Last night, I went to a showing of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (Final Cut) at Denver’s IMAX theater at the science museum. Yeah, I’ve seen this film many times (it’s #2 on my list of best science fiction films of all time), and yes, it was awesome to see it on the giant screen.
But when the love scene between Deckard and Rachel heated up, with her resisting and him pushing her, I sat there thinking, “Huh.” Why hadn’t I noticed this before? Why was I uncomfortable now, when in the past I just chalked it up to a passionate scene that teeters along that line but never crosses it?
I put aside such thoughts for the time being, until afterward, during the discussion, someone suggested it was a rape. And the (male) film professor offered no disagreement, acknowledging the darker aspect to the scene and the idea that Deckard could have crossed a line. And that got me thinking some more: what’s really going on in this scene? Is it rape or not?
Some people take great offense to this sort of discussion. People who are very aware of rape topics will often throw rocks at any film that depicts a lack of sexual consent, afraid it sends a bad message to people about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior. People who are less aware will do the opposite: throw rocks at the former and accuse them of being oversensitive, liberal, or taking art too literally. The problem is, neither of these knee-jerk reactions really solve anything.
So, instead, I’d like to examine the arguments for and against the Blade Runner love scene depicting rape, and examine what perhaps the film is trying to convey during that scene.
Watch the video. If you want to skip to preamble and get right to it, the physical part begins at about 2:55, although the preamble does offer important context.
Arguments For Rape
Deckard kisses her. She gets up to leave. He prevents her from leaving, grabs her, and shoves her pretty hard against the window. She doesn’t look turned on; she looks scared. He orders her to say, “Kiss me” and “I want you.” She does. There’s no clear consent here, and in today’s world, a lack of clear consent places you into rape territory. Even if Deckard didn’t force her, he was pushy and coercive. He had her back to a wall. Her giving in to his demands while he looms over her isn’t quite consent, is it? So, you can see why people might call this a rape.
Moreover, looking beyond the consent issue, one of Blade Runner‘s themes is artificial intelligence and the dehumanization of sentient beings. The replicants were created to serve as slave laborers; because they were manufactured, they had no rights. They weren’t considered human, despite having the same biological parts as you and I, despite having emotions and self-awareness. The cops called them “it” rather than using pronouns and Deckard even called Rachel “it” once discovering she was a replicant. One could argue that Deckard, whose empathy levels are questionable at times, saw Rachel as a replicant he could dominate. Sure, he liked her, sought to protect her, but did he see her as an equal, as someone with the same rights as he? Or did he see her as a pretty, lost woman he could have his way with if he pushed her fear buttons a little?
Arguments Against Rape
If you look at the comment section for this video, skipping over the less informed comments, you will see some interesting takes on what was happening in this scene, and why dismissing it as rape is missing the underlying subtext of the film.
For myself, starting with the simple, the reason the scene didn’t bother me in the past is that I assumed Rachel liked and cared for Deckard but experienced ambivalence about being intimate with him for a variety of reasons. She showed up at his home. She protected him from Leon, thus saving his life. She was drawn to him. Her resistance could have been about her lack of experience with all the emotions that come with sex and romance — attraction, desire, attachment, love, and yes, fear. Rachel was very buttoned up and uptight; in this scene she literally lets her hair down, as if she’s exploring other sides of herself. Replicants, as Tyrell explained, have little experience dealing with emotion because they’re chronologically so young. Perhaps Deckard merely sought to push her beyond her fear and into the emotional place that he knew she wanted to be.
Interestingly, after Deckard shoves her against the window, he puts his hands up, palms forward. This is a near-universal body language sign of peace or surrender. It’s as if Deckard is showing Rachel he doesn’t intend to harm her. Instead, he may be pushing her in his less than gentle way to give in to her new emotions rather than resist them. After all, her emotional programming isn’t like that of humans and she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do or feel in this situation. Her first instinct was to run; Deckard wouldn’t let her. In the end, she says “Put your hands on me” without having been prompted by Deckard, perhaps showing that she’s willing and ready to take the leap.
Does any of this justify Deckard’s behavior? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. That’s up to you to decide for yourself. If it were clearly okay or clearly not okay, the scene would have far less power. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill action movie with the gratuitous sex scene; this is Blade Runner, one of the greatest films of all time. It’s supposed to make us think. This is a film that, like many great films and especially science fiction, allows us to examine what it is to be human.
However you choose to view this scene, remember that film doesn’t exist to show society how to behave. Instead, it reflects our society and our history, and the best film makes us examine our own humanity. Sometimes that means watching some uncomfortable shit in order to do that. At least this Blade Runner scene asks important questions and makes you think, unlike, say the rape/almost-rape scenes in Game of Thrones, which seem to exist merely for shock and entertainment. But that’s another article altogether.
What do you think about the Blade Runner love scene between Deckard and Rachel? What’s really going on there?