Men, Step Aside.

Men, Step Aside. July 31, 2012

Lately, I’ve heard some complaints about the movie Brave. Some men have taken issue with the fact that the men are often the source of comic relief in the film, that their warrior-clan culture is depicted as amusing, bombastic, even buffoonish. Meanwhile, the two central characters, a mother and her daughter, are given complexity, intelligence, even reverence.

Apparently, this has troubled some men. They are uncomfortable with this.

Funny, I don’t remember hearing them complain about films in which big, chest-beating, sword-wielding men are taken seriously and women are employed only as objects of desire for the men, helpers, or otherwise supporting and insignificant roles.

Frankly, I think the big screen has seen quite enough of movies that focus on roaring warriors, battle speeches, and armies mustering and charging. This is Pixar’s first film to focus on female characters, and we’re immediately complaining that men aren’t getting proper attention? We’re complaining that the filmmakers found comedy in the brash, act-first-think-later behaviors of quick-tempered and violent men, instead of holding them up as ideals?

One of the film’s prominent themes is this: Listen. Listen to one another. Only through respect, humility, and listening does reconciliation become possible. And wouldn’t we rather see a mother and her daughter, or tribes of quick-tempered men, reconcile instead of going to war?

For the love of all things holy, I hope so.

I would much prefer a film about women in conversation than a film about men battering each other with fists and swords. That may not sit well with some of my moviegoing friends, or with some pastors for that matter. But it’s true. I go to the movies in hopes that they will make me a better person, a more compassionate and thoughtful and patient person. Call me crazy, but I want to learn to be holy. I’m not saying women are holier than men, but movies about women are less likely to be about trying to fix things by force, less likely to be about battles, more likely to be about the sacredness of relationships and conversations and matters of the heart.

Yes, there are plenty of exceptions. I’m just telling you about my own moviegoing experiences. And just take a look at this year’s box office hits.

Over at Good Letters, I’ve begun a two-part post about how my perception of women, and of life altogether, has been changed by films that take women seriously, that set them free from the narrow formulas that usually reduce them to “prizes” and “assistants” and supporting roles. Films like Enchanted April, Gas Food Lodging, A Room With a View, Three Colors: Blue, Babette’s Feast, and more. (Don’t call them “chick flicks.” That’s condescending and demeaning.)

Soon, Part Two will wrap up these reflections.

What are your favorite films about women? Try and name some in which the story is not focused on whether or not a woman will find happiness by ending up with the right man.

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5 responses to “Men, Step Aside.”

  1. My favorite films about women in no particular order would be:
    Three Colors: Blue
    Three Colors: Red
    Sophie Scholl the Final Days
    The Silence of the Lambs (which passes the Bechdel Test)
    Mrs. Miniver (1942 Best Picture; also passes the Bechdel Test)
    Places in the Heart
    Winter’s Bone
    The Queen
    Julie and Julia
    All About Eve (easily passes the Bechdel Test, and has strong female characters who are certainly not “prizes” or “assistants” even if most of them are anything but rolemodels)
    Sense and Sensibility (Yes, the women mostly talk about finding the right man, but Thompson’s Elinor is a great example of a virtuous woman, and Rickman’s Colonel Brandon is one of my favorite cinematic examples of a virtuous man.)

  2. I, too, am a big fan of the Bechdel Test, even if it does at times produce goofy results (“Weird Science”: Pass! Though I’ll defend that movie’s sympathetic treatment of well-meaning but doltish teenage boys any day). And I just this past weekend gave “The Jane Austen Book Club” a spin, which was definitely flawed (the resolution to the Emily Blunt storyline is contrived beyond belief, and the Jimmy Smits character is treated with kid gloves), but also tremendously entertaining. (How appropriate that they got “Emma”, the most boring Austen, out of the way as soon as they could!)

    As for favorite movies about women, I admit that I don’t have nearly as many as I’d like or should have, and it’s a shame that so many of my favorite genres (action/adventure, historical/contemporary politics) are so light on female protagonists. I think it may be due in part to plotting: there’s an undeniable, primal appeal to the fairy tale trope of rescuing a love-interest damsel in distress that just isn’t as effective when it’s reversed to a dude in danger. (“But why not have a heroine protagonist rescue her *own* love-interest damsel in distress?!”, I say, to deaf studio-head ears so far.) But I’d be remiss, I think, if I didn’t champion perhaps my favorite in this category, “Atonement”. I’m sorry to read you didn’t like it – I agree that it’s tragic and despairing, almost unbearably so, but I found it to be done with such artistry and depth that it was a wonderful experience nonetheless. (Cue Ebert’s maxim “No Great Film is Depresssing”?)

    >>>”I’m not saying women are holier than men”
    No? I’ve got a lot to learn about women, but *I’m* happy to say that. Given the reverence with which you describe women in these posts, Jeffrey, I have to wonder if you’re ever troubled by the masculine-centric nature of the Abrahamic faiths. I found “John Carter” utter rubbish, but I did dig the way the Barsoomians revered a “Goddess” above all.

  3. I don’t agree that Brave disrespects the men or their warrior culture. It does poke fun at them a little, but I don’t have a problem with that – certainly not in a film where what you call “brash, act-first-think-later behavior” is, far from being an exclusively masculine trait, is one of the flaws that the heroine has to overcome.