Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Blade Runner 2049: Not Your Average Sci-Fi

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Vic chapter.


Have you ever had an experience where everything you had learned in your life suddenly all came together in one moment and blew open the doors to the world you were living in but had never truly seen? That is what happened to me when I saw Blade Runner 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve). Before we continue, there will obviously be spoilers past this point. Whether you continue or not is up to you. I highly recommend watching the film to determine your own thoughts and opinions on it.

This is a long article, but I ask that you stay with me as I take you through my analysis of the film. You’re going to learn some things, you’re going to feel things, and hopefully by the end your perspective will have been widened and your resolve strengthened.  


I took a Gender Studies course this semester titled, “Women, Race, and Empire.”

In this class I began to understand the scope and gravity of how our society clings to past European colonization and the dichotomy of colonized and colonizer. I understood that the racism and sexism that prevails in modern society originated in a society that at the surface level seems separate from our day to day life, but if you look deeper into the social constructs realize that we have internalized the colonial ideology and continue to reproduce them.

When I sat in that dark theatre sitting with three male friends, I had to continually suppress the urge to lean over and ask them if they were seeing what I was seeing. If they understood how this film represented us, our society, and our view on the world. I wanted to stand up in the middle of the theatre, point at the screen and yell, “Don’t you see? This is exactly what we did 100 years ago, it’s what we’re doing now, and this film depicts a future where we are still a racist and sexist society that continues to function in horrifying and new ways. We haven’t changed.”



Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner.  It is a dystopian sci-fi in which our society has colonized other planets and created sophisticated androids virtually identical to human beings, known as replicants. Blade Runner 2049 follows the protagonist, K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant who works as a blade runner: a special rank in the police force for someone who hunts down replicants and terminates them; he kills his own kind.


What is this saying?

Well, law enforcement is an institution that possesses power and authority. As a replicant, K is essentially considered sub-human in this society K’s role places him in a position above other replicants, yet he still remains below humans in social hierarchy. This ostracizes him from both communities. There is a scene in the film where he comes home from work and everyone he meets ridicules him; spray-painted across his door is the word: skin job. Skin job, as if he the only part linking him to humanity is his skin. Beneath that there is nothing, he has no soul. Replicants don’t want to associate with him because his job is to essentially kill them if the law requires it. For examples, three replicant sex workers approached him as part of their job, but when they found out he was a blade runner two of them immediately took off, saying they didn’t want any trouble. K is forced to adhere to his place in society because it grants him some power, even if it’s not much, and he knows if he rebels he will be terminated. In order to achieve any form of power against the institutions and social constructs that imprison us we must conform to it’s standards. This also pertains to western ideals for femininity and masculinity.


K is played by a white male, which represents westernized patriarchal standards. Even if he is not in a total position of power we are still seeing the story through his eyes. A strong part of the western ideal masculinity is a man who values reason over emotion; a man who does not cry. When a man shows emotion he aligns himself with an action that is recognized as feminine, which is emasculating. We attribute men with intellect and women with beauty. The movie did not overtly state this, but based on the 1989 storyline and K’s actions, he is superior in strength and longevity to human beings, but he also has a repressed emotional capacity. Throughout the majority of the film K appears to be detached from the violence he experiences and carries out, and indifferent to his own oppression and subjugation as a replicant. After he completes a job he returns to headquarters to undergo a Baseline Test. This test is designed to determine a replicant’s emotional baseline, if they are in control enough to follow orders. The applicant must repeat certain words, but in-between them listens to provoking questions. It’s supposed to elicit an emotional response. Here’s a link to one of K’s baseline test. Skip to 0:20.



