End of the Male Narrative

If by any chance you’re interested in an elaboration of this idea of the Male Narrative, I’ve done some thinking on the characteristics, to my view, of its way of story telling, and why we’re at the end of it.  This bit of writing is located in the right margin Pages of this weblog under Morphologies of the Male Narrative.


To my mind the stories on this branch of our family tree one way or another tell of the end of the Male Narrative path for understanding this life.  Although this branch has grown in other ways, it began with stories traversing lives lived in violence (listed here down screen at the very bottom in that weblog way of a chronological order where first is last, so counter intuitive to those of us raised in the era of the book to turn pages front to back, so that first was first).  So the films listed first on this branch (the last on this screenpage) were from a perspective where I felt them to be so masterly composed a mere mortal once engaged simply couldn’t help but watch.  Like witnessing a fight to the death, or a train wreck.  This is, I suppose, by way of apology about the violence in them, which is a subject so often rejected by my female netizens, and also by way of stating that just because I’m taking on the meanings in a story doesn’t mean I think it’s anything but a fine cinematic contribution.

Now it seems that the explorations of our inherited Male Narrative are so exponentially expanding, occurring on multiple fronts simultaneously that although violence remains prevelant, it’s not always the center.  Hence the expansion of themes.

Very, very latest:

  • The End of the Affair, 1999. Neil Jordan’s beautifully composed rant on the Judaic/Christian take on faith all confused and bottled up in a passionate, adulterous love affair.  Very Graham Greene and mid 20thCentury, which is to say, very tormented male narrative.  But oh, what exposition on the opacity of faith as squeezed through finely drawn characters aplenty.  On the surface this is about a man’s obsessive and self centered love of a woman; an illicit love in that ancient formula for keeping things sexy.  He has no “right” to her as she is married to another and yet he is consumed with jealousy, ever increased by his inability to entirely possess her in the way of a husband’s possession.  This is a contradicting desire, of course, to the illicit sexiness.  But then we are, like I said, inside male narrative.  However, although it admittedly skirts the edges of the sordid world of betrayals and private detectives, this is no noir tale. There’s too much guilt here, and the self revealing anger runs too deep along side the angst, excitement and punishment of sinful, doomed love.  And promises made in bargains with God.

Very latest:

  • Somewhere, 2010.  Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, a woman who’s been working away on this subject of celebrity for a number of movies now, bringing some serious reality to our obsession with stardom.  Born an insider, Coppola here conducts a clear eyed examination and it’s not a pretty picture.  At end it eats its tail going, like the leading man in it, nowhere.  But that seems to be the place a large number of us in this blown out celebrity culture want to go…. The father in Coppola’s story, Johnny Marco, is a movie star that, apparently, every man wants to be and every woman wants.  Every little thing is done for him, which seems to only increase his inability to truly engage with any one.  He is addicted in general, and in particular to womensex which he uses as a sort of confirmation that he really is alive.  Women do seem to ambush Johnny’s every move as he drifts along in a world where men and women never quite meet except to have sexual encounters, living in different, disconnected worlds.  Which is what keeps the stimulation going, I guess.  And in the same, rutted place.  When his preadolescent daughter Cleo comes to stay with him, Johnny’s given a chance to live somewhere,  emotionally speaking, in relation with another human being.  However, in an indicative linking of scenes, there seems little distinction between Johnny’s appreciative watch of his daughter ice skating from his equally appreciate watch of  sexy pole dancers (when he’s not so stoned he falls asleep.)  Can it be for him so base as all the world and all the women in it utilized merely as passing stimulant?  Perhaps he’s never learned, or wanted, anything more.  Johnny does give a limp try at being aware of his daughter, of being aware Cleo might be offering him a chance at feeling life.  But he easily gives up on this possible, saying at end, “Sorry I haven’t been around,” uttered under the protection of helicopter noise, in case she might really hear him.  And after they separate, is that a tear in his eye?  Alone, we hear him say of himself, “I am nothing…I don’t know what to do.”  His alienation secure.    Show me the way to the next little girl….  No conclusions.  No way out.  Just that omnipresent discontentment somewhere inside the beating heart (or is it beating?) of American celebrity.  Johnny may be living the dream, but in Coppola’s version, it’s more a nightmare.  Aimless and without relation.  The better for us to remember, love is all there is.

Thanks to netizen Theresa Majeres for reminding us of this film.

Latest growth on this branch:

  • The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford, 2007. Writer/director  Andrew Dominik.  A close study in the homicidal violence of the Western cross bred with a forlorn, creepy linger on our obsession with fame.  Which is why, I suppose, it was some overlooked when released.  Goes to prove you can attach a celestial the size of Brad Pitt to play a celestial the size of Jessie James, but if the story’s just too upending, especially on a sacred relic as calcified into American manhood as the outlaw “hero,” it won’t make bank.  This story might simply be too realistic an illumination of this treasured, national creation myth, which is, of course, its value to us here, unraveling as it does our necrophilic obsession with bad boys, our tangled insistence on wringing some contorted goodness out of men who terrorize.  Murderers and thieves.  Vampires feeding off the ever-present fear, paranoia and suspicion they breed in everyone around them.  And we play our part in the tale, characterized in Robert Ford, obsessive groupie fame stalkers.  As Jesse says, “Can’t figure it out. You want to be like me or you want to be me.”  In a nutshell.  What is our fascination with violence and the men addicted to it?  Maybe finally, we are beginning to begin to get to the bottom of  that deep, deepest well.

