Film Criticism

Iron Man Film Criticism

           When superheroes first emerged in American culture with the prototypical emergence of Superman in 1938, they quickly became a social role as a moral prototype to give hope and guidance during difficult times, especially war. Comic book superheroes were often born out of war, including Iron Man, who became a superhero through his experience in the Vietnam War when he emerged in 1963. With this being the case it would seem that there would have emerged new or updated superheroes recently, but the success of the onslaught of comic book films on screen has mostly seemed a way for studios to cash in on a popular commodity.

Superhero movies seem to struggle most when they aren’t helping anyone, because after all, isn’t that what a superhero is supposed to do? The recent past has seen its fair share of these films, and an increasing number fail to appease the crowds or the critics, seemingly most often when the fight is not clear. Daredevil was a complicated comic-book world where there were more odds of encountering another superhero or villain on the street as you would a normal citizen, Elektra became even more muddled with plot and the superhero’s intentions, Ang Lee’s Hulk had an escaping creature never given an opportunity to be selflessly heroic, and The Ghost Rider was about a man that stopped one criminal and spent the rest of the film fighting otherworldly creatures in a human-barren city. Although Iron Man is another film with a superhero who rarely if ever engages the people he is fighting for, due to the remarkably concise and well-constructed way in which the film was scripted and directed there is never any doubt of the superhero’s intentions or what he is fighting for.

            Much of the buzz for Iron Man has been surrounding Robert Downey Jr., an unlikely but extremely successful casting choice that looks likely to revive the veteran actor’s career just as Pirates of the Caribbean did for Johnny Depp. Downey stars as Tony Stark, the son and heir of a weapons manufacturing company on the cutting edge of supplying new weapons that are becoming more and more distanced from the battlefield. Tony is a brilliant engineer and infamous ladies man rich enough to have an assistant named Pepper (Gwenyth Paltrow) to throw the one-night-stands out in the morning. Tony’s latest invention is a missile system named Jericho for its ability to destroy an entire city with one push of the button. Stark is a technical genius reaping in all of the financial gain from creating more and more deadly weapons, until he is taken by a terrorist cell while in Afghanistan showing Jericho. After years of profiting from war, Stark is forced to witness it first-hand, afterwards leaving him a changed man in more ways than one. He awakes to find that a magnet is placed in his chest, pulling the shrapnel away from his heart as the only means of keeping him alive, but this physical change is no less significant than the emotional change which has occurred in Stark after witnessing war. Stark finally sees the damage he has caused with his inventions, and as if inter-connected, coinciding with Stark seeming to grow a heart is the physical representation of an invention in the center of his chest that is keeping him alive.

            More than keeping him alive, Stark’s creation is a new type of energy source that is powerful enough to do more than just keep him alive. The terrorists hold Stark hostage knowing his abilities to create weapons, with every intention of killing him if he doesn’t build them a Jericho missile. Supplied with boxes of Stark’s own weapons stolen from the military convoy, Stark agrees to build a rocket, but instead begins building himself a suit fueled by his new ‘heart’. This suit is a rough version and although he is escapes, the suit is destroyed in the process. When Stark finally gets back home he announces that his company will no longer be making weapons before retreating to work on a revised suit, much to the disappointment of Stark’s father’s longtime business associate and board member of Stark Industries, Obadiah Stone (Jeff Bridges), who will eventually become Iron Monger, a villain Iron Man must face. It was an interesting and deliberate choice to make Iron Monger the villain instead of the many others in the series, and the reasoning is to allow Iron Man to fight the two-faced villains at home before fighting a war elsewhere.

            The irony about the invention that powers Iron Man’s suit, as well as providing a necessary health service, is that the technology is made possible by an alternate fuel source, and yet everyone seeking the technology of the suit is far more interested in using it to advance weaponry. Although Iron Man never makes direct reference to the American’s involvement in the Middle East in regards to fuel, there are other indicators throughout the film suggesting the war mongers of this country are more interested in America being perceived as the most powerful nation than any of the means to be gained. This is proved once when the technology is used by Tony’s very own weapons company to create a larger and more aggressive suit with the alternate fuel source, and a second time when this larger suit throws Iron Man into a semi-truck with an advertisement for Hydrogen energy. The truck along with the advertisement is destroyed, once again showing the preference to power over real solutions.  

            During the presentation Tony gives of Jericho, before growing a new artificial heart, he defends the logic of a weapon that is so powerful you only have to use it once. He convincingly claims that it is the “American way” to win with a bang, or as a confrontational reporter puts it, by creating peace by being the one with the bigger stick. Only after his ‘change of heart’ does Tony realize the problems behind this method of fighting wars, deciding that there has to be a better way to fight a war. Suddenly Tony is fighting against the very system he was working with, realizing he must change the system from within. In one scene when Tony walks into a demonstration for pilot-less aircraft he remarks that it should be the other way around, which is certainly meant to be taken as a joke since we know he can fly in his Iron Man suit, but it also points to the implications of Iron Man today. Tony Stark is a man who used to help fight wars from the luxurious distance and comfort of his home in the United States, but once he is physically faced with the disastrous effects of this distanced warfare he becomes Iron Man. A superhero takes on a social role, standing as a center of moral righteousness, making difficult decisions and personal sacrifices for the good of humanity, and it is no coincidence that Iron Man seems remarkably relevant today, as he is perhaps the first truly relevant superhero to emerge for this generation.

            Although Iron Man spends most of his energy fighting the system from within the United States, there are a few instances when he personally engages in battles in the Middle East, at one point even saving an individual family. We see the close-combat as a positive alternative, allowing Iron Man to destroy the gun-wielding enemies without harming any innocent lives, but I wouldn’t suggest that this is a suggested military tactic by the filmmaker’s. Instead, Iron Man seems to be an earnest and heartfelt moral outcry for a world where we become personally invested in wars we believe in, rather than distancing ourselves to the point that justification of means can become easier. Just as with the many failed comic-book adaptations listed in the first paragraph, Iron Man victims that are rarely seen in the film, but even when Iron Man is having a robot brawl in America it is clear what he is really fighting up against.

            Iron Man seems to be most impressive when considering the elements that were most unexpected. Downey Jr. is a prime example, beating out Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage for the role, as is director Jon Favreau. Favreau has consistently as a director been able to combine things from the past with the relevance of today, and Iron Man is only the most recent proof of this. Favreau’s theatrical film debut was Made (2001), an independent comedy about incompetent men hired by a mobster in California to take a trip to New York. Made was followed by Elf (2003), a film that combines all of the nostalgia of classic holiday entertainment (singing, stop-animation characters in the North Pole, and continuing with family entertainment there was the science-fiction adventure Zathura(2005), which was adapted from the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. Iron Man successfully brings the metal hero into modern day problems and issues, which were handled and discussed in a responsible manner without sacrificing the spectacle everyone has come to expect of superhero films.

Donnie Darko Criticism

I wanted very badly to find justification for the quality filmmaking of Southland Tales, the sophomore film by writer/director Richard Kelly. Kelly’s first film, Donnie Darko was given mixed reviews but seemed to develop a cult following upon its initial theatrical release. Audiences found it confusing, but fans willing to watch the film several times were rewarded with a film that was enriched with each viewing. The director’s commentary, deleted scenes and other special features on the incredibly well-made initial DVD release, as well as the opportunity re-visit the story with the release of a director’s cut with a theatrical release all allowed a higher form of film dialect to take form. Kelly’s film allowed the audience to find the answers for themselves. Personally I have always seen Donnie Darko as a superhero telling of Christ’s death. Donnie Darko is a superhero-Christ-figure, realizing his purpose is to die in order to save everyone else through the events in the film. With this theory about Donnie Darko in mind, the religious symbols in Southland Tales become quickly visible. If Donnie Darko is a 1980s comic book adaptation of Christ’s final days, Southland Tales seems to be a futuristic comic book adaptation of the second coming of Christ.

            Essentially Southland Tales is the telling of the end of days, narrated to use by a soldier (Justin Timberlake) who has been killed and brought back by one of the many new inventions that seem to bring about the end of the world, along with the slowing of the earth’s rotation. This is all predicted in a script about the end of the world written by Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson), a prophetic action star turned politician with amnesia and a media disaster following him when he disappears from a burning car with a dead body in it. We never know Boxer before his amnesia, but the Boxer we know seems solely dedicated to his screenplay even as he is dragged into scandal and twisted plots created by the quickly spiraling world. Adult film star Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar) uses Boxer to help her launch a career that includes her own energy drink and a neo-Marxist group plans a fake video of Boxer’s involvement in racist police behavior, with the help of Hermosa Beach police officer Ronald Taverner (Seann William Scott).  

Donnie Darko is the story of a teenager who escapes death, only to realize that there is a purpose for his extended lifetime. The film begins with Donnie Darko, the title character, waking up on a mountain road. We soon find that Donnie has a problem with sleepwalking. This is significant because one night, Oct. 2nd 1988, Donnie sleepwalks to a golf course, which ends up saving his life. As soon as Donnie leaves, a jet engine comes crashing through his house and into his room. What saves Donnie is a voice that wakes him and tells him to leave. The voice is coming from Frank, a man in a rabbit costume. Once Frank gets Donnie out of the house, he tells him that the world is going to end in “28 days, six hours, 42 min, and 12 seconds”. From this point on we watch as Donnie goes through a series of obstacles and events, which he feels he must do in order to save everyone. Frank acts as a guide, or as Donnie’s psychiatrist puts it, “Maybe Frank is a sign from God”. Whatever Frank is, he finally leads Donnie to a point where he watches people he loves die, and kills himself. All of this chaos puts Donnie in a state that he makes the choice to go back to the fateful night when the engine went through his room, only this time he chooses to stay, and die.

