Blade Runner 2049 May Be Set In The Future, But Does Its Depiction Of Women Have One Foot In The Past?

Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 has been a resounding success. Critics have already heralded the movie as a future classic, and although it is not doing as well as expected at the box office, it is still doing well — considering it is a nearly three hours long, slow, and meditative sci-fi movie.
But Blade Runner 2049 (spoilers for both Blade Runner movies ahead) has been accused of having two-dimensional female characters, something not exactly uncommon in sci-fi movies. This was something that the first Blade Runner movie was undoubtedly guilty of, but has the sequel also failed at the decent depiction of women? With male protagonists, male writers, a male director, plus violence against some of the film’s female characters, who are all archetypes, the case doesn’t look that promising for the sequel.

Female Stereotypes?

The criticism of the Blade Runner movies for its portrayal of women is not without reason. Female archetypes are most definitely not in short supply, the movie includes a whore, a mother Mary, a matriarch, a femme fatale, and a doting girlfriend/wife. There is also plenty of female nudity, several fairly gruesome murders, and a failure of the Bechdel test (some argue it’s a pass because Mariette and Joi talk don’t talk directly about K, but that’s pretty dubious to me).
What these criticisms miss is that Blade Runner 2049 subverts these archetypes. The female characters are, for the most part, complex and non-conforming to their stereotypes. Robin Wright is particularly good as K’s boss, Lieutenant Joshi, and the moment she seems to nearly command K to sleep with her sits well next to Joi having to do whatever makes K happy.
Joi is without a doubt a two-dimensional female character, and purposefully so, she is completely undeveloped as a character. K is trying to fit in with society and is told that she is what he needs. In opposition from Joi, we have Mariette (played by Mackenzie Davis), a prostitute who takes part in what has got to be one of the weirdest threesomes in the history of cinema, but who is obviously a three-dimensional character with her own motivations and personality, even though she is a replicant like K.
Where Blade Runner 2049 appears to fail women it is merely exposing bad male behavior in the movie — and in society. Luv is there to expose Wallace and his God complex as nothing other than a bully, Joi exists because K is lonely and the cutout of a housewife is what this world has to offer a non-human. The use of gender and these archetypes in the movie allows a deeper examination of the themes of slavery and subjugation that the movie is preoccupied with.

The Pitfalls Of The Past

Like the first Blade Runner, 2049 examines themes of identity, ideas of slavery, and asks what it means to be human. Slavery and what it means to be free is something that informs every moment of the movie, and gender is used to explore that further. Blade Runner 2049 goes a whole step further than the first movie, by adding the added depths of Joi (Ana de Armas), a hologram girlfriend there to give Ryan Gosling’s K whatever he wants to hear/see. This gives us not only the idea of the replicant but also a computer program created to serve as a cure for loneliness or a way to get off. When Joi tells K that she is so happy when she is with him, K replies that she “doesn’t have to say that”. We have to ask ourselves if Joi has autonomy, or is she simply a slave — is she truly intelligent and her own being and loves K, does she have to pretend she loves him or is she simply a set of responses with no actual identity?
The gender politics in Blade Runner 2049 are intentional. The movie is about secondary citizens. Replicants. Orphans. Women. Slaves. Just by depicting these secondary citizens in subjugation doesn’t mean that it is supportive of these depictions — they are a condemnation. The future in Blade Runner 2049 is not now the future we are heading to, but the future we were heading to when Phillip K Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and Ridley Scott made the original movie. Blade Runner 2049 is the perfect place to examine the out of date portrayal of women, because, whilst we like to think we have completely moved on, that attitude is still prevalent in society.

Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus: How ‘BoJack Horseman’ Is Unashamedly Feminist

Hailing from the famously offbeat Netflix, BoJack Horseman is the adult cartoon that bites back. From nihilist existentialism to abortion, BoJack Horseman doesn’t pull any punches, especially when it comes to feminism.

Feminism can sometimes be a bit of a dirty word these days, but BoJack is fearless, approaching feminism by using different characters to embody different archetypes: Diane is an ardent, verging on traditional, feminist, while Sarah Lynn is a Miley Cyrus-type celebrity. This allows the show to intelligently and purposefully contribute to the feminist debate. With the addition of the fourth season, BoJack doesn’t seem to be letting up on its feminist roots, instead choosing to tackle miscarriage.

To celebrate its return, we’re going to take a look at a few of the times BoJack stuck it to the patriarchy and explored some of the issues women face in the modern world, political correctness be damned.

Sextina Aquafina Babyyyyyy

In Season 3 episode 6, the 14-year-old dolphin dubstep superstar Sextina Aquafina accidentally Tweets about having an abortion. This Tweet sparks an overwhelmingly positive reaction, with Aquafina’s fans praising her bravery. Inspired and intrigued by this, Aquafina releases the absolute banger “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus” — despite the fact that she did not, actually, have an abortion at all.

Sextina’s pro-abortion stance is refreshing, so people are attracted to it. In a country where women are often forced to listen to their foetus’ heartbeat before a termination, an open declaration about getting an abortion is completely out of the ordinary. The song is undoubtedly beyond crass and plenty of people were outraged, including Diane.

