If all goes well, Movies Make The Man: The Hollywood Guide to Life, Love, and Faith for Young Men will appear in print in May.
I have intended Movies Make The Man for young men ages sixteen to twenty-five, though others, especially parents and mentors, may enjoy the book as well. In these pages, using movies for our guide, we examine various codes men live by, their relationships with women, and their faith in God.
Many of these movies will be familiar to readers. Though some scorn Hollywood as jaded and irreligious, the truth is that many writers and directors wrestle with issues of faith and morality. The difference in films between now and sixty years ago--The Bells of Saint Mary's versus Signs--is that the films made nowadays are more subtle in their approaches to philosophy and faith.
Below is a short piece taken from a chapter "Chick Flicks: What We Can Learn From Them."
For many men, women are like Livingstone’s Africa: lovely to look upon, uncharted, mysterious, and possibly deadly. To many women, men are obtuse creatures designed by nature with multiple defects: an inability to hear everything said to them, a lack of basic communication skills, a marked deficiency in empathy, a blindness to the power of a kiss, a rose, or a few well-put words.
Movies provide men with a rough map by which they might begin their exploration of women. One crucial part of that map, a part often overlooked by men, consists of movies appealing to women, otherwise known as chick flicks. These are movies men either refuse outright or else attend grudgingly, where they slouch beside their dates, half-defiant and at the same time half-afraid some friend may see them there.
A woman I was dating once asked me to attend the opening night of Sex and the City. She was a fan of the hit television series while I, on the other hand, had never watched the show, had no idea of the characters or plot, and didn’t realize until entering the theater that the television series and the movie were considered top of the line chick flick material. (My first indication was the audience, which was about ten to one, women to men.)
What I learned in the next two hours about women was worth a hundred times the amount of the admissions ticket, with the lessons coming not from the movie but from the audience. When one of the film’s stars received a proposal, the women wildly cheered; when she tried on a wedding dress, the audience literally ooohed and ahhhed. When another character, a hardened and bitter lawyer, castigated her husband for sleeping with another woman—the wife was in some respects responsible for the husband’s philandering—the audience booed, with the woman behind me saying several times in a loud whisper: “You bitch! You bitch!” When the heroine of Sex and the City realized she had driven her fiancé away and wanted him back, the women cheered and burst into applause.
This was the evening I realized a lynch mob made up of women might be more dangerous than one composed of men.
Sex and the City taught me I could learn much about women from watching such a movie. We don’t need to see chick flicks to get in touch with our feminine side (one of the sillier sayings of the sexual revolution). If we seek admission into the minds of women, however, at least on a beginner’s level, chick flicks are an excellent way to acquire a few painless lessons. Here two movies, both with female directors, can contribute to our education.
In Nancy Meyers’ What Women Want, Mel Gibson as Nick Marshall plays an advertising firm executive who is passed over for promotion in favor of a woman, Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt). That night in his penthouse, half-drunk and experimenting with some beauty products to be advertised by the firm, Nick is struck by lightning and receives the extraordinary gift—and curse—of being able to hear the thoughts of women around him. We follow Nick through the next few days, during which the women he encounters—his exchanges with Lola (Marisa Tomei), a coffee shop cashier, are particularly humorous—share with him by telepathy their fears and desires. Initially, a terrified Nick wants the voices out of his head, but a female psychiatrist finally convinces him his amazing gift will bring him love and power.
Nick uses his newfound gift at a company meeting, reading the minds of the women gathered around him and bringing their silent arguments to the table as if they were his own. (Lola, with whom he has a brief fling, becomes convinced that Nick is gay because he understands women so well.) Eventually, of course, Nick’s insights bring him to a new empathy with women, particularly with the women he loves—his daughter and his new boss. By being forced into the thoughts of females whom he had previously exploited or ignored, Nick gains an appreciation for women, with his cavalier lust deepening into love for Darcy.
What Women Want—the title comes, of course, from Freud’s famous question—reminds men that what women want from men differs from what men want from women, at least in the initial stages of affection and courtship. In the movie, Nick realizes that women want respect, recognition of their talents, and above all, love. Sex is important to these women—we see sexual passion recognized throughout Nick’s mental encounters with women—but they also value affirmation. Lola, Darcy, Nick’s daughter, and the female office workers: all seek recognition as persons in their own right. This sense of personhood, this idea that we are individuals unique in our talents and desires, is at the heart of the movie. Nick, who previously had regarded women as objects rather than as individuals worthy of respect, becomes aware of his shortcomings and undergoes a transformation that broadens his views of the opposite sex.
Another helpful film is Sharon Maguire’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. Based on the best-selling novel by Helen Fielding, who also wrote the screenplay, Bridget Jones’s Diary focuses on a single woman living in London. Bridget Jones is thirty-two year old and wants to find a man who will love her and will commit to a relationship. The first half of the movie brings lots of laughs as Bridget (Renee Zellweger) enters into one embarrassing situation after another, while the second half shows her working out the fact that steadiness and honesty are better valued in a man than glamour and glitter.
At the beginning of the film, Bridget, coming off a drunken New Year’s Eve, ponders her loneliness and doesn’t like what she sees of her future: “I’d live a life where my major relationship was with a bottle of wine, and I’d finally die fat and alone, and be found three weeks later, half-eaten by wild dogs.”
Bridget vows to keep a diary, to tell the truth, as she says, about herself, and in the process to look for the man who will love her. Her diary, with its daily listing of cigarettes smoked, pounds gained and lost, and wine consumed, becomes a barometer of her love life. Here, for example, in a voice-over in the film, Bridget makes her New Year’s resolution:
Bridget: Resolution #1: uggg—will obviously lose 20 pounds. #2: always put last night’s panties into laundry basket. Equally important: will find new sensible boyfriend and stop forming romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workoholics, sexoholics, commitment phobics, peeping toms, meglomaniacs, emotional fuckwads, or perverts.
Bridget immediately forgets her resolution when her boss, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), begins flirting with her. Soon they are sleeping together, but Daniel, who fits about half of the proscribed boyfriends in Bridget’s list, quickly lets us and then Bridget see that he is merely using her.
Meanwhile, the high-powered attorney who does fit Bridget’s criteria for an ideal boyfriend, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), has fallen in love with her. Thinking that Bridget is attracted to Daniel, he makes plans to take a job in the United States. After seeing that Daniel is a liar and womanizer, Bridget realizes she actually loves Mark and rushes off to meet him.
For men, Bridget Jones’s Diary offers some particularly valuable insights into the ways of women. After her disastrous affair with Daniel, for example, we observe Bridget throwing away books with titles like What Men Want and What Men Think, and replacing them with How to Get What You Want and Women Who Love Men Are Mad. In another scene, Bridget and three friends, one of them a gay male, intricately plot out what she should do on her first date with Daniel: what she should wear, how she should mingle with the other guests at the party, what to say and not to say.
Here we learn that women read about relationships and approach dating like military strategists, whereas most men simply bumble into romance.
Bridget offers other insights on dating men. We come to understand that she broods on her failed loves, just as men do. We also see how important praise and compliments are to her. She cherishes, for example, Mark Darcy’s comment to her “I like you just as you are.” Finally, Renee Zellweger as Bridget gives us a realistic woman: she is overweight, sometimes clumsy, makes inappropriate remarks, and falls back on her vices—drinking, smoking, overeating—when struck by love’s hard blows.
And here we have the most important lesson of the movie—and perhaps of relationships in general. Despite the makeup, the carefully chosen dresses and shoes, the books about relationships and dating, most women, like most men, are looking for someone who will like them and love them just the way they are.