            The biggest question that I am first asked, after someone I’ve recommended this film to finishes watching it, is “How was the film possible?” They don’t understand how it’s possible that Donnie could travel back in time, or that he had the strength to put an axe in the statue which the janitor points out is “solid bronze”. The simple answer to this question is that Donnie is a superhero. At one point in the story Donnie’s girlfriend points out that his name sounds “like some sort of a superhero or something”. Donnie’s reply is, “What makes you think I’m not.” Donnie is indeed a superhero of sorts, and he is going to save people as he is somehow been given special powers, although it takes further digging to find exactly where he has gotten his power. God has given Donnie the ability to do certain things in order to save a lot of people, but in order to do this Donnie has to go through a lot of hard tasks, just as Jesus did. He must destroy things, kill a person, and sacrifice himself.

In English class Donnie is asked what he thinks about Graham Greene’s short story, The Destructors, and he says, “Well, they say when they flood the house and they tear it to shreds, that destruction is a form of creation. They just want to see what happens when they tear the world apart. They want to change things”.  Donnie is giving great insight here, because he knows that he is going to have to destroy in order to save a lot of people. Donnie knows that death is necessary in order to save everyone, and as the film progresses we watch him struggle with this.

Roberta Sparrow, an older woman in the town and very important character in Donnie’s journey, whispers into Donnie’s ear the only thing she is to say the entire film. She whispers to Donnie that “every living creature on earth dies alone”. This troubles Donnie a great deal because he knows that his world is going to end shortly, and this inspires a conversation that Donnie has with his psychiatrist. She asks Donnie, “Do you feel alone right now?” Donnie’s response goes into great detail about his doubts and struggle as he says this:

I don’t know. I’d like to believe I’m not, but I just…I’ve just never seen any proof, so I…I just don’t debate it anymore, you know? It’s like, I could spend my whole life debating it over and over again, weighing the pros and cons, and in the end I still wouldn’t have any proof, so I just… I just don’t debate it anymore. It’s absurd.”

His psychiatrist then responds to Donnie with the question, “The search for God is absurd?” at which point Donnie responds that “(i)t is if everyone dies alone”. It would be easy to look at this scene alone and say that Donnie does not believe in God, but in examining the rest of the film, this is just part of Donnie’s journey. In fact, what we do see throughout the film is Donnie going back and forth, debating with himself and others the existence of God. In one scene, Donnie is trying to find out about time travel, a path that Frank has led him down. Donnie asks his science teacher about time travel, which ends up leading him to a book written by Roberta Sparrow, the very person that told him every living creature dies alone. When Donnie starts to question his teacher about time travel in the context that fits him the teacher says, “No, I think what you’re talking about is an act of God”. Donnie responds by saying, “If God controls time then all time is pre-decided. Every living thing follows along a set path. And if you could see your path or channel, then you could see into the future, right?” Donnie can literally see his path in front of him in the form of a vortex-like spear, showing him his physical path and he is struggling to find meaning behind this. The teacher doesn’t agree though, and responds, “If we were able to see our destinies manifest themselves visually, then we would be given the choice to betray our chosen destinies. And the mere fact that this choice exists would make all pre-formed destiny come to an end”. Donnie merely replies, “Not if you travel within God’s channel”. This last comment tells us that Donnie has decided to follow God’s path, or plan for his life, however frightening it may be. The fact that he can clearly see his own path means he has a choice not to take it, just as Jesus knew his fate as he prayed in the garden after the Last Supper.

            To follow up on Donnie’s conversation with his psychiatrist, Dr. Thurman, it’s important to look at a later conversation that they have dealing with the same issues. In this conversation, they begin by talking about Frank, but the lines soon blur, and it seems as if they are both also speaking about God. Donnie starts by saying, “I have to obey him, he saved my life. I have to obey him or I’ll be left all alone. And then I won’t be able to figure out what this is all about. I won’t be able to know his master plan”. It is so unclear about whom they are talking at this point that Dr. Thurman even asks, “Do you mean God’s master plan? Do you now believe in God?” This conversation is very important because of the time that it takes place. Soon after this meeting, Donnie takes a life, and chooses to time travel back to the night where he sacrifices himself.

            The night that the world is to end is actually the night that Donnie makes the decision to follow along this self sacrificing path. It is Halloween, and he suddenly tells his girlfriend and other two friends that they have to go. He doesn’t tell them where there have to go, but they all follow him as he leads them to Roberta Sparrow’s home. Roberta Sparrow has become somewhat of a recluse. All day she walks back and forth from her house to the mailbox, crossing the street each time. We never really know why she is going to the mail box until the end of the film when we know that she is waiting for a letter from Donnie. Donnie and his girlfriend go into the cellar because of a hint given to Donnie that “cellar door” is the most beautiful formation of words in the English language. In the cellar they are attacked by two school bullies. As Donnie is held down by one at knife point he says, “Deus ex machina,” which means the God machine. He then says, “our savior”. Donnie is speaking about the car which is coming down the road. It saves him, only to allow him to sacrifice himself later on. Roberta Sparrow, nicknamed Grandma Death, causes the death of Donnie’s girlfriend Gretchen when the car swerves to avoid hitting the old woman on her habitual trips to the mailbox, only to run over Gretchen. At this point, we learn that the car that runs over Gretchen, was driven by Frank, a boy dressed for Halloween in a bunny suit. Donnie shoots Frank in the eye, and tells the other person in the car, “Go home and tell your parents that everything will be okay”. In an earlier scene Frank visits Donnie in a movie theatre and he takes off his mask. We see Frank as a teenager, only his eye has been shot out. What this tells us is that Frank is a guide from the future. He has already been killed, and yet he comes back to help Donnie follow God’s path. In a deleted scene Frank tells Donnie, “God loves his children. God loves you”. The other guide in the film is Roberta Sparrow. She knows her purpose, or God’s path for her, and she spends every day trying to fulfill it. Annie Young writes about Roberta Sparrow, “Sparrows are the birds most commonly associated with God’s providence. In the Bible, Jesus asks that we ‘consider the birds’ to understand how God will take care of us”.

            At the end of the film we hear Donnie’s letter to Roberta Sparrow, as he reverses time, which says this:
I’ve reached you in your book, but there’s so many things I need to ask you. Sometimes I’m afraid of what you might tell me. Sometimes I’m afraid that you might tell me this not a work of fiction. I can only hope that the answers will come to me in my sleep. I hope that when the world comes to an end, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to.

Again it is as if Donnie is talking to God, rather than Roberta Sparrow. And we see Donnie breathe a sigh of relief just before he is to die, which makes things better for everyone he leaves behind.

Surprisingly the religious correlations are not a problem in Southland Tales, because as he did with Donnie Darko, Kelly is able to bury the significance deep within an unrelated storyline and the use of a time-travel theory dealing specifically with a wormhole in time. In Donnie Darko the protagonist uses a wormhole to travel back and sacrifice himself, and Southland Tales allows the Christ-like figures the honor of time-travel as well, this time questioning the effects on the world having two identical souls existing at once. If Southland Tales had remained as focused on a singular character like Donnie Darko, it may have been just as fascinating. Unfortunately Kelly is not quite as talented at disguising political messages as he is religious, and this is where Kelly’s second film becomes convoluted and more than slightly over-ambitious.

I have no doubt that anyone willing to dig up the facts behind Southland Tales, including reading Revelations from the Bible, will find a deep wealth of meaning in the film. The real question is whether or not Southland Tales is worth the effort. Although I enjoy finding the details and nuances of Donnie Darko and continue to revisit it, I can’t imagine I could ever justify the same for Southland Tales, though there is no denying the continuation of themes which begun with Donnie Darko. Both films are preoccupied with ideas of time-travel, the deep philosophical questions raised with the act of time-travel, and least of importance is the similar aesthetic representation of the action. Most important seems to be the deeply biblical elements within the storylines, though Donnie Darko takes place in the 80s and Southland Tales is set in the future, all pointing to the distinct style and themes of writer/director Richard Kelly.


Film Noir Women in Alfred Hitchcock Films

Alfred Hitchcock is a name synonymous with suspense, essentially dominating this type of film through decades of film history. Coincidentally Hitchcock began making American films around the same time that a movement of film we would later come to know as film noir also began. These dark and cynical films often shared many stylistic elements with Hitchcock’s American films during this time, including the gothic thriller Rebecca and small-town suspense film Shadow of a Doubt. Perhaps it was these similarities which have drawn comparison between these two widely popular sub-categories of film, but upon looking closer it is obvious that Hitchcock remains in a category of his own, separate from film noir. In his essay “Hitchcock at the Margins of Noir,” James Naremore gives four reasons why Hitchcock has run more parallel to noir than a part of it, and rather than cover the same tracks I will look specifically at just one of them; the female characters and their treatment.

In his article “Inside Out: Hitchcock, Film Noir and David Lynch,” John Orr claims that “to label any crime thriller with dark menace and atmospheric lighting as ‘noir’ is not only misleading, it is so wide as to be vacuous,”[1] and for this reason I will not focus on the aesthetics of Hitchcock’s films. Despite the fact that Shadow of a Doubt relies on high and low angle shots and The Wrong Man exists in a shadowed big city, it is their treatment of women characters that will be my primary focus. For this reason Vertigo may appear far more in line with the ideals of film noir despite the well-lit color photography used in the film.