Diane, who is actually having an abortion, speaks to a young woman in the clinic waiting room when she is unable to see the appeal of the brazen banger. The young woman, who enjoyed the song, tells her that getting an abortion is scary: “and when you can joke about it, it makes it less scary, you know?”

Later on in the episode, Princess Caroline laments not being in a loving relationship or a position to think about having children, and Diane talks about the guilt of aborting her puppies when she is in a loving marriage and able to provide for them. Diane begins to explain her decisions and Princess Caroline says: “Diane you don’t need to explain anything. To anyone.” With this simple, and touching exchange, BoJack successfully attacks the notion that women have a responsibility to have children if they can. In just one episode, BoJack manages to address more issues surrounding pregnancy, abortion, and motherhood than almost any other show on air.

“I’m Uncle Hanky, you can’t beat Uncle Hanky. That’s just the way it is.”

In the seventh episode of the second season BoJack tackles the monster of misogyny in the entertainment industry — taking aim particularly at the way that some male celebrities can be hounded by accusations of physical or sexual assualt on women and walk away unscathed.

Hank Hippopopalous, talk show host, has been racked by allegations from past female assistants, all of whom have been paid off and since kept quiet. That’s until Diane Nguyen brings it up again on BoJack’s book tour. Despite the fact that Diana spouted off a list of many celebrities (including real-life ones) who have been accused of abusing women, the crowd focus on her criticism of the beloved Uncle Hanky — and a media storm ensues.

Diane ends up at the magazine Manatee Fair, who want to do an exposé on Hippopopalous. Unfortunately this falls through because the magazine and Hippopopalous’ show are owned by the same conglomerate. This company leans on the magazine to drop the exposé, showing just how easy it can be for important men to cover things up.

The episode wraps up perfectly. Diane is sat on a bench in an airport, and a random man sat near her looks over to her and says: “hey… smile”

If this doesn’t make you internally sigh then I’m not sure what will.

BoJack is slamming shitty sexism all over this episode: news anchors asking women to not get hysterical, male superstars too big too fall, websites called “Titpuncher”, and strangers asking you to smile. Mostly it tackles the protection that some men have from their actions. This episode obviously feels like a call out to the accusations against Bill Cosby, but there are so many people, in the entertainment industry or not, who manage to shrug stuff like this off.

A Safe Space For Women, Now For Men Too!

“Has your creepy driver ever tried to give you his number or told you that you reminded him of his dead girlfriend? Or repeated your address slowly like he was trying to memorize it?”

BoJack now takes aim at the tech industry, as well as the tendency for women to get harassed whilst doing banal every day things like taking cabs. Todd’s answer to creeping cab drivers is to have female drivers only for his female customers, training these new drivers on how to be respectful and not harass people. “Cabracadabra” is a huge success, because who knew there was such a demand for a safe space for women?

But then Todd and Mr Peanutbutter take it a step further and open up their safe space for women to men: “that’s an untapped market!” They then head to a gentlemen’s club to find new drivers that are comfortable working with the new male clientele — who are, naturally, invited to harass their female drivers at every turn.

Strippers turned cab drivers [Credit: Netflix]

Todd and Mr Peanutbutter manage to turn Cabracadabra from a “safe space for women” to strippers that are cab drivers. This is pure unadulterated genius. By creating a safe space for women, then destroying this by adding men in a way that facillitates the very problem a female safe space would avoid, BoJack manages to poke fun at the ability of men to understand women’s safety without completely condemning the characters.

BoJack Horseman uses humor and on-point social commentary to explore feminism as it stands today. It manages to tackle issues that serious dramas rarely touch, not because it has the veil of humor, but because it has the balls — or maybe even the ovaries — to actually approach things head on. Feminist in-fighting, sexism in the media, abortion, miscarriage and more: nothing is off limits for this audacious show.


Feminist Masterpiece Or Religious Creation Myth? Your Guide To All The Insane Interpretations Of ‘Mother!’

Darren Aronofsky’s latest movie mother! is the blackest of black comedies and a fairly heavy-handed religious allegory — to me. The great thing about Darren Aronofsky’s movie is that it can be interpreted pretty much however you like. The inclusion of the classic and archetypal dichotomy of Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence’s characters means that the movie is entirely open to interpretation, potentially saying more about you as the viewer from your interpretation than your interpretation could ever say about the movie.

So far I’ve seen, scattered around the internet: religious readings, feminist readings, horror readings, climate change readings, psychoanalytic readings, and readings about artistic creation. Whilst the filmmakers themselves have made numerous references to the religious reading being correct, that is still very much open to interpretation — who says the filmmakers are right anyway? To save you from wading through all the insane theories here’s a list of the most popular ones.

