Predatory Romance in Harrison Ford Movies

Harrison Ford has played some of the most iconic male heroes ever to appear on film. Many of his most popular characters antagonize women, disregard basic ideas of consent and ultimately force themselves on their love interests. Although each movie attempts to frame these actions as sexy or romantic, predatory is a more fitting description.

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The full transcript text of this episode below the fold.

Harrison Ford has played some of the most iconic male heroes ever to appear on film. The cultural impact of his filmography is so massive that it’s hard to overstate. A entire generation of young boys learned to idealize his cinematic performance of masculinity. These films provided an education of sorts into what it meant to be a man.

Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Rick Deckard have a lot in common. They’re lovable rogues who chart their own path and take what they want. They may be assertive and cocky but in the end, they’re always framed as good guys.

Growing up I watched Harrison Ford’s films dozens of times, but going back and watching them again as an adult, I’m struck by something else they have in common. Something darker. Something I hadn’t quite noticed as a kid. Or at least didn’t really have the language to articulate.

CLIP The Empire Strikes Back:
LEIA “I don’t know, I have a bad feeling about this.”
HAN “Yeah.”

If you look beyond their charisma, Deckard, Han and Dr. Jones all treat women badly. So in this video we’re going to take a closer look at four iconic scenes from Harrison Ford’s career, all of which illustrate an unsettling pattern. Each is ostensibly framed as a seduction scene and plays out a similar dynamic. The dynamic of predator and prey.

Most critics agree that Empire Strikes Back is the best of the original Star Wars trilogy. The film takes a darker tone and focuses on its character development, fleshing out the relationship between Han and Princess Leia. Keep in mind that Han and Leia have had no romantic relationship up until this point. In fact their interactions have been tense to say the least.

CLIP The Empire Strikes Back:
LEIA “Let go.”
HAN “shhh.”
LEIA “Let go, please.”
HAN “Don’t get excited.”
LEIA “Captain, being held by you isn’t quite enough to get me excited.”
HAN “Sorry, sweetheart. We haven’t got time for anything else.”

I’d like to focus on one scene in particular, a scene that’s often cited as one of the greatest romantic in cinematic history. Let’s count the number of times that Princess Leia directly and indirectly indicates that she’s not interested in Han’s advances.

CLIP The Empire Strikes Back:
HAN “Hey, Your Worship, I’m only trying to help.”
LEIA “Would you please stop calling me that?”
HAN “Sure, Leia.
LEIA “You make it so difficult sometimes.”
HAN “I do, I really do. You could be a little nicer, though. Come on, admit it.  Sometimes you think I’m all right.”
LEIA “Occasionally when you aren’t acting like a scoundrel.”
HAN “Scoundrel?  Scoundrel? I like the sound of that.”
LEIA “Stop that.”
HAN “Stop what?”
LEIA “Stop that! My hands are dirty.”
HAN “My hands are dirty, too. What are you afraid of?”
LEIA “Afraid?”
HAN “You’re trembling.”
LEIA “I’m not trembling.”
HAN “You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.”
LEIA “I happen to like nice men.”
HAN “I’m a nice man.”
LEIA “No, you’re not.  You’re —”

In addition to its function in advancing the plot, this scene is sending us a whole bunch of messages about masculinity, about men, and about romance with women.

The scene only lasts about a minute and a half, during which time she rebuffs his advances 8 different times with both verbal and nonverbal communication. And he ignores and disregards her each time. Some will of course object to this reading of the scene. They will point out that, as viewers, we’re supposed to infer that Leia, despite her repeated objections, secretly really wants it, and therefore it’s ok for Han to disregard her words. I have no doubt that’s how the scene is meant to be understood. And therein lies the problem.

The troubling implication here is that when women say “no,” they don’t really mean it. That when women say “no” it’s just part of some courtship game where “good-girls’ play “hard to get” and that men are therefore justified in continuing to pressure them until they finally give in.