It is understandable that similarities be found in Hitchcock and film noir, especially considering the way his films handle female characters. After all, the world of film noir “is one in which women are central to the intrigue of the films,”[2] which shares many similarities to the world of Hitchcock. Hardly is there ever an inactive female participant in his films and in many they play a role as crucial as the protagonist, but it is in the treatment of these characters that Hitchcock and film noir differ. Orr claims that the “gender opposition of classic noir and Hitchcock pave the way for oppositions of surface and depth”.[3] In other words, the treatment of women may seem like a small element to use as a complete argument but it is the thematic implications of this element that is largely significant.
            Film noir is notable for having strong and independent female characters, so it may seem an obvious choice to examine the films Hitchcock has made with leading female characters, as “(a)gain and again, Hitchcock invited his audience to identify with the point of view of women”.[4] However, the women of film noir “derive power, not weakness, from their sexuality,”[5] whereas in films such as Suspicion, which is often considered a precursor to noir, the leading lady is meek and easily controlled. It is the men who seem to be in control, which is hardly the case for most film noir. While “noir typically pits the fall guy against his erotic adversary, the femme fatale, Hitchcock’s terms reverse it”[6] Although this is an interesting combination of unique elements from noir, the treatment of women comes from “a director who, in collaboration with Selznick, specialized in glossy, romantic, ‘women’s pictures’”[7] Instead I hope to find the women in Hitchcock’s films that fit more succinctly with those of film noir, and for this reason I will examine three films with male protagonists that are dragged into a spiraling abyss not unlike those from the classic period of film noir; The Wrong Man, Strangers on a Train, and Vertigo.

            Before looking specifically at these three films a short examination of the women in film noir is needed. Although there is no shortage of writing about the women of film noir, in his novel Street With No Name: A History of the Classic American Film Noir, Andrew Dickos lists the descriptions of female characters in film noir, claiming that there are some qualities that “remain indisputable”.[8] By looking closely at these I hope to discern any qualities in Hitchcock’s female characters that may fit.

            The first three qualities according to Dickos, refer to the characters that do not fit in the femme fatal category, whereas the remaining three deal specifically with the infamous depiction of post-World War II domineering femme fatale:

1. The leading female, even if she is not a femme fatale, must create “a sexual tension”[9]. With Hitchcock’s often sympathetic female characters, there is often little use for sexual tension, although Marnie is one example in which the leading female is desired by most men that encounter her.
2. The leading female must have an “independent or rebellious will.” Again, this doesn’t necessarily make them a femme fatale, and often their defiance from the man is either a selfless act or for the greater “good”.[10] Time after time again Hitchcock’s leading women were far more passive than their male counterpart, although Shadow of a Doubt has a female protagonist independent enough to uncover her uncle as a serial killer and ultimately lead to his demise. So independent, in fact, that she seems hesitant to fit in the first or third characteristic for non-femme fatale noir females.[11]
3. If she isn’t a femme fatale she is the “ingenious and clever conservative wife or girlfriend”.[12]
4. A femme fatale is motivated by three things; “exciting sex, a desire for wealth and the power it brings, and a need to control everything and everyone around her”.[13]
5. “The opacity of the femme fatale is a projection of the male desire to retain her in the role of the mystery woman—an enigma that satisfies as it arouses the unknowability of her hidden destructive powers”.[14]
6. The femme fatale must die, be mortally wounded, or in the very least arrested for her crimes.[15]

Roughly half of Hitchcock’s films involve an attempt to clear the besmirched name of a central figure, but none deal with the issue as directly as The Wrong Man. This is also a theme heavily used in film noir, another parallel leading many to link Hitchcock to this movement. In The Wrong Man Henry Fonda plays nightclub musician and family man Manny Balestrero, happy although struggling financially to make ends meet.
Janey Place
describes the world of film noir in this way:

The dominant world view expressed in film noir is paranoid, claustrophobic, hopeless, doomed, predetermined by the past, without clear moral or personal identity. Man has been inexplicably uprooted from those values, beliefs and endeavors that offer him meaning and stability, and in the almost exclusively urban landscape of film noir he is struggling or a foothold in a maze of right and wrong.[17]

This is the exact feeling that one gets watching The Wrong Man, almost as if Manny is merely a victim of the city itself. What is most significant is that Manny, like many noir protagonists, is an insignificant man that could seemingly be lost in the city without much changing, and “it is this feeling of being lost in a world of corporate values that are not sensitive to the needs and desires of the individual, that permeates film noir”[18] When Manny is wrongly accused of robbery it only promises more trouble for the family. Manny’s wife fears that he will not be cleared and she has a breakdown and is forced to enter a hospital for care. Even though Manny is cleared at the last minute when the real criminal is caught, Manny is still left with all of the problems caused by the accident, most importantly being his wife’s mental health.

            Although The Wrong Man has the situation, setting, and protagonist of a full-fledged film noir, the female representation is not fitting with any of Dickos qualities for women in noir. It is obvious that there are no femme fatale figures within the film that essentially only has one female character of importance; Manny’s wife. As a mother with a tooth-ache, struggling to keep spirits up for Manny and her children, there is no sexual tension to be found. She also doesn’t appear to be rebellious at all until she has a break-down and no longer believes Manny when he tells her it will be alright, and she certainly isn’t independent in any way when we last see her in the asylum. Although she is the wife of the protagonist, the connection to female characters in film noir ends there, because she isn’t clever and she certainly doesn’t improve Manny’s situation throughout the film. Her dedication seems to cave when the dark and unforgiving city finally gets the best of her. This is the closest that The Wrong Man seems to get to the gender themes of film noir, showing that “nothing—especially woman—is stable, nothing is dependable.”[19] Even with this brief connection to noir themes and the fact that The Wrong Man is a film “dominated by shadows, its action by pain” with characters in a “subterranean quest,” seemingly “fated to remain thwarted and trapped,”[20] The Wrong Man borrows from film noir only what it needs. Lesley Brill even remarks that Hitchcock makes the film so “dark and shadowed that it almost parodies the extreme chiaroscuro of film noir”[21]

Many have listed Strangers on a Train as one of Hitchcock’s most noir-like films, and this may have something to do with the haphazard way that the protagonist, Guy Haines, stumbles into a situation where he is trapped between two impossible situations; murdering an innocent person or risking imprisonment for a crime he did not commit. Looking at these elements alone, however, would do more to show the film as far from noir, whereas it is the portrayal of women that truly makes it noir-like. As Brill points out in The Hitchcock Romance, although it comes with the price of murder, the film “ends with the exoneration of a falsely accused innocent and with his marriage,”[22] and for these reasons Brill goes so far as to label Strangers on a Train a comedy. Even so, the female characters in the film are worth examination, as Guy’s wife seems as close as Hitchcock ever came to a femme fatale from start to demise.

Although Miriam is Guy’s wife, she is not his love interest in the film nor will she divorce him and allow him to be with the woman he does love, and for that reason Guy is stuck in an impossible relationship. Each of these women are definitive representations of film noir characters, despite the rest of the film lacking many noir qualities which were plentiful in The Wrong Man. Miriam’s refusal to divorce shows that she has turned “love into possessiveness,”[23] unwilling to give up her comfortable lifestyle. “Self-interest over devotion to a man is often the original sin of the film noir woman,”[24] and Miriam has no interest in her husband’s feelings, only caring for her own. It also shows her need to control the situation and have power over her husband, which is another quality of the femme fatale. Even while remaining married she greedily supplements her salary with younger men, and even as Bruno goes to kill her there is a slight flirtation between them beforehand. Miriam is apparently enticed by “exciting sex”[25] as well as wealth, because as Bruno advances on Miriam in the wooded area, she does not scream out, but welcomes him despite the two other men she is with in the woods. Most importantly for the femme fatale, Miriam dies. Although Miriam dies early on and does not have a lasting control over the protagonist, but this is not uncommon of a femme fatale in some film noir. For example, in the classic young lovers on the run film noir, They Live by Night, “the strain of romanticism is far more important than that of the spider woman, who is in this film a minor character.”[26] Even though Miriam does not last the majority of the film alive she shows strong characteristics of a femme fatale.

            Although Miriam is small character, it was not uncommon for the ‘good girl redeemer’ to “countered sexual femme fatale temptresses in many noir pictures.”[27] Ann, Guy’s new lover and future wife, fills this “opposite female archetype” character who “gives love, understanding, asks very little in return and is generally visually passive and static.”[28] Ann is not entirely static, but instead plays a hand in helping Guy outsmart Bruno, and standing by him even after finding out that he knew the man that murdered her future husband’s ex-wife. This unbelievable dedication is dedicated to Guy, whereas the “redeemer” woman of film noir is always on the side of justice, even if it brings about the downfall of her lover. Equally noticeable is the attractiveness of Ann, which far exceeds Miriam, both because of her small-town demeanor and the thick glasses she wears. In the film noir world it is highly unusual for the ‘redeemer’ character to appear more attractive than the femme fatale, and Ann’s status as the daughter of a political figure makes her even more appealing, and Miriam even more disposable. Hitchcock seems to be playing with the preconceived roles that audiences are accustomed to, and this is not merely in regards to the women characters.

            Another perspective that is often taken is that Bruno, rather than Miriam, is the femme fatale. I suppose the correct term would be homme fatale, but the implication is that Bruno is seducing Guy into this trap, in order to use him for his celebrity. Bruno already has wealth, but he wants celebrity, showing the vanity often seen in the femme fatale. Either way the film is read, it is a variation from the expected film noir archetypes.

            A significant aspect of film noir is the fact that “the norm of the bourgeois family becomes markedly absent and unattainable; at the same time as the female figure becomes more central in the plot than usual,” which is the case for Vertigo as well. Although Hitchcock often focused on the women in his suspense films, in Vertigo the woman “becomes the object of the hero’s investigation.”[29] The female figure that is the focus of the film and the investigation in Vertigo even seems to be a femme fatale in the clearest sense of the word as she fools our protagonist into witnessing a murder in the belief that it is suicide. If the film were to continue on this path, or even end at this point, Vertigo may have all of the clear distinctions of a full-fledged film noir as “the film noir detective is usually duped, most likely by the femme fatale.”[30] , but Hitchcock once again pulls the rug out from beneath the viewer’s feet.

