The Blu-ray came out, so I’m allowed to write about this one again. For some more Blade Runner 2049 jaw-jacking, check out my initial piece on the film.
The force of antagonism in Blade Runner 2049, embodied by Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace, is one of spiteful masculinity viciously perusing control of the means of reproduction, that inherently female power that is in many ways the film’s MacGuffin.
Wallace is the figurehead of the Wallace Corporation, which has taken over production of seemingly everything, to include the franchise’s infamous Replicants – an IP Wallace has inherited from the remains of the original 1982 film’s Tyrell Corporation.
Wallace the man is one of impossible ambitions. An opening crawl informs us that his aptitude for synthetic farming essentially saved the populous from certain doom. Before we ever meet the character we are informed that he has mastered the means to sustain life. When we are introduced to the character he immediately likens himself to God and takes to waxing poetic about his desires for expansion and it’s hindrance due to his lack of that ever-so elusive ability to create life that creates life. He has created Replicants. He has created female Replicants. But he has not replicated the ability to procreate. And boy oh boy is he upset about that.
Wallace presents a sort of masculinity that defines womanhood by, and reduces it to, what it can do that he cannot. It’s a masculinity that punishes femininity for its power, the sort of masculinity that sees a power it does not and cannot possess and seemingly out of spite reduces it to sex, to material, to an object. It’s an aggressively antagonistic masculinity that the film reminds us is far from science fiction.
Late in the film Ryan Gosling’s Agent K finds himself exploring a dilapidated metropolis adorned with the crumbling statues of smooth, sensual women, their forms contorted and controlled by hands of creators whose mindsets are not exactly difficult to ascertain. The statues are but a forerunner to the Replicant, that artificial reproduction of humanity that, as we are reminded by Wallace’s go-to Replicant Femme-Fatale, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), most definitely comes in a pleasure model. But Blade Runner 2049 also takes the pursuit of the replication of femininity further than its predecessor with another of Wallace Corporation’s products, Joi (Ana de Armas), a holographic, artificially intelligent girlfriend that can be bought like an iPhone and customized down to the ethnicity, hair style and lip color as easily as changing a ringtone.
Joi’s relationship with K is far more than that of an ol’ horn dog and a sex robot, which makes it all the more sinister. With Joi we see Wallace’s desire not just to usurp the means of reproduction from womanhood, but to replace it entirely. For K, Joi is a source of emotional intelligence, of empathy, of sympathy. Joi, the product, is advertised as “Everything You Want.” It’s a product that insists that women are defined by the masculine need they fulfill and that those needs can instead be fulfilled through artificial means.
It’s no coincidence than that we have a Replicant named Luv and an A.I. named Joi. They exist to freely provide the rewards a man might otherwise find from actually interacting with and appreciating a human female. And yet they aren’t quite “love” or “joy” are they?
Niander Wallace isn’t exactly Anton Chigurh or the shark from Jaws when it comes to cinematic villainy, but he is an effective display of a particularly potent toxic masculinity that begins with the spite for and jealousy of the inherent power of the most reductive idea of womanhood and crescendos forever in a limitless echo-chamber, ever fueled by failed attempts to replicate and usurp that power.
Much has been made of Blade Runner 2049’s representation of women. Similar to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a film in which race is presented as a crucial component despite it’s disinterest in folks that aren’t white, Blade Runner 2049 takes a pretty deep dive into femininity without taking a deep dive into any female characters.
While by no means a Bechdel award-winner, Blade Runner 2049 is an interesting examination, and arguable condemnation, of the worst of masculinity.