In perhaps his 2nd most famous movie role, Harrison Ford’s character continues the same predatory patterns. Indiana Jones not only refuses to listen to women when they say “no,” he also uses force to get what he wants.

CLIP Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom:
INDY: I’m allowing you to tag along, so why don’t you give your mouth a rest okey, Doll?
WILLIE: “What do you mean tag along? Every since you got into my club, you haven’t been able to take your eyes off me.”
INDY: “Oh yeah?”

At the end of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, leading lady Willie Scott has clearly had enough of Indy’s antics, which have put her life in danger at least a dozen times over the course of the film. So when he suggests she accompany him on another adventure, Willie rebuffs him in no uncertain terms.

CLIP Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom:
INDY “It’s still a long way to Delhi.”
WILLIE: No thanks. No more adventures with you Dr. Jones.”
INDY “Sweetheart, after all the fun we’ve had together?”
WILLIE “If you think I’m going to Delhi with you, or anyplace else, after all the trouble you’ve gotten me into, think again buster! I’m going home to Missouri where they never feed you snakes before ripping your heart out and lowering you into hot pits! This is not my idea of a swell time!
[Pause clip] She makes it clear that she is not interested and walks away. But Indy doesn’t listen.
WILLIE: Excuse me sir, I need a guide to deli. If you could show me the –”
INDY: [Whips her and pull her back to him]

He forcefully prevent her from leaving, pulls her back to him. And kisses her. It’s important to note here that Willie is written to have a positive response to Indy’s aggressive behavior. Her reaction reinforces the myth that women “secretly want it,” even and especially when they explicitly say “no.” The scene also contains another regressive message, one about women’s anger, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.

Let’s skip ahead to a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Just like in “Temple of Doom”, Indy and Elsa have not had a romantic relationship up until this point.

CLIP Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
INDY “Knock it off, you’re not mad.”
ELSA “Oh no?”
INDY “No. You like the way I do things.”
ELSIA “It’s lucky I don’t do things the same way. You’d still be standing at the Venice pier.”
INDY “What do you think is going on here? Since I’ve met you, I’ve nearly been incinerated, drowned, shot at, and chopped into fish bait. We’re caught in the middle of something sinister here. My guess is Dad found out more than he was looking for. And until I’m sure, I’m going to continue to do things the way I think they should be done.”
ELSA “How dare you kiss me!”

And here’s where the narrative beings to reinforce more of those dangerous ideas about courtship. If that had been the end of it, it could have served as a lesson in what men should not do. Alas, Elsa is written to reaffirm the same dangerous myths that we’ve been talking about in all the scenes so far. The idea that women secretly want men to force themselves on them.

These two scenes are played as humorous, but both still reinforce another pernicious idea. The idea that women’s anger isn’t real, that women’s anger is instead an invitation for men to continue their advances.

For most of my life I said Blade Runner was my favorite film of all time. I don’t say that any more. Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece includes perhaps the most disturbing of Harrison Ford’s so-called romance scenes. The film frames a violent sexual assault committed by its protagonist as a form of seduction.

First a little context, Rick Deckard has just informed Rachel that her memories are fake and that she is not a human being, as she had previously believed, but a machine. Keep in mind that it’s his job to kill androids. Androids like Rachel.

Deckard is drunk and Rachel is distraught. And he takes advantage of this vulnerable moment to kiss her. When she doesn’t respond to his advances, he moves in again. She backs away, gets up, grabs her coat and quickly heads for the door but like all the scenes we’ve looked at so far our hero refuses to take “no” for an answer. Here’s where it crosses the line into sexual assault.

Deckard responds to rejection by getting angry and turning violent. He punches the door closed. Grabs her. Shoves her against the window. Pins her there. And then forces a kiss on her as tender music starts playing to indicate to the audience that we are supposed to find all of this seductive.

The implicit threat of violence weighs on everything in this scene. The scene includes many of the same dangerous messages we saw in our previous examples. Again we see the myth that women “secretly want it” and again the myth that women will respond positively to male aggression. It’s all here. But there’s something else as well. We see Deckard employing the tactics of a serial abuser.

