Interesting guys in August: Osage County
I am noticing a pattern. Guys in films are being presented as more than heroes (or less than heroes but always more interesting). I first noticed it in The Hurt Locker. This is a story of a guy who is spectacularly heroic but an abysmal failure at taking it to the next level of maturity i.e.. being the Warrior King who can cross the distance between himself and another. Sergeant William James couldn’t stand the fate worse than death of allowing his heart to exist in someone else. He couldn’t see the deeper meaning in buying the groceries and being there for his son.
Enter August: Osage County. We have a family of women and the men who love them (or try to love them). The mother is a Hag. Her unaddressed childhood wounds are causing her to poison those who love her. As she becomes more powerful, she becomes more dangerous. Her husband plays the martyr, and escapes in alcohol until it doesn’t work and then he finds a more permanent escape. What was really needed of him was to stand up for something better he once saw in his wife and help her find a way back to it by building a limit to her bad behaviour. She is out of control and it is not helping her or anyone who loves her. Ultimately she is responsible for addressing her issues but he could be the cold slap that brings her to her senses long enough to get on track. We all need a little help sometimes. It needs to come from someone who loves us and reminds us of what is good in us.
We see this behaviour in the Uncle Charlie (Chris Cooper). He clearly has a warmth for his wife but there comes a point where he will not stay silent about her abusive behaviour. He is the Warrior King and I loved him in that moment (although I did wish it hadn’t taken him decades to figure this out).
It was Julia Robert’s husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) who really pissed me off. He put so much effort into appearing to be the sane, level headed one to his daughter.. Bill makes the point that he was the one trying to be loving by placing his hand on his wife’s knee while driving with the daughter in the back. So desperate to feed his ego with an image of being a nice guy he puts his efforts into making a bond with his daughter. She is young and easy to impress. He never notices how his behaviour is driving a wedge between mother and daughter to the detriment of both. He is only thinking of preserving his self image. Of all the things worth preserving in these relationships, he picks the one thing that should die. I found it to be truly haunting when the daughter drives off with the dad completely unaware of how she is being used.
This is the same daughter-father relationship as the one seen in Saving Mr. Banks. The father puts his effort into forming a bond with his daughter because she is a representation of the feminine but in a naive way, completely accepting of his weaknesses. The daughter grows into a woman that is stuck in a cycle of trying to save her father and be true to their bond. But it was a misplaced bond. He didn’t model the type of love she should expect for herself by loving her mother in an adult way. Instead he made his daughter his ally in his weakness. A truly coward-like move.
It is rewarding and somehow hopeful to see movies exploring the roles of men in a more nuanced way. There is a quest for maturity beyond the hero that is wonderful to see.