Bladerunner 2049 – A Modern Male Tragedy

“Give me back myself”

When ‘Bladerunner 2049’ originally came out, there was quite a stir about its visuals. They were large, sweeping, and immersive, on a scale not seen in many sci-fi films in a while. While it created a huge discussion on modern sci-fi, it failed at the box office, suggesting that its impact was beyond more than just attaining a high viewership. Then the interpretations started. After the dazzling effects wore off, then they began with the labels. They labelled it as sexist at first, then they labelled it as misogynist, then they started labeling it as “pretty smart and feminist”, then they labelled it as “championing the underclasses”. Even the director stated how “it was really about how modern society treats women today”…But is it?

Throughout the film we only see women as being the main actors in society, save for the corporate boss played by Leto. His second-hand man is a woman, and is the one who accomplishes everything in the film for him as well. Getting the archive files, monitoring K, kidnapping Deckard; all of it is accomplished by his female android secretary. Of course we also see K do plenty, but who is his superior? Robin Wright, who berates him mercilessly. Who is the leader of the underground resistance of replicants? Again, a woman. And, ultimately, who is this film about at the very end, when we were lead the whole time to think K was secretly destined to have a purpose in this film? Stelline, Deckard’s daughter. The answers in the film are portrayed directly to our faces, but the creators insist on altering what we see in favor of what we are supposed to feel, because the glossy images of digital wives and urban prostitution are meant to make us feel bad or something.

Much like the film ‘Starship Troopers’ the purpose of the film gets lost within its own portrayal. While I do believe in the supremacy of the creator’s vision, I also believe that it must be portrayed adequately in order to contain that message, other-wise you are just inserting themes into a film with no substance to back it. You are essentially gaslighting.

This is much of the reason why the depressed, demoralized, and angry male youth of today relates so much with K. From memes repeated ad nausea across the internet of his “freakout” scene where he kicks his chair, to the collections of images of him staring blankly and numbly at the world around him, including at the only person in his life that matters to him at all; Joi, his holographic wife. This film relates with them, not because it shows “misogyny towards women”, but because it shows with absolute precision the isolating and cold feeling of being a male in today’s society, about misandry and the “disposable male”, and that is very much a part of the design. We are not following a woman throughout the story, we are following a man, and we are meant to feel sympathetic towards him, and that inevitably gets in the way of trying to tell a story about misogyny. Any writer knows that when you tell a story, you make the theme and subject of the story part of the protagonist.

Throughout the film we are shown K, played by Ryan Gosling, as an unfeeling, uncaring, borderline automaton, who does the bidding of his superiors. He goes to work, kills for a living, returns to his headquarters where he must remain completely neutral in emotions or else that compromises his work ethic, to which his female superior then gives him a nod of approval for a job well done, only for him to then go home to his empty and gray apartment. But what is this? Only in the privacy of his apartment does he begin to show the facade of a well-trained machine begin to break down. We see him comforted by the only thing in his life which he shows any semblance of attachment to, something which is not even actually there, only a figment of his imagination made real by projected images within his apartment; Joi, his holographic wife.

Men in this world, as we are shown, are meant to be used and thrown away. From the hordes of faceless trashers that get blown up, to the goons who get shot up by K during the Deckard kidnapping, to K himself being used by his organization to eradicate another man in the beginning; the only two female deaths we are explicitly shown in the entire film are not even human females, but androids, representations of women. The theme is quite clear, but gets multiplied in intensity when we involve the actual plot of the film.

Most of the film we are lead to believe that K has a greater purpose. We are lead to believe he is not just another replicant, living a monotonous life of violence and repression of feeling, but a life that he now discovers, after finding out his memories are real, that he may be the half-replicant half-human son he is looking for. Someone who was born, not simply designed. It is not hard to see how people, specifically men, relate to this. We live in a world where men are told to sit down, sit back, be quiet, feel nothing, while also simultaneously being shown endless images and excerpts meant to elicit feelings of sadness and sympathy, being told to “join the war, bigot!” Society tries to design men to be whatever suits its particular interests at the moment. Soldiers, philosophers, workers, protestors; endlessly being told to sacrifice while being told to shut up. But with K, we are lead to believe he has a destiny. A purpose beyond the designs of a society that wishes to use and abuse him for its dirty work.

