I went to see Contagion tonight at the dollar theater with my friend Matt – someone with whom I see a lot of cheap movies. Tonight’s movie was so cheap that I paid literally with the change from my pocket. That’s right, I plunked down 4 quarters to get into the movie. It was worthwhile and, as far as I can tell, a pretty accurate representation of what a serious global pandemic from a pretty lethal virus might be like. It was so much more sedate than I was expecting. I went in thinking we were in for the post-apocalyptic sampler plate but instead, we got a rather nuanced look at infection and epidemic as well as human reaction to it. The theater was also extremely cold which I’m sure just added to the effect.
But I really don’t want to write about Contagion, even though it was a worthy movie and it proved beyond reasonable doubt that nothing good can come from Gwyneth Paltrow. What I really want to write about is one of the trailers we saw prior to Contagion. And that was for the movie Courageous. I hesitate to even post the video here because I’m afraid that I’ll gum up everyone’s computers with sap, but here it is.
Of course, Matt and I mocked it, as we are wont to do. I let out an audible groan over the lameness and he said “shut up! This has really got me!” We made fake plans to meet up at the dollar theater to see it. As it turns out, if we had been even remotely serious, all we have to do is wait a mere month and it’s out on DVD. It’s one of those things that, upon viewing the trailer, may as well be as computer generated as Middle Earth, White House destroying flying saucers and monsters that knock the head off the Statue of Liberty . That’s how separated from the real world it is – and how unlikely you are to find it there.
For those expecting this to be the point where I break down and admit that I really was moved by the trailer, think again. I have the same viscerally negative reaction to that kind of fake sentimentality – especially when it comes to men relating to each other – as I do at chest puffing macho bravado. They both make me feel pretty nauseous and very ill at ease. I always think I would be more at ease around genuine displays of emotion than I am around testosterone-fueled displays of machismo and for the most part, that’s true. But the kind of thing displayed in the trailer for Courageous? Forget it. That is TOO MUCH. And just as inauthentic as the popular concept of the most manly man is the one who shows not one drop of emotion.
It’s no secret that I wish men could relate more honestly and authentically with each other. Male friendships with no competition or jealousy are pretty rare. Looking back in my life, that’s where I’ve gone wrong most of the time, even when I was aware of it and consciously working to not let competition be a factor. I think it’s really important that guys have another guy or group of guys that they can hang out with from time to time and really be themselves with, where they don’t feel like they have to try to pretend to be something that they’re not or watch what topics of conversations they bring up. So much of being a man these days (at least in my experience) is keeping up appearances. Knowing that there is at least a handful of people with whom you don’t have to do that can be a real weight off you shoulders. But the kind of thing that you see in Courageous? No freaking way. I think that if I were in a group of guys like that, I’d be wanting to make fart jokes or talk about boobs – if for no other reason than to bring some much needed levity to the situation.
I know that the movie has the religious evangelical movement behind it, and I think that also bothers me. One of the only truly organized men’s movements of the last 20 years is the Promisekeepers, which has always rubbed me the wrong way for reasons I have never been quite able to articulate. But tonight, Matt summed it all up in a sentence – “it’s all so self-congratulatory.” I would add that it’s far too limiting and rigid in its definition of what “being a man and taking responsibility” entails. I remember being a part of a fledgling men’s group at a Lutheran church I attended and it suffered from many of the same maladies – too much seriousness, not enough lightness and above all, it was trying to force men that didn’t really know each other all that well to be perhaps a bit more open than they were comfortable being. I don’t know how it turned out as I moved not long after it started, but if it’s like most men’s groups, it really never got off the ground.
It all comes back to balance – if you don’t have it, you need to try to get it. The people closest to me in my life are those that I can be serious and not-so-much with, sometimes in the same sentence. I sometimes don’t feel like I have the best vantage point from which to view this kind of thing as I feel I have so little in common with most men, but to me, the guys in Courageous look like they have been so busy trying to be the best men they can be and talking about their feelings that they forgot what it’s like to be a human. And while I’ll admit that I’d rather watch a movie like Courageous than one in which the husbands are all abusive to their wives and then go out and swill beer all night, it’d be by the most razor-thin of margins. I’d probably skip both for some cheesy horror flick at the dollar theater and actually have a good time.
Just because you want something to be a certain way doesn’t mean that it is so and that’s the fatal mistake that the makers of Courageous have made – trust me, I know. The best you can hope for is balance.
(Side note: My favorite line of Contagion was when someone referred to blogging as “graffiti with puncutation.” Yes, but this blog is exquisitely punctuated!)