Multiplicity is an odd comedy from the last half of the 1990s which actually surprised me in several ways. I assumed it would just be a zany comedy about a guy’s life spinning out of control when his clones run amok, but it is actually much more complex than that. It digs into numerous gender issues in interesting ways.
One thing which is important to note is that Multiplicity hails from the hay day of feminism. The female lead, Laura, is a classic 90s woman: a mother of two, she is now desperate to return to the workforce and so wants her husband, Doug, to work less so he can share the brunt of childcare.
What I find most intriguing is that, near the end of the film, they actually question the independent-working-mom mentality a bit by saying how confusing it is to “want to be independent and be taken care of.”
But, even more fascinating is the movie’s interpretation of the correlation between male gender roles and personality traits. Doug’s clones embody different sides of him, manifesting themselves in isolation to show what they are like alone.
The first two clones effectively represent Doug’s Yang and Yin.
Two is the Yang, the masculine. He is gruff, brash, work-obsessed and less-than-sensitive. He is every male stereotype.
Three is the Yin, the feminine. He is polite, neat, detail-obsessed and almost-overly-sensitive. He is every female stereotype.
Now, as you might guess, Two is the clone who takes on work as a construction contractor, while Three is the ‘domestic’ clone, tending to the home and children. This, I think, shows a distinct view on gender roles.
The message is thus: the Realm of Work belongs to the Masculine. The Realm of the Home belongs to the Feminine.
However, I don’t think the movie is trying to reinforce traditional gender roles. As I wrote above, it shows the different ‘realms’ as belonging to the masculine and feminine, not to men and women themselves. Basically it’s saying that masculine people work and feminine people tend house, but that men aren’t necessarily the masculine ones and women the feminine.
It shows men and women breaking out of traditional roles and taking on traits associated with the other gender. Really, the movie challenges traditional gender roles by not only showing a working mother, but exploring what it is like for a man to become homemaker (at least to some degree). It questions the very definition of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ and weather their qualities are exclusive to men and women.
The overall implication seems to be that a yin-yang balance does exist within men, that they are capable of working and parenting, if they can find that equilibrium. At its core, the move is about understanding yourself and balancing all the different parts of you life.
One other thing I find potentially ironically humorous is how the movie portrays the ‘house-husband’ clone as overtly feminine. Really, this could be seen as a bit of a warning to working wives: leave him at home, and your husband will act like more of a woman than you do.
This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Recent data (such as here and here ) has shown that, despite all of the progress women have made into the workforce, often with the support of men, those same women still haven’t adapted to the idea of being the sole breadwinner. Both those articles discuss how working women tend to resent stay-at-home-dads, either for a lack of respect for an unemployed husband or because the women see themselves as under-performing as women by not running the home.
Women might actually have some catching-up compared to men when it comes to doing away with old gender roles.
They say they want to be liberated from the home, but are they ready to surrender it?
As is a tradition in my house, we watched Independence Day this Fourth of July. A fun movie, and I love that the military refused to help if Area 51 was mentioned, and it got me thinking on this kind of catastrophe movies in general.
Looking at some well known ones like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and Armageddon, you can see a common theme (besides the near-destruction of humanity): dads & kids.
All three of these examples feature important father-child relationships.
In Independence Day we have David and his father, Russel and his three children, the President and his daughter, and Steve and his son (in-law).
In The Day After Tomorrow we have Jack Hall and his son, whose relationship is central to the story, as well as mention of several other family bonds.
And in Armageddon we have the strained-but-loving relationship between the hero, Harry Stamper, and his daughter, as well as the renewal of the relationship between the less-than-law-abiding Charles “Chick” Chapple and his son.
These are all powerful, positive father-child relationships, showing the ups and downs of parenthood and all the challenges men and their children can face (and I don’t just mean DOOM FROM SPACE!).
These are all wonderful themes to see in the media, most of these relationships seeming quite honest. They involve flawed individuals, but the faults of the fathers are not over-emphasized and they aren’t constantly being railed on by their wives (where present). But what I find so interesting is that these sort of characters seem to gravitate toward, or maybe even spring out of, these sorts of ‘end of the world’ hero films.
I don’t know why this is the case. Maybe it is just the movies appealing to a primarily male viewing base. Maybe it is done to sympathize the heroes.
Or maybe there is something about these kinds of do-or-die situations which, even when fictional, bring out the hero in men, so that they can put everything on the line to save the world and their family.
Maybe deep down we still have a sense that, when the clock is running down and everything is on the line, there is nothing a man cares about more than his children.
Food for thought.