And, as life always tends to do, this idea of purpose and grandiosity gets pulled out from underneath him when he finds out that the half-human half-replicant was a daughter, not a son. We then see him wallow in misery, gradually figuring out what to do next, before he decides to take action himself, ridding himself of the “chain” of command. He strikes out hard and fast to rescue Deckard, ignoring the whims of the resistance, ignoring the potential threats from his organization, sacrificing his life to benefit another. This is a perfect redemption arc in a sense. K sat around his whole life waiting for something to make sense, for his purpose to manifest, when all he needed to do to manifest purpose was to take his life into his own hands, that the family and connection he wanted so desperately from the manufactured Joi, was right in front of him with Deckard and Stelline. He could be a part of their lives, a meaningful part of it, all he had to do was act.

“I just want to feel something real…For once…”

Throughout much of the film we see the only connection K has is to a hologram, called Joi. She is a product, bought and sold like any other, but for some reason K finds her to be more than just a product, some object to be used and then thrown away. He finds her to be the one part of his life that he is able to open up to, the only one he thinks is able to see the purpose in him, his special someone. Using a prostitute to sync up with her so he could truly be intimate, dancing with her in the rain using an emanator to take her with him anywhere, just sitting back and staring at her and how she smiles longingly at him. He takes all of it in because he wants something genuine so bad that he looks for it in someone that is not even really there. A ghost that haunts him, almost taunting him. One of the few times he smiles throughout the film, maybe one of the only times, is when he finally brings her to the roof while it is raining, seeing her out in the world, beyond the borders of his apartment. Just the “joy” of seeing her outside of his apartment is enough to make his expressionless demeanor change into a smile of happiness. Seeing her walk in the world with him changes him from merely having his loneliness at home avoided, to now having her with him anywhere; now she is more than just a hologram but a companion.

Now there are a lot of ways this could potentially be interpreted; the tradwife concept being marketed and exploited for consumerist gain, a manifestation of “misogyny” in men only valuing women for their home-making, or, the more direct and far more believable approach; a desire for connecting with someone else, and to be loved unquestioningly, embraced entirely, despite all of our flaws; a desire so intense that K fooled himself into believing a product designed to show affection could be doing so through its own choice. That is what Joi represents, it is in her name. Which makes it all the more ironic that she is killed by the Android, Luv. The “Joy” of the fictitious being crushed by the reality of the physical “Love”, or lack-there-of.

Joi in particular also highlights the exact feeling of many men today. While I cringe at the “men’s rights crowd”, I can perfectly understand their frustration. Men commit suicide at a much higher rate, men make up the vast majority of workplace deaths, men make up the vast majority of occupations with high mortality rates, until recently it was in law that mothers are preferred in getting full custody of children, women get far lighter sentences for crimes compared to male counterparts with similar circumstances, women make up the majority of college attendees, and gender quotas assure the female is hired no matter what. Women have become the more desired in society. But have they not always been? Despite all of this, men are told that it is all their fault by the women they fought and died to protect in generations past, women that they died working in mines and factories to support, because they believed it to be their duty as men to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of family, which is exactly what K does at the end in order to find his own purpose in life, instead of having it handed to him by some “dream designer” or bought from a store. He sacrifices himself for the greater good of family, and not even his own family, but a family he desired so strongly throughout the film to be a part of and, ultimately, it is that sacrifice that resonates so strongly with men, which is why the vast majority of the theater-going audiences were men.

Because K does not represent the patriarchy, he does not represent toxic masculinity, he does not even represent general masculinity; he represents ordinary men, the “average Joe”. Dismissed by society while longing for a purpose. Ordinary men that want nothing more than to connect with the other half of society that they routinely sacrifice so much for just to protect. Somebody to make them feel purpose within the cold, unfeeling, unsympathetic world of violence and deceit that surrounds them. Someone that they can be honest and affectionate with, someone that they feel gives them hope and meaning.

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