The First Holographic Wives' Club [Addendum: Blade Runner 2049]

Some more thoughts about Blade Runner 2049: in particular what's happened to all the women in 2049? While I loved many aspects of this film, it does appear to play fast and loose with the Bechdel Test, with no qualifying conversations between female characters, and a lot of submissive stereotypes in a world where the major corporations still appear to be run by men.

Warning: spoilers follow.

Sylvia Hoeks plays Luv, a high-end replicant who is a detective, hunter and fighter with enhanced strength and intelligence and a license to kill - who is chief exec Wallace's personal assistant. Ana de Armas plays Joi, K's holographic wife, a mass-produced consumer product, perhaps a future Alexa. Both are stunningly beautiful as their characters - that's a fact not a judgement - while also being efficient at their roles, in very different ways. This is clearly a world where women are seen as pretty things to look at while they work. Other female characters include several prostitutes and a woman trapped for life inside a sealed room.

There's only really one exception - one female character who isn't defined mainly by a submissive relationship to men, police lieutenant Joshi played by Robin Wright. She's a smart, determined professional woman in her own right, defined by her job, her moral stance, and by the few moments when she lets her hair down and gives away a few hints of personality. She's a great character and it would have been good to see more of her.

I like to be generous about this kind of thing - there might be individual films where there is actually a point to having gender inequality on show. I do find it hard to buy into dystopian scenarios where there is perfect gender equality even while everything else is FUBAR and poor people are forced to fight to the death and othersuch. It's not always bad writing. I came up with some possible explanations for the gender issues in Blade Runner 2049:

It's bad writing. Maybe the screenwriters were too busy writing the plot twists and Harrison Ford's dialogue and didn't make the effort to write in better female characters. However I'm not sure. I'd have to say that the writing in many places is good. The relationship between K, a synthetic human, and Joi, a holographic A.I. with no physical presence, is original and fascinating and raises many questions of its own. Luv is
an enigma - possibly driven by repressed anger, or something else? They're not the one-dimensional characters they seem at first.

Perhaps it's a question of focus. The story is shown from a male perspective - it's K's story, and in this materialistic society his interactions are going to be with women. Had the story been shown from a female perspective, perhaps in this world we might have seen a male A.I. assistant or prostitutes.

Perhaps it's deliberate. This is 2049 but it's an alternate 2049 leading on from the original film, and in many ways a future that's a continuation of the 70s and 80s, and so we should expect to see the 80s patriarchy alive and well along with other 80s icons such as Atari.

To take things further, perhaps this is the point - this is what happens if the patriarchy continues and the world is led by men - we allow global warming and all the other catastrophes to happen, leaving the rest of the world to go to shit while we're busy inventing flying cars.

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