Films such as Fight club has been warning us the idea of what it means to be a man is destabilizing a modern society.
Recently a lot of characters have gained renewed interest among young men calling them ‘literally me’. By analyzing those movies that dive deeper into the psyche of men, maybe we can get a grip on why men find them so relatable and understand the so-called crisis of masculinity.
What does it mean to be a man in a modern age?
Alright so let’s start with the most important theme in American Psycho. And that is conformity.
Because at its core, that’s what this movie is all about. Patrick Bateman is living a fancy lifestyle as an investment banker on wall street. He’s living healthy, eating a balanced diet and doing rigorous exercise routines every morning. He’s applying thousands of layers of beauty products to craft the perfect version of himself. Why? Because he simply wants to fit in.
Down to the haircuts, the suits, the business cards… it all shows that these men think they’re individual and unique, but they aren’t. However, y
ou see in Fight club
they don’t like conformity that much.
Tyler Durden is the god of masculinity, trying to break the main character free from his conformance lifestyle and boring job. The narrator is suffering from insomnia and is obsessed with creating a self-image that is socially acceptable, similar to Patrick Bateman. He doesn’t really have a way to express himself in a society where everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. All he does to feel unique is turn to consumerism and buy furniture that he felt defined him best as a person.
Director David Fincher said, “We’re designed to be hunters and we’re in a society of shopping. there’s nothing to kill anymore, nothing to fight, nothing to overcome and nothing to explore. In that societal emasculation this every man is created.“
Patrick Bateman and the narrator and fight club create consciously or unconsciously alter egos that allow them to exhibit their masculinity and escape a culture that no longer accepts such behavior.
What happens then? Well well well… we turn to something called Hyper masculinity.
Unleashing the beast within that everyone keeps hidden inside for the sake of social acceptance. And it’s in this scene that Tyler is asking the narrator to finally release that inner strength.
And that’s how fight club started. A literal underground organization with the purpose of allowing men to rediscover their primal masculinity. They have been so emasculated by society that they have forgotten what it means to be a real man. However, this caused him to slowly turn into beasts.
Patrick Bateman starts to become more aggressive, watching explicit horror tapes while doing his exercise routines. On top of that his nightly escapades with women are getting out of hand and he starts to act out of place in his social circles as well. But they are not the only two characters that have been struggling with this duality of a man.
Because in Nightcrawler, Taxi driver and Drive, the main characters are also on the verge of frenzy. Just like Patrick Bateman’s urge to fit in, both Travis bickle and Lou bloom are trying to fit into society by getting a regular job.
But because they don’t really have to premier education to fit this ideal of an office job, Travis starts working as a taxi driver late at night to deal with his insomnia and after Lou bloom gets rejected, he starts night crawling as well and finds a way to make money out of filming crime scenes.
There are actually many parallels between these two movies. Not only is the poster of nightcrawler, an obvious homage to taxi driver, both characters are also very ambitious and goal-oriented men who are capable of doing anything and I mean anything, to eventually reach their end goal.
Lou lives in modern day LA in a time where everyone is obsessed with personal gain and success this causes him to create a form of predatory masculinity. Hunting down his prey like a lone wolf every night in order to film the crime scenes and sell them to the news stations. His greed is good mentality makes him persistent and uses this to become the top predator in his business. He is kind and respectful for the sake of social acceptance. But very narcissistic and tunnel visioned for his own financial gain.
Lou bloom literally goes to that animal state of masculinity and releases the beast within man. He even looks like a hungry predator that uses his manipulative instincts to trap and catch his prey. Similarly, Travis Bickle drives around the dangerous and dirty streets of new York city at night. Travis is a forgotten and ignored victim of the working class through the rise of
capitalism in big cities. One day he hopes to clean it all up and become the hero of the city.