The conflict of the story is K’s search for a child whose mother was a replicant, a birth that is unprecedented. K’s job is to kill this child, because if word got out that replicants can have children, suddenly the wall that separates humans from replicants no longer exists. Replicants are just as important and equal to human beings because they have emotions, personhood, and they can reproduce. The antagonist in Blade Runner 2049 is Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the founder of Wallace Company which has monopolized replicant production with models that are more obedient and resilient with an open-ended life span. K is one of these models. Wallace’s goal is to create female replicants who can reproduce. His frustration stems from wanting to colonize more planets and cement his place in history as the “father” of these replicants and their children. His inability to control reproduction is because he cannot control women. This is where we see the implications of westernized femininity and the attitude that patriarchal society has toward them. Wallace’s disregard to women and his treatment of them manifest as a way to acquire power over them.


There are many female characters throughout this film and they all work in accordance to male power.

I am only going to be touching on a few to fully explore the symbols they represent. There is Luv (Sylvia Hoecks) a replicant who is the direct assistant to Niander Wallace. Next is Joi (Ana de Armas), a holographic android created by Wallace company to do and say everything and anything that her owner wants. She can be customized to be the the perfect woman, she just doesn’t have a physical body. Then we have Mariette (Mackenzie Davis), a replicant who works as a sex worker, that’s what she was created for. She has autonomy and personhood, as much is given to replicants, but unlike Joi she has a physical body. And perhaps the most important female character Dr. Ana Steline (Carla Juri). Steline work for Wallace company as a fabricator of memories.  


Luv, which sounds like the word “love”, is a replicant whose dedication to Wallace surpasses even her own identity. Her name itself is one that inspires connections with gentleness and kindness, but her demeanour and actions throughout the film continually subvert these notions. Her role in the movie is to hunt down the child that has been born of a replicant and bring him/her to Wallace so that he can create a fertile female replicant and have control of their reproduction. One of the very first scene we see her in is when she reports to Wallace and witnesses a “birth” of a new female replicant. The second most poignant scene in the film for me. Wallace examines this replicant and laments her inability to procreate. The replicant is severely overwhelmed and distressed, she was literally just born. Wallace’s actions in this scene are clinical and detached, he doesn’t see her as a human being and after possessively touching her womb he stabs her because to him she is imperfect without a womb. His violence against women is a way for him to acquire control over them.



In conjugation with what’s going on in the world right now, the fight for women’s reproductive rights in the states, paired with our idea that one of women’s values, if not her only value, is her ability to have children, it’s not hard to see this scene as a prediction to where society could go for women’s social status. I was so uncomfortable when I watched this scene, because I was distinctly aware of my place as a women and how society and men will often view me as nothing more than a body and a womb.  Luv, curiously enough, cried during this scene. Throughout the rest of the movie she fights for Wallace, she believes in his dream to have a reproductive replicant. However, she as an infertile replicant would no longer be useful if Wallace got his wish.  She would be terminated, yet she willingly takes part in an ideology that undermines and devalues her own worth. She justifies her actions in support of these ideals because she takes on Wallace’s masculine traits. Her use of violence to achieve her goals and her controlled emotional capacity makes her valuable because she is “not like other girls”. Which speaks to how we as a society train women to be active participants in their own subjugation. In order to be accepted into society we have to act a certain way, say certain things, and look a certain way. And if we want to enter the men’s world and be “taken seriously” women must take on masculine ideals, by repressing emotion, and valuing violence as strength, we must reject feminine identities.  If we resist or deviate from these expectations we are ridiculed and policed by the rest of society; terminated. We internalize these social constructs of femininity and carry them out ourselves.


Here are where things get interesting.

Joi and Mariette’s characters work in tandem with each other because they are K’s love interests. Joi develops romantic feelings toward K, whether this is through her own free-will we still see it as part of her programming. Joi’s role throughout the film is to provide emotional support and care for K, her greatest function is her ability to connect with people. Joi can arguably satisfy K’s emotional needs but she can’t satisfy his physical needs. So, she commissions Mariette’s services to have sex with K. Joi instigates this little threesome, not K, but K goes along with it. This scene is probably the most important scene because of what it says about masculine and feminine representations in western society. Joi literally pastes her hologram figure over Mariette’s physical body to have sex with K. In this moment we see the completion of Wallace’s dream come true. Mariette is reduced to a body, completely exploited as a sexual tool, and Joi who is not a real human being becomes the object of K’s desire. The physical realization of a replicant who will do and say anything you want, and give you children. This “new woman” reduces real women to a footnote in men’s desire, no longer wanted and no longer needed.


