[Written By: Niki Radman]
[Illustration: Perry Stewart]
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every self-respecting film nerd on the face of this earth must have seen Blade Runner at some point or another. Although less than successful during its initial release, the film has developed a cult following that few others can claim. It has been praised for stunning visuals, thought-provoking themes and an eerily beautiful score by Vangelis. I will not try to counter any of these claims and I don’t aim to push the masterpiece off its pedestal. I won’t try to argue that ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is poor either. When I saw both movies at a double-feature over the holidays, the experience was very enjoyable. Upon further reflection, I realised something wasn’t quite right. My stomach started churning and eventually I identified the feeling which was tormenting me as anger. Something about these movies had made me profoundly angry. Initially I was too emotional to form my thoughts into a coherent argument however, distance and time have made it easier to untangle the threads and lay out before you now exactly what I believe went wrong.
‘Blade Runner’, 1982. Rick Deckard has a crush on doe-eyed replicant Rachael. She is currently at his apartment, vulnerable and confused, having just found out that she is not human and that all of her memories up to this point are not her own. She plays a melancholy tune on the piano. Deckard approaches, he kisses her neck. She stands up abruptly and wants to leave. Now, no matter what Rachael’s motivation for not pursuing the intimacy might be, it all comes down to a simple fact: Rachael is not in the mood for sexy-time. Alright. So far, so unambiguous. Nevertheless, Deckard decides to block her way to the door. He slams it shut with an angry fist and pushes Rachael against the window. Some might argue that this is a man overcome by passion. Personally, I think this is a violent asshole with no sense for boundaries. I also think that much of the purported ambiguity, which is sometimes attributed to the scene, can be removed simply by looking at Deckard’s facial expression. It is lined with anger and the pain of rejection rather than uncontrollable lust. And then he forces Rachael to kiss him. She seems insecure and reluctant as he orders her to say: “I want you”. Of course, we don’t see what happens next but it is safe to assume the two have sex. In the context of the movie, their on-screen interaction may not be labelled as assault – something which is is clear from the tender and erotic soundtrack – but surely, I am not completely alone in arguing Deckard’s violent advances are at best disturbing and at worst completely revolting.
Years later, the sequel uses this very moment of sexual coercion as the basis and starting point for a romance, which forms the very core of the plot. K, the new protagonist, spends most of the movie unravelling threads that eventually lead to Deckard and the child he had with (the now deceased) Rachael. Deckard’s mourning over his lost love is supposed to be an affecting plot point but I cannot ignore the sour aftertaste. What does the original movie provide, which warrants the notion of romance? Deckard forces Rachael into intimacy and at the end of the movie the two run off together. That’s all we’re getting. And from this sparse and problematic material we are supposed to infer a love story so substantial it can comfortably be placed at the centre of the sequel. No. Just no. Sexual assault is not cute. Forcing yourself onto a vulnerable and reluctant individual because you arrogantly assume they want you and just can’t show it… not cute. It is not romantic, it is not sweet. The sequel to ‘Blade Runner’ might be a beautiful film in many respects but it commits a grave mistake in retroactively inventing a loving relationship between Deckard and Rachael and casually brushing over the fact that this “great romance” essentially started with rape.