Dreaming of Electric Femmes Fatales: Ridley Scott's Blade Runner: Final Cut (2007) and Images of Women in Film Noir

By Zeitz, Christian David | Gender Forum, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Dreaming of Electric Femmes Fatales: Ridley Scott's Blade Runner: Final Cut (2007) and Images of Women in Film Noir


Zeitz, Christian David, Gender Forum


Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, first released in 1981, then re-released as a final cut version in 2007, constructs a dystopian future in which private detective Deckard is hired to hunt down fugitive replicants, i.e. a neologism for bioengineered humans. As Katherine Farrimond remarks, contemporary American science fiction films tend to stage female cyborgs "as [both] threatening and sexualised" and thereby revive the femme fatale of film noir: these cyborgs are not only hard, half-technological "deadly seductresses", but their initial female agency is also put under male control throughout the narratives (182). Regarding Blade Runner: Final Cut [1], with the exception of Deborah Jermyn's "The Rachel Papers," there is (at least to my knowledge) no in-depth work examining the correlation between female roles in film noir and Scott's film. This absence is surprising given that Blade Runner is often cited as a quintessential neo-noir (see, for example, Kellner, Leibowitz, and Ryan). Bearing the aforementioned in mind, I intend to point out how far Blade Runner's representation of women can be interpreted as a reference to the representation of women in film noir.

When discussing Blade Runner's reference to roles or images of women in film noir, it is necessary to outline the film's general use of visuals and themes prevalent in film noir, regardless of "[w]hether it is a genre, a cycle of films, a tendency, or a movement" (Cowie 121). As the paper's main focus is on gender representations, I will only give a short outline of the typical film noir features that can be identified in Blade Runner. In their essay "Blade Runner and Genre", Susan Doll and Greg Faller categorize "Blade Runner as a multi-generic film, as a combination of film noir and science fiction" (89). The scholars' approach is rather formalistic, as they valorize visual style, i.e. the specific use of certain cinematic signifiers, against plot (91). Thus, they posit eight stylistic devices or characteristics that constitute film noir: "low-key lightning, claustrophobic framing, shadows and/or reflections, unbalanced compositions, and great depth of field", as well as "urban landscapes, costuming, particularly trench coats, garments with padded shoulders, and spiked heels; and most often rain-soaked environments" (91). However, Doll and Faller also make thematic statements, i.e. that films noirs most often deal with some kind of investigation, involving an investigator, who sometimes is a detective, "a corrupt authority figure," as well as an image of women usually tied to the role of "femme fatales or redeemers" (91). The world or society in film noir is often characterized by hopelessness, desolation, amorality and the instability of old orders.

Interestingly, Blade Runner accords with most of the features listed above. The overall lighting of the film is expressively dark; according to Doll and Faller the scenes in Bryant's and Tyrell's offices and Deckard's condo serve as good examples of low-key lighting. Furthermore, the use of close-ups and extreme close-ups (of eyes), as in the scene where Leon takes the VK test, exemplifies a style of claustrophobic framing. Yet, overly shiny and blinding "television monitors" have a similarly claustrophobic effect (91). In terms of costuming, "Rachael's tight-fitting dresses with padded shoulders and her 1940s influenced hairdo, Deckard's and Bryant's (and to some extent Gaff's) trenchcoats" seem to be an allusion to the fashion of 40s films noirs (92). Finally, the Los Angeles of Blade Runner is a rainy and dark megalopolis, as are most of the cities presented in films noirs (ibid.).

Stylistically, Blade Runner is often cited as the quintessential filmic text of postmodernism, especially due to its genre-mixing as a form of intertextuality (see Bruno). It is this paper's aim to point out in how far Blade Runner's intertextual reference to film noir is not only confined to visual style, but also manifests itself in the (conscious or unconscious) orchestration of remarkably noir-styled women characters. …

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