempted to believe that Ford has a rider in his contracts stipulating that his former leading ladies can only be holographically recreated as ageless facsimiles of their youthful selves, possibly so that their aged splendour won't overshadow his own.

In this light, this movie shows a very primitive understanding of the women it projects on the screen, and a near complete misunderstanding of the women sitting in seats in front of it. The screening I went to was noticeably a male majority, not surprising considering the only women models it offers are discarded once their utility to men ends.

For a film purporting to represent a future reality, this is a damning anachronism.

The final glaring flaw in Villeneuve's film is the criminally uninspiring dialogue of its main characters, especially bladerunner K and replicant creator Niander Wallace. Wallace's words come out as pompous and hollow as those of similar figure Peter Weyland in Prometheus. One gets the feeling that bland posturing is a dramatic staple of French technovillians, a holdover from the days of Metal Hurlant, whose stories by Moebius and others influenced the look of Alien and Bladerunner, and shaped our vision of the dystopic future we think will overtake us instead of the more likely yet less entertaining nuclear or environmental armageddon. I am almost tempted to rewatch Bladerunner 2049 in French in the hopes that Villeneuve's woodenly worded script will shine more in his native tongue.

The worst thing that can be said about BR 2049's dialogue, ultimately, is that there was no "Tears in the rain" moment of sublime improvisation as done unforgettably by Rutger Hauer. Hell, there wasn't even a tacked on studio mandated "I don't know how long we'd have together. Who does?" Although the sublime visuals of BR 2049 might make men happy to peer around the warped future created by Ridley Scot so long ago, the meaningless patter of its lead character, who ends the film sitting wordlessly in the snow staring dreamingly at the camera, his male gaze bathing the audience as it did the disposable females of the film, is unlikely to make men and women want to settle there.

Can we talk about Blade Runner 2049's problem with women?

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