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.
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.
But do you know what’s even cooler?
Half-crazy ranchers who want to be astronauts and whose families help them build real rockets so they can go into space.
That’s cool, and so is The Astronaut Farmer, one of the most touching, sincere and heartwarming movies I have seen in a long time.
The story is about Charles Farmer (just called Farmer by everyone) and his family (wife, son, two daughters and grandfather-in-law). He is a would-be astronaut turned rancher after his father committed suicide. Now he is building a rocket in his barn
The story of Farmer’s trip into orbit is a truly touching one. Here we see a man desperate to follow his dreams, always with the support of his family. The Farmer family is beautifully portrayed as a small-town American family, not always totally functional but wonderfully loving. Farmer is supported by his family the whole way (except for a few spats), even after financial setbacks and rocket accidents almost put the whole endeavor out of commission.
Farmer himself is a surprisingly human character. At first he seems to just be a crazy dreamer, but he develops to be shown as a feeling individual who has sustained great hurt and now needs to prove what he can do, both to himself and his children. This was mostly caused by the death of his father, but something that is very nice about Astronaut Farmer is that Farmer still has great respect for his father, the whole topic obviously being very sensitive. It is an old tradition to not think poorly of the dead, but you don’t see that very often. Here we see Farmer hurt by the loss of his father, but he doesn’t resent him for committing suicide, he just decides to do better.
Besides his own father, Farmer himself is also a wonderfully portrayed father (and husband). He is loved by his children and loves them deeply in return. It is clear that he draws great strength from the enthusiasm of his two daughters; their childish, unconditional love of their father a truly touching sight. He is a remarkably strong and intelligent male figure. He cares deeply for his family and refuses to allow anyone, even his wife, to say otherwise. He stands up for what he believes in as only a father can, and his wife stands by him.
This movie shows a married couple who truly respect and love one another, without any of the self-obsession and fear of commitment which is so commonly seen in American couples (on the screen or on the street).
It’s nice to see a move where the wife doesn’t take the kids and leave the husband at the first sign of trouble.
Then there is Shepard, Farmer’s oldest child and only son. At 15 he is the ground crew for Farmer’s planned rocket flight. He helped put the rocket together, but he also helps keep his family together. Shepard has a deep but quiet relationship with his father. He shares his father’s dream and is as emotionally tied to it as his father in a beautiful, yet subtle way which is quite touching. He is a strong young man who goes for what he believes in.
All in all, The Astronaut Farmer is a beautiful portrayal of an American family, through all its ups and downs. Farmer is a loved part of his family, his dreams embraced and his weaknesses accepted. He is strong but human, as reliant on his family as they are on him. His wife loves him, not unconditionally but truthfully. His daughters adore him as only young daughters can. His son loves and respects him, although he needs few words to say so, as is so often true for fathers and sons.
Astronaut Farmer is one of the most touching stories of family, dreams and fatherhood that I have ever seen and I would recommend it to anyone. It shows a fascinating husband-wife relationship which is far more loving, and more honest, I think, than most of what we see elsewhere in the media.
This is part 5 of a series exploring Gurren Lagann.
And so we reach the end of my series on Gurren Lagann, yet there is still so much to say about this masterful piece of cinema. If there were one word to describe Gurren Lagann, it would be ‘Masculine’. It doesn’t get any more manly than this, but not in the American tradition of muscle cars and bikinis. Okay, there are giant robots and several bikinis, but that’s not what the show is about. It is about men doing what men do: doing whatever they have to do to save those they love, growing to overcome any obstacle, building a better world and making the impossible possible.
The men of Gurren Lagann are respectable, strong, emotional, intelligent (at least some) and loving. They are multi-faceted and manage to be manly without being ‘macho’. I believe this comes from a respect for masculinity which keeps them from having anything to prove. They are loved and respected for their manhood. They act like men, live like men, talk like men and they are not ashamed of it. The differences between the men and women of Gurren Lagann are clear, but neither is mocked or degraded. The men’s sense of masculinity does not come from degradation of the feminine, although the reverse is often true in American media. These men are afraid of no one, including themselves.
