Saturday, September 13, 2014

So Happy Together

I got a bit grumpy about women and men at the end of yesterday's post––I think partly because I'd just seen the movie Boyhood, which is a pretty grim take on the subject. 

The director, Richard Linklater, presents men and women as having mutually exclusive needs. Fine, heard it before . . . but, so what? 
He has nothing creative to say about that––watching this movie is like watching people gradually and predictably lose all their money at gambling tables.

Toward the end of the movie, the father character (Ethan Hawke) who has eventually married a different woman and traded in his muscle car for a mini-van says to his son:
“I've finally turned into the boring, castrated guy she always wanted me to be."

"She" is the son's mother (Patricia Arquette), who'd objected, for instance, to the father disappearing to Alaska for a year and a half when the kids were little.
Meanwhile, she's gone on and married two alcoholics in a row; the scenes in the movie around those marriages are real stomach-clenchers. 

The mother's take on love is that it is evolutionarily programmed---she gives a speech explaining that if mothers didn't love their children, in cave-dwelling days when a tiger threatened they'd leave them behind to be "tiger kibble."
This movie mother is a good mother--she drags her kids out of all the caves she's mistakenly thought were safe but turned out to be inhabited by tigers (alcoholic or irresponsible men). 

She ends up alone, or, it's hinted, possibly about to date a safe little schlub who manages the Chick-fil-A–like restaurant where her son washed dishes during high school.

Linklater deserves praise for one great idea: 
telling or filming a story in real time. 
Each film in his "Before" trilogy takes place during the span of one conversation; Boyhood was filmed over twelve years, as the boy actor grows up.

But the stories he tells are so pedestrian: 
men and women are powerfully attracted to one another but their different needs make them miserable over the long run.
                                                                                                               Patricia Arquette & Ethan Hawke
Fine, men and women have different needs. But doesn't this scenario have another conclusion besides lose/lose? 
Isn't there a princess or a prince behind one of the closed doors at least sometimes, not always a tiger or a castrating/castrated human?

For a different, more generative view than Linklater's, there's the happily longtime-married couple in Mike Leigh's film Another Year

The refreshingly loving couple, Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent >

You can't accuse Leigh of making cheerful, optimistic films: he tells bleakly realistic stories, but they do include the possibility of human happiness.

The couple in Another Year  do have very different needs: He's a geologist, with an engineer's personality--not Asperger's, but not very emotional. She, on the other hand, is a therapist who is all about emotion.
But they've figured out how to complement each other's differences, and they are a rare happy couple who are central to a film.

It's hard to tell an interesting story about happiness. The film's interest comes partly in contrasting the couple with two of their friends who are portraits of full-on male and female misery.
Happiness, this film suggests, is a lot about luck---the luck of your own personal temperament and the luck of finding someone who complements that temperament and expands the possibility of fulfillment, not reduces it.

The relationships in Boyhood are reductive. Even the role of the good mother turns out to be a bust: she ends up weeping when her son moves out, saying, basically, Is that all there is?

The boy slouches off to college, a nice boy who wants to make films take photos. It ends with a soppy scene where he's talking to a girl about "seizing the moment". Happiness between men and women can only be momentary, the ending suggests.
Maybe that's true for plenty of people, but what a boring, castrated point of view.


Zhoen said...

Thank you for saving me from that first movie. I'd have walked out, or if at home, thrown things at the screen.

I will withhold my rant for my own venue.

Fresca said...

Yes, Boyhood could be a real PTSD-inducer. I warned a friend who grew up with an alcoholic father not to go see it.

A couple in front of me did walk out--during a scene where teenage boys are talking about f***ing girls.
Another friend told me he'd walked out because he was bored.
But the film is getting rave reviews in general.

bink said...

Funny how some guys equate castration with shouldering their responsibilities. Obviously their manhood is pretty insubstantial.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the recommendation of Another Year — we watched it last night. What a great movie.