The Sexual Politics of Blade Runner

In “Blade Runner” (1982) the director, Ridley Scott, seems to have produced a very anti-feminist film, albeit perhaps unwittingly. He has certainly claimed that elements of the film were intended to combat “male chauvinism”. Such as the brutal shooting of the replicant (robot) Zhora character by Deckard. Maybe. But it seems a strange way to do it. Create a famously spectacular death for her scantily-clad character crashing through glass windows and being shot by the handsome male protagonist. I am not sure that sends any particular message.

br004newzhora

(This is from “The Final Cut” version of the movie and has the stuntwoman’s head digitally replaced with that of the original actress, Joanna Cassidy.)

In an interview Ridley Scott claimed it was a cinematic necessity that the main female character, the replicant Rachael, should look so fresh and beautiful, because that is what “patriarchal technology” would do in creating a female robot or replicant. But all technology is “patriarchal”. What would a matriarchal technology look like? It is hard to imagine, beyond the proverbial grass huts.

Rachael as career woman, complete with what looks like an 80’s power suit? (I think the 80’s power suit for businesswomen actually came a bit later than this film. So maybe it was the prescience of genius. Or maybe it was just using a 40’s kind of outfit in line with the film noir aspect of the movie.)

Blade Runner (1982) Directed by Ridley Scott Shown: Sean Young (as Rachael)

A doll of “Rachael”: that is, a doll of a woman pretending to be a doll pretending to be a woman …

DSC_0215copy copy

From Figure Art of S. Pettersen.

Rachael “lets her hair down” figuratively and literally:

BladeRunner-1024

The theatrical version of the Deckard-Rachael love scene:

For comparison, below is the extended, uncut version of this controversial love scene in Blade Runner. It shows a few things. Sean Young could really act, despite claims that the men in the film had to help her through her scenes. Even if that is true, she responded well and rose to the occasion. I don’t believe, from personal introspection, that rape fantasies typically appeal to men (rough treatment maybe, but within a consensual relationship). Further, my observations have been that women are far more interested in rape fantasies than are men. In fact, I am starting to suspect that a scene of this type appeals to women, and may have been placed in the film for that reason. Nonetheless, I still find the above version of the scene disturbing. Below is the extended version of the Deckard-Rachael lovemaking scene, which seems less coercive than that in the movie versions. It is also a lot more erotic. It is strange and ironic that Rachael becomes more of a woman once she realises she is a replicant (robot).

[Note added on 30 March 2017: Originally I had an extended version of the lovemaking scene, which made the point that there was a less coercive version. Unfortunately this is no longer available. However, the following short excerpt may make the point.]

 

Sean Young complained that she had to take weeks off after the filming of this scene, and the story was that Harrison Ford really disliked her and the roughness was not just good acting. (And yet no feminists call for his head. I sometimes think that many men are liberals in language but not in behaviour with women, like Clinton. And so they get a pass because for feminists “words speak louder than actions”. Harrison Ford is a political liberal and a friend of Clinton’s, ironically.)

It would not be a completely strained reading to see the film as sending an anti-feminist message. Rachael is passed from one man to another. Her pose and poise as a businesswoman, in something that looks a bit like a 1980s power suit with the big shoulders, is lost when she realises that she is literally not a woman but a robot. She regains her lost womanhood by becoming the mistress of the cop, Deckard, who takes her under his care in a classic bartering of sex for protection. It could be read as an allegory of a woman leaving the workforce, where she comes to realise she is living an unnatural and robotic existence, for the safer traditional domestic realm.

I have read Philip K Dick’s novel, on which the movie is based, and I liked it as an accomplishment in itself. Some people have tried to sustain an argument that Dick was attacking Jewish influence in his book, but I couldn’t really see that.

The character of Rachael is very different in the book and the movie. Sean Young physically resembles the description of Rachael in the book. But the Rachael in the movie is a much more compliant character. In fact, that is part of my point. Rachael is a profoundly anti-feminist character. I realise that Ridley Scott has a reputation for feminist movie characterisations, such as in Alien and in Thelma and Louise, but this is not evident in Blade Runner. In fact, Rachael could, jokingly, be described as receiving what the Manosphere would call a “nuclear neg” in being told by Deckard that she is not even a real woman, but a mere replicant. She then spends the rest of the movie trying to prove that she can function as a woman, and effectively a wife.

