Out Of The Picture

[Warning: This post contains will contain a great deal many film spoilers, including, but not limited to, the Taken series, How to Train Your Dragon, Interstellar, Transformers, The Incredibles and Super 8. The comments will almost certainly contain more. You have been warned.]

I had the opportunity, recently, to watch the second installment in the How to Train Your Dragon series. As far as such films go, it wasn’t bad. But what struck me, besides some of the other PC garbage in there, was the dynamic involving the father.

As many who frequent these parts know, the way that Hollywood treats fathers in movies is very predictable. If a movie contains a strong father, then one of three things usually is the case:

1) The father is either revealed as not as strong as he appears, or otherwise suffers from some significant defect

2) The mother is just as strong and kick-ass as the father, or even more so

3) The mother is dead or killed off early in the movie

The Taken series involves the first scenario. I recommend reading this post by seriouslypleasedropit for a good review of that particular series. But basically, the dad is divorced, due to various deficiencies on his part. This is necessary to balance out the fact that the dad in that film is very dominant and powerful.

The Incredibles is a movie which features the second scenario. The father is a superhero with super-strength, which naturally makes him dominant in a number of respects. Of course, that naturally has to be balanced out by various flaws on his part. The mother, meanwhile, is also a superhero, whose super-elasticity makes her quite powerful. She is also a very skilled pilot. I should note that The Incredibles is not a great example of scenario 2, but was the only one I could think of on the fly. The mom is a stay at home mom and in a deleted scene (for obvious reasons) defends being a homemaker against a professional woman type. So apparently it had to be trimmed to fit the narrative even more.

Scenario 3 has been discussed a number of times in the ‘sphere. The Widower is a trope among strong father types in Hollywood. Interstellar, Super 8 and the latest Transformers movie all feature strong fathers and dead mothers. I cannot remember any of the posts on the subject, but the general consensus (from what I recall) is that this trope exists because Hollywood is afraid of showing strong fathers. It can only be allowed when the mother isn’t around, in order to demonstrate the man in question is upping his game to compensate for the mother being dead. The idea being that if mom is still alive then a dominant father will overshadow her, pushing her into a submissive role (unless she fits Scenario 2).

I mentioned How to Train Your Dragon before because that provides a new twist on this particular practice. Again, spoiler alert. Seriously. Spoilers.  The first movie showcases a hero whose dad is the chief of a village, and his mom is, you guessed it, dead. Now, the father is shown as a strong figure, although lacking in wisdom to trust his son. But definitely strong and IN CHARGE. Well, in the second movie it turns out that the mom isn’t dead. Rather, she was just hiding for 20 years because she didn’t think her husband would trust or believe her about something important. Naturally, the father/husband forgives her and they are all a happy family for a very short while. Of course, this cannot last. Remember, the father is the chief. He is in charge. That means he would need to be giving orders to mom, and we simply cannot have that. Of course, mom is also strong and powerful in her right (so a bit of Scenario 2). But still, the dad is so dominant that she cannot possibly match him on that. So what is the solution? Kill off the dad. There, problem solved. I’ll admit, that surprised me. But it shouldn’t have. I should have realized that a strong father figure couldn’t be allowed to have a mother/wife around.

All of which makes me curious… is that movie unique? I invite my readers to submit other movies which have featured this particular dynamic- the strong father dying when the mother returns or is saved. Also, any thoughts about why Hollywood does this- whether they are different or merely better articulations of what I was going to say. The only thing that I would ask is that my readers put a spoiler tag at the front of their comment naming the movie(s) which they discuss.



Filed under Masculinity, Men, Red Pill

20 responses to “Out Of The Picture

  1. Mrs. C

    It is a common theme for children’s movies and stories to have either one or both parents dead or to have the one remaining parent be a little incompetent or overbearing or some such defect.

