In the beginning of Blade Runner, Deckard’s boss shows him pictures of the four Replicants and gives short descriptions of each. Of the two women, he says, “This is Zora. She’s trained for an off-world kick-murder squad. Talk about beauty and the beast, she’s both. The fourth skin job is Pris. A basic pleasure model. The standard item for military clubs in the outer colonies.”
These two descriptions struck me in the very different way they presented the two female Replicants. Zora is described as a woman, as a human. The pronoun “she” is used twice. Zora was “trained” (a word that suggests an acquiring of skill through practice, something that occurs within one’s lifetime) rather than “programmed” or another word that would imply she was not human. Pris, on the other hand, is described as an object, as something that was created by man to serve a purpose, and is therefore disposable. Pris is called a “skin job,” a “basic pleasure model,” a “standard item”. Pris is never given the pronoun “she.” In fact, all these nouns used to describe her imply that she is an “it”.
The difference in the level of humanity implied by this use of nouns and pronouns is further exacerbated by the functions or expected roles of the two female Replicants. Zora worked for a kick-murder squad. She is therefore dangerous and capable. The description of Pris, on the other hand, makes her sound like a glorified sex toy.
I’m interested in how this early description given to us by a different fictional character within the narrative affects our understanding of those two female Replicants for the rest of the film. Deckard’s boss essentially gives us a stereotype for each of the two women. When we see Zora, we expect someone capable, with excellent fighting skills. When we see Pris, we expect someone pretty, sexy, and incapable of doing anything. This is what we expect. So what do we get? Zora, the supposed fighter, is portrayed in an overly-sexualized outfit, first wearing only glue-on scales, and then leather lingerie. While she shows some impressive fighting technique, she ends up running away at the first sign of people despite the fact that she is winning the fight. Not exactly the ruthless murderess we were expecting. Pris, the supposed sex toy, is de-sexualized in her costuming, covered in grime with her hair unattractively disheveled. She covers her eyes in black paint, in effect marring the beauty of her face, and her clothing never shows skin. When it comes to capabilities, she has many more than Zora. Her acting was superb, first in manipulating Sebastian, and then in hiding from Deckard. Her acrobatics were distinctly impressive, and she fared at least as well, if not better than Zora in her fight with Deckard.
So, my question is, if we were never told at the beginning of the movie that Zora was the trained murderess and Pris was the sex toy, would we have been able to determine which woman was supposed to fit which stereotype?