Earlier growth:

  • Gomorrah,  2008.  Director Matteo Garrone. Written by Maurizio Braucci.  Unabashed, rigorously honest travel through a range of threatened malehood. How to make a living when the collective us, society, no longer has any productive use for our young men?  Everyone is under threat from toxic spread in this wasted world, this polarized men-gang world where you’re either with em or against em.  Deadly end-game that disintegrates to, yes, once again, revenge and blood lust but…one boy walks away.  A narrative out?  Maybe.
  • Northface, 2008.  Director Phillipp Stolzl.  Written by Stolzl/Christoph Silber.  A cautionary tale of the male qualities of adventuring we so love as they become entangled in hubris and bravado, the very characteristics it takes to scale peaks in the pursuit of extreme challenge.  This ancient desire in us to overcome all that’s earthly – pretty much done and done by now – where any weakness, and a refusal to amputate it, is what dooms the entire group.  And then there’s the woman who must stand witness to the dangling, mutilated expiration of such phenomenal life force in the man she loves.  A waste?

Original stories on this branch:

To see my July Discourse Parlor on these three films go here:

  • The Road, 2009.  Director John Hillcoat, novel by Cormac McCarthy, screen adaptation Joe Penhall.   An über realistic taking of the so often threatened apocalypse to the end of the road.
  • There Will be Blood, 2008.  Dir./writ. Paul Thomas Anderson.  Novel by Upton Sinclair.  A fiery meditation on the end through a demolition of the bond between father and son.
  • No Country for Old Men, 2007.  Dir./writ. the Coen brothers.  Novel by Cormac McCarthy.  Evil incarnate and its triumph.
    • helmerson
    • April 3rd, 2010

    Having seen two of three films here, Blood and No County, I’m not sure how the two show the end of the male narrative, unless I misunderstand. I do see how each represents the classic male construct of ways of being, and how these themes no longer resonnate as effective politics in progresssive communities of thought.

    They are masterly composed, and therefore eternally compelling as in any work of real art. The train wreck and perverse fascination with voyerism, looking at life through venetian blinds, is also eternal and very human. So human, in fact, that I find it difficult to believe that any male, female or other classification, will relinquish this guilty pleasure any time soon. Bringing me back to the suggestion “…end of the male narrative”. End of “that” male narrative in “Blood” or end of the “every male” in any viable narrative for a socially conscious future? That’s where I’m confused.

    I’m not so sure anymore that the ancient tensions will ever release us. If this is where that comment is directed – toward relief of some kind. I am not pessimistic. But in terms of film, I see an ongoing place for continued study of the human condition through the male narrative, alongside the many new narratives that are evolving in this new age of electronic storytelling.

    • Your Lookout answers: Never the end of “every male”! Heaven forbid such a forlorn, not to mention undramatic, landscape. Pardon the confusion. I’ve listed these very movies precisely because, to my way of thinking, they so masterfully show in their tellings, logical step by excruciatingly step, of the desolate outposts where the Male Narrative takes/leaves us. Alone. Abandoned to self preservation by any means possible. Mostly violent. For me, a believer in the alchemy of community, this is a desperate state. I’m very interested in this concept of “ancient tensions” that my friend Karen brings up and her wonder if they will ever release us. I too, “am not pessimistic” but energized by the possible routes blazed in tension’s application and release. Like the attraction and repulsion of atoms…

      Another comment I received off these screenpages was an expression of the desire to explore a ‘Female Narrative or the female hero journey.” I have some thoughts there too, as you might imagine… It’s clear that a further exploration of this admittedly inflammatorily labeled branch of our Family Tree should be forthcoming rather sooner than later. So be it. Look for a discourse on the Male Narrative, the end of it? and other goodies in a near future Discourse Parlor.

  1. Hi Annie,
    What could you write about the film “The Big Blue” (1988) “Le grand bleu” (original title) and how it may relate to the male narrative?

    It is a tale of two males, Enzo and Jacques, who have known each other for a long time. Their friendship started in their childhood days in the Mediterranean.

    Director, and one of the writers: Luc Besson
    Stars: Jean-Marc Barr, Jean Reno and Rosanna Arquette

    Thank you Annie,


    • Deborah. So I looked up The Big Blue on IMDB and the plot summary does make the film sound interesting. I am always, as you might suspect, nosing round for stories and so appreciate your suggestion. Will take a look-see and get back with thoughts. Thanks.

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