The second installment of Blade Runner, in theaters now, is set in Los Angeles, 30 years after the original film. It’s 2049 in a space-like, industrialist world that looks like Mad Max: Fury Road set in the Soviet Union, and older versions of humanoid robots are being hunted by Blade Runners like K (Ryan Gosling), who’s one of the new humanoid models. Yet where flying cars and holographs thrive, many things of the past remain wholly intact—especially the patriarchy.
I was so busy melting into Gosling’s sad puppy eyes that I nearly missed the futuristic—and yet, archaic—displays of misogyny present throughout the film. But not only is misogyny alive and well in 2049, it’s a burgeoning, profitable business. (Warning: Major spoilers ahead, including the ending.)
You see, 20 years earlier Niander Wallace, a corrupt industrialist scientist (played by Jared Leto), engineered technology in genetically modified food that ended the global crisis. Now, in 2049, he’s the scientist and business tycoon responsible for the new model of humanoids. He has bigger, creepier goals, though: Wallace dreams of a return to humanoid slavery and enlists Luv, his strongest female model, as a henchwoman.
His other patents hold less gravitas but are just as sinister. Wallace owns a product line of objectively perfect female holographs that can be used for sexual entertainment or—like the one K owns—as household helpers, cooking in ’50s-style aprons and speaking obsequiously to their owners. These holographs exist to serve men, but the objectification and gratuitous female nudity doesn’t end there: Unnecessarily naked women also monopolize entertainment in futuristic L.A. The city is riddled with pornographic holographs, and gigantic advertisements are projected on skyscrapers all over town. In one scene a 10-story-high, glowing pink holograph speaks seductively to K; she’s completely naked for no foreseeable reason. Sex workers and scantily clad K-Pop gogo dancers decorate the streets, all for the purpose of male pleasure.
At one point, K ventures into a deserted city that appears to have been some sort of Las Vegas-like entertainment hub—it’s a ghost town adorned with Sphinx-sized sculptures of nude women in high heels. Inside an empty nightclub, a broken holographic entertainment system is stuck in an endless, buffering loop—and yet it still finds ways to show Elvis, fully dressed in all his glory, alongside promiscuous, feather-laden showgirls.
But seedy entertainment is actually the most innocuous display of female nudity in Blade Runner 2049; violent female deaths are run-of-the-mill in this movie. The most disturbing scene is a man-meeting-his-creation moment between Wallace and his new female model. It’s tough to watch as a fetal, naked woman smothered in synthetic amniotic fluid falls brutally out of her suspended packaging and Wallace tells her to stand. The shaking, frightened woman obliges, and he proceeds to fondle her abdomen—which visibly upsets her. He forcefully plants a kiss on the model while Luv watches, silently shedding a tear at the horrifying mistreatment of her kind. In all the naked woman’s fear and vulnerability, Wallace viciously stabs her in the stomach and watches her bleed out on the floor, even drawing pleasure from the moment. His behavior sends a clear message: In this world, women are nameless, faceless, disposable beings, able to be used, murdered, or subjugated.
In fact, every female protagonist in the movie is met with a violent death. Most notably, Luv is strangled for what feels like forever. The scene is meant to evoke triumph and satisfaction, but it felt unnecessarily graphic and dragged out. (Female strangulation is ubiquitous in action films, though—see: Mystique in X-Men: Apocalypse, both Black Widow and Maria Stark in Captain America: Civil War, and Bridget von Hammersmark in Inglourious Basterds—so, it wasn’t shocking.)
Too often, female characters function as plot devices to motivate the male protagonists, and the majority of the women of Blade Runner 2049 are used and disposed of as such. Even the sex scenes in Blade Runner 2049 get weird. Take the ménage à trois between K, his holograph Joi (Ana de Armas), and sex worker Mariette (played by Mackenzie Davis). In order to synthesize real intercourse with K, Joi recruits a sex worker to “sync” with—like a poltergeist, Joi possesses Mariette and takes her human form. However, the effect isn’t perfect: Joi and Mariette merge into a version of a woman that resembles both of them. When Mariette moves quickly, Joi lags behind, thus leaving the effect of having sex with two women at once. This eerie display of the male gaze was gauche and left me feeling sticky.
I know what you’re thinking: “What about the men in this movie?” Not one male protagonist dies in this film—though, to be fair, there was one shot that panned past an unfinished humanoid model’s penis. Literally one.
But hope is not entirely lost. The most badass character of the movie is Luv, who wears Google Glass–like shades that allow her to lead a remote missile strike. Using voice commands like, “fire” and, “do your fucking job,” Luv sat comfortably in her lair while apathetically getting a manicure. Total villain goals.
And while many parts of Blade Runner: 2049 felt timely and reflective of modern-day America (like the corrupt, kleptocratic business tycoon), the most striking parallel was the female-led revolution. Freysa, a rebel robot, and her squad of undercover sex workers (including Mariette) form a Resistance against Wallace, which I’m assuming we’ll see play out in the third installment of the series. So while this installment may have been exhaustingly chauvinistic, I have a feeling the next will seek retribution. Now that is a future I look forward to.