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Archive for March, 2010

Finding Nemo – A fish and his father

March 18, 2010 3 comments

Finding Nemo, one of the movies from the famed filmmakers at Pixar, is an aquatic adventure story set in the depths around Australia. It is a touching story of a widower and his only son, although both happen to be fish.

However, the cold blooded nature of the stars does not subtract one bit from the warmth of this family film which beautifully portrays the relationship between a father and son, as well as all their growth.

The namesake of the film, Nemo, is a young fish who never knew his mother. Since Nemo has a damaged fin, his father is very protective of him. Over protectiveness seems to be a common trait among parents, especially fathers, and this is the source of the conflict Nemo has with his father, Marlin.

Marlin, a widower before his children were even born (hatched), is a fantastic father figure. At first he is over protective, but that’s not entirely a bad thing, and once Nemo goes missing he sets out on his quest to find his son. Marlin demonstrates amazing dedication to his child, never wavering in his determination to find Nemo, no matter where in the ocean he may be. He faces all perils and all challenges to find his boy. Anyone who says men like to abandon their children should pay close attention to Marlin. They could learn a thing from this fish.

Beside Marlin, the importance of fathers is also praised in Finding Nemo by the character Bruce, the great white shark. A reformed carnivore, Bruce laments at the fact that he ‘never knew his father *sobs*’, further reaffirming the importance of fathers to children.

Come to think of it, Crush the turtle is also a good father figure. Something of a foil to Marlin, he allows his son to be very independent, letting him seek his own boundaries while also always being there when needed and encouraging his son in his exploration.

Through the movie, Nemo and Marlin both grow tremendously, Marlin as a father and Nemo toward his…well, ‘manhood’, if only in the fish sense.

Marlin must come to grips with the fact every parent must face, that their children are growing up. However, I greatly prefer how Finding Nemo shows this to many other portrayals. Often the analogy of children ‘leaving the nest’ is used, signifying the children separating from the parents. However, Marlin simply comes to understand what Nemo is capable of and to trust his judgment. There is none of the forced separation which is so common in American families.

It is not so much letting go as coming to be mutually holding on to each other.

Nemo also has to grow, to find his own limits and confidence. Being the impetuous youth, Nemo does not lack guts in the start, but he does have to find his self-belief, overcoming his fears to be able to do his best, taking a step toward being a good adult.

Through the whole movie, Marlin and Nemo show a deep bond which never wavers, even when they get angry with one another. Marlin never stops looking for his son and Nemo never stops trying to find a way to return to his father. It is a heart warming depiction of father and son which will remind anyone of how dedicated fathers are.

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The Titanic – Children and whom first?

March 9, 2010 6 comments

The Titanic is a tale of amazing power which has continued to carry great strength almost a century after the mighty ship sank. To be honest, the only film version I have seen is the 1953 edition (Yeah, yeah. Don’t ask.), but what I want to talk about is one of the things which is at the core of any and all re-tellings of the story of the Titanic:

Male sacrifice.

The men of the Titanic are famous for their willingness to forfeit their own lives so that the women and children aboard might live. It is one of the most noble displays of chivalry in recorded history, proving absolute selflessness on the part of most of the men, and it is this general concept of male sacrifice for women which I want to talk about.

The idea that the lives of men are somehow less valuable than women is pervasive through American (and probably western if not global) media. In almost any instance, if escape is limited, the women go before the men. Sometimes the character discuss the correctness of this, but most of the time no one complains (not that I can blame them).

Most people accept the idea that men should put themselves in harms way to save women because, (a) it is an ancient tradition, and (b) it seems to make some intuitive sense. Women are the ones who bear children, so, as feminists like to say when you ask them about male sacrifice, it is only natural for women to be ensured safety at any cost.

However, as is the case with so many concepts of modern gender politics, the math on that theory just doesn’t quite work.

The problem with the idea of women being more important to the species arises when you realize that western society is quite thoroughly monogamous. That is to say that any given person only has a single spouse at a time, and our society is usually pretty strict about this. For that reason, each and every woman needs a male all to herself in order to breed. That’s where the math stops working for the ‘women are more valuable’ theory.

Let’s look at an imaginary sample population of humans (this is all hypothetical). We have 20 people, 10 male and 10 female. This is the adult population, all of child bearing and rearing age.

Now, assuming everyone gets along well, each adult is part of a happy mating couple. 20 adults, 10 couples each of 2 adults. That’s how a monogamous society works.

Now, let’s say someone dies. If a woman dies, she can no longer bear any children, so the community loses that production.

However, since they are monogamous, if a man dies the same thing happens. A dead man leaves a woman with no breeding partner, so society loses that production.