But all hope is not lost for women. Let us not forget about the child K and Wallace are pursuing. This child is the key to the fall or rise of this world. In many revolutions humanity will rally behind images or specific people because they become symbols for what they want to fight for. In the Hunger Games people rallied behind Katniss Everdeen because they believed she could free from tyranny. In Blade Runner 2049 the replicants are searching for such a symbol. The child they are looking for can become such a symbol for the replicant uprising. By the end of the movie we have found out that this child is female. She has been hidden her entire life so that the resistance could reveal her to the world at a point in time to gain support in their uprising. The replicant resistance has been working in the shadows for many years to fight for replicants equality and autonomy in society.



The child is Dr. Ana Steline, a woman we met previously in the movie when K went to ask her about replicant memories. She lives inside a facility cut-off from the rest of the world because she has an immune disorder. This is part of her cover-up made by the resistance to ensure her safety. If Luv, Joi, and Mariette are the replicant images men have determined that women should be, then Dr. Ana Steline is the “real woman.” She, like Mariette, has a physical body, she, like Joi, is capable of providing an emotional and intelligent connection with the people around her, and she, like Luv, has the autonomy to act. She was not created by Wallace and is therefore not controlled by him. She has her own thoughts, feelings, dreams, and personhood, but just as our patriarchal society has contained and restrained women, she also has not been released into the world. In our society women are held back by social expectation and discrimination. Women can’t be too bossy or too emotional, too thin or too thick, wear too much or too little make-up, they can’t sleep with too many men, but they can’t be virgins. Women are forced to balance on a tightrope. They cannot simply be who they are without society reprimanding and judging them. This can be said about many facets of our society,  but the truth is women are not equal to men. They are continually pushed back and denied the same access and respect that men are afforded. Like Dr. Ana Steline women are in a glass box, allowed to look at the world yet forced to remain apart from it. In both society’s women have not been realized as a human being capable and equal to the men around them.


In our western society where women continue to fight for reproductive rights, equal pay, and equality it is safe to say that women have not had their day of reckoning.

But we are strong and independent. We march, we accuse our sexual attackers in the press, we fight for women’s rights. I remind you that we have not yet won, and we have a long way to go to ensure that Blade Runner 2049 does not become our future. And so I ask that you listen. Open your hearts and minds to the perspectives of those around you, to the women in your life, to the marginalized people of our world, POC, the LGBTQ community and embrace and support each other in our search for a better world.  To not simply dismiss something  you don’t understand. To my roommate who validated my thoughts and feelings with, “life is about other people,” I encourage you to seek perspective. To look at the world through another person’s eyes and recognize that which is not your own without fear.


And in the words of Fatema Mernissi, “What kind of revolution, I wonder, do we need to make men dream of self-assertive, independent women as the epitome of beauty?”.





Leah Smith

U Vic '20

Coming from Edmonton, AB, Leah is a writing student in the Fine Arts Department at the University of Victoria. She enjoys all things story related including but not limited to TV, movies, and books. She is a die-hard fan of Peaky Blinders, Mr. Robot, and Jane the Virgin. She loves desserts and when she has time enjoys baking and hanging out with her family and friends. She is easy-going and with an avid love for music and hopes to be a screenwriter.
Ellen is a fourth year student at the University of Victoria, completing a major in Writing and a minor in Professional Writing: Editing and Publishing. She is currently a Campus Correspondent for the UVic chapter, and spends most of her free time playing Wii Sports and going out for breakfast. She hopes to continue her career in magazine editing after graduation, and finally travel somewhere farther than Disneyworld. You can follow her adventures @ellen.harrison