Fantasy Relationships

Posted on June 11, 2014

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The last time I compared movies, I started with summarizing the movies. This week, I’m starting with something much more serious.

#YesAllWomen

On May 23, 2014, Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured thirteen others before killing himself. Before setting out on this attack, he recorded a YouTube video (please don’t search for it or watch it, it doesn’t need any more hits) talking about his desire to punish women for rejecting him and to punish sexually active men for having a better life than he did.

Laura L. Hayes wrote what I felt was a very good piece on mass killings. The reason I liked it was because it seemed to demarcate a line that I hope never to cross.

I, too, was often rejected by women when I was Mr. Rodger’s age at the time of his death. I, too, deeply resented the jerks and assholes who had girlfriends, and presumably sex, when I had neither. I hurt people, emotionally and psychologically, because I was angry and frustrated. Yet I, and millions of other men, have yet to cross the line to spree killer.

I’m horrified that something could happen that might nudge me over that tiny, thin, line. It scares the crap out of me how little separates me from spree killers.

Please understand, this isn’t about me. This absolutely will not be another “not all men” argument, because #yesallwomen. Rather, the one piece led me to another, this one by Arthur Chu. I think he makes a good point that our stories reflect our culture, and our culture frames our expectations about life.

Not Just Nerds

It was actually a sermon by a guest preacher at our church that opened my eyes to entitlement. As a white male, as a decorated veteran, as the graduate of a good university, I was carrying a huge amount of entitlement on my shoulders. I paid my dues, right? I did what I was supposed to do. I ticked off all the boxes. Where the Hell was my life?

Opening my eyes to my own feeling of entitlement made me realize that we only deserve what we earn. If you want to have a great relationship, start by having a great life. Pursue the things that you’re passionate about, enjoy them, and stay open to the people that brings into your life. Let go of your expectations and focus on developing yourself.

The same for a great job. Get involved in the kinds of forums and activities frequented by people who do the work that you want to do. Pursue all the reading, education, and activities related to that work that you can find. You will find yourself alongside people who do the work, and who can help you find opportunities to do it yourself.

Looking back, that’s how good things came my way. I met my wife at Wizards of the Coast, a game company where we both worked. I was very focused on work and making money so I could be independent and on my own two feet, and this beautiful woman, and a huge circle of friends that I still have 20 years later, came into my life.

I got that job at Wizards of the Coast by playing role-playing games in a local hobby store on weekends while I worked a dead-end job that was driving me crazy. One of the store staff left to run the customer service department for Wizards. He knew I was a gamer. He had seen how I interacted with customers. He knew of, and valued, my military background. When he could hire, he contacted me.

I got my current job at REI by being active in the outdoors. A former co-worker from Wizards was working there, knew they were hiring, and thought of me. Growing up camping and fishing, all the time I spent outdoors in the military, plus all my customer-facing work earned me the leap from temporary seasonal employee to ongoing employment.

When I write it like that, it seems easy and quick. It wasn’t. There were lots of dead-ends. It took a lot of patience and prayer. There were plenty of black moments in the wee hours of the morning. It’s only in hindsight that I see the lessons.

Enough of that, though. Let’s talk about movies.

Bookies (2003)

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This movie is a story about how three college guys (played by Johnny Galecki, Lukas Haas, and Nick Stahl) figure out a way to run a sports betting business out of their dorm room. Rachel Leigh Cook plays the love interest. Naturally, the protagonists run afoul of the local criminals who run the bookmaking business in their town, and their own success poisons them and their relationships.

 

Ruby Sparks (2012)

Rubyposter

One of my favorite actors, Paul Dano, plays a young man who wrote a critically-lauded novel while he was still in high school. Now he has writer’s block. Early in the film, his therapist (played by Elliot Gould, who is a national treasure) suggests that Calvin (Dano’s character) write a story about meeting someone who likes Scotty, Calvin’s dog. After he writes it, Calvin meets Ruby, the girl from his story. Rather than explore what is real and what is not, this movie explores agency, individuality, and relationships.

 

The Fantasy

Bookies is a fantasy. Nick Stahl’s character has some interest in sports, mostly from a business/analytics standpoint. Rachel Leigh Cook’s character is studying physical therapy or sports medicine or something that qualifies her to tape-up basketball players’ injuries. They meet and take an interest in each other, and then he proceeds to lie to her, betray her, and potentially put her in danger. Yet, at the end of the movie, she’s still giving him another chance.

It’s bullshit. Partly that’s because their relationship is not the point of the story, so we don’t see very much of its development. At the same time, there is no reason for her to forgive him. He doesn’t earn it. Hunter (Cook’s character) has no agency. She’s there to be a fantasy figure of desire for Toby (Stahl’s character).

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He gets his fantasy by doing things that have nothing to do with her. He “earns” her, as if she were some kind of trophy, by surviving things she knows nothing about.

I get worked up about this because Elliot Rodger opened my eyes to the absolute crap morality of a movie like this. Please understand, I don’t blame Stahl or Cook. I don’t even blame writer Michael Bacall. It might be his fault, but it could be a decision from the studio, the director, or the producer.

That said, in his article, Aaron Chu singles out The Big Bang Theory for perpetuating a worldview in which women who share interests in science and “nerd culture” barely exist. I mention this, of course, because Johnny Galecki, through no fault of his own, stars in both. I watch BBT, and I’ve seen the work that Leonard (Galecki) has put in, trying to understand how to relate to Penny (Kaley Cuoco). It’s the set-up for the show where I have to agree with Mr. Chu.

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In fact, the most interesting thing about that show is that Galecki and Cuoco used to date in real life, broke up, continued working together, and now she’s married to someone else. Get that, guys? If you accept women as people, with their own agency, you can work alongside them and be happy for their happiness.

Pygmalion

Ruby Sparks is also a fantasy, in the sense that you can’t pour your heart into a creative endeavor and have some part of it literally come to life.

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This movie could have gone a really dark and ugly place after Calvin and his brother Harry (Chris Messina) discover that Calvin can make Ruby (played by Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the film) do anything he wants simply by writing it. Let’s face it, that’s a very rape-y set-up for a story. Instead, Ruby Sparks builds tension by showing how each develops dissatisfaction with their relationship.

Neither understands what is wrong until he encounters his ex-girlfriend, Lila (played by Deborah Ann Woll). Up until that point, he and Harry have talked about Lila as an evil, cheating, traitorous, lying, life-destroying bitch. She turns that whole perception on its head, and forces Calvin to realize that he was the life-destroyer. He wanted someone in his life when it was convenient for him, and the rest of the time she wasn’t supposed to do or need anything.

Ruby-Sparks

This movie is not bullshit, because Calvin does not get Ruby in the end. He pours what he learns from the experience into his next novel and gets over himself. Then he meets a woman in the park who is reading that novel. They start talking, and the movie ends. Does he get the new girl? We don’t know. Maybe he’s grown enough to build a life with someone else. Maybe he hasn’t.

That feels real. I think an advantage of indie movies like Ruby Sparks is that they don’t have to have a happy, romantic, ending. They don’t have a studio pressuring them with the results of test audiences. They can stick to a less saccharine version.

Conclusion

Look, I get it. I am a man. As a man, my role in conversations about killers like Elliot Rodger is to be present, and to listen to women’s stories. This is my soapbox for saying that I am available to listen.

Also, please see Ruby Sparks. If I’m totally off-base about it, please let us know in the comments. If I’m not, see it to support more movies like it.

 

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Posted in: Movies