[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.