For understandable reasons, men find it difficult to be men in today’s world. I won’t say that as more visual beings, we should look for a deeper meaning in every movie we see, every TV show we watch, or every painting we look at, but we should be more open to what we can take away from them. So for this edition of the #BATTLEROYALE, I’ve made a list of a few movies that show masculinity in weakness and in strength, in deeds both great and small.
For this list, I have chosen not to include war movies. I have chosen movies in which the central characters are men who face a variety of evils - crime, corruption, betrayal, and deceit being among them - and how they dealt with the situations.
Clear And Present Danger (1994)
“Truth needs a soldier.”
This simple phrase on the movie’s cover gives me chills. A close friend and political ally of the President of the United States has been murdered by drug lords. President Bennett, upset by the murder of his friend, doubles down on a campaign promise to fight the flow of drugs into the United States. Jack Ryan is appointed to a key intelligence position after his friend and mentor, Admiral James Greer, becomes gravely ill.
Ryan asks the US Senate for increased CIA resources in Columbia to monitor drug activity. He is approved on the condition that US troops will not be sent to engage the drug cartels so as to avoid another Vietnam-style situation that would cost money, time, and ultimately, the lives of US troops. Little does he know that US black ops troops have already deployed! The administration quickly learns, however, that the enemy, who has no timetable and no re-election bid, has his own stake. Ryan quickly finds himself “neck-deep” in a scandal spiraling out of control. Everything he promised wouldn’t happen has happened. Now, surrounded by greed, careerism, and bloodlust, Ryan faces the ultimate test of his character.
Here are two key dialogs…
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
It took me a few times watching this one to see why it was called The Dark Knight Rises. Why not "Returns" or, as the promotion campaigns indicated, "Ends"?
Following the death of both his beloved Rachel and Gotham’s hero, Harvey Dent (and covering up for his crimes), Bruce Wayne retires Batman and becomes a shadowy recluse. Gotham has remained free from the hands of criminals, but a new danger lies in wait. Wayne resurrects Batman, confronts Bane, and is defeated and imprisoned. Meanwhile, Bane sets his sinister plan in motion. Bruce Wayne, locked in an underground prison where the only way out is to jump from one platform to another, now faces what lies beneath his shell of anger: the fear of death. He must choose to face it. Surviving the jump must not be merely one option among others if he is to save his city. It must be his only option.
Some people were upset about Catwoman killing Bane rather than Batman, but I think that was the point. Bruce Wayne's greatest fight wasn’t as Batman against Bane, nor was it against the Joker or even Ra’s al Ghul. In the end, it was against his own self. In Batman Begins, he wanted to “turn fear against those who prey upon the fearful”. In The Dark Knight, he was seen as a vigilante who acted outside the law. Now, in the conclusion, he must once again experience what he had sought to defend his city against, what he had sought to use as his own weapon. He must rise then from vigilante to guardian and hero.
The Robe (1953)
Based on the 1942 novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, we meet Roman solider Marcellus, the son of a powerful and idealistic senator fighting to maintain Rome’s integrity. After publicly embarrassing Caligula, Marcellus, along with his loyal Greek slave Demetrius, is ordered to Palestine, where he will face blistering heat and mutinous soldiers as punishment. Shortly after their arrival, a "mysterious Rabbi" arrives in Jerusalem and is arrested soon after. Marcellus is tasked to execute this rabbi by way of crucifixion. He wins Jesus’ robe in a dice game and is immediately haunted by it.
In the subsequent time (the movie takes place over the course of six years), Marcellus, still haunted by the mysterious robe now in possession of his runaway slave, embarks on a search for healing and truth. Throughout the course of the film, we also see the development of the relationship between Marcellus and Demetrius from master-slave to friend.
Even if you’re not a Christian and have no intention or desire of being one, this is still a great story of romance, hope, and redemption. Assuming you can tolerate the typical 1950s-style overacting. Personally, I think it deserves a remake.
Read the book, too. It’s pretty great.
Les Miserables (2012)
I’d never been so excited to see a musical until I saw this trailer.
One man, Jean Valjean, is born in the law and descends into crime. Another, Javert, is born in a prison and ascends to the law. Valjean is paroled after 19 years. After an act of mercy, he breaks his parole, changes his name, and makes radical changes in his life, which lead to him becoming a successful business owner and a town mayor. Upon learning that an innocent man has been mistaken for him and imprisoned, he reveals his true identity and flees, but not before promising to rescue and care for Cosette, the daughter of Fantine, one of his employees. We see Fantine’s treachery and despair and the desperate measures she takes. This bleak snapshot of her life sets the stage for us to see how we may not be able to make a difference in everyone’s life, but we can make a difference to one. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
A Man For All Seasons (1966)
Based on actual historical events.
King Henry VIII seeks to divorce his wife and marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn. Sir Thomas More, a respected lawyer, opposes an official request to Pope Clement VII to allow the divorce. Thomas urges argument rather than pressure, which a local cardinal proposes; Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England, dies soon thereafter and is replaced by Sir Thomas. The king presses him to continue pursuing the divorce, which Thomas refuses.
At his wits’ end, Henry VIII declares himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England and demands the allegiance of all clergy in England. Instead of accepting the new order, More resigns from his position. The king later demands an oath of loyalty to the new order, which Thomas refuses to take. Friends and rivals tried to learn why he thought the way he did, but he kept silent. In the end, his silence spoke louder than anyone or anything.
I rather enjoy this movie because my personality is very similar to his, as he is portrayed.
And here’s a key dialog…
The Scarlet And The Black (1983)
My favorite movie.
This TV movie tells the incredible true story of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, a humble Irish priest living in the Vatican during World War II, and his battle of wits and wills against Colonel Herbert Kappler, the Nazis' chief of police in Rome. Monsignor O’Flaherty runs an underground network for escaped POWs, Jews, and other refugees fleeing the destruction of the war in Europe. Outnumbered and outgunned, he relies on the internationally-recognized neutrality of the Vatican, which provides him the opportunity to turn the tables against Kappler, who is already facing increased pressure from the Nazi regime to root out and destroy O’Flaherty’s network. It’s a tale of courage, perseverance, wit, loss, and ultimately, of mercy.
Watch it all the way through to the end to see why!
I’m not going to suggest that these movies will change your life in some kind of radical way. They are nonetheless great films and I’m sure that there are others. All this is intended to do is to help men see masculinity demonstrated in heroic ways during a time in modern society when they feel masculinity is everything from irrelevant to even criminalized.