It seems to be mostly the fanboys and betaboy critics who are always looking for anti-sexist statements in films. I suspect clever men like directors think in richer, more nuanced ways. Ridley Scott can claim that Blade Runner is a statement against chauvinism, to humour a critic, but consider the facts. He gives us a lingering look at the Zhora character’s body as she works as an “exotic dancer” and then has her shot dead in what has been described as the most spectacular and “beautiful” screen death ever. He has the Pris character (Darryl Hannah) in a fetishistic costume with great emphasis on her stockinged legs, and she dies in what literally resembles an electric orgasm. Rachael I have already mentioned, but the bounty hunter practically rapes her, and she is fine with that apparently.

In some ways it is a highly chauvinistic film, “Not that there is anything wrong with that”. (Apart from the rapey sex scene, which I didn’t like, especially in the rapid-fire screen version.) A subtly patriarchal aspect of the film is that the female replicants lack surnames. Even Rachael. Traditionally women do not in fact have their own surnames, but use their father’s and then their husband’s. All through the film, it is “Rachael” and “Deckard”. As I just mentioned, Rachael is not given a surname, whereas conversely Deckard has a first name, Rick, but it is not used much. Rachael is the only female replicant to survive, and she does so by placing herself under the care of Deckard and starting to act as “Mrs Deckard” in all but name.

Is Blade Runner a Misogynist Text?” (And so what if it is? Must art be PC?)

I rather like the following ending, which is supposedly available with the “Final Cut” set as an “alternate ending”. I believe there are many people who think it is too bright and sunny after the gloom of the rest of the movie, but it could also be seen as akin to simply waking from a nightmare. And the dialogue tends to support my argument that Rachael sees Deckard and herself as a natural couple (she asks “are you and I lovers?” and about his ex-wife – in fact, husbands will recognise her tones as becoming rather wifelike!). So much of this movie is confused and contraverted, such as whether Deckard himself is a replicant. I tend to think that it makes more sense for him to be a replicant if he is going to have a relationship with Rachael. It makes it less bizarre. Otherwise, when you get right down to it, he is a man sleeping with a doll. In fact Rachael says to Deckard, in the last words in this driving scene, that she thinks they were “made for each other”. Perhaps she means that literally. That they were both “made”, both being replicants. His reaction at about 1:27 seems to show that he has come to a shocked recognition of what she is implying about his nature as a replicant.

I suppose I always assumed that Deckard could not impregnate Rachael, but some people have envisaged her like this, with internal reproductive organs:

mean magazine

From the same recent set of images: it is pleasant, if fanciful, to imagine that this is Rachael in her new life:

mean magazine

A review of The Final Cut (2007). I only have the Director’s Cut (1992).

I gather that the above “happy ending” driving scene with Deckard and Rachael is included in the Final Cut version only as a “deleted scene”. Moreover, the more erotic, slower and less violent version of their earlier love-making scene is also only included as a deleted scene. So Ridley Scott did not take the opportunity to make the scene less “rapey”.

A comment I received, possibly from a spambot:

The official version instead, was modified by the production, cutting the unicorn’s dream to don’t let understand that Deckard is a Replicant, and it has been added the happy-ending to increase the audience’s satisfaction, and money incomes. So in this version Deckard isn’t a Replicant but a human being that, at the end, escapes from all with his new girlfriend toward a happy life.

This might have been a spam comment, but it makes quite a coherent point. That is certainly a reasonable reading, but it is also possible that Ridley Scott had it in mind all along that Deckard was really a replicant. He may have cut the film in its first release to hide this, but still put a hint in the dialogue in the final driving scene with Rachael and Deckard. That is, the final remark of Rachael’s that they are “made for each other” makes sense if he was made as a replicant, like her.

I still maintain that there is something very odd otherwise about a man essentially running away with a fembot. It has already been established that she lacks normal empathy. What kind of “wife” would she make for a human male?

And of course, if I am replying here to a spam comment, that is ironic since I am talking to a robot now myself.

