2015 was the year I fell in love with movies. Much like real love it started off slow, until my eyes and I watched Psycho and it happened all at once. Since the start of summer I have been watching a new movie everyday. This allowed me to catch up with the classics, some of my favorites being The Deer Hunter, Dog Day Afternoon, Evil Dead I & II, A Clockwork Orange, Eraserhead, Apocalypse Now, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, The 400 Blows, and the entire Rocky series (yes, even Rocky V, although I understand why you hate it). I could keep going, I want to keep going, because just thinking about these beautifully rugged films makes me feel strangely validated, like I have a role to play in the world. All year I was riding a high that I interpreted as inexplicable until the new year and some new movies came along to help explain it to me.
I spent a week to catch up on some Oscar nominated and more modern movies including Room, Carol, Brooklyn, Suffragette, Sisters, Jane Eyre (2011), and Heavenly Creatures. All of these are female-led films that I planned to watch, and they were enjoyable, but not to the same degree that something like Reservoir Dogs was the first time I watched it. In fact, after watching the movies I had a feeling of emptiness inside that I had not experienced with the aforementioned classic movies.
“Why didn’t they click?” I asked myself over and over again. It took some time, but I realized that the female-led movies were not talking to me the same way the others were. They were not waving the flag of masculinity. In fact, some of them were rightfully bringing it down. I was brought to tears after watching Rocky because my subconscious gained some knowledge about being a man from another man. And not just any man, it was Rocky Balboa. The Italian Stallion who went the distance against Apollo Creed had just spent two hours teaching me, a normal nerdy boy, that I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody but myself. He also said that I could actually get the girl. That’s everything I needed to hear and it was coming from a superstar, so of course I teared up.
I was not brought to tears watching Carol and that made me think it was a lesser movie until I had a conversation about it with a female friend of mine. She enjoyed the movie immensely and had even let the faucet run. She said it made her cry because instead of Rocky Balboa, it was Carol Aird, a stunning presence of a woman played by Cate Blanchett, and Therese Belivet, “…a strange girl… Flung out of space!” played by Rooney Mara, who spent two hours of their time to teach her that she didn’t have to live her life the way others expected. Carol taught her to do things despite what the patriarchy would think while the movies I fell in love with contributed to the preservation of that same patriarchy.
This realization caught me off-guard. After six months of obsessing over film I started wondering if I was watching them the wrong way. Had I failed to take different perspectives into account? Once the panic wore off I came to the conclusion that I had not, for the most part. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is a male-driven movie meant to be admired from the male perspective. That is how I enjoyed that movie and all of the movies I mentioned above, including Carol. It is not wrong to watch Carol with a male point of view, but I failed to recognize that it is directed more towards a female and LGBTQ+ point of view. To really connect with such a film I would have to be a good audience member and watch it with a slightly different mindset, just like almost everyone who is not a straight white male would have to do to truly relate to a majority of classic films.
At first I was annoyed by the rise of female-led movies. I thought it was a gimmick and that there was more than enough representation of women in movies, but after going over a list of my favorite films, diving into a week full of movies with female stars, and studying my reactions to them I see that there was no reason to be annoyed. Just like male-dominated movies, some are terrible, some are good, and some are great, but like most people, I got scared of the idea of change. Art is being taken in a new direction that demands more of me as an audience member who is used to men saving the day. Artists are encouraging me to look at different stories that I may not immediately connect with because they are not about the overly-explored male experience. These stories are also helping make the people who have always been pushed to the side feel like they also have a role to play in the world. New people can ride that high that comes with being represented in something as wonderful as a motion picture and as more people are represented, the world has a better chance at experiencing a different life for at least ninety minutes. With this knowledge, I and every fan of film should be excited about the future of cinema.