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.
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.
Night at the Museum is an example a movie which I didn’t really appreciate the first time I saw it. The first time, I wasn’t yet a masculist, so I wasn’t looking at media from the perspective of men’s issues. But now I am, and I can now say that Night at the Museum is a fun adventure about a father, also with several other masculine messages mixed in.
The main character, Larry, is a divorced dad with partial custody (Wednesdays and every-other weekend) of his 10-year-old son, Nick. Larry is a schemer who goes from job to job, but he is also a loving father who eagerly spends time with his son, takes an interest in his activities and will do anything to not lose him.
By the end of the movie Larry is strong, in control and intelligent (he even studies!). His son loves him and both are confident about themselves and Larry’s work. Nick trusts his father and Larry doesn’t let himself be pushed around.. He is a good role model for his son and for young viewers alike.
On the topic of fathers, the movie makes a strong case for the importance of fathers to their children. Larry is very important to Nick. He isn’t just someone who can come and go without notice. Then there is also Attila the Hun. In a brief scene, he is revealed (or at least implied) to be so violent because he didn’t have a chance to spend time with his father. This helps establish the importance of paternal involvement, and it even does it without overly blaming Attila’s father. It is said the Hun-senior was off plundering and pillaging, but Larry also adds that he was “doing his job”, thereby not overly blaming the father for his absence, as so often happens.
The issue of male aggression is also approached by the Jed and Octavius characters. At one point, Jed says that they are fighting because they are men, and because that is what they do. This is an old tune, sung often, but Night at the Museum takes it a step further. Jed and Octavius go on to work together, laying aside their anger to help save the museum. Their wish to fight is pinned on their will to see their people thrive, showing them to be good leaders. Without even saying so, the movie quickly overturns the idea that men just want to fight for no reason by showing these two warriors teaming up and even becoming road-trip buddies. It’s easy to miss, but it is a welcome message.
Over all, night at the museum is a fun adventure movie about a strong father, and it also touches on other male issues as well. Larry is a strong male lead who is in control and focused, but also has a sense of humor and a more sensitive side which gleams through on a few occasions. He is one of the rare examples of a ‘cool dad’ who isn’t a soldier, isn’t rich, isn’t a scientist and isn’t a stooge to his wife. He is a real cool dad.