Without going into detail about the style of the film, it is still important to mention that film noir’s “emphasis on style undermines the investigative narrative structure so that the truth behind the mystery under investigation often remains unclear at the end,”[31] but this isn’t the case with Hitchcock’s Vertigo because of his treatment of women. While a classic noir would stick with the fall guy for the whole film, never explaining the back-story of the femme fatale, Vertigo suddenly and inexplicably “shows the world from the woman’s point of view”[32]

In traditional film noir, “not only is the hero frequently not sure whether the woman is honest or a deceiver, but the heroine’s characterization is itself fractured so that it is not evident to the audience whether she fills the stereotype or not,”[33]and yet Vertigo tells us our femme fatale, Madeleine, is actually Judy. Once we see the scheme that Judy was a part of, pretending to be Madeleine in order to help her husband kill her in a way that looks like suicide, “Hitchcock transforms his would-be femme fatale into a nervous fall-girl, manipulated then abandoned.”[34] While Judy as Madeleine clearly seemed to fit with the characteristics of a femme fatale, strong and ruthless for money and control, once we know her secret she seems timid, nervous and ultimately fallible. Interestingly enough she still fits with the final quality of the femme fatale by dying, but the element of mystery is no longer remaining. She also shows a great deal of remorse, as John Orr explains:

(T)he femme fatale ends up more often a figure  of transparency than of mystery, a woman who clearly dissembles and not a woman of guilt, remorse, dilemma and hesitation. The noir femme fatale is disconcerting because of the absence of guilt, the Hitchcock heroine disconcerting because of the excess of guilt.[35]

This is certainly not the behavior of a femme fatale, nor is the behavior of any female character in the movement, but it does seem familiar with many other Hitchcock females. The meek and passive behavior from Judy is more reminiscent of Suspicion or Rebecca than any film noir, and James Stewart’s character seems to become harsher in this second part of the film as well, leading Orr to believe Vertigo is a “tale of two installments, the first in the role of feminized fall-guy and the second in the guise of ruthless homme fatale, while Novak’s is the same journey in reverse.[36]

            Alfred Hitchcock is known for his methods that transfer guilt within his films, often fleshing out the villain in order to make them just as relatable as the protagonist. A flawed protagonist is not uncommon for noir either, but usually the villainous characters are unquestionably bad. By the end of most film noir the femme fatale is easily discernable, and her punishment less than subtle, but Hitchcock plays with these notions as he does the notions of guilt and innocence. Therefore we are left wondering who is to blame in The Wrong Man, who the femme fatale might be in Strangers on a Train, and uncertain of which sex is to blame in Vertigo.

The Wrong Man’s treatment of women doesn’t seem to imply that they are to blame, as film noir often did, but the mental instability of the protagonist’s wife also makes a bad situation worse, and essentially prevents the positive outcome from seeming as cheerful as it could be. Strangers on a Train offers several options for either femme fatale or homme fatale, opening up the possible readings of the film. Vertigo takes the same idea step further, focusing on fall guy until we are suddenly brought into the femme fatale’s perspective and she seems to become the fall-girl. All of these roles have similarities to those in film noir, but as Naremore’s article is titled, Hitchcock seems content to remain on the edges of film noir, perhaps as a way for him to easily borrow and comment on the themes within the context of his suspense films. 


Berry, Sarah “She’s Too Everything: Marriage and Masquerade in Rear Window and To Catch a ThiefHitchcock Annual (2001-2002) p.79-107

Biesen, Sheri Chinen. Black Out: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir. Baltimore. The John Hopkins University Press, 2005

Borde, Raymond; Chaumeton, Etienne. A Panorama of American Film Noir. Les Editions de Minuit, 1955

Brill, Lesley. The Hitchcock Romance: Love and Irony in Hitchcock’s Films. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988

Dickos, Andrew. Street With No Name: A History of the Classic American Film Noir. Lexington. The University Press of Kentucky, 2002

Gledhill, Christine. “Klute 1: A Contemporary Film Noir and Feminist Criticism”.

Harvey, Silvia. “Woman’s Place: The Absent Family of Film Noir”
Kaplan, E. Ann. Women in Film Noir. British Film Institute. London, 1987
Naremore, James. “Hitchcock at the Margins of Noir” Alfred Hitchcock Centenary Essays.

Naremore, James. More Than Night. University of California Press. London, 1998

Oliver, Kelly; Trigo, Benigno. Noir Anxiety. Minneapolis; University of Minnesota Press, 2003

Orr, John. “Inside Out: Hitchcock, Film Noir and David Lynch” Hitchcock and Twentieth-Century Cinema. London: Wallflower Press, 2002

Place, Janey. “Women in film Noir” Women in Film Noir Ed. E. Ann Kaplan. London; BFI, 1980

Rabinowitz, Paula. Black & White & Noir: America’s Pulp Modernism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002

Walsh, Andrea S. Women’s Film and Female Experience. New York; Praeger publishers, 1984

[1] Orr, John. “Inside Out: Hitchcock, Film Noir and David Lynch” Hitchcock and Twentieth-Century Cinema. London: Wallflower Press, 2002

[2] Kaplan, E. Ann. Women in Film Noir. British Film Institute. London, 1987; p.2
[3] Orr, John. “Inside Out: Hitchcock, Film Noir and David Lynch”
[4] Naremore, James. “Hitchcock at the Margins of Noir” Alfred Hitchcock Centenary Essays. 272
[5] Place, Janey. “Women in film Noir” Women in Film Noir London; BFI, 1980 ; p.35

[6] Orr, John. “Inside Out: Hitchcock, Film Noir and David Lynch” Hitchcock and Twentieth-Century Cinema. London: Wallflower Press, 2002
[7] Naremore, James. “Hitchcock at the Margins of Noir” 272
[8] Dickos, Andrew. Street With No Name: A History of the Classic American Film Noir. Lexington. The University Press of Kentucky, 2002; p. 161
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid. p.163
[11] She neither creates sexual tension or willing to commit to the police man courting her throughout the film, up to the last shot of the film as they stand outside the church at her uncle’s funeral.
[12] Dickos, Andrew. Street With No Name: A History of the Classic American Film Noir. 163
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid
[15] Ibid. p.164
[16] Brill, Lesley. The Hitchcock Romance: Love and Irony in Hitchcock’s Films. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988; p.23
[17] Place, Janey. “Women in film Noir”; p.41
[18] Harvey, Silvia. “Woman’s Place: The Absent Family of Film Noir”; p.27

[19] Place, Janey. “Women in film Noir”; p.41
[20] Brill, Lesley. The Hitchcock Romance: Love and Irony in Hitchcock’s Films. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988; 113
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid. p.74
[23] Ibid. p.82
[24] Place, Janey. “Women in film Noir”; p.47
[25] Dickos, Andrew. Street With No Name: A History of the Classic American Film Noir. 163
[26] Place, Janey. “Women in film Noir”; p.39
[27] Biesen, Sheri Chinen. Black Out: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir. Baltimore. The John Hopkins University Press, 2005; 36
[28] Place, Janey. “Women in film Noir”; p.46
[29] Gledhill, Christine. “Klute 1: A Contemporary Film Noir and Feminist Criticism”. (p.15)
[30] Oliver, Kelly; Trigo, Benigno. Noir Anxiety. Minneapolis; University of Minnesota Press, 2003; p.99

[31] Ibid. p.98-99
[32] Naremore, James. “Hitchcock at the Margins of Noir” 276
[33] Gledhill, Christine. “Klute 1: A Contemporary Film Noir and Feminist Criticism”. (p.18)
[34] Orr, John. “Inside Out: Hitchcock, Film Noir and David Lynch”
[35] Ibid.
[36] Ibid.

Prisoner of Home

The Horror of Confinement in Post-9/11 Invasion Narratives

(The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book on politics in post-9/11 horror cinema)


The political and social climate from September 11, 2001 to the devastation left in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina has influenced a new trend in home invasion horror narratives, specifically the use of confinement. The invasion narratives are easily examined in the psycho-killer film, as well as creature, alien, zombie, and vampire invasion sub-genres, showing government to be damaging and ineffective while victims are ultimately innocent and uninformed.  
Using a historical approach of examination for contrast and comparison, this thesis studies the particular sub-genres of horror film which tend to lend themselves to anxieties during times of national instability and insecurity, as well as unearthing the differences which align them to the specific fears in post-9/11 America. Films of varying narratives still align to a similar allegorical message of the times, including Funny Games, The Strangers, Quarantine, Blindness, The Mist and Cloverfield.