Travis feels lost by the city life and after getting rejected by Betsy, he starts to cut and pace together what he believes is a masculine heroic identity. He starts training like a soldier, handling guns like a cowboy and dressing up like a veteran. All pop cultural elements that form his idea of a hyper masculine hero. That’ll be there for the people but in reality, he starts to become ultra-violent and reckless. This hyper masculinity is one that relies on ancient ideas of heroic behaviors such as being a knight or cowboy that rescues princesses and fights the bad guys which makes Travis live a life between fact and fiction.
Travis gets caught up in this duality of a man, which is slowly sending him down the wrong path.
This brings us to the movie Drive because similar to taxi driver, it involves the notion of portraying the masculinity of a hero versus being a real hero. The driver is a stunt man and mechanic by day but at night he works as an independent getaway driver for criminals. A stunt
driver’s job is to literally maintain the illusion of the hero in a fictional film and the driver therefore spends a good time of his life pretending to be a hero.
In an interview Ryan Gosling adds, “I think driver is somebody who’s seen too many movies and he’s made himself the hero of his own action film. He’s just kind of lost in the mythology of Hollywood. But as soon as the driver meets the perfect girl Irene it gets very interesting and a crossover between Travis Bickle becomes more apparent.”
The Driver starts to feel pressure because of his contradictory lifestyle. On the one hand he doesn’t want to take part in the patriarchy of the criminal world and chooses to be a silent, emotionless and nameless character. On the other hand, he’s repressing his humanity but meeting with Irene is his way of reclaiming it. However, it’s not that easy to escape from the criminal world.
Just like Travis Bickle who’s surrounded by impure and evil beings becomes obsessed with saving a 12 year old prostitute named Iris, the driver feels a sense of protectiveness for Irene as well and will do everything, even resorting to extreme violence to protect Irene and her child. Because it is exactly the purity and innocence that both of these characters have lost that they are now trying to rescue and protect.
Where Travis Bickel and the driver differ is that Travis wants to leave his mark on this world, but the driver just wants to be happy and the same for his loved ones. However, they both have the opportunity to become a real hero as opposed to being only a faceless and imaginary one. But as suggested with the lyrics of the soundtrack in drive, a real hero is also a real human being and that’s something all of these characters have lost on the way.
Patrick Bateman’s obsession with trying to fit in caused him to express himself in extreme manners and in the end made him lose touch with humanity
Fight club turned into a self-operating group with a cold following that now wants to overthrow all power structures in society caused by the narrator’s alter ego.
Lou bloom’s mind is poisoned by capitalist society and the media turned him into a beast leaving every moral code for the sake of money.
In the end, Taxi Driver’s past serving in the Vietnam war combined with his insomnia causes him to lose touch with reality and leads to his descent into madness. And the driver well maybe he’s the real hero after all but his suppressed emotions alienated him so much that in the end, he had to sacrifice everything he had fought for. All of these movies delve into the crisis of masculinity caused by conformity in a capitalist and consumerist world.
It only makes perfect sense that young men who are navigating through the world would find solace in watching these movies as it represents an extreme example of what they experience on a day-to-day basis. This may seem unhealthy to some, but it offers men a piece of media that they can hold close, in a world that so often shies away from representing these topics in a way that isn’t explicitly villainizing.
So, to come back to my first question. What is masculinity in the modern age?
Well they often say reject modernity and embrace masculinity. But that is only as long as you can maintain your humanity.
What it means to be a man will be a forever changing concept, depending on the time and place you live in on this world. But for now, what I think is that if we were to take the good characteristics of all these men, we can create an unstoppable character. With the morning routine and style of Patrick Bateman, the work ethic of Lou bloom, the humor of Travis Bickle, the appeal of Tyler Durden and the bravery of the driver, I think will get pretty close to what it means to be a man.
I’d really appreciate if you pour out some thoughts on the subject as this is something I really care about and love to have a chat on. I’m eager to listen to other perspectives as well. If you liked the writing, please share to others and stay for more such contents. 😊