Monday, March 01, 2010

More Advice For Men
I discussed here what we learned from the films "Groundhog Day" and "Superman" about how a typical man should go about winning the heart of the woman he desires. But what if, in addition, he wants to regain the respect of his nine year old son?

(Spoilers ahead!)

Fortunately, Hollywood has some answers for us here as well. One helpful film is "Night At The Museum". Ben Stiller is rejected by both his son and the woman he loves, until he hits upon the obvious solution: become the night watchman at a magical museum where everything comes alive at night! Of course, that's not nearly enough. He has to gain the trust of most of the museum's inhabitants -- including monkeys, dinosaurs, cowboys, ancient Romans, Teddy Roosevelt and Attila the Hun -- and organize them all to defeat the bad guys. Then he introduces the woman he loves to her role model Sacajawea and voila, he gets all the love and sex and respect he deserves. Piece of cake.

The reason I'm writing a(n infrequent) blog post about this is because I just finished watching "2012". John Cusack has the same problem that Ben Stiller had: how to gain the love of a woman (his ex-wife) and the respect of his son (who won't even call him "dad"). It turns out that John's solution is a bit more difficult than Ben's. John must save his family from, quite literally, the end of the world. He must drive the car while dodging huge projectiles emitted from sudden volcanoes, while at the same time avoiding massive rifts that are opening up in the Earth, and driving around and through falling skyscrapers. For a start. He must then get everyone on board a number of airplanes (strangely, he doesn't have to pilot the airplanes himself) and make their way to a secret location in China, stowaway aboard an "Ark", dive underwater to fix the Ark's hydraulic system, and then surface for a well deserved hug from woman and son.

I suppose one can say that these movies are really about special effects, and the motivations of the characters are irrelevant. But both of the directors felt they had to give some motivation to the main character other than survival, and they both chose the same motivation. They felt that the audience would naturally and unthinkingly accept the premise that for a man, winning the love of a woman and the respect of a son is a Herculean task of Earth-shattering difficulty.

1 comment:

Dan Simon said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention "Die Hard", where the hero has to save a skyscraperful of hostages from a dozen machine gun-wielding terrorists--barefoot--to win his wife back. Or any James Bond flick, where 007 typically has to violate several laws of physics in order to get the girl at the end.

It's hard to argue about implicit messages in movies, since they're a bit like Rorschach inkblots: one sees the message one is inclined to see. But I really don't think most moviegoers see the heroes of any of these films as motivated simply by fear of sexual (or filial) rejection. Rather, these men are understood to have--and in some cases, to acquire during the course of the film--a more abstract sense of duty, manliness, responsibility. They do what they must, risking their safety and giving their all to help and protect others, and thus demonstrate their worthiness as men. Success with women (or respect from family) is understood never to follow from its direct pursuit, but only indirectly, from the possession or acquisition of these manly qualities.

Groundhog Day is an excellent example of this message. In the end, Bill Murray wins the girl (and escapes his daily treadmill) not by relentlessly chasing her, but rather by demonstrating true menschlichkeit--industriousness, generosity, sensitivity, kindness, helpfulness, chivalry, decency. Only after he's so completely internalized these qualities that he embodies them quite independently of his wooing, can his wooing finally succeed.

Now, you can argue if you like that in each case the facade of manliness is merely a cynical ruse designed to wow the chicks. And in fact there are films where men are motivated pretty much exclusively by naked lust, and engage in whatever fakery seems likely to facilitate their sexual conquests without a shred of dignity or scruples. They're commonly referred to as "teen comedies", and their audiences are mostly limited to immature adolescents. Adults, it seems, tend to prefer a more manly message.