In the Age of #MeToo How Should We Interpret Aggressive On-Screen Romance?
Until a few days ago, I probably was in the minority of movie buffs who hadn’t watched Blade Runner. For whatever reason I decided it was time to watch the Ridley Scott’s classic after years of people urging me to do so. It has now become one of my favorite films of all time. Yet, there is a scene that took me by surprise. Yes, there were a few violent, even gross scenes in the film (like the one where the replicant Roy squishes the head of his creator, Tyrell). But as a millennial living in the age of the #MeToo Movement, it was actually the love scene between Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachael (Sean Young) that elicited a tinge of surprise in me.
How the Twain Meet . . .
In Blade Runner, the future is at once decadent and technologically advanced; so advanced that conscious androids, called replicants, are made by humans and used as slaves. When some of the slaves go rogue, it’s the job of a blade runner (a futuristic bounty hunter) to track them down and kill them.
Harrison Ford plays a blade runner whose objective is to track down four intrepid Tyrell Co. replicants who have made it to Earth illegally. Deckard learns upon visiting the company that the stoical, femme fatale, Rachael, who works under Tyrell, is a replicant after he conducts a test with her called “Voight Kampff”. Tyrell explains to Deckard that by planting memories into his subjects he can make them easier to control.
In the beginning, Deckard doesn’t see replicants as anything more than mere robots. Upon discovering that Rachael is a replicant who’s in the dark about her identity, Deckard asks Tyrell “how does it not know what it is?” Despite referring to her as an object, his humanity extends to Rachael once he sees her wounded and plunged into an identity crisis after he tells her what he’s learned (and what she’s been suspecting).
Deckard’s love for Rachael seems tender, at first. In the contentious scene, the two sit at Deckard’s piano and he makes a move on her, and then the scene abruptly veers in a new direction. She pulls away and heads toward the door. He follows and drives his fist against the door, slamming it before she can escape, he then throws her against a window. With Rachael seeming perturbed, he instructs her — or coerces her as some would argue — into giving consent.
Being so used to our world, which emphasizes consent and brings the problem of rape and harassment to the media more than ever before, I was taken aback by the romanticized violence, though I was unsure what to make of it. I certainly wasn’t alone in feeling this way.
Even in its day the scene got some attention for being controversial. In an interview with Sean Young, the film critic, John C. Tibbits reflected, “I think people are gonna want to watch for this scene, very carefully. It might even arouse some controversy.” Young didn’t see the scene as controversial because it wasn’t, in her eyes, a “real love scene”– though the sultry saxophone complementing the scene may disagree with her.
As I listened to YouTube critics examine the scene, I considered that their reactions were inspired, at least in part, by the stories that have come out of the #MeToo movement, stories that mirror what we see between Rachael and Deckard. Listening to these very real stories may make it harder to watch aggressive men in older films like Blade Runner, and perhaps some current ones too.
Rape Culture or Harmless Fantasy?
One prime example of a romanticized rape scene comes from one of the biggest films ever made, Gone With the Wind. Most of us are familiar with the well-known scene where Rhett Butler forcibly carries Scarlet up to her boudoir. Of course, this wasn’t the first time Clark Gable played a spirited lover. From his threats to “sock” women in the jaw to the scene where he smacked Claudette Colbert in the ass in It Happened One Night, Gable’s characters would easily raise some millennial’s eyebrows.
The quirky and often comedic actor, Cary Grant was nowhere near as macho as Gable, yet even he had a scene in the Hitchcock thriller Suspicion that could be troubling to some modern viewers. When he takes his love interest (Joan Fontaine) to an out-of-the-way spot on a hill we see her struggling to break free from his arms. With playful glee, Grant’s character says, “nothing less than murder could justify such violent self-defense.” Indeed, Old Hollywood is riddled with such examples of what feminists now call rape culture.
Despite their uncomfortable nature, interpreting these scenes may be a little trickier than it seems. The fantasy element shouldn’t be ignored. Though women generally don’t want to be in any of the above situations with a perfect stranger, women sometimes do fantasize about such scenarios when it involves men of their choosing. Cary Grant and Clark Gable were the guys women swooned over about back in the day, and by the 80’s Harrison Ford was the guy who made many women’s hearts lose a few beats.
Where Is The Line?
Though modern film heroes typically lack the aggression of the older ones, we can find similar elements of sadomasochism in women’s erotica and fan-fiction, both on the web and in print — a notable example being Fifty Shades of Grey. Erotic stories are invariably more explicit than what we see in the typical feature film, and some BDSM tales lack the consent contract we see in Fifty Shades of Grey.
While not all women enjoy the submissive role, it can’t be denied that it’s a ubiquitous fantasy. For some people it has the intoxicating quality of temporarily allowing one to relinquish control, especially when in day-to-day life one’s independence and responsibilities can be burdensome and make one long for an escape from common boundaries and restrictions.
But many feminists would ask, who’s controlling the narrative in films like Blade Runner? In the case of the aforementioned films, it’s mixed. Margaret Mitchell made Rhett the aggressor — or rapist depending on your point of view — in Gone With the Wind, and Fifty Shades of Grey we all know was penned by Twilight fan, E.L. James; while the Blade Runner script and the book it was loosely based upon were the products of the male imagination. Yet it’s not too easy to distinguish one type of romantic fantasy from another. Does this mean that the line between men’s and women’s film fantasies isn’t always as clear as we tend to believe?
Thanks for reading! How do you think we should reconcile on-screen fantasies with real life issues? Leave a comment below!
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