Men in Films

A film can be both a work of art and a commercial product. As a commercial product, a film can follow formulas that reflect and reinforce traditional images and stereotypes of men. On the other hand, as a work of art it can express elements in men's lives that remain unspoken, or even denied in those formulas and stereotypes.

This website concerns itself with men’s feelings about each other—“male to male feeling.” Through the medium of film this page explores male to male feeling through two sets of films, each of which touches on a major theme in men's feelings: 

Friendships Between Men and Between Fathers and Sons.

Technical Note: Playing the film clips on this page requires a high speed internet connection. Depending upon your computer and the program it uses to play movies, a clip may have to download before it plays. Or alternatively, it might start to play right away but stop and start one or more times. To avoid that, you can click on the "pause" button. That will allow the clip to download for a few minutes. Then when you click on the "play" arrow, it should play through without further pauses. If your computer will not play these clips, you can download QuickTime player here or Adobe Flash player here.

Friendships Between Men

Friendships between men can be both intense and important. This intensity can exist between men, regardless of how they define their sexual orientation. Male to male feeling—friendship, intimacy, love, and sexual feeling—can express themselves in different permutations and combinations in the lives of men. There is no single formula that holds for everyone, and -- as the research in "Male to Male" shows -- men’s feelings about each other are not necessarily restricted by “identity” as our culture has conceived of it.

Although the permutations of intimacy, love and sexual feeling between the male protagonists in these films differ in various ways, the scenes from each of the three films in this set have, as their focus, intense feelings between men.

The clips from each of the films are preceded by a brief outline of the plot line to which the excerpted clips are related. The clips from each film can be seen by clicking on the underlined title of the film or the poster image after the text for it has been read.

TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.

Director: William Friedkin

Richie Chance and John Vukovich are Secret Service agents and new partners. Chance’s former partner, who was also his best friend, was about to retire when he was murdered in cold blood by counterfeiter (and artist) Rick Masters. Masters is ruthless (and sexually kinky.) To avenge his partner and convict Masters, Chance must do a sting operation where he can arrest Masters in the act of selling him counterfeit money. But he needs more money upfront than their supervisor, Batemen, will allow him to use. Through Ruth, his female informant—and occasional sex partner—he is told about an illegal operation in which a courier will be carrying fifty thousand dollars in cash with which to buy stolen diamonds. When, after having sex together, Ruth asks Chance what he would do if she stopped feeding him information, he replies, “I’d get your parole revoked.”

FIRST SCENE: Chance  has just proposed to John that they forcibly take the money from the courier and use the money as bait in the sting operation with Masters.

SECOND SCENE: Chance and John confront the courier of the money. They later discover that the courier was, in fact, an undercover FBI agent.

Although John is tormented by guilt and briefly considers going to the authorities, he decides he can’t betray Chance, who is his partner. He agrees to go through with the sting operation as originally planned.

THIRD SCENE: The sting operation. Chance and John are in a gymnasium locker room with Masters and one of Masters’ men. The payment is made to Masters and he is told he is under arrest.

Before the fourth scene, there is a confrontation between Masters and John. Masters tries to kill John, but is killed himself instead.

FOURTH SCENE: John goes to see Ruth.

For more information about the actors or the film, go to:
Internet Movie Database

To see clips in Quicktime (133.5 MB), click on: To Live and Die in L.A. (Quicktime)

To see clips streamed in Flash, click on: To Live and Die in L.A. (Flash)

ALEXANDRIA...WHY?           

Director: Youseff Chahine

The time is WWII in Alexandria. The Germans are almost at the gates of the city, and many Egyptians are strongly anti-British, even though some understand that the Germans will be no better. Adel Bey, a very wealthy Egyptian aristocrat, has paid to have a British soldier kidnapped. As a gesture of patriotism, he will kill him. Tommy, the kidnapped soldier, is first seen, very drunk and making a scene in a cabaret, bawling out “The White Cliffs of Dover.” A couple of toughs working for Adel seize him and rough him up; Tommy passes out almost immediately and is delivered to Adel Bey.

FIRST SCENE: It is night. Adel is driving. He stops at the boardwalk at the edge of the sea. He drags the unconscious Tommy out of the car and drapes him over the railing. He takes aim with his gun at Tommy. But just then Tommy comes to.

SECOND SCENE: Adel’s bedroom, the next morning. Tommy has just awakened in Adel’s bed.

THIRD SCENE: Around the pool at Adel’s house. The occasion is a party for students from a prestigious British-run boys’ school in Alexandria, Tommy is also there—it is clear that he has been staying with Adel.

FOURTH SCENE: Adel has driven Tommy to the place where Tommy is reporting for duty. He will be sent to the front.

