Monday, July 27, 2009

The Beauty of Andropause

This year is the tenth anniversary of American Beauty, a movie that I hate with a passion.
The film explores a tired old story of an aging, balding suburban white male who is faced with an impending loss of his sexual function at takes it out on women in his life. The angst of a middle-class man of middling intelligence, mediocre personality and really boring everything else confronted with andropause and rebelling in extremely tedious and predictable ways has been explored by film after inane film, novel after insipid novel. As if we didn't have enough with Woody Allen's, Philip Roth's, and Co's endless attempts to create a mystique of male andropause, we had to relive the tired litany of grudges that a suburban white male has accumulated against life by the time of his middle age crisis.
The protagonists of the suburban andropause genre arrive at a painful realization that the only role they play in the world is to bring home the paycheck and pretty much shut up afterwards. This unpleasant insight, however, never motivates them to look for the reasons why they ended up this way. They never acknowledge that the only alternative to this kind of existence is not the life of fame, fortune, adventure, and excitement. Rather, the only other possibility in life that they had from the outset was that nobody would need them even for the limited purpose of bringing home the paycheck and fading into the background after that.
The male creators of the andropause genre invariably take out their anger against these unseemly realities of white suburban male's life on female characters. Kevin Spacey's character takes petty revenge for not understanding him (as if there were all that much in him to merit some kind of a profound understanding) on his wife and daughter by salivating after his daughter's teenage friend. Mina Suvari's cheerleading character is objectified as a piece of meat that is willing and eager to be consumed by the uninspiring middle aged protagonist. Kevin Spacey is, of course, a little less ridiculous in the role of a man desired by adolescent women than Woody Allen, which is probably the only saving grace of this movie.
Other than the tired plot structure, the film is unbelievably pretentious. Its heavyhanded attempt to reveal to the viewers the big news that suburban life isn't perfect is laughable simply because it would be pretty hard to find any one in need of such a revelation.


Anonymous said...

American Beauty helped to the multiplication of movies/tv series about the dark side of the suburbs in the last decade. The "andropause genre," as you appropriately call it, is often coupled with the suburban drama.

Such narratives are supposed to subvert the "Father Knows Best" cultural symptom, but the critique oftentimes is incomplete. Sometimes the critique even reinforces the "Father Knows Best" ideology. Kevin Spacey's character, with his post-mortem revelation/redemption, may be emblematic of this unsatisfactory critique.

As far as I remember, there are two striking metaphors in the movie: the American beauty (the rose) and the plastic bag dancing in the air. Both metaphors annoys me. The American Beauty is the object of desire (Mina Suvari) and the object of hatred (the roses that Annette Bening cultivates). The American beauty is at once the desire and the lost of desire, sexual energies and male impotence. It seems to me that the plastic bag dancing in the air (another object that symbolizes beauty, believe it or not...) substitutes the American beauty as the positive metaphor of the movie. I am probably pushing it too far, but the movie ends up with Spacey's character dances in the air like the plastic bag. He learned to see real beauty, to appreciate how beautiful life is, to make peace with his life and family. His death, his distance, is an ideal outcome for a character who does not know how to commit to his family. The plastic bag is the new, ideal American beauty, it is the ideology of quietism, a disturbing catharsis.

There are other movies that bridge the andropause genre with the suburban drama. I am thinking about Ang Lee's The Ice Storm. As far as I remember, I loved The Ice Storm as much as I hated American Beauty. I would like to know why (!). It would be great to compare both movies.

Oh! And there are two different, great movie that deal with the andropause genre and the dark side of the suburbs: Happiness and Far from Heaven. This time, though, criticism is uncompromising. I highly recommend these movies.


Tom Carter said...

Well...I liked American Beauty, for the most part. His angst and anxiety went on a little too long, but the story wasn't that bad or that atypical. Beyond that, I'm a firm fan of Kevin Spacey no matter what the film.

Don't you think that in the end he show a little belated honor and morality by not taking what he had so longed for? Just asking....

Anonymous said...

You are right Tom: Kevin Spacey is an excellent actor and his character in American Beauty shows some sort of redemption at the end. I saw that movie many years ago. Maybe I should watch it again to see if the honor and morality outcome seems less annoying than it did years ago.

The problem with American Beauty is that, precisely, it is such a typical movie. Well directed and well played (I am a fan of Allison Janney no watter what the film!), but typical. Because of that, I wonder if the movie will keep the appeal it had in 20 years from now.


Clarissa said...

"Don't you think that in the end he show a little belated honor and morality by not taking what he had so longed for? Just asking...."

-I think the point is that he wouldn't have been able to do it. :-)

Clarissa said...

"American Beauty helped to the multiplication of movies/tv series about the dark side of the suburbs in the last decade. "

-I don't think anybody has anything useful to say about the subject since Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser and John Updike. They can try, of course, but everybody knows that life in the suburbs isn't perfect, so what's the point of rehashing the same old story through such dubious quasi-artistic films?

I admire you, Ol, for seeing something "rescatable" (forget the English word) in any film. As we all know, I'm bad with films, so O could never produce such an in-depth analysis as you do.

When my boyfriend read your comment, his reaction was: "God, this guy is so smart!" :-)

Anonymous said...

Ha! Ha! Ha! I like your boyfriend.
Theodore Dreiser is on my summer reading list. Looking forward to it.


Clarissa said...

I suggest American Tragedy. It is long but it is absolutely his best. I read it maybe 15 times. And it's a Bildungsroman. :-)

Jeffrey said...

I found this article helpful while learning about andropause, and I would also like to share this website with others that want to learn more,

Anonymous said...

I do feel that any man that is feeling the signs of andropause, should definitely see a doctor and get help. Although with age, a decline in testosterone levels will occur in virtually all men, there is no way of predicting who will experience andropause symptoms of sufficient severity to seek medical help. Neither is it predictable at what age symptoms will occur in a particular individual. Each man’s symptoms may be also different.

Testosterone Replacement Therapy has been shown to be a very safe and effective treatment for men who have been diagnosed with andropause. Once started, the medication should begin to reverse the signs and symptoms of andropause relatively quickly. However, just as andropause tends to have a slow and subtle onset, to the point where you may not even notice it’s happening until it’s a full blown problem, the reversal of andropause with TRT will also be slow and subtle.