Table of Contents



I.          Introduction……………………………………………………………………….1

                        Focus of the Study……………………………………………………...1

                        Significance of the Study ………………………………………………4

                        Review of Literature……………………………………………………..10

                        Chapter Outline…………………………………………………………..16

II.                A  History of Trauma and Horror in America…………………………………...20


Leadership ..……………………………………………………………..24

Civil Liberties……………………………………………………………29

III.             Prisoner of Home I:  Confinement by Deviant Monsters………………………..42

Post 9/11………………………………………………………………43

Home Invasion…………………………………………………………...52




IV.             Prisoner of Home II: Large Scale Invasions …………………..………………...76

The History of the Creature Invasion…………………………………….77
            Monster .......……………………………………………………..82

            Confinement ...…………………………………………………...84


                        The History of Alien Invasion…………………………………………...93

                                    Monster ………………………………………………………….95
                                    Confinement.……………………………………………………. 97


V.                Prisoner of Home III:  Infectious Disease and Government Betrayal …...…….105

The History of Viral Vampires…………………………………………106



The History of Zombie Infection…………………………………….113


            Confinement …………………………………………………...118


Conclusion   ……………………………………………………………………………126

Works Cited…………………………………………………………………………….130

Chapter I:  Introduction

Focus of the Study

            The goal of this project is to locate and examine a new trend in horror films released in post-9/11 American mainstream cinema: depiction of confinement. These films show a social distrust in the safety of home, many of which have protagonists physically confined in their own homes or other familial locations. These horror films can be seen as a reflection of concerns and worries of the American people. Even though masked by the nightmarish exaggerations meant to titillate and entertain, these films ultimately show that horror film “responds directly or indirectly to currents beyond the film industry itself” (Worland 119). In this particular case the public’s fear of further attacks after 9/11, along with an increased distrust in the American government after the manipulations and lies discovered in starting an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq and the treatment of New Orleans citizens following Hurricane Katrina, is voiced through a new trend in horror films.
As Rick Worland points out, from Universal’s classic monster films during the Great Depression to the alien invasion films during the Korean War and the Cold War, “a given phase of the horror film often reveals something about the times that produced it, exposing the anxieties and outright fears of those days” (56). In the 1970s America saw one of the most violent periods of horror films it had seen yet with films such as Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Last House on the Left (1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and Dawn of the Dead (1978), which Robin Wood connects to the horror of Vietnam, Watergate and the trying political environment of the late 1960s and early 1970s, in his fundamental book, Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan.
Once again divided by an unpopular war, an untrustworthy president, and an unreliable government, the emergence of a new high (or low) in violent American horror films appeared after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. This research aims to unmask the particular concerns manifested in films where Americans are attacked and quarantined in some representation of home, and to reveal the social concerns which inspired this current trend in horror films.  For example, an increased fear in contagious disease and biochemical warfare can be seen as a result of the Anthrax anxiety in the early 2000s. This has led to a trend in films where the home (or homeland) is no longer safe, and the terror often becomes literally and metaphorically paralyzing, often with innocent victims held prisoner in their own home.
            The series of so-called ‘torture porn’[1] films which began appearing in post-9/11 cinema, such as the Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005) franchises, certainly present ample material for examining the mindset of the American social consciousness of the time, but what is more interesting is the surprisingly less violent films I define as ‘prisoner of home’ horror films. Terror gives way to gore and the unknown becomes far more significant than creative deaths, but most significant is the choice of setting. The Saw films are most often set in a labyrinth of torture chambers in abandoned buildings and Hostel offers unsuspecting tourists to be tortured in a foreign country. The ‘prisoner of home’ horror films, on the other hand, often have the protagonists confined to a limited area before finally dying, though the element of free will is always available to the victims and fear is most of often the cause of confinement. The focus is on the protagonist’s inability to leave this confined area, ultimately leading to their demise, rather than on the torture elements seen in the ‘torture porn’ films. 
            The study will reveal that the horror films including The Strangers (2008), Funny Games U.S. (2007), The Mist (2007), Cloverfield (2008), War of the Worlds (2005), The Invasion (2007), Blindness (2008) and Quarantine (2008) show the beginnings of a trend in American horror, in which an unknown assailant fills the home or homeland with terror and danger. Just as significant as the commonalities between these films and the fears of times in which they were produced, is the deviation from the genre and sub-genre norms. The ‘prisoner of home’ films are examined within the tradition of the psycho-killer film, the creature-feature, the alien invasion film, the vampire and the zombie film. 
The Strangers has an innocent couple attacked at a childhood vacation cabin. The strangers attacking them are far more interested in tormenting than the actual act of killing, with a focus on terror that can’t be ignored with the current ‘war on terror,’ a similar preference to the one shared by two well-dressed young killers in Funny Games U.S. These proper, polite and well-groomed Caucasian boys go from one luxurious private lake-side home to the next, killing the families only after playing games that they seem to enjoy much more than the killing itself, allowed the luxury of time and privacy in each spacious home.  Quarantine and The Mist vary the setting slightly by entrapping the victims in an apartment building and a small-town grocery store, while Cloverfield, War of the Worlds and The Invasion show a nation under attack, though the implications remain the same as the films with attacks on the individual home. The films analyzed in this project occupy one basic mindset; that the home is no longer a safe place.
            In this thesis, I argue that understanding the common thread of home and safety being in danger brings an understanding to the social anxieties of American society during these times. The confinement can be seen in films with psychopathic killers who invade homes and terrorize American families before killing them, while other film using confinement as the ultimate tool of terror do so with government quarantines.  Examples include Quarantine (2008), in which an apartment building of citizens is prevented from leaving their home when a contagious disease is discovered, or Doomsday (2008), which has an entire country quarantined and abandoned, or even I Am Legend (2007), which is one of several post-9/11 films to feature a quarantine of New York City after an invasion or viral outbreak. These films have something to say about social concerns of the people during a time when hurricane victims can get no help and terrorist attacks remain a real fear, and upon readings of these films faith in the United States government is at an all-time low. The films Blindness and Quarantine, among others, will present the indications of distrust in government and the institutions put in place to help us by showing members of these institutions as untrustworthy. In The Mist, the government is even the cause of the disaster. These ‘prisoner of home’ films are representatives of the collective fear as Americans that we are no longer safe at home.

Significance of the Study

            In his book, Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan, Robin Wood states that “to study the evolution of a genre is to study the evolution of a national (un)consciousness,” (118) and this new trend of horror films presents vital grounds for discovering a common set of fears shared by Americans. As a significant way of examining the concerns and/or social consciousness of the American people, this study serves to uncover a new trend in American horror films which expose a fear of home invasion and government abandonment. As Robin Wood and Rick Worland in have found political motivation behind significant Vietnam era horror films, and as Susan Sontag’s essay “The Imagination of Disaster” ascribed fear of the atomic bomb and communist invasion in Cold War Hollywood science fiction, I will illustrate similar use of the genre to voice American concerns in the post-9/11 era. Worland states the significance best;
Understanding the changing historical patterns in which horror movies function, as well as grasping the unique properties horror brings to any cultural debate, illuminates vital aspects of the genre as well as the shifting concerns of the larger society. (119)

