Manchester By the Sea or why traditional masculinity must end.

Just two days ago I watched Manchester by the Sea (BTW if you haven’t watched the movie HUUUUUUGE SPOILERS AHEAD), truly a master piece in which Casey Afleck, truly shined as a dramatic actor garnering him the Golden Globe for Best Performance in a Drama in what essentially is a movie about men and their dealings with loss, for they are completely surrounded by Death. In my opinion Affleck truly embodied whats hardest of all, being a complete shell of a man, devoid of any emotions related to joy as well as someone who, due to the how tragic his past is and how his actions (although accidental) made him have to deal with the most horrifying thought and memory any person can have, murdering that which you loved the most and losing it all due to a rather simple action putting a safeguard in the fireplace. However, what’s truly amazing about the film is how it portrays manliness and wholly demonstrates a masculine society in which emotions of any kind cannot be shown and are even a completely different reality for men even in our time.

Curiously, before we are shown what actually happened to Affleck’s character we are shown how he is a normal repair-man, focused solely on the menial tasks of repairing whatever the tenants need repairing, a rather small fight with one of said tenants may even show he is somewhat antisocial, something further demonstrated when a woman in a bar (or as Bostonians call it Baah) tries to hit on him ending in an awkward “its fine” while he goes back to hide drink and her moving on to chatting with her friends. At this point anyone would believe that Lee Chandler (Affleck) is suffering from a type of autism or something of the sort due to the lack of emotionality and probably is heightened when he gets news that his brother died, yet what lays behind truly devises that in truth affleck is a broken man, nothing more than a husk.

Now I won’t talk about the whole movie by itself for I would really prefer that you watch it but I do want to point out certain things that relate to the actual title of this article. Throughout the movie the presence of women is almost non-existent, except for Lee’s ex-wife and the girls that his nephew has a relationship with, there are almost no interaction with them, more on that later. This is important for they are the sole source of truly emotional interactions throughout the movie. Men however, are completely apathetic, demonstrating only a certain joy in small smiles yet, for a movie surrounded with death, grief is hardly ever there. There are certain moments in which any type of reaction is expected and yet it never arrives. One said moment is when Lee gets the news in the hospital that his brother is dead, there’s dead silence, and every person he is talking with are expecting him to have some sort of reaction; a sob, a tear, or at least surprise, yet there is nothing, he just stares to the floor and then asks questions on procedures, what to do with his boat and finally if he is able to see him. Period. Right after that comes the second moment; Lee goes to see his brother, meanwhile, George his close friend, has the first actual crying moment. As soon as he realizes that he is having feelings he immediately stops, sobs, cries again and regains himself thanking for a tissue, to the female nurse who gave it to him, and then apologizes to the nurse who shrugs it of by saying oh don’t worry about it, so nothing happened. Another moment is when Lee actually sees his now corpse of a brother, he simply bends down, kisses him and kind of holds him, that’s it, nothing else. Again this can be seen with Patrick, Lee’s nephew and his reaction towards now being practically being an orphan, he is taken aback by the news but at no moment does he show any feelings towards it. He accompanies his uncle to see his dad and asks what he is supposed to do, see his father, or not? He eventually sees him and storms off the room as if sayin nope nope noooooope. The same night he calls his friends over for dinner after the news and the chatter drives off to a discussion about StAH trek and StAh Wars at which point the one of Pat’s girlfriends indicates if it’s really the moment to be having that argument, hinting at the possibility that Patrick may want to ponder about his father’s death, but he simply shrugs it off by stating that he does like Star Trek and later asks his uncle if that girl can stay over  for….stuff. Finally, Lee demonstrates that he doesn’t ever wanna talk about things that may lead to any sort of difficult emotion for whenever Patrick wants to talk to anything that may involve feelings, he deviates them by stating “I can’t believe you wanna talk about this right now” or “lets not talk about it”.