    The reason doesn’t have to do with the relationship between the parents AT ALL. The story has to make sense from the main characters point of view who happens to be a child. Two properly involved parents in a loving marriage would make a boring story and inhibit the reason for the child/children to go off on their grand adventure and to find maturity and growth through their hardships. This has always been a common theme all the way back to the oldest fairy tales. To a child, it makes sense to have a big adventure when you’ve either had a fight with a parent/step parent or the parents aren’t in the picture. If they are in the picture, it doesn’t make sense to the child mind to just up and leave on a great quest when you have loving, competent parents who would never give their blessing to a child to go off into dangerous and life-threatening situations. The child has to find themselves in a “no-other-choice” scenario.

    As far as How to Train Your Dragon 2, here’s a quote from the director.

    “Stoick’s death is – if you consider that Hiccup’s story is the primary story, Stoick’s death is a right of passage [for Hiccup] to become the leader he needs to become, to be able to stand on his own,” DeBlois explained.
    By killing Stoick, the director says, Hiccup can step into a larger role and “fully become the chief.”

    “It blossoms in full affect when his father’s no longer there to be his crutch.”

    With one or two more How to Train Your Dragon stories in the works, it’s easy to presume that future films will see Hiccup learn how to become the chief of the Hairy Hooligan tribe. All while… battling new enemies? Fighting an outsider who wants to become the chief?”

    It’s always important to remember that with children’s stories, it always about their coming of age or learning the great life lessons.

  2. “Two properly involved parents in a loving marriage would make a boring story and inhibit the reason for the child/children to go off on their grand adventure and to find maturity and growth through their hardships.”

    Are you really that deluded?

  3. @ Bob

    I don’t think that Mrs. C. is deluded. She is right that from a narrative perspective, when a child or young person is the protagonist, you need something wrong to justify them going off on their adventure. Often that involves something wrong with the family.

    With that in mind, How to Train Your Dragon makes a lot of sense. Both films do sort of show Stoick in the way of Hiccup’s growth. His death is a necessary impetus for Hiccup to assume his proper role as leader. As long as his dad was alive, that wouldn’t happen.

    Super 8 is another movie that involves a child protagonist and a dead mother. That is used to explain the “freedom” that the child enjoys.

    The Goonies, on the other hand, involves lots of child adventures without the main star(s) having a broken family. (Spoilers follow). However, their families are endangered in that they will be forced to move away when their houses are purchased by someone. So there is a disruption, just of a different nature.

    Mind you, this dynamic only applies when you have a child as the protagonist.

  4. Mrs. C

    @Bob Wallace – No, I’m not deluded. As a literary device for children’s stories, in order for the child to be forced to make life/death decisions on their own, moral choices, etc, there has to be some reason that their parents aren’t there to help them. It has to be ok for them to leave home. Two loving parents and a happy home would force the child to be disobedient and disloyal in order leave home and “find themselves.” An evil stepparent, an orphan living with relatives who don’t really want them, a dead parent and one living parent who is too taken with their grief to pay much attention to the child, etc. makes it ok in a child’s mind to go out on their own. To engage their imagination and force them to answer the BIG question of “what would I do in this situation if I didn’t have my parents there to guide me”, is really a safe way for children to explore “owning” the morality that their parents have been teaching them all along. I have read many a fairy tales to my daughters when they were little, and it was not uncommon during the twists and turns of the story for them to blurt out how they would handle it.

    It’s common to childhood to imagine a “runaway” scenario when you think your parents have treated you unfairly. You imagine what you would pack, how you would escape, where you would go, how you would eat etc.

    Two loving parents in a normal, morally upright home is what children should learn is the God-ordained way the world works. However, as far as children moving beyond “Do it because I said so” to “I would make such-and-such a decision if it was up to me” is really a big part of growing up. It helps them make some sense of this big, scary, confusing world and gives them a sense of control in a world where they have very little. Imagination in childhood is a stepping stone on the way to adulthood.

  5. “Two properly involved parents in a loving marriage would make a boring story and inhibit the reason for the child/children to go off on their grand adventure and to find maturity and growth through their hardships.”