This post has been cited at:

ScreengrabsAZ

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Tim Neath’s blog

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This Spanish language page touching on Sean Young.

Further discussion of the film, based on forty-five minutes of deleted and alternate scenes and the light they throw on the film as released in the Director’s Cut for example, may be found here. And some comments on a 2007 documentary on the making of the film, particularly on the casting and character of Rachael, can be found here.

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63 responses to this post.

  1. I don’t know if you’ve read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel Blade Runner was based off of, but it’s pretty clear from his works that Philip K. Dick was anti-feminist, or at least non-feminist. The women in his novels are generally cut from the same cloth: slutty, domineering, sociopathic and a little crazy. See the women in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said: Kathy, an ID forger known for psychotic breakdowns and laboring under the delusion that her husband still alive when he has in fact died in a gulag; Ruth Rae, a vapid, aging socialite whose number of ex-husbands is in the double-digits; Alys, a slutty, drug-addled bisexual in an incestuous relationship with her brother.

    Dick and Scott actually had radically differing views of how Blade Runner was supposed to turn out, which is obvious if you’ve read the novel and seen the movie. Blade Runner clearly has us sympathizing with the replicants; their violent behavior (Pris and Batty using Sebastian to get to Tyrell, Batty brutally murdering both) is framed in their greater fight for freedom and survival. The replicants’ tight-knit friendship and Deckard and Rachael’s relationship (along with the speculation that Deckard himself might be a replicant) are intended to show us that artificial humans are just as capable of emotion, feeling and empathy as real humans.

    Electric Sheep establishes pretty early on that replicants (or androids/andys) are not human and never will be. The book has a theme of humans rediscovering their capacity for empathy and feeling; “Penfield mood organs” are necessary for humans to experience normal feelings, and one of the dominant religions is Mercerism, which is about connecting all of humanity together via “empathy boxes.” In the book, Rachael and Deckard do have a sexual relationship, but when Deckard confesses that he loves her, she reveals that she’s been using him to keep him from his job of retiring androids, and that she’s seduced multiple bounty hunters in the same fashion. She later kills his pet goat in retaliation for his retiring fellow androids. Additionally, it’s revealed that Buster Friendly (a prophet who inveighs against Mercerism and promotes a counter-religion of mindless consumerism) and his TV show guests are all androids, their motive for mocking Mercerism being jealousy that they can’t experience human empathy themselves.

    Reply

    • Yes, I have read Dick’s novel, and I liked it as an accomplishment in itself, independent of the film, much as I love the film.

      And yes, most of what you say makes sense. The Udolpho blogger tried to sustain an argument that Dick was attacking Jewish influence in his book, but I couldn’t really see that.

      The character of Rachael is very different in the book and the movie. Her appearance is similar. In fact, Sean Young resembles her description in the book. But the Rachael in the movie is a much more compliant character. In fact, that is part of my point. Rachael is a profoundly anti-feminist character. I realise that Ridley Scott has a reputation for feminist movie characterisations, such as in Alien and in Thelma and Louise, but not in Blade Runner. In fact, Rachael could, jokingly, be described as receiving what the Manosphere would call a “nuclear neg” in being told by Deckard that she is not even a real woman, but a mere replicant. She then spends the rest of the movie trying to prove that she can function as a woman, and effectively a wife.

      It seems to be mostly the fanboys and betaboy critics who are always looking for anti-sexist statements in films. I suspect clever men like directors think in richer, more nuanced ways. Ridley Scott can claim that Blade Runner is a statement against chauvinism, to humour a critic, but consider the facts. He gives us a lingering look at the Zhora character’s body as she works as an “exotic dancer” and then has her shot dead in what has been described as the most spectacular and “beautiful” screen death ever. He has the Pris character (Darryl Hannah) in a fetishistic costume with great emphasis on her stockinged legs, and she dies in what literally resembles an electric orgasm. Rachael I have already mentioned, but the bounty hunter practically rapes her, and she is fine with that apparently.

      In some ways the film is a highly chauvinistic film, “Not that there is anything wrong with that”. (Apart from the rapey sex scene, which I didn’t like, especially in the rapid-fire screen version.)