            The significance of the study also extends beyond the horror genre and into other genre films. The ‘prisoner of home’ films prove to be one clear representation of the feeling of looming danger and distrust, specifically in that which was once considered safe and reliable. This new trend takes a drastically different approach than the horror films of the 80s and 90s, exposing a rampant level of fear and confusion in the contemporary American social consciousness. Many of these horror films look on a smaller scale at the safety of home, while other films have begun to examine the safety of our government, and even our country.
The safety of the home is threatened with unexpected attacks in The Strangers (2008) and Funny Games (2007). The entire country, if not the world, looks to be lost by unknown diseases or unseen attacks in The Happening (2007), Doomsday (2008), and any number of zombie films, not to mention the giant monster in Cloverfield (2008) which destroys Manhattan in a series of images both apocalyptic and frighteningly similar to those captured by amateur photographers on 9/11. The mistrust in government can be found in the military experiments which cause an apocalyptic situation in The Mist, and government is also seen to use quarantine as a solution in Blindness (2008), Quarantine (2008) and Doomsday (2008), which is particularly familiar when compared to the footage New Orleans flood victims prevented from crossing the bridges to leave the city, held in the disaster zone by gunpoint.[2] 
This distrust in government can also be found in other genre films, whether in the distrustful government officials seen as villains in recent comic book adaptations such as Iron Man (2008) and The Incredible Hulk (2008), or the increasingly volatile portrayal of a cop with no respect for individual citizen’s property in Lakeview Terrace (2008) the loss of privacy from government intrusion in the action-fantasy Eagle Eye (2008), or even the latest entry into the Terminator franchise.[3]
            In order to understand the significance and uniqueness of this particular horror trend, it is important to look at how the genre has changed due to the attacks on American soil and untrustworthy government action and/or inaction. Panic Room (2002) lays a base as the first film released after 9/11 to address the fears of home safety, but it also provides the opportunity to examine the shift towards a fatalistic view with an increased distrust in the protection of the government. Before determining the significance of any film, it is first important to recognize the specifics of the genre it seems to adhere to, and while Panic Room provides a basis of understanding for the psychopath home invasion films, Signs (2002) does the same for the alien invasion film, and 28 Days Later (2002) for zombie outbreak films.
Robin Wood--and several scholars since--has pillaged the significance of films during Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement and Watergate, but little has been written about recent horror films and the collective fears that they portray in the days following war in Iraq, the devastating military procedures in Abu Ghraib[4], and what has been coined ‘Katrinagate’. This lack of attention on the horror genre during this significant time of political and social distress provides a gap worth investigating in order to find a common thread of national fears and concerns.
Chapter Outline
            Chapter Two, “A History of Horror,” establishes a theoretical framework and historical background which will help to best understand the significance of this select group of domestic horror films released after 9/11. David J. Skal, among other scholars, provides historical background that show horror films to be both critically and financially successful at times of social unrest and national crisis, from Dracula (1931) during the Great Depression to George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) during the Vietnam War. Adam Lowenstein sees horror films as a cultural means of navigating the historical trauma, which creates a ‘wound’ in the national consciousness.
The ‘wounds’ in question were caused by the damaging effects of 9/11 on the American psyche as well as the damage done to the American spirit after the poor treatment of New Orleans citizens following Hurricane Katrina. Finally, to conclude the chapter, Robert C. Solomon’s essay, “Real Horror,” provides both theoretical framework for pre-9/11 horror films and a comparison to what Solomon calls ‘real-life’ horror, which along with a brief history of the genre provides a base point for examining the fears caused by 9/11 and a starting point for examining similar threats in post-9/11 horror films.
Chapter Three, “Prisoner of Home I: Confinement by Deviant Monsters” is the first of two chapters examining new trends in horror films post-9/11, beginning with David Fincher’s Panic Room, which can be seen as the first post-9/11 film relevant to this study, despite the fact that production had begun prior to the terrorist attacks. Panic Room’s press material made a certain point of emphasizing the increase in public concern for home security after 9/11; even not having been planned as the first post-9/11 horror, Panic Room was promoted as such, dealing with the cultural fears of being attacked at home. Although Panic Room has an unsettling ending[5], comparing it with the later ‘prisoner of home’ films makes clear an increasingly pessimistic and apocalyptic view of the world. This pessimism in later films can be found in the increased innocence of victims, which soon became common practice in this new trend in horror films which has average Americans being trapped in their own home and murdered. In each of these films, including The Strangers (2008), the victims are killed without the identity of the killer or the motive for violence ever being revealed, which clearly departs from the somewhat sympathetic attackers in Panic Room, which can be linked to the faceless and seemingly unwarranted attacks on September 11th. 
            Nearly every attacker after Panic Room is, for the most part, identity-void. In The Strangers the assailants wear masks, only exposing their face to the victims, but never the camera. The killers in Funny Games U.S. (2007) remain unsympathetic despite showing their face by never exposing intentions or motivations for their actions, giving different responses each time they are asked.
Chapter Four, “Prisoner of Home II: Large Scale Invasions” continues the model established by the psychopath ‘prisoner of home’ films, applying it to films of larger scale home invasion. With the return of the creature-feature and the revival of the alien invasion film, films such as Cloverfield (2008), The Mist (2007), War of the Worlds (2005) and Signs (2002) expand the ‘prisoner of home’ trend beyond the individual home, though remaining focused on its representation.
The other manner in which the killer remains faceless and unsympathetic is by coming in the form of a biological threat. As with the anthrax attacks, the true attacker’s identity may never be known, with only the biological weapon remaining as a clue to the destructive act. Quarantine (2008) features an altered strain of rabies unleashed in an apartment building, Blindness (2008) a disease that causes blindness, and in Doomsday (2007) a virus that threatens to destroy all of Scotland.
            Chapter Five, “Prisoner of Home III: Infectious Monsters” continues examining the fear of an unknown threat at home moving beyond the literal attacks at home to other examples, such as biological warfare and uncontainable diseases. Looking at the increase of films about being trapped or kept in fear of attack from an unknown assailant outside of the limited selection that are kept in their home opens the research up to include films of people trapped in grocery stores, apartment buildings, and even countries. These films continue to show a fear of being trapped in a place that can not be escaped, but many also carry the included feeling of being abandoned, and in most cases it is by government authorities or officials. In Quarantine (2008) a news crew is quarantined in an apartment building that contains an infected person, in Blindness (2008) a group of people are quarantined together when contaminated with a disease that causes blindness and in Doomsday (2008) an entire country is quarantined and abandoned with a false hope that help is coming, both of which contain an animosity towards government and authority positions that was not present in the films immediately following September 11th.
               The switch from mere pessimism about survival to fear of abandonment by the government appears to have increased prior to the treatment in both the preparation of hurricane protection and the delayed response in helping the lower class citizens of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina broke the levees and flooded the city. In these films the familiar is turned frightening when the Government is the one preventing the victims from escaping their fate, whether disease, murder or insanity. In many ways these films suggest a return of the “repressed” members of society, in a manner similar to Robin Wood’s findings in the 70s, though there is no distinction between race, sexuality, or class in most of the films. [6] This fear of imminent attack and distrust in the hope of government or political hope in films such as Doomsday (2008), The Happening (2008), The Mist (2007) and the upcoming adaptation from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road lend to an increase in apocalyptic films. The films in this trend, with complete lack of sympathy for the monsters and the demise of countless innocent citizens without help from the government even when they are able, seem to lend themselves to the pessimistic tones of apocalyptic horror. 

[1] This trend in horror films features creatively gruesome deaths as the main attraction, with a tendency to remove focus on the chase and instead making captivity, torture, and escape the main focus.
[2] This footage along with interviews from the victims of the forced quarantine can be seen in Spike Lee’s four-part documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2005).
[3] Terminator Salvation takes place in the apocalyptic setting of the future, when the fear is no longer of nuclear war (which has essentially already occurred), but instead revolves around the surprise of robots being synthetically altered to appear human.
[4] As seen in Errol Morris’s documentary, Standard Operating Procedure (2008) or the Academy Award Winning Taxi to the Dark Side (2007).
[5] Although eventually escaping the intruders, the protagonists still choose to leave the apartment in search of somewhere safe, an idea that seems an illusion by the conclusion of the film.
[6] In Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan, Wood argues that in finding a political reading of horror films it is the monster who represents the repressed member or group of society; conflicts he saw to be directly centered on class/wealth, gender, race and sexual orientation.

We Are What We Watch
An examination of the effects of television and film
 on romance and marriage

            Within this paper I will examine the effects that film and television have on our culture in the modern American homes, specifically dealing with issues of romance and marriage. These two issues may seem to be the same thing in many ways, but we find that as we examine the media, they must be separate. There is no need for romance between a married couple, unless it is with someone other than their husband or wife.
            Within romance we will examine how standards of infinite happiness are set in such a way that we can never achieve them in our daily lives, which may subsequently lead us to have feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Rather than being content, we search for the perfect moment that is only achieved in film, because of its ability to last for an eternity.
            Within marriage we will examine the use of adultery, both as a tool for arousal and as a warning. Within this attempt to achieve either of these, we will find that it is impossible for it not to bleed somewhat into the other. A great deal of this has to do with what each viewer brings to the picture, and how the film affects people differently depending on what baggage they bring with them.
            The last thing to be examined will be the loss of strong male role models in film and television, and the uprising of bumbling idiots, abusive fathers, and addicted men. The increase of strong women seem to have taken over for the men from the past, now leaving them to be clowns.

When one examines our society, it is impossible not to look at the pop culture we consume on a daily basis as an important fiber in what our society stands for. With the amount of time we spend listening to music, reading books, and watching movies, it makes sense that these things may influence the way we live somehow. The other way to look at these pop culture mediums would be to say that they represent what we already are. Either way, they are obviously a large part of what we are, changing as our society changes. For the purpose of this paper we will focus on film and television exclusively, and specifically what it has done to romance and marriage, or conversely, what film and television have to say about them.
            Before examining what film and television have to say, it is first important that we look to see how the messages affect us in our every day life. Although most research has focused on how violence affects young children, most of this research can be applied to nearly every message shown through film and television. It seems that nearly every time something goes wrong, media is questioned, and in some cases blamed without proof. The problem with this isn’t that media is not at all responsible, but that there is far more to examine within the situation. Simply blaming media is at the same time taking blame away from the guilty party. The fact of the matter is that there is one more thing to examine within the situation. As Comstock, Chaffee, Katzman, McCombs, and Roberts agree in their book Television and Human Behavior;

There yet remains one major variable: the factor of [opportunity] to display the learned behavior. The role of opportunity has not been systematically examined within studies, although several experiments make it clear that the display of behavior may depend upon the presence of eliciting conditions.  (1978; pg.447)

Without the opportunity to act out situations seen on film or television, the opportunity must first arise. If a young boy is never exposed to guns in his home, the chances of him having a gun to mimic the video games he plays is minimal. The same goes for any situation more relevant to the topic I have chosen to examine. If a husband never allows himself to be alone with his secretary, the odds of him beginning an adulterous affair with her are less likely. It takes more than just a subject to watch the film or television show that show qualities which are unacceptable in our society. The subject must also encounter a situation in which the film or television show can be imitated. It also usually takes more than just one opportunity as well, as the authors of Television and Human Behavior say, “Over many trials, behavior for which there is more frequent opportunity will be displayed more often, and this experience will in itself reinforce those acts at the expense of others.” (1978; pg.447)
            Although a great deal of emphasis is being placed upon the opportunity to act out as others have in the media we have consumed, we must remember that the focus of this argument is directed towards violence. The argument is taking blame off of media slightly, saying that we must remove the opportunity to do these things, but this argument only works so well when dealing with violence. What about romance and marriage? These are simple things which are prevalent in media. As Badal says in his book Romance in film: volume 1; from the silent era to 1950, “Romance and romanticism have been a part of the human experience since the start of recorded history. The belief that there is something more to life than the relentless demands of the everyday has found its expression in literature, dance, the visual arts, and music.” (2001; pg.5) We are naturally drawn towards watching romance and marriage in film and television, especially since these are issues close to our hearts. Yet, we must realize that these issues are close to our hearts because of the great amount of time spent dealing with them, which also means many opportunities to act out situations which we have seen in media. Suddenly an argument which was meant to take some of the blame off of the media has placed it back on it, if only in a different context.
In a strange way we also seem to be mimicking what we see. As much as we may make mistakes which we have seen on television as normal, we must ask ourselves why we believe it to be normal in the first place. As Klosterman says in his book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs;

The main problem with mass media is that it makes it impossible to fall in love with any acumen of normalcy. There is no “normal,” because everybody is twisted by the same sources simultaneously. You can’t compare your relationship with the playful couple who lives next door, because they’re probably modeling themselves after Chandler Bing and Monica Geller. Real people are actively trying to live like fake people, so real people are no less fake. (2003; pg.4-5)