FIFTH SCENE: Adel is at the Egyptian military headquarters trying to locate Tommy. It is after the battle of el-Alamein.

SIXTH SCENE: At the British military cemetery.

For more information about the actors or the film, go to:
Internet Movie Database

To see clips in Quicktime (55.1 MB), click on: Alexandria...Why? (Quicktime)

To see clips streamed in Flash, click on: Alexandria...Why? (Flash)


WOMEN IN LOVE

Director: Ken Russell

The film is a faithful cinematic adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s 1917 novel of the same name. There are four main characters: Ursula and Gudrun, who are sisters; and Rupert and Gerald, who are good friends. Both men express their doubts about the place of love in their lives. Near the beginning of the film Gerald asks Rupert, “Have you ever loved anyone?” Rupert says, “Yes and No.” Gerald muses that he has never loved anyone either.

A pivotal event in the story take place at the company picnic organized by Gerald, who is the son of the wealthy owner of the town’s coal mine. Gerald’s sister, who was only recently married. drowns in a swimming accident with her new husband. When the water in the pond is be let out by opening the gates of the dam, the young couple are found on the bottom, naked and clinging to each other. Gerald remarks to Rupert, “She killed him.” Yet, just before this tragic event, Gerald had told Gudrun that he loved her. At around the same point in the story, Ursula and Rupert become lovers.

 

FIRST SCENE: Rupert and Gerald wrestle.

SECOND SCENE: Gerald and Rupert are alone at Gerald’s house.

The last part of the film takes place near Zermatt in Switzerland, at a chalet in a remote, snowy landscape. The two couples have gone there for a holiday. Ursula and Rupert are now married; Gerald and Gudrun are not. Very quickly, the relationship between the latter two becomes very dark: Gudrun asks Gerald, “How much do you love me?” Gerald says to her, “What do you think?” Gudrun replies, “Very little. You know very well that you’ve never loved me.”  Gerald, who is clearly wounded, asks “Why do you torture me?”

In a later scene, Gudrun criticizes the way he makes love to her, saying, “You’re so crude, it’s horrible to me.” He repeats, stricken, “It’s horrible to you…?” Then she comes over to him and begins to be sexual with him. He winds up making violent, compulsive love to her, as they both cry out in a kind of ecstasy.

A little later, Gerald and Rupert are alone, and Gerald says about Gudrun, “She’s a wonderful woman but I hate her somewhere.” Rupert asks, “Why work on an old wound?” “Because there’s nothing else,” Gerald replies. Rupert says, “I’ve loved you as well as Gudrun, don’t forget.” 

Soon afterwards, Rupert and Ursula leave for Italy, leaving Gudrun and Gerald behind.

Gudrun tells Gerald that she will go to Dresden with an artist she has just met—a man who is in every way the opposite of Gerald—and that, in the meanwhile, she prefers to sleep alone in Ursula’s former room.

In the next to the final scene in the film, Gerald comes upon Gudrun and the artist in a snow covered field. He knocks the artist down and then, in a rage, starts to strangle Gudrun. But he stops and goes off on snowshoes by himself, wandering aimlessly. Finally he stops, takes off the snowshoes and lies down in the snow.

THIRD SCENE: Rupert and Ursula have returned from Italy and are with Gerald’s lifeless body in the chalet.

FOURTH SCENE: Rupert and Ursula, some time later.

For more information about the actors or the film, go to:
Internet Movie Database

To see clips in Quicktime (94.6 MB), click on: Women in Love (Quicktime)

To see clips streamed in Flash, click on: Women in Love (Flash)

COMMENTARY

In “To Live and Die in L.A.” the relationship between Chance and John is one of partners, with all the implications of loyalty and mutual support that such a relationship implies among law enforcement officers. There is no suggestion of any erotic feeling  or even love between them. Yet, when Chance is killed in the gym locker room, John appears to be frantic with bewilderment and shock—and his last words, “You can’t do this to me,” imply a profound sense of abandonment. In the last scene of the film, we see how John has handled his grief at the loss of Chance—he will take his friend’s place in the relationship with Ruth—seemingly in every sense. At the very end of the film we see an image of Chance that is both sexual and tender. In choosing this image, is the the film’s director leaving open the possibility that this image of Chance is also lodged in John’s heart?

In “Alexandria—Why?” Adel begins by intending to kill Tommy—who symbolizes the British that he hates. But he relents, seemingly touched by his vulnerability and youth. He later recalls that, after he brought Tommy back to his home, he spent the whole night looking at him. In the scene at the poolside, it seems that they have developed a close and intimate bond, and by implication, that they have become lovers.