      Reply

  2. Posted by Lena S. on June 22, 2013 at 4:03 am

    From the description, I was expecting that to be a lot more rough than it was.

    Reply

    • That is the gentler version. Perhaps I should include the rougher version seen in the theatrical releases. For comparison.

      Reply

      • I have now done that. In the shorter, theatrical version, Rachael does eventually say something encouraging, independent of the words Deckard “puts in her mouth”. But the short version of the scene seems rape-like to me. I suppose one could argue that he is just introducing her to her true feelings, “making her a woman”, and that she seems happy with him afterwards.

        A crucial point is that Scott saw fit to include the shorter, sharper version in his Final Cut, so he did nothing to assuage any feminist concerns in this respect at least.

      • Another patriarchal aspect of the film is that the female replicants lack surnames. Even Rachael. Traditionally women do not in fact have their own surnames, but use their father’s and then their husband’s.

      • Posted by Lena S. on June 22, 2013 at 5:08 am

        Meh. I don’t find either of them much but then, rape scenes don’t generally upset me. (I can do without the ultra-violence of certain films though; that turns my stomach much more than it used to). I don’t think men usually have these kinds of fantasies nearly as much as feminists suspect, and that it is a more common female fantasy than male. Feminists seem to have made a fantasy of ‘rape culture’.

        Although it is somewhat exaggerated in this scene, most women probably do enjoy displays of dominance in their men such as pushing her against a wall and ‘trapping’ her. It absolves her of responsibility, and women don’t like to take responsibility for anything.

      • I agree completely about men and rape fantasies. I don’t have them, and I have noticed that when a woman goes trolling for them, because she enjoys them herself, like some lady bloggers we know, very few men take the bait.

        I am not a bleeding heart when it comes to women, but I don’t like those scenes. A bit less pushing and a bit more consent is what I would have preferred.

        I shall try to include an example of what you are talking about:

        just-girly-things-justgirlythings-rachel-mcadams-romantic-movie-ryan-gosling-Favim.com-358584_large

      • As for “ultra-violence”, it seems to depend on a lot of factors for me. I avoided The Passion of the Christ because I could tell I would find it too disturbing. I have also avoided Kill Bill. I never watched much of The Sopranos (although I may change my mind) because I was so disgusted by a scene in which a mobster beats up a Korean businessman.

        And yet there are other scenes and films that don’t bother me. The more realistic depictions, the situations in which the person doesn’t “deserve it” but is just picked on, those tend to upset me.

  3. The overriding female fantasy is not one of rape, I think. It is more about being taken by a dominant desirable man, AND enjoying it!

    Take Scarlett O’Hara. She damn well wanted it..
    Rhett took her, but she was certainly pleased about it. Had a grin from ear to ear the next morning.

    Women like to be taken by a desirable man.. This is not rape.

    It’s like a dominant man fantasizing about taking a desirable woman who enjoys the experience.

    Not rape either. 🙂

    Reply

  4. In my opinion, if torment like THAT works on a woman, then, she is dysfunctional. I don’t know any married women who enjoy physical emotional and mental torment.. That is just not normal.. Teasing is one thing.. Even a slap on the bottom, or a bit of a spanking if the woman enjoys that (and he mentions these) is fine. But choking and using a riding crop? That’s just not on… So too, is going away for days and not calling the woman.

    I’ve been married for nearly 18 years.. My husband has never tormented me.. Sheesh, we have enough drama and worry in our lives with our autistic son. Adorable as he is! To me this would be a complete turn-off. I much prefer to be grabbed fondled and taken over the couch.. Sshh! Don’t tell anyone.. 😉

    Being degraded is no turn on for me. I am happy to know that my husband wants me, and I reciprocate.. No playing silly games trying to instil dread.. We are so comfortable with one another. Each knows what the other likes. Torment does not bond a couple like Sturgess reckons.. What bonds a couple is their deep connection and love that grows the more that they have have conjugal relations. What this guy has with these different women is superficial.. Nothing spiritual or deep. Crass.