    I’m inclined to agree here, the only stories I’ve encountered where both parents are alive fall into three categories: Parents are facing severe issues and the child takes matters into their own hands (Mulan), the parents are the protagonists of the story (101 Dalmatians), something happens to (or is caused by) the child that is completely beyond the parents’ depth (Madoka Magica/ Brave).

    And think about say, Frozen, if both parents (or even just the father) had survived, the various conflicts never would have happened. There would be no reason why Elsa would still be out of control of her powers by that age, she never would have been crowned queen so early, Anna wouldn’t have been cut off from the love she needed, etc.

    Overall, two involved, loving parents demands more creativity of the writers and more skill in writing interpersonal relationships. They could have had Stoick step down instead, but killing him off is quicker, easier, and more emotional.

  6. mdavid

    I was thinking of the movie Stand By Me. A healthy society is one that gives kids breathing room to have adventures without collapsing the family to do so. Our modern society is so femcentric children are babied until they are adults and thus the need for the death of parent meme.

    The Incredibles was mostly conservative family-wise (until it showed the daughter’s social success only at the expense of boyfriend). Elastigirl was a supportive role to Mr. Incredible, so that was ok. I wouldn’t watch the other movies you listed…I boycott 95% of movies in principle. Certainly those. Life’s too short.

    DG, if you haven’t seen the movie In tthe Bedroom do so. If I had the talent, I would have made it myself. I think it’s the most morally charged movie about modern family/relationships I’ve ever seen, with directing/acting superior as well.

  7. @ mdavid

    I haven’t seen that movie. Might give it a look if I get the chance at some point. Interstellar wasn’t bad, I think you might like it. But otherwise, I agree that most movies these days are rubbish.

  8. The Practical Conservative

    Stand by Me had two parents consumed with grief over their oldest son and were essentially neglecting the younger one (Gordon). The other friends had dysfunctional families as well. This is from the novella, though, I’ve never seen the movie all the way through.

  9. mdavid

    DG, do you mean you haven’t seen SBM or ITB? Or both? Kill to read your review of ITB.

    PC, …and were essentially neglecting the younger one
    This is the femcentric view methinks. Neglect = freedom.

  10. Ugh.

    Having a missing parent is common because its EASY. Nothing more. To write a family scenario otherwise takes skill of writing and creative ability to find a scenario to employ the skill at.

    As for dead parents; its always been common, but seems more so than traditional works as it taps into the children of divorced parents without the moral complications of making a statement on divorce

  11. Feminine But Not Feminist

    I invite my readers to submit other movies which have featured this particular dynamic- the strong father dying when the mother returns or is saved.

    Spoiler alert…

    I’ve been trying to think of one that fits this description, but nothing comes to mind. The closest I can think of would be Spiderman, where the Uncle (who raised Peter Parker like his own son) was shot while out trying to find Peter, leaving his wife behind as a widow. Or my personal favorite Disney movie The Lion King, when Mufasa died trying to rescue Simba from the wildebeast stampede, also leaving his lioness wife behind. One thing I recall about both wives though is that they were both worse off without their husbands around, and it showed.

    Thinking about Bambi also; he was with his mother until she died, and didn’t know his father before that (though he did see him a time or two and was mesmerized by him). But after his mom died, his father came and found him and raised him from then on out, though you don’t actually see it happening – it’s just implied.

    While these movies don’t really fit the script of making the father look bad, they have one more thing in common: they are older stories. (I realize Spiderman isn’t an old movie, but it was based off of an old comic book). It seems to me like the newer the movie, the less of a place there is for a respectable father (for the most part at least; there’s probably an exception or two out there somewhere).

  12. The How to Train a Dragon movies have two monotonous tropes that I can’t stand:

    1) The superior female warrior; blonde, thin, and mouthy. She shows up all the male warriors of her generation on and off the field of battlefield. This totally busts the suspension of disbelief.