The Religious Reading

Him appears both godlike and demoic in this poster. [Credit: Paramount]

There is a very clear religious allegory going on throughout the film. The naming of the characters is the first clue of many: Javier Bardem is “Him” and Jennifer Lawrence is “Her”, whilst Ed Harris is “Man” and Michelle Pfeiffer is “Woman”. Bardem is the God of the Abrahamic religions, Lawrence represents the pagan concept of Mother Nature and the house is the Earth. The devoted dying Man is Adam, and after a night of drinking Bardem would have appeared to have removed one of Man’s ribs to create Woman — Eve, played by Pfeiffer. They invade the house, and are extremely rude and destructive houseguests, causing Lawrence endless grief. Their sons then turn up, an argument breaks out and the older son kills the younger — just like Adam and Eve’s sons Cain and Able in the Old Testament.

The Biblical allegories continue as Adam and Eve invite more people into the house, a metaphor for the population of Earth, which results in a flood — taken straight, of course, from the Book of Genesis. For a brief moment in the film, there is calm, as it is revealed that Her is pregnant. Yet more crowds soon invade the house, and a horrific chaos ensues. With her baby devoured, and her home being destroyed by the crowd’s heinous acts, Her eventually commits suicide, taking her beloved home with her.

The religious interpretation of this movie is what the filmmakers intended, and it fits very well. The conflict between the Judeo-Christian God and the pagan Mother Earth, how their harmony is ruined by both God’s human creations and his hubris, fuels the film. Her is concerned with protecting the house, whilst Him is concerned with feeding his ego with adoration from his creations; this would appear to be Aronofsky offering a scathing criticism of the Judeo-Christian God, as well as humanity’s complete lack of care for our home.

The Feminist Criticism

Her literally gives her heart in the poster. [Credit: Paramount]

There seem to be plenty of feminist interpretations of this movie and they fit so well because at its heart the movie is about a bad husband and a suffering wife. People have been comparing mother! to The Yellow Wallpaper, a seminal feminist text by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which was written in the late 1800s. The story revolves around a woman’s descent into madness when confined within a house for her health — a common practice at the time. The lead of mother! is similarly trapped within a house, at the behest of her domineering husband who does not want her to leave. The latter part of the film could quite easily be seen as Her losing her mind, just like the unnamed narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper.

Whilst Darren Aronofsky may have been aiming for female empowerment, the feminist criticism goes that mother! focuses too much on the suffering of Her — many of the shots hone in on Lawrence’s distraught reactions. Does watching someone beaten and then committing suicide, but still willing to give their heart to their abuser fit in with female empowerment? I’m not so sure.

The Theme Of Climate Change

Her builds her home. [Credit: Paramount]

This interpretation is not incompatible with the religious interpretation, and in fact, they go hand in hand. In the bowel of the house, when Her commits suicide, spilling oil everywhere and setting the place on fire, she takes humanity with her. The meaning of this sequence is pretty self-explanatory, and is similar to the Biblical reading in that it features Her as an allegory for nature, who is distraught at the havoc humans have wrought on her world. Part of the reason for the death of the house is His incompetence and hubris, but it is mostly caused by his followers, the humans.

Living in 2017, it is getting harder every year to deny the effect we have had and are having on the Earth as a species. Deforestation, pollution, and the mistreatment of the sea are causing continually rising temperatures and worsening weather events — signs of our planet’s ailment. In mother! Aronofsky is warning us that if we don’t take care of our home, Mother Nature is gonna burn that shit down.

Can we also just acknowledge the ludicrousness of Mother Earth as a proud housewife renovating and protecting her house? Brilliant.

The Story As Artist vs Muse

Aronofsky works with Lawrence, his real-life girlfriend. [Credit: Paramount]

The theme of a creator leeching the life and hope from his muse is evident throughout mother! — but Aronofsky himself has said he hasn’t really considered this element of the story. This could be because it’s too obvious, or because it hits a little too close to home, considering that he and Lawrence are now dating.

Bardem plays the character of the suffering artist, needing to create and be adored by rapturous and devoted fans. Lawrence is the suffering wife and muse, always giving and accommodating so he can make great art and thus feed his own ego. This mythic idea of male creation, of something that must be nurtured to appear and applauded, is something that is rarely addressed in art, so for me, this is one of the most interesting interpretations of the movie.

Or Maybe It’s Just A Horror Movie

Poster for 'mother!' evokes that of 'Rosemary's Baby'. [Credit: Paramount]

Literally, mother! is a movie about a crappy husband and some much crappier houseguests. Marketed as a home-invasion horror, mother! would seemingly have a lot in common with Rosemary’s Baby, and its marketing even included a poster that references the cult classic. If you want to see mother! as a horror, I would personally say it is not a very good one. The movie does open much as you would expect from a horror flick, and later descends into madness, chaos, and horrifically graphic imagery — but I think that’s where the similarity with the genre ends.

Mother! defies categorisation, and it is all the better for it. Part of the furore around the movie receiving a usually damning “F” from CinemaScore (who poll the audience leaving the cinema on opening weekend), is because the film was partly mis-sold. The truth is Aronofsky is never going to be mainstream, and mother! could vie for the title of the weirdest movie in his catalogue of very weird movies.

This article is by no means exhaustive, and the beauty of mother!is that we can only draw meaning from the plot via interpretations that ascribe symbolism to characters and events — and that is part of its genius. Whether you loved or hated mother!, it has been a long time since a movie has been this divisive or offered so much material for interpretation.