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Archive for May 8th, 2009

I cannot stop watching this movie.

And I can’t believe I went all of these years without seeing this beautiful, strange, moving and problematic piece of cinema. I finally saw it this weekend – twice in as many days – and I’m ready to watch it again, soaking in it the way I soaked in A Perfect Circle’s first album when it came out, or my first collection of Nick Drake.

Like so many before me, I’m troubled and intrigued by the “love scene” between Deckard and Rachel, seen here.

I’ve often been troubled by the facile way some kinksters manage to look at certain scenes in movies. In particular, many folks of my acquaintance really get hot watching men get hurt. There’s no doubt that the suffering of the male body can be terribly attractive; I’m totally with it, so long as it’s consensual.

But in a world where desire is a strange beast and so much of our input comes from film and TV, images of suffering, nonconsent, ambiguous consent, and rape become iconic. These days, it seems acceptable to enjoy masculine suffering, but it’s still terribly problematic – and I think, rightly so – to enjoy scenes that are or may be rape of women. We are nowhere near far enough along in the deconstruction of millennia of patriarchy to put women on equal footing with men in terms of their susceptibility to sexual violence, and fetishizing non-consensual violence against women is simply not okay. Still: why is it okay to do it to men? This is something of a tangent, I know, because what I’m really getting at is the following.

Most of the time, I find it horrifying when I detect that a scene of sexual violence against a woman is imminent in a film or TV show. It is never sexy or fun or titillating. Which made me look at this scene in Blade Runner in a different light: i.e., it turned me on. So what does that mean about me, or about the scene? Am I trying not to have the scene be a rape, because if it is I’m a sicko for being turned on by it? Or is it just because I want this film to be more complicated than that, which in all other ways, it is?

For those of you who didn’t feel like watching the video, here’s the scenario: Rachel has recently learned that she’s an android, not human. She’s having a lot of trouble dealing with the idea, especially, that her memories are not her own. She has just saved Deckard’s life, and is herself on the run; he is sheltering her in his apartment.

Seeing him sleeping, she softens her look, taking off her jacket and taking her hair down. She plays something on the piano, which wakes him. He comes on to her, to which she reacts ambivalently, seeming to like it at first, then backing away and trying to leave when he goes to kiss her on the mouth. He chases after her, blocks her exit, and slams her against the blinds. She looks afraid but aroused, too, and he kisses her.

“Now kiss me,” he says.

“I can’t rely on…” she begins.

“Say, ‘Kiss me,'” he says.

“Kiss me,” she says. He does. Then he says, “I want you.”

She says, “I want you,” with her eyes downcast. He doesn’t say anything, but seems to prompt her again. She looks into his eyes and says, “I want you,” once more.

Then, without prompting, she says, “Put your hands on me.”

Now, naturally, his violence toward her is unwarranted. And the way he prompts her responses suggests that she is going along with him to prevent further violence. But the context says something more to me.

Deckard is a man who has known only violence, in particular in his interactions with Replicants. His initial treatment of her, when he feels he might be rejected, is not excusable, but is consistent with his character. Rachel is an android struggling to be human, who has a fascination with Deckard, with love, and has mixed desires. In some readings I’ve seen of the scene, including the actress Sean Young’s, the scene is a teaching by Deckard to Rachel, a woman who “do[esn’t] know the meaning of love, but…want[s] to.” This reading is much more compelling to me than that of a “simple” rape, where Deckard overcomes Rachel by physical, and then by emotional, force and manipulation.

But the overwhelming first experience I had of watching the scene was a kinkster’s reaction: “Oh my gods,” I said, “they’re fetishizing consent.”

I seriously doubt whether Ridley Scott or anyone else involved had this in mind when they shot the scene, but it was the first interpretation that jumped into my crazy kinked-up head. “Say ‘kiss me.'” Tell me you like it. Tell me you want me. Beg me for it.

Nonconsent fantasies are one thing; though they can be problematic, and I still have issues with exploring them through scenes in movies that are clearly meant to be about real nonconsent, not consensual nonconsent. But for me the hotness lies even more in the fetishization of consent: getting the person you’re doing horrible wonderful things to to tell you how much they like it. It’s one of my gooshiest hottest embarrassment buttons as a bottom, to have my top put words in my mouth expressing my desire and enjoyment of what is happening to me. And as a top, I’d much rather hear my bottom say, “Please” than say, “No,” though both have their place.

Please. Yes. Ahh! God… Breath sucked between teeth. A whimper.

I’ve distracted myself again.

But this scene. Like the rest of this film, so complex, so tied into questions of misogyny or commentary thereon, of human versus non-human, of what it means to be capable of consenting. In my view, this is a scene wherein Deckard goes through wrenching changes: he’s long felt that Replicants don’t deserve to be shot in the back just for being Replicants, but his training tells him to treat all Replicants the same. What happens when he finds himself desiring one, falling in love with one? The idea that she might reject him is intolerable. His first response is violence, but his second is to try and be sure of her, to know that she actually wants him, that she actually is consenting, is capable, as a machine, of consent.

And her response to him. Earlier in the scene, she asks if he would “hunt” her if she ran. The question has desire in it as well as fear: if she left, would he follow? When she tries to leave and he prevents her, she is scared, but wanting, too: she feels the desire, but it is new, and she needs guidance. Her interrupted line, “I can’t rely on…” suggests that she doubts her own ability to make decisions or even to have desires, and he wants to show her that she can, that she does. She choses a tragically broken teacher, but then everyone in this world is broken. And when she finally says, “Put your hands on me,” I do not believe that she is simply acquiescing to make things easier on herself: she is making a statement of agency, of humanity.

Feel free to argue with me if you like. I’m open. I’ll be over here, watching this movie again.

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