    2) The father is an idiot in a long line of idiot fathers who couldn’t figure out that the monsters are actually good guys. He’s too busy being traditional to be smart. Luckily, his metrosexual son is going to set him straight now that the superior female warrior has taught him how to be a man.

  13. @ Cane

    I hadn’t mentioned those, but yeah, both tropes are present in full force. The worst part of it for me, though, is just how “metrosexual” Hiccup (the son) is. I mean, he was the girliest person in the first movie (and almost in the second). Frankly, it was so uncomfortable and disgusting to me that I was given to thinking that the ancient practice of exposing babies might have its merits. Although I admit that is a different mythology/culture involved.

  14. In addition to what Mrs. C said, there’s another reason scriptwriters show parents in dramas as flawed: parents by the tickets, and parents want desperately to believe that the children who are ever in danger are the offspring of bad parents. No one wants to go to a movie and be reminded that their own children are in danger.

    I’d also like to note that the absent or terrible parent is a drama trope. Parents in comedies are almost always still together. They may be idiots, but they are usually still there. As for idiot parents, especially idiot fathers, you’re all a bit late to start complaining about a trope that started with the Greek New Comedy in 200 B.C.

  15. @ Karenjo

    As for idiot parents, especially idiot fathers, you’re all a bit late to start complaining about a trope that started with the Greek New Comedy in 200 B.C.

    Wow. That brought back memories. It’s been ages since I studied Greek theater. But you are right, it isn’t necessarily new at all.

  16. CS

    -slight spoilers-

    The movie Brave came to mind, and I guess it would most closely represent the first scenario.

    Similar to How to Train Your Dragon the father, Fergus, is the strong and dominant one. But his role as clan leader is made to be a joke of sorts as he is shown to be somewhat incompetent and almost child-like while his wife, the “Lady Queen” Elinor, nitpicks and mothers him into doing the things that need to be done as if he would be unable to manage the kingdom’s and his personal affairs without her supervision. It’s shown at various points in the movie that he and the rest of his adult male peers are easy to dupe and as a general rule, simple-minded.

    Fergus doesn’t die, but he is saved – by both his wife AND daughter. At the end of the movie, Merida and Elinor both fight to kill the leading antagonist, Mor’du, which, as it turns out, saves the antagonist as well; his death sets his spirit free from a curse that he brought upon himself.

    Without spoiling too much for those who haven’t seen it, the mother-daughter dynamic around which the movie is centered is also pretty interesting in and of itself. Two headstrong females and the question of whether or not the daughter should follow family/cultural traditions or ”be free” to come of age in the time and manner that she deems fit for herself.

  17. mdavid

    KJ, …parents want desperately to believe that the children who are ever in danger are the offspring of bad parents. No one wants to go to a movie and be reminded that their own children are in danger.

    The terrible truth. I never had the wit to see this.

    As for idiot parents, especially idiot fathers, you’re all a bit late to start complaining about a trope that started with the Greek New Comedy in 200 B.C.

    The big difference is that the Greeks didn’t have the Team Woman Hero complex. Nor any illusions about Woman as men’s moral compass. That’s our modern delusion, and when mixed witht the idiot father meme it’s a special kind of sickness.

    DG, I never did note your answer on if you had seen In the Bedroom. I’m facinated by this movie along the lines your blog takes and am dying to hear other Christian’s opinions.

  18. @ mdavid

    No, never saw it. Don’t think I had heard of it until you mentioned it. I don’t watch a lot of movies, and never really did. The movies I mentioned in this post constitute a fair amount of the ones I’ve seen recently.

  19. @Karenjo

    As for idiot parents, especially idiot fathers, you’re all a bit late to start complaining about a trope that started with the Greek New Comedy in 200 B.C.

    Right, because this was a major theme in every Greek comedy after 200 B.C., and these Greek comedies were aimed specifically at instructing children.

  20. @ Cane Caldo

    Not to mention the ancient/classical Greeks were hardly a society whose mores and patterns of familial behavior we would want to emulate. Or uphold as a paragon of some sort.

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