Women in Blade Runner 2049 are constantly objectified by the world around them, turned into automated helpers, puppets, and sex toys. The post-dystopia built by director Denis Villeneuve is cruel and dehumanizing to everyone, but especially to women.
This raises some important questions about the way sexism and gendered oppression are depicted in film, questions that critics and fans have been debating since the film came out. Are the film’s depictions appropriate? When and how does a film cross the line from depicting realistic sexism to simply enacting it? Are the women in Blade Runner 2049 complex and realistic enough to sell the film as critique?
Recently, Villeneuve himself weighed in on some of these questions in an interview with Vanity Fair.
“I am very sensitive to how I portray women in movies,” he said. “This is my ninth feature film and six of them have women in the lead role. The first Blade Runner was quite rough on the women; something about the film noir aesthetic. But I tried to bring depth to all the characters. For Joi, the holographic character, you see how she evolves. It’s interesting, I think.”
He took the opportunity to wax poetic, and consider his broader approach to women in film. “What is cinema?” he asked. “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.
“There’s a sense in American cinema: you want to portray an ideal world. You want to portray a utopia,” he said. “That’s good—dreams for a better world, to advocate for something better, yes. But if you look at my movies, they are exploring today’s shadows. The first Blade Runner is the biggest dystopian statement of the last half century. I did the follow-up to that, so yes, it’s a dystopian vision of today. Which magnifies all the faults. That’s what I’ll say about it.”
I’m sympathetic to Villeneuve’s answers, and I agree with a lot of what he’s saying. But some of it is also a cop-out. The original Blade Runner wasn’t just hard on women; it was downright nasty. Deckard’s attitude toward Rachel is violent and predatory in their love scene. It definitely crosses the line from depiction into something that feels more like exploitation.
I’m still torn on where Blade Runner 2049 lies on that spectrum. But it’s good to see Villeneuve talking about it, at least.