The reviews for Denis Villeneuve’s much-hyped Blade Runner 2049 have been quite positive, with a few caveats — one being the movie’s problem with women. You could chalk that up to Villeneuve, whose resume includes a film about a real-life mass murderer known to have misogynist motives, but it also marks a continuation of the original Blade Runner’s gender politics: All three female characters in the 1982 sci-fi dystopian noir are replicants, which is to say android slaves, and they serve the respective functions of secretary, stripper, and prostitute. The first is raped, and the second two are murdered, by Harrison Ford’s character, who if not a hero is still the protagonist and audience surrogate. Why should women enjoy anything about that?
If everyone is to be permitted their problematic pop culture faves, they might also be allowed to despise (or ignore!) the stuff other people love. Trouble is, Blade Runner’s neckbeard fanbase won’t take “not my cup of tea” for an answer. It is perhaps the platonic ideal of a movie that dudes try to force on their girlfriends, desperate to spark adulation or pass it on. Comedian Jamie Loftus, who criticized the film’s sexual dynamic in the latest episode of her incisive and hilarious podcast The Bechdel Cast, tells me that three men are texting her about “what a fucking idiot” they think she is for doing so, one of whom has also told her multiple times “to give Infinite Jest a chance.”
“Boy do men love a female protagonist who has the body of a full grown woman and the brain of a little baby!” Loftus says, referring in particular to Rachael, the secretary-replicant played by Sean Young, a supposed femme fatale just recently brought online and manipulated by men ever since. “It’s almost like many of them are threatened by someone who is their equal or, god forbid, perhaps more capable than them!” She cites the “Born Sexy Yesterday” trope, a staple archetype of geek universes: a woman who arrives on the scene fully formed, as though from scratch, but is startlingly naïve about her abilities — until a man teaches her what to do, and how.
Loftus has other reasons to hate Blade Runner: Director Ridley Scott dispensed with narrative to focus on “how he could make Los Angeles look more like Japan,” she is “not very into sci-fi in the first place,” and Ford is “the Katherine Heigl of his generation in terms of being a boring asshole of a performer.” There would appear to be little benefit in arguing these convictions, yet the fanboys persist. “They do not understand, and I know my blood will burst out of my body if I try to have a discussion about it,” she says. It’s less like they’re defending a movie, more like they’re defending themselves.
And I think you already know that Blade Runner is no anomaly in this regard. There’s a vast, semi-hidden genre of film that lads absorb into their personality, so that any attack on this canon is considered an unacceptable breach of decorum and good taste. When I asked my social media network to name other titles that fit this theory, some common answers rose to the top: There were the crime epics (The Godfather, Scarface, a lot of Scorsese), the war epics (Apocalypse Now, as corroborated by a timeless Onion article) and anything else with tons of guns (Heat, The Boondock Saints, Die Hard, Quentin Tarantino’s whole filmography). Then you’ve got hetero-bonding fare (Fight Club, Point Break, The Big Lebowski) and a couple of prison numbers (The Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke). Last but not least, a handful of sports flicks (one friend says he’s been trying to convince his wife to watch Bad News Bears for a decade).
How would one classify these films? My esteemed colleague John McDermott suggests they are all the type to wind up as posters in a frat house, which is indisputably true. They’re also laughably overrepresented on IMDb’s garbage list of the 250 top-rated movies ever. Yet these feel like related symptoms as opposed to a diagnosis — of course bros are invested in making sure their consensus picks achieve some notoriety. And there’s nothing wrong with sharing or praising the art that made an impression on you! The trouble arises when guys think they’ve concocted a syllabus for the cinematic education of heretofore deprived women: “My ex bought 2001: A Space Odyssey ‘for me’ on Blu-ray,” another friend tells me. “I didn’t have a Blu-ray player.”
A college pal brings up a scene in Terminator 2, which follows the humanization of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killer robot as he forges a bond with the boy he’s programmed to protect. “When Arnold said ‘I know now why you cry, but it’s something I can never do,’ he wasn’t talking about machines,” my buddy argues. “He was speaking to an entire generation of emotionally repressed boys who were raised to be hard but deep down just wanted to watch videos of cute animals and babies all day.”
This seems to me the heart of the matter — that in youth boys rely on the dumbed-down psychological catharsis you get from effects-laden action blockbusters and operatic gangster sagas. When you start to pick apart these plots, you threaten fragile egos informed by the principles of antiheroes with whom they identified in adolescence.
Does this mean that none of these films deserve a spot on the marquee? Far from it. And none will ever want for an advocate, as the notion that we’re supposed to like them, received through each microgeneration of maleness, can never truly be shaken. I’ve enjoyed several; I adore one or two. I have no trouble empathizing with the frustration of a man who can’t get a woman interested in Jeff Bridges’ iconic turn as The Dude — believe me, I’ve been that guy. But to what end? People know what they like, and you’ve got to leave it at that. Nobody developed an appreciation for James Bond because they had a rando in their Twitter mentions screaming about Sean Connery.
To put it another way: Guys, can you remember when your girlfriend not only strong-armed you into watching a film but demanded you find the value in it? And refused to entertain a read even slightly opposed to their own, acting like any quibble you had was a stain on your intelligence? No? Then do the world a favor and save Blade Runner for a boys’ night in, and keep the director’s cut debate on a message board where anybody gives a shit. Otherwise you only embarrass the people who agree with you while deepening resistance to that point of view. Come on, man, you know that choice only ends one way: With all those moments lost in time, like tears… in rain.