    Too much emphasis is placed on variety in sex.. (probably the result of too much porn. ) Vanilla sex is not enough anymore. (Alte had a recent post about this-and made some good comments) Well, it’s certainly enough for me.. I don’t have to use sex toys or stand on my head or be a contortionist or be choked etc to enjoy sex with my husband. And it’s just gotten better and better over the years, such is our deep and strong bond. This morning we had a quickie.. I had multiple orgasms, as usual. This never changes for me.

    This Sturgess guy appears to be dysfunctional himself. He’s a nihilist. Certainly not a Christian.

    Treats women like his playthings. Appears to have kicked his last woman to the curb because she is not into his “tormenting”

    “If, you’ve broken up with your last LTR because she couldn’t even consider the things you’ve learned over the past few years, you’re doing the right thing” says Sturgess.

    He also said this.

    “So, I’m fucked in the head. Everyone knows it by now because if you don’t conform you are a wacko and everyone you know will hear it. That term was thrown at me not too long ago in a bar from someone who wants to fuck my ex LTR”

    Obviously other people think that this guy has a few problems as well.

    I had a good look at his pic. Does not have nice eyes.. Something sinister there.(to me)The eyes are the window to one’s souls, as the saying goes. Not attractive, in my opinion.

    Reply

  5. The official version instead, was modified by the production, cutting the unicorn’s dream to don’t let understand that Deckard is a Replicant, and it has been added the happy-ending to increase the audience’s satisfaction, and money incomes. So in this version Deckard isn’t a Replicant but a human being that, at the end, escapes from all with his new girlfriend toward a happy life.

    Reply

    • This might be a spam comment, but it makes quite a coherent point.

      That is certainly a reasonable reading, but it is also possible that Ridley Scott had it in mind all along that Deckard was really a replicant. He may have cut the film in its first release to hide this, but still put a hint in the dialogue in the final driving scene with Rachael and Deckard. That is, the final remark of Rachael’s that they are “made for each other” makes sense if he was made as a replicant, like her.

      I still maintain that there is something very odd otherwise about a man essentially running away with a fembot. It has already been established that she lacks normal empathy. What kind of “wife” would she make for a human male?

      Reply

  6. One of the biggest arguments toward Deckard being a replicant is found in the director’s cut release of the film. It is the dream sequence that Deckard has while sitting at his piano looking at family photos. He daydreams about a unicorn which seems to be totally out of character for him, in fact, the dream is out of character with the whole rest of the film. It shows nature devoid of human intervention, the only scene of its kind. This is for a reason. The dream makes an allusion to the fact that Deckard does have memory implants. At the end of the film as Deckard is leaving with Rachael, he picks up a paper unicorn outside of his apartment. Gaff may have left this there to tell Deckard he knew about the unicorn vision, something he could have known only if Deckard was a replicant and the memory was an implant from someone else.

    Reply

  7. The DVD featurette All Our Variant Futures profiles the making of the Final Cut version, including behind-the-scenes footage of Harrison Ford’s son, Ben Ford , filming new scenes (as described below). According to the documentary, Cassidy herself made the suggestion to refilm Zhora’s death scene while being interviewed for the Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner documentary, and footage of her making this suggestion is intercut with footage of her attending the later digital recording session.

    Reply

  8. The DVD featurette All Our Variant Futures profiles the making of the Final Cut version, including behind-the-scenes footage of Harrison Ford’s son, Ben Ford , filming new scenes (as described below). According to the documentary, Cassidy herself made the suggestion to refilm Zhora’s death scene while being interviewed for the Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner documentary, and footage of her making this suggestion is intercut with footage of her attending the later digital recording session.

    Reply

  9. […] The Sexual Politics of Blade Runner (davidcollard.wordpress.com) […]

    Reply

  10. […] The Sexual Politics of Blade Runner (davidcollard.wordpress.com) […]

    Reply

  11. […] The Sexual Politics of “Blade Runner”. […]

    Reply

  12. […] […]

    Reply

  13. […] felt more like coercion than consent, so the happy ending for Deckard and Rachael seemed a bit off. This is an interesting take on the sexual politics in Blade Runner, and it includes an alternate ending in which it’s suggested that Deckard is an android himself […]

    Reply

  14. […] whole page is here. My blog post on the sexual politics of Blade Runner is included at the […]

