Sunday, June 10, 2007

Review: Trust the man

Trust the man has just hit pay TV in Australia. It's a romantic comedy (aka chick flick) about two couples struggling through crises in their relationships.

The first couple have done a role reversal. Rebecca is a successful actress returning to the stage after having children; Tom has given up a job in advertising to stay home and look after the kids.

The second couple, Tobey and Elaine, have been living together, as "free spirits", for seven years.

The film doesn't put a liberal gloss on the relationships. The stay-at-home dad situation isn't working well. Tom is having a crisis in masculine identity and doesn't know who he is. His one consolation is internet porn. Rebecca, for her part, resents the suggestion that her role as wife and mother is now secondary to her career.

Nor is Elaine happy. She can no longer convince herself that she wants to live the single girl lifestyle forever. She now wants to get married and have kids. Tobey, though, is not good husband and father material. He is suffering an existential angst, which keeps him disengaged from life and selfishly immature.

The couples split apart. What can reconcile them? Here the message of the film is a little confused. To some degree, the film goes against liberal orthodoxy. The two men, both of them aimless and disoriented in their lives, realise that there is something worth striving for.

For Tom, it's family life. He misses his children and can't bear to live apart from them. So he tries to gain control over his more destructive behaviours. For Tobey, it's his love for Elaine. To win her love he has to be more serious and sincere in his attitudes.

So the basic message isn't too bad. It's that love and family are goods worth striving for as a man - that they justify an adult commitment to life.

So why is the film largely unsatisfying? One reason, I think, is that the two men are presented all too well as being cut adrift in life. They are hollow men, without a sustaining connection to their own masculinity, to work, to community or nation, to church, to nature or to culture.

Not only does this make it hard to identify with the men as characters, it also makes their eventual turnaround seem desperate. They are clutching at something left over, something offered to them by the much more grounded and mature women in their lives.

Nor do either of the men really challenge the overall drift of things. In the final scene we see Tom and Rebecca in a plane, now happily reconciled. Rebecca's career is going well, and the reinvigorated Tom has won the gushing admiration of a stewardess for writing a book about childcare.

This is a return to the more orthodox liberal idea that we can build a life around our own individual "projects", like book writing, and through status and career success.

The film doesn't really seem to have taken us anywhere. We started out with Tom being dissatisfied with what career status and career success brought him; now we're supposed to think that he's finally arrived through ... career status and success.

It makes me think that liberals, even when they recognise that something has gone wrong, have rejected too much to be able to offer a persuasive alternative.


  1. It sounds like many a liberal/feminist solution: Change the topic, go on holiday, take a break from one-another, misdirect, etc, etc.

    Anything but address the issue.

    As long as there's a seemingly 'cinderalla' ending to a story where the couple have come together again, the lesson doesn't really matter. The underlying notion is that a 'change' has occured, and that the future unknown is somehow oh-so-exciting by the simple fact that DRAMA has been involved.

    Sound like a soap-opera?

    You betcha.

    No viewer is enlightened in the slightest - but at the same time it "Connects" with them. Theres no wonder man & women don't know how to conduct their social lives, when the material they consumes only strokes their emotions, while completely avoiding their intellect.

    As a result, the intellectual culture of ethics relating to relationships (given the rubbish thats consumed), makes dating and marriage in today's time a very risky proposal.

    The social decorum individuals conduct themselves with today, makes the animal world seem completely 'civilised' in comparrisson.


  2. Bobby, excellent comment. Your speculation about the film is close to the mark.

    The couples do "take a break"; there is indeed a highly unlikely "cinderella ending" with lots of drama involved; and there is a final scene in which the transformed couple fly off happily into the future.

    And you're right that the logic behind all this is poorly considered and that it's assumed that our emotions will lead us to respond positively to the happy ending.

    There are a couple of moments, though, when the film goes beyond soap opera cliche.

    There's a scene, for instance, in which Elaine tries to cling to a superior disdain for traditional family life, before finally admitting to herself that it's normal to want such a life for herself.

    The film does want to lead us toward the value of marital love and family life (which puts it in the better category of Hollywood film), but it doesn't know how to get us there.

    “There's a scene, for instance, in which Elaine tries to cling to a superior disdain for traditional family life, before finally admitting to herself that it's normal to want such a life for herself.”

    Of course it’s normal (and natural) for women to ‘want’ the benefits they once enjoyed as traditional women (it doesn’t surprise me at all), but the problem arises today, where one has to ask women (like Elaine) – “What are you going to do about it?”

    Hating men into loving you hasn’t worked these last few decades – so now what? Assuming that Elaine has not passed her ‘used-by-date’ with men by now (both physically & temperamentally), she would do well to work towards a more secure (and happy) future for herself.

    Most don’t.

    In a world of ‘having it all’, it seems that even IF people like Elaine have a moment of realization, they soon return to their previous unfulfilling routines.

    “The film does want to lead us toward the value of marital love and family life (which puts it in the better category of Hollywood film), but it doesn't know how to get us there.”

    Yes, I’ve often thought of feminism as leading me on a merry chase through the woods. It leads you on this circular emotional smorgasboard, and then says, “And then we’re magically over here in Utopia.” - whereas I’m aksing , “Hold on, but HOW do we get there?”

    It’s a similar theme throughout movies. People fight and then stop because it’s ‘wrong’ to fight and so everything is resolved (?). People break promises (like marriage vows) because of how they ‘feel’, and people accept it (?). Ethics don’t come into it.

    In a culture where following one’s feelings is the penultimate guide to a fulfilling life – it really is no wonder we have such ‘thin’ entertainment masquerading as ‘lessons’.