Hollywood: Manliness Attacked and Reappearing
As someone who annually revisits her Narnia books for the sheer pleasure of reading C.S. Lewis's glowing prose and visiting his magical land, I was very excited when I heard that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was being turned into a movie. I was also worried, because Disney's involvement gave me creepy visions of four sickeningly adorable kids, and a bouncy, cute, cuddly lion.
The biggest public debate, of course, was to wonder whether Disney would water down, or delete entirely, the Christian subtext underlying Lewis' stories (a concern that existed despite the fact that the conservative and deeply religious billionaire Phil Anschutz owns Disney's partner in this venture, Walden Media).
Fortunately, Disney didn't go wobbly, and I doubt there is anyone now who doesn't know that The Narnia Chronicles: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is a wonderful film, with Christian themes intact. I therefore went to the film prepared to be impressed — and I was. The big surprise for me, though, and something I haven't seen discussed anywhere, is the movie's positive depiction of its male lead, Peter (played by 18 year old William Moseley).
As the movie begins, Peter is a young man who is casually kind to his sisters, painfully impatient with his brother, and loath to take on responsibility. Once in Narnia, of course, Peter has responsibility thrust upon him, for he quickly learns that he is the High King of prophecy. It's important to note that he's not simply one of two kings, or one of four royal children — he is the High King, the leader among leaders. Although he is at first appalled, once he realizes that he cannot avoid this destiny, he swiftly grows into his role.
The pivotal moment for Peter comes when he, his sisters, and their talking beaver companions are stranded on rapidly cracking ice, with a frozen waterfall above them about to burst, and hostile wolves surrounding them. To add to the pressure Peter faces, one of the beavers has a wolf poised above his throat. Up until this point in the movie, he has merely been reactive. This crisis forces him to be proactive.
Peter has few options. He can kill one of the wolves, but this is unlikely to save him and his companions from melting ice. With imminent disaster facing him, and everyone screaming different advice to him, Peter is forced to make his decision alone, and quickly. At the last moment, he plunges his sword into the ice beneath him, causing the entire ice pack beneath the companions and the wolves to crack.
While the wolves slip into the water, Peter's sword creates a pole to which he and his sisters can cling as their block of ice races downstream. (The beavers, of course, run no risk from their icy plunge.) Peter's rapidly developing courage and resourcefulness reappear when Lucy slips off the ice floe, and he dives under water to rescue her. It's a gripping scene, made more so by the fact that dire circumstances have forced Peter to leave the boy behind and become a man.
Once Peter has crossed his personal Rubicon, from boy to man, his old—fashioned manly virtues develop swiftly. He displays principled honesty when he confesses forthrightly to Aslan that Edmund's failures can be traced back to Peter's own impatience with him; he shows magnanimity when he welcomes Edmund back into the fold, even though Edmund's treachery almost destroyed them all; he demonstrates brilliant tactical skills when, in Aslan's absence, he creates a masterful battle plan; and he acts with incredible gallantry when, despite his sheltered upbringing in Finchley, he leads his troops into battle against the witch and her foul warriors.
What makes Peter's classic manliness so interesting is that Peter's time in the movie theaters coincides with Brokeback Mountain's run in movie theaters. Brokeback Mountain, of course, is the much—heralded movie about the closeted gay sheep herders who just can't quit each other. Stephen Greydanus' review of the movie points out both its many virtues as a piece of movie making and, more significantly, its nihilistic view of men:
In the end, in its easygoing, nonpolemical way, Brokeback Mountain is nothing less than a critique not just of heterosexism but of masculinity itself, and thereby of human nature as male and female. It's a jaundiced portrait of maleness in crisis — a crisis extending not only to the sexual identities of the two central characters, but also to the validity of manhood as exemplified by every other male character in the film. It may be the most profoundly anti—western western ever made, not only post—modern and post—heroic, but post—Christian and post—human.
Brokeback's bleak picture of modern men did not arise in a vacuum. Instead, it is part of a pop culture that is incredibly hostile to boys, both directly and indirectly. The indirect attacks involve efforts to de—boy boys, such as demonizing the kind of toys that boys like (and that help them learn to navigate in a man's world); giving boys vapid pabulum to read at school, virtually guaranteeing their academic disengagement; and treating normal boy energy as a disease that needs to be treated with Ritalin.
The direct attacks include t—shirts or bumper stickers deriding men and boys; and campus activities that essentially classify all young men as ravening rapists. The current situation can readily be summed up in the title of Christina Hoff Sommers' book: The War Against Boys.
How marvelous then, in the midst of this undeclared war against our sons, to see a movie, a huge hit movie, that takes a teenage boy and declares him to be a wonderful human being. Even more extraordinary is the fact that this teenage boy is not wonderful because he is an enlightened proto—metrosexual. Instead, he is wonderful because he possesses precisely those virtues that have long been associated with men: bravery, tactical genius, principled honesty, magnanimity, and a paternal sense of responsibility for those entrusted to ones care. I can only hope that our sons see this movie and are able to take away a positive message that counteracts some of the psychic damage arising from the pop culture war against them.
Bookworm publishes the website Bookworm Room.