To understand what I mean, let’s rewind and watch part of that scene again. While pinning Rachel against the window, Deckard orders her to kiss him. When she tries to protest, he doesn’t listen. And commands her to “ask for it.”

CLIP Blade Runner:
Deckard “Now you kiss me.”
RachelI can’t really on my—”
Deckard “Say, ‘kiss me.’”
Rachel “Kiss me”
Deckard “I want you.
Rachel “I want you.
Deckard “Again.”
Rachel “I want you.”

Just so we’re all clear about what’s happening here, Deckard is forcing Rachel to give him “consent” under the threat of violence after physically attacking her and trapping her in his apartment.

What Deckard is doing is shifting the blame, and the culpability, for this assault away from himself and onto Rachel. he’s is forcing her to make the assault her fault. He’s forcing her to literally “ask for it.” This is a particularly insidious form of emotional manipulation that’s commonly used by men who commit domestic violence.

Blade Runner is about a man in crisis. A man uncertain about his job, his place in the world and his own humanity. But instead of facing that internal struggle, he reasserts his own power by exerting power over women, especially over Rachel.

In many ways Harrison Ford represents the paragon of all-American Hollywood manhood. Throughout the 1980s and 90s he was an almost unparalleled cinematic role model. His movies offered us lessons in how to be a man. How to be a good guy. How to be a hero. But they also taught us that aggressive sexual behavior is something that women admire and that young men and boys should emulate.

The tactics of invading a woman’s personal space, aggressively propositioning her multiple times, and putting her in very the uncomfortable position of having to reject you, these are strategies that are right out of a Pick-Up Artist playbook. It’s the predatory worldview that’s at the heart of what’s often referred to as rape culture.

Films that confused coercion or abuse with seduction are, of course, not limited to just Harrison Ford’s filmography. The conventions of predatory manhood are part of a long-running Hollywood tradition in popular movies, television shows and music.

In the three decades since the releases of Blade Runner, very little has changed in terms of Hollywood manhood. Take this scene from Spectre, the most recent James Bond film which was released in 2015.

CLIP Spectre:
LUCIA “You killed him, didn’t you? My husband.”
BOND “He was an assassin, trust me he won’t take it personally.”
LUCIA [Slaps him]
BOND [Smashes glasses]
LUCIA “You’ve signed my death warrant.”

The movement and blocking in this next scene tells the whole story. And it’s a familiar one. Notice that Bond is always advancing on her, and she is always backing away.

CLIP Spectre:
LUCIA “Well, I can tell you that I don’t trust you.”
BOND “Well, then you have impeccable instincts.”

He is the predator slowly stalking and trapping his pray. The implicit threat of Bond’s violence permeates everything in this interaction, as it does in Blade Runner.

Again we see the aggressive nature of this scene framed by the film as a form of seduction. The film is telling us that men don’t need to listen to women. That they should take what they want, aggressively if necessary. That once coerced, once backed into a corner, women will finally admit they “secretly wanted it all along” even if they said no.

As the movies we just looked at illustrate, men in our culture are socialized to believe that it’s acceptable to pressure or coerce women. When women say “no,” Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Rick Deckard don’t hear them; they, like many men in our culture, instead hear “not yet” or “keep trying.”

Despite the lessons of Hollywood style masculinity, when women indicate that they are not interested, that’s NEVER an indication to keep trying. The absence of hard “no” or even a very reluctant “yes” is not enough. Because if that’s all that’s required, it opens the door for forms of coercion and manipulation. And it should go without saying that coercion and manipulation have absolutely no place in romantic or sexual relationships.

What we should be looking for instead is an enthusiastic “yes”. The affirmative or enthusiastic model of consent encourages open proactive communication, mutual excitement and respect.

CLIP Frozen:
ANNA “Do you like it”
KRISTOFF  “Like it? I love it! I could kiss you! I could, I mean I’d like to. I…May I? We me? I mean may we? Wait, what
ANNA [kisses his cheek] “We may!”

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