It is all very over-the-top, however, so this is not necessarily a one-stop guide to manhood, but it is a wonderful example of how a television series can show men with great respect and glory, much as women often get in America. This sense of over-the-top adventure also shows in the male characters’ attitudes about themselves. For the most part, they do not take themselves too seriously. I have always believed that one of the keys to manhood is having a sense of humor about yourself, and I think some of that shows in the men of Gurren Lagann.
Overall, Gurren Lagann is a beautiful and passionate display of masculinity in its many forms. The show has a great respect for men and what they do. They respect themselves and are respected by others as they fight for everything they believe in, using all their will and passion to succeed where all seems lost. It is an inspiring series to watch which will leave you invigorated and, for half of the world at least, proud to be male.
What this awesome sense of masculinity really boils down to is this:
These men are not ashamed of being male. They embrace it and do what it is they need to.
I do not think there is any piece of television I could recommend more highly.
I was planning on putting a picture here which I thought best represented what makes Gurren Lagann so great, but after several hours of searching I couldn’t find one. There are several scenes which sum it all up for me, but you will just have to watch it to see for yourself.
But, since I don’t like to give up, here are a few of my favorite shots:
This is part 4 of a series exploring Gurren Lagann.
Gurren Lagann is a story of male warriors who fight with their very souls and all the strength of humanity to achieve the impossible. It shows and respects the natural warrior instinct of men. Men and women are both aggressive in different ways, but there is often disdain shown for the aggression of men (that of women is also often simply denied). Gurren Lagann is an action show, filled with violence, but it is not pointless violence. The men here are aggressive, many wanting to fight, but they are largely in control and know what they are doing. They go into battle with all their heart, fighting for their cause, not for ego or glory or riches. They are the kind of warriors you can respect. Warriors are often blood thirsty and corrupt, but many are also noble men who do battle out of need, not blood lust. I believe Gurren Lagann mostly portrays the latter.
Now, it is not always good to glorify the act of fighting. However, I believe that what is wrong is glorifying the act of killing. That is what murderers do. Gurren Lagann glorifies the act of doing battle, of using your whole self to fight for victory. That is what warriors do and that is what we see in Gurren Lagann.
These men are also more than warriors. They are not dangerous psychopaths, but passionate leaders and lovers. Off the battlefield we see them as caring fathers and companions, to their fellow warriors and those who did not fight with them. They are not feared or ridiculed for their warrior instincts. They are respected and praised for all the good they do by fighting in battle. This aggression is kept in balance by the more peaceful characters, as has always been the case in history. Gurren Lagann shows how male passion and aggression can be embraced and appreciated, as it should be.
Another way respect is shown for the warrior-men of Gurren Lagann is in how their deaths are handled. There are plenty of deaths, especially of men, but it isn’t just pointless ‘man-slaughter’. They are dieing for a cause and others around them care. A lot of media will just throw in deaths here and there without real thought, but these deaths have real meaning behind them. Even when a mass of nameless and faceless men plunge into death, it is made to have feeling, to invoke an emotional response. Men have always been the ones who die for what they believe in, but modern western media has come to often belittle or mock this. Not so here. These men are ready to die, but they are anything but disposable.
These men are warriors to their bones and they are loved and respected for that. They are not one-dimensional meat-heads, however. These men are human first, fighters second. Violence is rarely the right path, but sometimes you can only succeed by fighting for what you believe in, and it is usually men who do this fighting.
Next time I will take a final look at the series as a whole and explore its overall image and sense of masculinity.
Ah, Simon and Kamina. When I first saw Gurren Lagann, the thing which made me fall in love with it, the thing which endeared it to me was its true, pure, unashamed portrayal of brotherly love between the two male leads. They are not actually related, but they have a sense of kinship and comradeship which is hard to find in American media.
Kamina is much older than Simon, but this isn’t a case of older-brother worship. Simon looks up to Kamina, but Kamina does not look down at Simon. They love and admire one another deeply, and it shows. This kind of brotherly affection is sorely lacking in western media. There is a much greater understanding for how women care for one another (‘girl-friends’), but not so for men, and it is important to remember that men love in a very different way than women. On several occasions, Kamina attacks Simon, but when he does so it is not out of anger or mindless aggression. He is driving his blood-brother to be the best he can be. One of the ways men show affection for one another is by challenging one another. This is how men bond and this is how fathers teach their children to be the best they can be and Gurren Lagann understands this.
