There is hope for the future!
I wonder if fears and flaws ever really go away, or if they just lose their power over us. Or do we just reframe them to make them less visible to ourselves and others?
Hollywood seems to be thinking it’s time to drop the mask on powerful men of the past. I can only hope powerful men of the present will follow soon.
I’ve seen a lot of movies during the winter holidays.
Some were good, some were boring, and some were different.
But nothing prepared me for the moment my colleague *Matt came to work and expressed his disdain and disgust at a movie I’ve also recently seen: Napoleon.
Featuring the incredible Joaquin Phoenix as the main character. Directed by Ridley Scott. Seriously, a man found a movie with Joaquin, by Scott to be bad? What’s going on here?
Matt presented the movie as boring, long, unfair to Napoleon, and an utter waste of time.
‘Napoleon is an idiot, a simp!’ he said. ‘They make him look stupid! And he’s madly in love with this woman who cheats on him but he’s still there, like a puppy dog! I can’t believe them. They literally made fun of everything he represented!’
I thought about it for a second. What exactly did he represent and how did the movie conflict with that?
A successful general and one of history’s greatest military leaders. Are these guys not allowed to fall in love? Are they not human, or flawed, don’t they experience failure, doesn’t life also bring them to their knees?
In my eyes, not for a second was Napoleon portrayed as stupid.
He was portrayed as weak, riddled with insecurity, angry, crying, breaking down, unable to get himself off the floor. I saw how he was addicted to a woman who seemed to have ownership over him, but he was much more addicted to power and his rule over France.
None of those are stupid. All are human.
In fact, history remembers Napoleon as a short man with aggressive tendencies. There’s a whole complex named after him: the Napoleon complex: ‘a domineering or aggressive attitude perceived as a form of overcompensation for being physically small or short.’
So what exactly did Matt (and a ton of other men who passionately hate the movie) object to here? Because behind all his glory, gorgeous uniforms, and brilliant historical portraits, history presents him as a man. Just a man, like us all. Could that be the problem?
Perhaps most striking? The number of complexes he suffered from, including class inferiority, money insecurity, intellectual envy, sexual anxiety, social awkwardness and, not surprisingly, a persistent hypersensitivity to criticism. Taken in whole, these traits drove his stark ambition, undermined his grandiose endeavors — and ultimately crippled his historic legacy.
So if that was the case, why are there Reddit groups debating this seemingly offensive movie? What sensibility is Scott’s Napoleon offending?
One sensibility that supersedes them all: people’s refusal to see the world for what it really is.
The offense is in Napoleon’s realism and people’s inability to hold him in high regard because he wasn’t portrayed as a perfect man. He wasn’t portrayed as a good man either.
He was portrayed as a real man: weak, like us all. Faulty, insecure, fallen.
And we can’t have that. Not about the leaders of men. Not even about men in general. We can’t have them cry over some unfaithful woman. He needs to be out there, to conquer and destroy.
Well, he did that! He just happened to be shedding some tears in the meantime. Like people do. Real people, not make-believe men of steel.
I bet you if Napoleon had been portrayed as the French Andrew Tate, all brawn and not a single f given, nobody would have batted an eyelash.
But you see, real men are not like that. Not even Andrew Tate is like Andrew Tate. It’s all a façade.
And Hollywood decided to take that down a peg. I’m grateful for it. We should all be. Maybe this is a new era.
This is about who people really are rather than the role they play. And it was the first time I actually cared about Napoleon.
And then, to give me even more hope for the future, I saw another great movie about another great man. And he was just as flawed.
Nobody tried to present him any other way either.
I went to see Ferrari.
Set in the summer of 1957, with Enzo Ferrari’s auto empire in crisis, the ex-racer turned entrepreneur pushes himself and his drivers to the edge as they launch into the Mille Miglia, a treacherous 1,000-mile race across Italy.
The theatre was all men.
Truth be told, I landed there by mistake; I have no interest in boys and their toys (not when it comes to cars, anyway), but I’m glad I went.
The perspective of the main character in the story is somewhat similar to Napoleon.
Nobody makes him look stupid, but they do make him look weak, flawed, and inherently human.
Ferrari is a serial cheater who has a child with another woman but refuses to give the child his name because he has a higher interest in his company, which is owned by his wife.
Like a lot of other men in power, Enzo Ferrari chooses his greatest love: power. Fame. Business. Recognition. Success.
I loved how he was played: cold, empty-eyed, ruthless, unable to drop his guard, unable to truly care about anyone but his interests. Real!
He has a monologue so deeply telling about human nature that it renders anything else in the movie useless:
You lack commitment. Look at the Maserati team […] Hard-nosed pros. Men with a brutal determination to win. With a cruel emptiness in their stomachs. Detachment. Loyal to one thing, not the team. Loyal to their lust to win. […] Make no mistake, we are all racers. I have been. We all are certain, “It will never happen to me.” My friend is killed, I give up racing forever on Monday. I’m back racing by Sunday. We all know it’s our deadly passion. Our terrible joy. But if you get into one of my cars, no one is forcing you to take that seat. Brake later. Steal their line. Make them make the mistake.
It left me speechless and overjoyed with how perfectly real everything was.
I go home and check Ferrari’s score: it’s 6.8 (out of 10)! Napoleon’s is 6.5!
Low, very low scores! I vowed to never listen to IMDb scores again.
What exactly seems to be the problem? Was he too real again? Did he fall off his golden throne, did the diamond wheel slip from his veiny hand?
‘By the end, I didn’t feel much closer to Enzo Ferrari or his wife.’ someone said in the comments.
Why would you? He was a ruthless man and she was a scorned woman. They’re not supposed to be warm and fuzzy, they’re supposed to be real.
The director chooses an unconventional perspective: instead of going for a conventional underdog story, it’s a much more intense, more interesting and reality-based movie that shows how masculinity and ambition desensitize someone to the tragedy that surrounds them.
‘I didn’t think there were enough moments where his guard went down and we see what really drives him so as a result I just found him to be a bit of a rich egomaniac with motivations I didn’t find to be that interesting.’
That’s just the thing: that’s what drives him: ego. Power. Money. If his motivations are not interesting is because you thought there might have been some deeper truths behind him, something to make him a good man after all. But he’s not a good man. He’s an egomaniac.
‘Adam Driver was far too wooden and you never really felt any empathy with the character and just grew to dislike him more & more as you got to know more about him.’
He was indeed wooden. Wooden like a powerful man driven by ambition. I didn’t dislike him more and more. Quite the contrary. I liked more and more the way he wasn’t presented as thrilling, the way he wasn’t romanticized, or given a humane spin.
He was what he was: a man in power. And I was grateful to see this side of him.
However, it’s important to understand this is not about at all about men. This is about masks. And the damage they create in us all. The impossible standards they hold us up to, the perfectionism they represent, and how it’s preventing us from ever growing healthy and strong.
I hope women as well as men, in movies and real life, drop the mask too. Masks are a curse for all of us.
I hope one day we all get to see each other’s real faces. And another day after that, I hope we have the incredible courage to look in the mirror and see ourselves for what we really are.
But for the time being, movies are a good start to get another perspective on humanity. A perspective where ruthless warmongers and egomaniac businessmen are not role models.
And they’re certainly not great men.
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