    Reply

  15. […] the “rape scene” in Blade Runner, the movie. I discuss the sexual politics of this film here. My feeling is that sex scene between Deckard and Rachael is not meant to be a rape, although it is […]

    Reply

  16. […] do have this utterly fascinating article on the sexual politics of her movie Blade […]

    Reply

  17. […] “The sexual politics of Blade Runner” […]

    Reply

  18. Posted by Julian O'Dea on December 18, 2014 at 9:56 am

    This is another clip from the “racier” version not seen in the theatrical release:

    A consideration of the rape question:

    http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=196378

    A commenter called fessie: “Re: the love/rape angle, Harrison Ford can get away with anything. It’s a very tricky subject, because real rape isn’t romantic & shouldn’t be a form of entertainment. Ever. No means no & that’s that. But on the other hand, male power is very sexy, at least in the fantasy world of movies.”

    Reply

  19. […] considered the question here, one of my posts which gets a lot of […]

    Reply

  20. Posted by Julian O'Dea on March 21, 2015 at 2:55 am

    More consideration of the “rape” question:

    http://www.bladezone.com/bz_forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2549

    http://acapitalwasteland.blogspot.com.au/2014/02/i-want-to-love-blade-runner-but-rape.html

    It is interesting that there seems to be a common opinion that Rachael was a virgin. Intuitively, that seems reasonable and there are some hints in the film too. For example, her personal reticence: she is loath to go to Taffy Lewis’ bar: “that’s not my kind of place, Mr Deckard”.

    It is probably impossibly nerdy to speculate on such a matter, but I think we can assume that Tyrell himself had not slept with her, given that she was ostensibly his “niece”. Other men seem possible, since she is a young woman, not a girl, but I think we are meant to assume she is a virgin before she meets Deckard. It is fitting that the man who liberates her from her bondage should also liberate her from her maidenhood; that an exceptional woman should be deflowered by an exceptional man like Deckard; and the letting down of her hair immediately before she has sex for the first time seems like an obvious metaphor for her change of status. It is interesting that she leaves her hair down thereafter, as I recall.

    Reply

  21. […] any case, here is the post they are interested […]

    Reply

  22. Posted by Julian O'Dea on September 18, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Some of the usual feminist hand-wringing deploring human (male) nature, but otherwise quite a worthwhile article:

    http://www.iflscience.com/technology/defence-sex-machines-why-trying-ban-sex-robots-wrong

    Reply

  23. […] is very prominent female character necessarily a sign of female “empowerment”. I have written previously about what I believe is the very antifeminist character of Rachael in Blade […]

    Reply

  24. Posted by Julian O'Dea on August 7, 2016 at 3:01 am

    A documentary on the film.

    Reply

  25. This sounds a little like that female terminator character named Cameron.

    Reply

  26. […] A surprisingly anti-feminist film from a director with a feminist reputation, as I discuss here. […]

    Reply

  27. Posted by Funkyfresh on December 26, 2016 at 6:20 am

    • Posted by Julian O'Dea on December 26, 2016 at 7:02 am

      Thanks. Sean Young always seemed to have a strong sense of her place in film history. And sought to document it.

      Reply

  28. Posted by Julian O'Dea on March 30, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    It appears that this essay has been shared at a site called stage3media. For some reason it is titled as a feminist reading, whereas in fact it is the reverse:

    https://trinitycollegestage3media.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/blade-runner-feminist-reading/

    Reply

  29. Posted by Julian O'Dea on May 23, 2017 at 7:17 am

  30. Posted by Julian O'Dea on May 24, 2017 at 5:39 am

  31. […] I have written about this question here. […]

    Reply

  32. Posted by Julian O'Dea on June 11, 2017 at 8:31 am

    “Why Are So Many Women Searching for Ultra-Violent Porn?”

    https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/why-are-so-many-women-searching-for-ultra-violent-porn

    Reply

  33. […] view, she acts like a real woman, ironically given her status as a “replicant”. I have analysed here the character of Rachael as fundamentally […]

    Reply

  34. […] take these as signs that men will actually enjoy the film. One of the most-read posts I have ever written argues that the first movie was quite anti-feminist. I hope the new film continues that tradition […]

    Reply

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