It is this recognition and respect for brotherly love which I myself so love. Here we have two men who love each other as much as any two people could. They would die for one another and they trust one another without question. There is no closer bond than that between warriors, and the bonds of brotherhood, related or not, share many similarities with the bonds shared by warriors. One of the things I so respect the Japanese for is their ability to portray men in this fashion, something westerners often fail at. Relationships like this shown in western media tend to stumble into one of two problems:
1) They come off as homophobic, the men obviously conscious of the possibly gay nature of their behavior, or
2) They come off as actually gay, even when they aren’t.
Now, I have nothing against the gay community, but American media often seems very uncomfortable with the issue of male affection. The narrow media definition of manly behavior leads male-to-male relationships to be less than sincere, which can lead to the above problems.
However, Gurren Lagann does not succumb to this. It might be because of the age difference between Simon and Kamina, or their lovers or the clearly gay character, but I think that their relationship is believable simply because it is unashamed. There are no awkward ‘man hugs’ here, nor annoying jokes about the characters being accused of being gay. There is just their deep love, and everyone involved accepts and understands it.
Gurren Lagann shows how men can truly love one another in the fashion of brothers. Dedication, caring, helping one another to grow, all this combines with the eternal male thirst for competition to allow men to drive one another to greatness, as warriors do, as brothers do. It demonstrates how, in a world where men are allowed to be men, brothers could and would truly love each other. Such a world would be a far more pleasant place to live.
Tomorrow I will have a look at how Gurren Lagann handles the ideas of warriors and death.
This is part 2 of a series exploring Gurren Lagann.
If there is one thing Gurren Lagann is not afraid of being, it is passionate. Well, that and epic, but that is a different issue. This animated story runs rampant with excitement, tragedy, comedy and downright awesomeness. All this is fueled by characters who show drive, fury, caring and weakness in a great display of human nature.
Our hero, Simon, begins as a young, fearful boy. It is his friend, idol and blood-brother Kamina who drives him to do more. He may be meek, but he has an inner-fire which comes out with fury. A major focus of Simon’s story is self belief. He has to come to believe in himself, if sometimes through a convoluted network of surrogate-belief, so that he can fight for humanity.
Eventually overcoming a terrible tragedy by discovering his self-confidence, Simon begins to evolve into a confident man capable of facing any challenge. Along the way he finds his love, and he is not afraid to show how he feels, for her or his other friends. There is no awkward hiding of feelings here, luckily. Simon is shown to obviously care about those he fights with and so he fights for them. Simon may stutter in expressing his feelings a few times, but not from fear of his emotions, just natural human doubt.
Even as he grows older and stronger, Simon continues to show his vulnerable side as he must fight against untold odds to save his world and the life of his love. There is never any sense of macho-pride here, just pure human emotion, truthful and heartfelt. The characters never have a sense of invincibility, but they never give-up when their backs are to the wall.
Overall, the characters of Gurren Lagann, both male and female, show great heart and emotion, often better portrayed than in many live-action films. A core theme is the power of the human spirit, so the show undeniably encourages getting in touch with your emotions and using your positive feelings to drive you. Its male characters strike a balance between strength and weakness which is refreshing. Elsewhere, many characters (especially men) are either weaklings with emotion or tough-guys without emotions, both despised. Here we have believable men who are as strong as it gets but are still human, and so have feelings and vulnerabilities.
The message? Feelings do not make you weak, they make you strong. Embrace them and be the best you can be.
I also love the sense of classical romance this show has. Some might call me a chauvinist, but there isn’t anything more romantic than the hero holding his woman on his lap as he pilots his mecha into battle with the ultimate forces of evil. And she doesn’t have to just be a pretty flower. She can and should kick in all her energy and passion too.
Next time I will look at how all this heart and soul comes into play in the relationships between the men of the series.