This same idea applies to our own society at large. Adults form mating couples, one female to one male. If we were polygamous, then few men could mate with more women, so a decrease in male population wouldn’t be such a problem, but in our society a loss of an adult of either gender reduces the number of maximum possible mating couples by 1.

Of course, in a real society not everyone is coupled up. There are always unmarried women and men. However, the goal of the species, from a Darwinian view, is to breed as much as possible. Since the speed of reproduction is limited primarily by the speed at which women can bear children, our goal would be to make sure they were all breeding as much as possible.

Now, in a polygamous society, that would be done by ensuring that literally every woman was married, often many to the same man. But in a monogamous society, each woman needs her own man. And since humans are naturally picky, it can be hard to get every woman matched up with a man she likes. Therefore, the more men we have, the more likely each and every woman will find an acceptable mate.

Therefore, a surplus of males can actually help breeding, while surplus females go to waste in a world of monogamy. A scarcity of females would actually increase the likelihood of the remaining women breeding, since they would have plenty of men to choose from.

Not to mention the fact that widowers are more likely to remarry (and therefore keep breeding) than widows.

But that’s just a counterargument. Naturally, or at least I think naturally, we should all work to have all humans valued equally, regardless of chromosome configuration.

Nonetheless, the sacrifices men make are truly noble and deserve a heart felt salute, but the concept which drives such behavior is obsolete in the modern world and should be done away with for the betterment of all. The math just doesn’t work, so retaining such traditions is, if I might be allowed to say so, like hanging onto a sinking ship.

Of course, there is some logic to men being quicker to die since there are more boys born than there are girls (105 to 100, global average). Or maybe that isn’t to account for war, but for women’s tastes.

Categories: Film Tags: , , ,

Ponyo – A boy’s responsibility

March 4, 2010 2 comments

Ah, Studio Ghibli. I am quite glad to have finally gotten to see their most recent film, Ponyo, and it brought some very interesting thoughts to mind.

Ponyo is a touching story about a young boy and a fish, with many themes about fathers. It shows the importance of fathers to their children, as well as looking at over-protective fathers.

What I find most interesting about Ponyo is how it portrays child-parent relationships and the behavior of children. Ponyo seems to be reflecting a cultural mindset, which may give it more truth than might be apparent.

What got my attention most was the male lead, the five-year-old Sosuke. He is, without a doubt, the most level headed, collected and responsible five-year-old I have ever seen, and it is that responsibility I want to talk about.

I think this is best illustrated by comparing Sosuke to the main characters of another Ghibli movie, My Neighbor Totoro. In Totoro, the focus is on how the two sisters interact with the world of magical spirits, as well as their worrying for the health of their mother. It is largely about how they feel.

In Ponyo, we have a very different story, but with similar themes. It is also about the interaction with the world of nature and magic. However, the focus is far less on Sosuke’s interaction (i.e. play) with the magical world than it is about his dealing with what comes out of it, like Ponyo and all the problems she causes. It is much less about how he feels and more about what he does.

This difference can even be seen within the cast of Ponyo. Ponyo herself spends most of her time on land learning to interact with it, experiencing it with wonder, while Sosuke is there to keep an eye on her and lead the way. Once again, what matters is how she feels and what he does.

I think this reflects an interesting viewpoint on how little boys and little girls work and live. Sosuke is shown as stepping up, taking charge and being responsible for those he cares about and for his own actions. He worries about keeping his promises and takes responsibility for caring for Ponyo without a single thought to the contrary.

American media is so bloated with girl power and political correctness gone wrong that it is rare to see a boy as anything buy a punching bag (both verbal and physical), so it is interesting to see a different take on ‘what little boys are made of’, showing them as capable of understanding the consequences of their actions and taking responsibility.

More than that, however, I am always interested by takes on traditional gender roles, which is just what this is, and this film is made all the more intriguing by the fact that its creator, Hayao Miyazaki, is a self-proclaimed feminist, and so seeing an exploration of male responsibility and leadership from him makes it all the more telling.

I think American media has made many of us forget how little boys think, but this film gets back in touch with that, hopefully reminding us how not all traditional gender roles are totally learned, that some behavior is natural and that such natural tendencies should be nurtured and encouraged, in both boys and girls.

The eagerness with which young boys seem to assume roles of leadership and to take on duties of protecting others is well documented and Ponyo’s portrayal of such behavior rings with the note of truth. That is not to say that girls are naturally followers. Far from it (just ask my sisters). However, despite how the media ignores this, little boys do seem to naturally gravitate towards roles of leadership and protecting. Maybe not more than girls, but at the very least in their own unique way.