In “Women in Love,” Rupert’s desire to have a “perfect” friendship with a man seems both emotional and ideological. It complements rather than excludes a similar relationship with a woman. Would such a relationship include a sexual component? It seems that it might, although such a component would be no more than a natural extension of the intense one-to-one bond that Rupert wants with Gerald. For Gerald, however, the relationship with Rupert is close friendship, but without the deeper meaning that Rupert would like it to have.

 

 Between Fathers and Sons

In 2004, My colleague Marty Wong, Ph.D. and I presented a program on the theme of fathers and sons in film at the convention of the American Psychological Association. Below is the program, as we presented it, including the introduction to the program, the excerpts from the three films that we selected, and, at the end, the commentary on the theme of fathers and sons. Just below are the introductory comments that Marty and I made before showing the films. At the end of this page, there are summary comments about the films.

MARTY WONG

The theme of this part of the program is something that every man who has ever lived a sentient life has felt but seldom talked about. Like the Fisher King, each bears his own special wound that cannot be healed until the right words are spoken or the right deed done. It is a theme that has lived in the myths of our lives since the Prodigal Son and Parsifal--whose sword could only be repaired by his father--enthralled us for reasons we may have not known.

Motion Pictures are a sometimes unconscious reflection of what people feel. Most movies, even to this day, are made by men. In some conscious or unconscious way they have often tried to express their feelings about this wound because it expressed their own longing and certainly that of their viewers. Movies such as “Citizen Kane” and  “Shane” flirted with the theme, and it comes to us unhidden in “Rebel Without  a Cause,” “Field of Dreams” and “Star Wars”—although in Star Wars it takes three movies to work up to the healing moment.

I suppose you are wondering what all these movies have to do with each other but most of you have already discerned that what I am talking about is the longing of a son for his father—perhaps a father he never even knew—and the longing of a father for his son—a child he may have hurt or perhaps abandoned in frustration long ago.

Ed and I have surveyed between 20 and 30 films and with an agonizing blue pencil brought the number down to three that would exemplify aspects of the theme well enough, and still allow us to stay within our time frame.

As you watch short segments of the three that Ed and I DID choose, we hope you will think about the sometimes unfelt and sometimes unnamed longing that is in every son and every man who is a father. We hope you will think of the disconnection that occurred in many of us as we became men, the sometimes unfelt and unexpressed pain that went with it, and the longing and hoped for connection that probably was part of your life if you are a man. Too often the dark side of fatherhood is overemphasized, and we haven't left that out, but we hope you'll also think about the joy that can come with vulnerability that brings a second chance for forgiveness and reconnection.
That's what we think these movies are about.

ED TEJIRIAN

Marty mentioned the “dark side” of fatherhood. The "dark side" is that part of the father who wounds his son deeply by rejecting, abusing, abandoning or even hating him. It’s a name we adopted from Star Wars.  You remember in Star Wars Darth Vader was the former Jeddi knight who was turned to the "dark side" by the evil emperor. He was also the father of Luke Skywalker, who was the hero of the series. The first episode of Star Wars came out in 1977, three years after the end of the Viet Nam war. We think that was more than coincidence. During the Viet Nam war many young men saw the “dark side” of the father in the president and the whole older generation of fathers—and sometimes in their very own fathers too—who sent the nation’s sons to face death in war.

In the past couple of years, we've been seeing another side of the father both in foreign and American films: the father who loves his son and needs him. In several recent films we see the father grieving over his dead son: In “In the Bedroom”—an American movie, and “The Son”—a Belgian film, the son is murdered. In the “The Son’s Room”—an Italian movie, he dies in a scuba diving accident.  In The Road to Perdition Tom Hanks plays a hit man, who loses own life saving the life of his son. The theme of the surrogate father or surrogate son also comes up, as in Antwone Fisher. Denzel Washington plays a childless psychiatrist who finds a surrogate son in his patient—a  fatherless young man that he comes to love, and who loves him and who finds in him a surrogate father.

In the end, we settled on three American films for today’s program. But as we did that we noticed something. In these and other American films we considered, the fathers  were in roles that American culture stereotypically tags as “masculine”—which was not so true for the European films. ( In The Son’s Room, the father is a psychoanalyst.) In Antwone Fisher, the surrogate father is a psychiatrist, but a military psychiatrist; in The Road to Perdition, the father is a gangster. In the three films we are showing today (Monsters Ball, Frequency, City by the Sea) the fathers are: a corrections officer, a fire fighter, and a police detective.

Of these three movies only “Monsters Ball” is explicitly concerned with the idea of masculinity. It's in fact a pretty psychologically sophisticated film. But in contrast to the trend I've just been talking about, it shows the "dark side” of the father; but not in a semi-mythic form, as in Star Wars but in a brutal one-on-one way. And it shows what the “dark side” can do to a son, in a way that's also brutal and accurate. But in the rest of the film, after the scenes you'll see today, a gradual transformation takes place in the father. He's able to reject the brutal concept of masculinity that he had internalized from his own father, is able to grieve for his son, and for the first time in his life as a man, to truly love.