Soon the lines are blurred, and it is impossible to tell what we have learned to strive for because we have seen it on television or in our favorite movie, and what we know to be true because of more reliable sources. There is one thing which is completely undeniable; the media is affecting us somehow, and if this is true, we should begin to understand what it represents and what it is trying to say to us.
            In his book Feminine sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the Ecole freudienne, Lacan said, ““Love rarely comes true, as each of us knows, and it only last for a time.” (1983: 170) Although many of us may know this to be true, most people would still admit that they have a deep desire to try and achieve this often fleeting emotion. Notions of true love flow freely through our heads as we go on dates, flock to bars, and meet an attractive person of the opposite sex for the first time. Love is something very important to us, and seems to be directly connected with life itself. So, “It was inevitable that romance, the most feeling part of the human experience, would find its way into the new invention/art form of the late 19th century: moving pictures.” (Badal 2001: pg.9)
Even if media affects the way that we think about issues, they are the issues which we find to be important. A housewife living in northern California is not likely to be affected by watching a television program about gangs in Japan. She may feelings and emotions about what she is watching, but is unlikely that it will change her behavior from day to day. If the same woman were to watch another program, however, which was about a housewife who is tired of her ungrateful husband and decides to stand up for herself, it is more likely that this program will directly affect her demeanor, even if she does not imitate the program entirely.
Romance, however, is an issue which can reach a large amount of people, therefore it is used a great deal in media. As Fuery says in his book New developments in film theory, ““Love is one of the primary processes of cinema, not just at the level of representation (of which it occupies a central role in a great many films), but also as a type of cinematic drive which in turn produces an amatory economy.” (2000: pg.94) Since the very beginning of film, love quickly became a hot topic. In 1896 a simple movie titled The Kiss had actors John C. Rice and May Irwin simply kissing. From this moment cinematic obsession with love began. The only problem is film is the illusion of reality, but not truly reality as we know it. So, as much as we may watch films and hope for a romantic relationship as true as Lloyd Dobler and
Diane Court
had in Say Anything, the fact is that they don’t really exist. Although in film Lloyd and Diane will forever remain in the state of love which we leave them at in the last frame of the film, this is not life as we know it. If it were, all of us would reach a point where we feel we could have a happy moment, and live forever in that moment. Unfortunately/fortunately that is not possible. Many of us may have achieved moments similar to those we admire in film but when they don’t last we dismiss them as being “fake”, and continue to search. In truth, there is no way to hold a moment in time the way a film can, and by striving for this we are destined to be disappointed.
The way that film deals with love is very specific. It is very important “that cinema deals with, and constantly returns to, love locates it as part of a cultural order. In this relationship film contributes to (through participation, challenges to, reformulating) a culture’s discourse of love.” (Fuery  2000: pg.94) When watch a film, we know that it will end at a certain time, generally somewhere between seventy minutes and three hours. We have dedicated that much time to watching that particular story, and most times expect some conclusion, and in the case of American film it is generally a happy conclusion. As Wood says in his book Sexual politics and narrative film: Hollywood and beyond, “The insistence on optimism in American culture necessitated the ‘happy ending’ of the classical Hollywood film, a final ideological straitjacket that many directors devoted so much energy and ingenuity to circumventing.” (1998: pg.37) This happy ending usually results in the boy and the girl embracing, leaving us with a feeling of certainty it will be a perfect life for them and they will never separate. We are hardly ever left with feelings of doubt, questioning the possibilities of divorce in the years to follow the curtain of the film. This is not how the process of cinema works. As far as we know, Thelma and Louis are still frozen in time, flying off of the cliff. Although we may use logic to assume that they continued to fall and died together, if this was the feeling we were supposed to get, why was it not shown? In truth, Thelma and Louis are immortalized because we don’t see them die, just as every relationship which ends happy in a film, shall forever remain as happily ever after as they were in the moment we left them.
Television works in an entirely different way. Each episode might provide some closure to a situation, but it isn’t the end. The next week it will continue, and because of this, television is allowed constant fluctuation which is not possible for films. Even with the creation of a sequel, the entire story arc must be re-created, making it an entirely different story. Television continues with no end in sight, aside from the few shows which have announced the season to be the last. In order to understand this better, I will compare Say Anything to the television series Friends.
Say Anything, a film by Cameron Crowe, follows a very specific plot structure which has been around for many years. Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, and finally, boy wins girl back. Lloyd Dobler, decides to pursue the smartest girl at his school,
Diane Court
, at the end of their senior year. Lloyd is such a nice guy that he is able to win Diane over. He isn’t the most charming guy, nor is he the brightest or most handsome, but Lloyd is sweet and caring, and that is enough for Diane to fall in love with him. This all falls apart when Diane realizes that she will be leaving for college, and she doesn’t want to hurt Lloyd in the long run. She makes her decision based on advice given by her father. She even gives him a pen to write to her, a suggestion which her father had given her, inspiring Lloyd to say, “I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen.” Lloyd does everything that he can to win Diane back, eventually succeeding at the end of the film, and the last shot is of them on the plane together, heading to college for Diane.
The television series Friends has a structure that is not entirely different than Say Anything, but is formatted in a way completely different from movies. It is still the same “boy meets girl” structure, but they take their time to complete it since there are so many hours in the entire series. Ross likes Rachel, something that she is completely oblivious about. This is a technique used in television to delay the process of the couple finally getting together, because once they do, there is nowhere to go. After some time, however, Ross and Rachel finally become a couple, enjoying each other’s presence for a short while, until boy loses girl. Because Friends lasted for so long, this continues for some time. Boy loses girl, but then he wins her back, only to lose her again, and so on. It wasn’t until the final episode that we return to the same structure as film holds. Ross and Rachel come back together, and as far as we know, they still are together and living happily with each other.
Looking at this formula, there is a question we must ask. Why is it necessary for the boy to lose the girl? This isn’t always the case in real life, is it? Often people fall in love and don’t separate, or if they do, they don’t return to each other, so why is it this way in film? In the answer to this question, we may also find the answer to the portrayal of one of society’s most unsavory qualities; adultery.
As an audience if there is nothing at risk, it is not interesting to watch. There must be some doubt that things will turn out fine. By allowing the boy to lose the girl, we see the struggle he must go through, and the trials he must face, to finally win his happy ending. Without this conflict, the film would not be interesting, even though conflict is usually the last thing we want in our own lives. So we know that film must portray reality in a way different from how we want it to be in our own lives, and yet we still seem to be striving for the same thing on screen.
As long as film is going to focus on conflict, within a relationship there is no greater conflict than when someone cheats, especially within a marriage. We must first look at the reasons for using adultery in film, and once that is known we can examine what it does to the viewer, both positive and negative.
            Imagine a film about a passionate affair between a husband and his wife. It sounds simple, but it is nearly impossible to watch a film like that. Depending upon what the film is trying to achieve, films with adultery can be made either to anger and upset, or they are made to ignite passion. If they are made to excite and ignite passion, it is necessary for the affair to be taboo in some way. For some odd reason it isn’t as exciting to watch a married couple. In two classic films portraying lovemaking, one, L’Atalante, contains a husband and wife while the other, Sunset, is purely adulterous. Wood speaks of these two films saying;

…the marsh scene in Sunrise is a scene of adulterous lovemaking, whereas in the scene of erotic longing in L’Atalante the separated lovers are husband and wife…there is no husband/wife scene in Sunrise that has anything approaching a strong erotic charge. On another level, the fact that in L’Atalante the eroticism is validated by marriage does produce certain problems, or point to limitations, inherent in the film’s project and its realization. (1998: pg.47-48)

There seems to be a lack of erotic charge in showing a married couple, and yet that exact feeling is obtained by simply making the act adulterous. Why is this? Even in the film with adultery, marriage is completely unable to obtain this. “Marriage in Sunrise is built upon the repression of the erotic. The film makes a few attempts to re-eroticize the couple’s relationship after the symbolic remarriage, but they remain half-hearted.” (Wood 1998: pg.47)
            The problem with showing these films, is that it leads the audience to the false assumption that there can be no real excitement within a marriage. Perhaps this way of thinking has even affected the outlook on adultery in our society somewhat. The portrayal of characters as they explore new options may be exciting to watch. As Fuery explains, “In all these cases the pursuit of some sense of knowledge about the self is channeled into a need/desire to confirm sexuality. This is almost invariably located within a conflict between the subject’s sense of the self, and the cultural order of sexuality and morality.” (2000: pg.98) The adultery serves as a way to explore the character’s inner self, but the problem with this is that it way also indeed encourage the viewer to do the same. As much as this may be a problem, there may also be a possibility to do something positive as well.
            For every film that portrays adultery in a way which is meant to excite and encourage, there are others which use a negative action, but also follow through to show the negative reaction that this definitely causes. Films such as Unfaithful and Fatal Attraction, seem to be condoning the act of adultery, showing it in a positive light, but there are immediate consequences to the actions. The only problem with these examples is that the married person who is committing the marital crime does not end up paying for it in the end. The other man/woman end up dead, and in the case of Unfaithful, there is a good chance that the husband who was cheated on will end up paying as well. There seems to be a switch to showing that adultery only causes pain, and although it is heading in the right direction, it isn’t quite there yet. The intentions are admirable, however, to “affirm the value of marriage, in fact, only when the marriage is in jeopardy, whether from internal threat or external” (Wood 1998: pg.40) It is much more powerful to watch what does not work, learning from this experience, rather than watching a perfect couple. The hope is that the audience members will know never to make the same mistakes as the characters within the film.
            Returning to the films which seemingly condone the act of adultery, it would be natural to place blame upon them for the rise in cheating couples. In the case of the other films it may be easy to excuse the existence of adultery within the film because of the use it has. As Fuery says, “Part of cinema has always had this function of problematising, of foregrounding difficult issues, of questioning, of allowing, sometimes even forcing, its audience to look at situations differently.” (2000: pg.93) By showing adultery, film is actually simply asking us to examine this phenomenon, rather than ignoring it. Often it is not even making a statement about it, as in the film We Don’t Live Here Anymore, which is simply examining the effects. Yet, even films that seem to be doing a good job in preventing the act of adultery, there is more to consider. The same goes for the films which seem to be condoning it. Fuery explains;