The man devoid of emotion, or at least devoid of negative emotions is something that reflects our masculine society in its totality. Men are still expected to become these pillars of fortitude in which they need not express themselves unless it is through violence or sex, or through very manly commentaries while drinking booze in a bar. Lee reinforces these values towards Patrick with his aloofness and total lack of understanding when it comes to those sentiments. The city itself also reinforces that sentiment for no one asks how he is dealing with the grief of losing his brother even after losing his family and even if many of them know him in one way or another. Everything is solved rationally, logically and with a firm hand, so much so that the main means of emotion are the drinking and violence Lee does in order to vent, as a true man would, going as far as breaking his hand after punching a window or being all bruised up after a fight in a bar that he starts, because that’s how men should “solve” their problems, through punches and binge drinking, god forbid us from talking about our feelings, or expressing them or ask for help in any way. Which in turn may even extrapolate towards not knowing what to do when faced with raw emotion.

There’s a point in the movie in which Patrick becomes disconcerted when he learns that his father won’t be buried until spring, due to the ground being frozen and such, and he hates the idea that his father will be in a freezer until such time. As such, he has a breakdown when having to put the chicken back in the freezer prompting what seems to be a panic attack, not only from the image of his father being frozen but also because he never expressed grief over the loss of his father. Neither Lee nor Patrick understand what’s happening or at least don’t wanna express it, for Patrick indicates he feels “weird and that his chest hurts” to what Lee reacts with a “do you want to go to the hospital?” and “you need to calm down” which translates to “I, literally, can’t deal with this” because its obvious he know what it is, yet he never dealt with his own grief, how can he even try to do the same with his nephew? This is the epitome of what I believe is what traditional masculinity has led us to. A lack of senses,empathy and understanding in and between men.

We men are still being taught not to show their emotions, to be strong, to not behave like “a girl” and other such nonsense. Men are still being raised to talk less bout their feelings, and the only way they can actually do so is by way of alcohol or other substances which, of course, leads to relationship problems for they habituate themselves to doing so only with the help of those substances. The movie demonstrates how enclosed men become/are towards showing their emotions, their vulnerabilities, up to the point of becoming walking shells and willing to completely shut themselves out from interaction or even trying new relationships in fear of being hurt or repeating a negative action. Needless to say of course what happened to Affleck’s character is truly something of which very few may be able to actually live with (shown by his desperate attempt to commit suicide and perhaps his choice to pick a life of repentance and self-destruction) and yet there’s a moment that demonstrates that opening up although may not have solved what he did (for it never does) would at least have provide closure and resilience towards a better future for him.

Lee’s ex-wife is proof that by being able to express what they feel women are also able to get on with their lives, as hard as it may be, while men tend to fixate and stay with the same solution for quite a longer time, possibly never recovering from it and getting stuck.When she comes to talk with Lee she is living with another man, even has another baby, which, given the circumstance, would have been a big hurdle to pass for her. She goes on to express how she feels, how sorry she is about saying horrible stuff to him, asking for forgiveness and the such, laying her heart out while the tears come out like rainpour. Of course, Lee not only does he indicate that she has nothing to apologize for, he still holds himself responsible, and he is visibly uncomfortable for it seems he wants to express something, but wont for it involves being emotionally vulnerable so, yet again, he continues to state that “he doesn’t wanna talk about it” and that he has to go and so he walks away, clearly discouraged but, more clearly, unable to speak about anything at all, leaving her ex-wife in tears.

Manchester by the Sea is a masterpiece not only for how it shows the depth of grief suffered by a person surrounded by death but also, in my eyes, it’s a microcosm of what men have to suffer silently due to what is imposed or expected of them or even because of what they themselves believe they should behave like. Bearing the responsibilities of what happens, dealing with everything on their own and, most of all, not sharing their struggles, feelings or how they manage with anything even if their life is completely shattered, everything “is fine”. This holds true for many men out there and though many of them haven’t been through what Lee went through (thank god), there are many other types of problems that they deal with, be them relationship-wise, personal struggles, doubts, depression, substance abuse among others that still hold as not solvable on their own. The movie then, serves as a reflection on the type of society in which we’ve lived in for centuries. One in which feelings are still believed to be solely relegated to women, where men “should not” express themselves and rather suffer on their own and where the only solution is to “drown them” in alcohol or act them out in other ways. Manchester by the Sea is a portrait of how traditional masculinity, where everything regarding feelings is treated as a joke and not being dealt with at all creates a society of men without empathy, unable to understand or express negative emotions even condemned by doing so and of which, if anything bad happens, they have to deal with it themselves without help in that department. It is a powerful movie, a must-see and certainly a movie that will keep you thinking in many ways.

 

 

 

 

 

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