 

MONSTER'S BALL

Director: Mark Forster

FIRST SCENE: Father and son work at the same prison. Each is holding the arm of a man on his final walk to his execution. For the son, it is the first time that he is taking part in this ritual.

SECOND AND THIRD SCENES” The father is enraged that his son’s weakness has spoiled the ritual of the doomed man’s “last walk.” (The third man in the background of the last scene is the father’s elderly, handicapped father.)

 

For more information about the actors or the film, go to:
Internet Movie Database

To see clips in Quicktime (22.1 MB), click on: Monster's Ball (Quicktime)

To see clips streamed in Flash, click on: Monster's Ball (Flash)


FREQUENCY

Director: Gregory Hoblit

Psychologist Neil Chethik, in his book “Father Loss,” said that a quarter of the men he interviewed whose fathers died when they were still children never recovered from the loss. That seems to be the case here. John Sullivan's father died 30 years ago when he was only 6. It seems as if he has been depressed all his life. As the movie opens, John's girlfriend has left him, saying that she had been leaving for six months and he never noticed.

The plot “gimmick” in the film is that due to the extraordinary effects of a brilliant and prolonged Aurora Borealis, a time warp occurs in which, via his father’s old ham radio, John receives a message from his father, a fire fighter who died in the line of duty.

FIRST SCENE: It takes place in two time dimensions simultaneously—in the son’s time dimension, it is the night before the 30th anniversary of his father’s death. In his father’s time dimension it’s the night before the fire that will kill him. They are both in the same house and at the same desk, thirty years apart. When he was a little boy, his father used to call him "little chief." As the scene opens, John realizes that both radios have the same call numbers—that is, they're on the same frequency.

SECOND SCENE: The father goes up to his son’s room and gazes at six-year old John.

THIRD SCENE: In the fire, the father hears his adult son’s voice guiding him in the right direction.

FOURTH SCENE: The day after the fire.

At the end of the film, we see that the past has been retrospectively altered. His father has not died and the adult John and his father are participating together in a neighborhood softball game.

For more information about the actors or the film, go to:
Internet Movie Database

To see clips in Quicktime (42.1 MB), click on: Frequency (Quicktime)

To see clips streamed in Flash, click on: Frequency (Flash)


CITY BY THE SEA

Director: Michael Caton-Jones

PLOT LINE: The father, Vincent LaMarca is a New York City detective and the father of Joey. In self-defense, Joey inadvertently killed Picasso, a low level drug dealer who attacked him with a knife. Joey is also suspected of killing the detective who was his father’s partner. (The partner was actually killed by Picasso’s boss Spider.) Joey has a girlfriend Gina, from whom he is estranged, and a little boy, Angelo, who is about one and half years old. Joey has not seen his father since his parents separated many years before, when Joey was a child.

FIRST SCENE: Vincent has arranged to meet Joey in order to persuade him to give himself up.

This is the first time father and son have seen each other since Joey was a child. I should mention that Vincent's own father was executed years ago for the death of child he had kidnapped for ransom. In this scene, Joey asks a very profound question: does a son have to love his father just because he is his father?

SECOND SCENE: Vincent has broken into the warehouse owned by Spider. He has just told Spider that he has evidence that it was Spider and not Joey who killed his partner. He has also called for police back-up and they arrive soon after.

In this scene, as in Frequency, the son saves his father’s life, but he doesn’t care about his own—in fact, he's suicidal. In, “Monsters Ball,” the son internalized his father's hatred and that internalization killed him. In the first scene we just saw, Joey says he "knows" the answer to the question: "Are you a cop or my father?" When he talks about committing "suicide by cop" he is saying that it's Vincent's refusal to be his father that's killing him. Only something happens. Vincent stops being the cop, and becomes completely the father, desperately begging his son to live. And that saves his son’s life. And at the end, as Joey turns to look at his father as he is being taken away in the police car, watch Joey's lips.

For more information about the actors or the film, go to:
Internet Movie Database

To see clips in Quicktime (62.6 MB), click on: City by the Sea (Quicktime)

To see clips streamed in Flash, click on: City by the Sea (Flash)

COMMENTARY

Although masculinity isn’t explicitly mentioned in “Frequency” or “City by the Sea” these movies—which both feature major Hollywood stars—are clearly saying something about men, as are other recent films with father and son themes. They’re saying that part of being a man, part of being a son or a father, is needing love AND showing it. As in Antwone Fisher, these fathers and sons not only love each other, they SAY so.

We think that these films are reflecting a movement already underway in our cultural life—which is not only recognizing the emotionality of men, but also the unique importance of the father-son bond in their lives.