But rather than focus on those moments of film that attempt to settle into the major ideological contexts in which they are produced and/or read, the concern here will be how film (and film viewer) problematises such contexts, working at the level of discontent. This discontent operates not necessarily within the politics of the film, but in the gestures of the spectator as he/she engages with the film. (2000: pg.93)

Again we must return to the fact that there is more involved in the filmmaking process than a film and the viewer’s willingness to watch the film. As well as needing an opportunity to act out what has been seen on film, the viewer must have the urge to act it out as well. They may very well take this urge away from any of these films, even the ones which are meant to prevent adultery. This happens, and cannot be controlled, because the filmmakers cannot prevent what the viewer brings to the film with them. A viewer which has been harmed by the affair of someone close to them, possibly even their spouse, is not likely to respond the same way to any of the films as someone who has never been affected in that way. Therefore, we learn that there are no absolutes when making a film about a subject so taboo. If the audience member has a different perception of consequence than you assume them to, there is a danger that they will leave the movie theater having experienced the film in a way the filmmaker did not expect.
            Often in these films, we watch as the marriage crumbles away, and the most important thing about them is what is not shown. Although we usually watch as the husband or wife have an explicit affair, this is not the most powerful imagery within the film. In fact, as in most films, the kiss is the most important image. As Fuery states, “Yet, in all of these operations and declarations, the kiss also has a ‘darker’ side; for every cinematic kiss that closes the film and signifies ‘love’, there are other kisses which destabilize perceptions and knowledges” (2000: pg.96) The kiss in a romantic comedy is just as important, but the focus in the films regarding adultery are far different.
 More importantly than the kiss by those committing adultery, in these films,  is the kiss by the husband and wife, or lack thereof. The lack of the kiss tells us a great deal about the relationship which they hold, and the trouble within it. Fuery states;
This absence of a kiss which signifies, essentially, a disruption of the romantic ideal of love (and a connotative value of disregarding the conservatism of tradition and marriage – in short, the irresponsible kiss of passion against the expected kiss of marriage) allows the other kiss to confirm her love for one man against the other, yet there is still an undercurrent of ambiguity. (2000: pg.97)

When the husband and wife do not kiss, we know that there is trouble in their marriage, but when the spouse who is cheating kisses without any feelings of remorse, we look down on them as having no conscience, which is to be seen as far worse than any other committing the same mistake.
            Although there is little urge to watch films about passionate love affairs between a married couple, this does not mean the absence of marriage completely from any form of entertainment. This cannot be farther from the truth. Married couples are required, although in different ways than romance. Often romance does not matter at all, and instead love takes the driver seat. As said by Fuery, “Another part of the equation of the cultural construction of true love is sacrifice, and it is the depth of that willingness to surrender that which is most desired – often the love itself – which demonstrates love.” (2000: pg.102) The hope is that marriage is true love, although this doesn’t always seem to be the case. Within marriage, there are certain roles, and they have been changing over the years. These gender roles were once established, but adjustments were forced to be made when women’s liberation occurred. Suddenly women were working, and offended by any hint of sexism in their lives, including their entertainment. When these roles changed, entertainment changed with it, but perhaps not in the same way.
            Suddenly women were no longer simply a housewife in film and television. While we had grown used to the idea of Lucy, on I Love Lucy, simply staying at home even without children, this is no longer acceptable. It certainly is possible that this still happens, and yet it cannot be shown for fear that it may upset some people. At one point women were thought of “in terms of good girl/bad girl, wife/seductress, respectable woman/gun moll, rancher’s daughter/saloon entertainer. They all reduce basically to the Mother and the Whore…” (Wood 1998: pg.39) This was in itself a dangerous idea, which switched nearly completely. Now the danger does not lie in women being placed in these pigeon holes, but rather for men instead.
            It is almost as if society feels that it needs to make up for all of the years that women were shown in a poor, or one-dimensional light, and now they have turned their guns on men, only they are not being quite so kind. Often times the father is thought better absent from the story entirely, and although there is some validity to the fact that there is a higher percentage of single mothers raising their children rather than the opposite, the extremes always seem to be chosen for film. As Roger Ebert said;

Gene Siskel once started a list of movies with fathers in them, to demonstrate that Hollywood preferred whenever possible to have single mothers and avoid fathers altogether. If there had to be a father, he was (a) in a comedy, the butt of the joke, and (b) in a drama, a child abuser, an alcoholic, an adulterer, an abandoner of families, or preferably, all of the above. At some point during a half century of Hollywood fathering, "father knows best" was replaced by "shut your pie hole.” (Dec. 24th, 2003)
The film Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) was based on a book which came out in the sixties, and in it the father ran the household. The wife was described as being “his loyal co-pilot.” However, when the new film was released in 2003, things had changed a great deal. “We know now that this model is a case of sexist chauvinism. Gilbreth's view of fathers is long out of date, and American men survive in the movies only as examples of incompetence, unrealistic ambition and foolish pride.” (Ebert 2003) In the new version, the father is far from inspirational, and in the end he sacrifices his lifelong dream, so that his wife can have a career. It is completely politically correct, assuming that men will say nothing about the issues being shown. Because of bad treatment, it seems that this privilege has been lost.
            Film is not the only, or even primary area that this newfound abuse of men can be seen. Television has made a formula out of the shortcomings of all men, and women’s ability to point these out to them. Television shows such as Home Improvement or Everybody Loves Raymond follow this formula to the dot. The formula is very simple as well as familiar. There is a husband and a wife, usually with kids, and often they both work if kids are not present. Each episode the husband does something insensitive or stupid, in many cases harming someone either physically or emotionally. The wife then steps in and points the faults of the husband out for him to see. There is usually an argument where humor is taken from the fact that the husband has such strange logic which usually digs him even deeper. By the end of the episode the husband always finds that his wife was right, and he goes to her, conceding each point that she had made in the earlier conversation, and begging forgiveness.
            This formula, which has been used for countless sitcoms, shows men to be screw-ups at their very best. The rest of the time they are simply wrong. On top of that fact, the husband is often unattractive and sometimes even overweight, married to a much fitter and more attractive woman, who always seems to be in perfect make-up even while taking care of the kids all day. In many films Wood also finds this to be true, explaining, “Throughout, the husband has been presented as weak and helpless. The wife, on the other hand, is endowed with great spiritual strength.” (1998: pg.50)
            An interesting examination of the modern man can be seen in the film Spanglish, which shows a dysfunctional family which speaks a bit of truth about all of us. In the film Spanglish, an acclaimed chef has control of the restaurant which he works in, but as soon as he gets home things seem to fall apart. His wife runs the home in a way that he doesn’t agree with, and yet he doesn’t have the courage to say anything to her. Instead of upsetting her, he allows for things to happen which he knows to be wrong, which is nearly as bad. He is weak, although a good man at the same time. When his wife has an affair with another man he doesn’t even know what to say to her. At one point it seems as though he is considering having an affair as well, but never does. On one hand this makes him a good man, but at the same time his character must be examined. Why is he such a pushover in the first place? Why does he allow is family to spiral so far out of control in front of his very eyes? This is the same question we must ask about the men being portrayed on television.
            If these are the men we are watching on television, there is a great possibility that it will affect the way men act. The portrayal of men, when not negative, is simply weak. There are no models in media to change anything. Although there can still be a change in the way women are portrayed, it seems that it has been taken to extreme the way men are shown. When speaking about a film where a woman cheats on a man, Wood says;
“her openness to experience and desire for things beyond the barge and marriage; the possibility of freedom , including sexual freedom; temptation and transgression, followed by the husband’s angry reassertion of marital ‘rights’—his jealousy and possessiveness, his need to establish authority, are again presented as products of male insecurity.” (1998: pg.58)

Weaknesses are easy to point out about men in films, especially considering each option. There is the manly man, who is usually found in the action film, killing countless people. Even if they are fighting for a good cause, there is a lost morality about them as the slaughter, sometimes even taking a break to sleep with a random blonde. The other kind of man available as a role model, is one that is hardly existent at all. The father figure is missing from many films, and the mother is shown to be an example of moral integrity never seen in men.
            As film and television will affect us, even if we are not aware, it is important to realize what message is being sent to us, and the generations following. It is important to know that the ideas of romance are blown out, as that is the purpose of film. It is important to see that films will find little need for romance within the marriage. It is also important to examine the fact that there are no solid male role models in film. Once all of these things have been discovered, we can work to provide a more solid foundation within our own lives, still able to watch film with the ability to be entertained as well.

Badal, R. (2001) Romance in film: volume 1; from the silent era to 1950. Jalmar Press, Torrence, CA

Comstock, G., Chaffee, S., Katzman, N., McCombs, M., Roberts, D. (1978) Television and human behavior. Columbia University Press, New York

Ebert, R. (Dec. 2003) Cheaper by the dozen. Chicago Sun Daily Newspaper

Fuery, P. (2000) New developments in film theory. St. Martin’s Press, Great Britain
Klosterman, C. (2003) Sex, drugs, and cocoa puffs. Scribner. New York
Lacan, J. (1983) Feminine sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the Ecole freudienne, London

Wood, R. (1998) Sexual politics and narrative film: Hollywood and beyond. Columbia University Press, New York

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