to an unknown audience
like this post for example/  /November 08, 2009

The new film Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (from David Foster Wallace's book) can maybe best be described as a scarifying experience. Not redemptive, or cathartic, certainly, but more of a bracing shove. (Everything I say here may go for the book, which as a philistine and a dilettante I haven't read. Also, SPOILERS AHEAD, so don't read on without seeing the film or reading the book.)

It's a realization of the central character's own project, as we discover it to be: a meditation on how the feminist movement affected men.

The first monologues show ordinary pick-up artists, from the cads who baldly treat women as conquests and have no pretense of sensitivity, to the smooth operators who use sensitivity as their bait. DFW has a good ear for the pick-up tricks and the layers of deception built into them. It's amazing how they escalate: each hideous man uses the supposed callousness of the last as his foil, building himself a persona of deeper appreciation—either of women in general, or of the bullshit others use in their own pick-ups.

All the way through the film, I was fighting with it, trying to find my own monologue, my own very reasonable, honest sensitivity. But in the end nothing can be said, not any sensitive declaration or any unmasking of the "truth" we're so often hearing, that men think with their dicks. (If this were true, wouldn't we have a lot more dick-aches for Excedrin to treat?)

It left me with a feeling that feminism truly did strengthen women, weakening men in the process. And maybe this is a good thing. Maybe we're all more likely as a result to end up with someone who's really good for us, or at least less likely to end up with someone who makes us feel bad.

(According to the stats—and I believe the stats—feminism hasn't helped all women, all the time, but maybe at least it helps women like Sarah in the film, in her romantic bargaining power.)

At the end of the film our one sympathetic character makes a tremendous speech, where we find out how bad he's been—he's had an affair. He admits his own misbehavior and the hideous reasons that led to it, apparently laying himself quite bare. This is the moment of catharsis we've been waiting for. We want our man to save the day, if only because he's our man. But Sarah neither forgives, nor condemns. Her stony smile shows she simply doesn't need him anymore—since the affair has revealed his inconstant heart—and that is what finally hurts him.

Keep Reading >

Post a comment