04 September 2006

We are the hollow men

I now present you all with a guest entry. The fellow who wrote this wishes to be known as Dylan Trees.

Inspired a bit by PSFK’s ace ‘carnival of modern man’ thread, recently I’ve been mulling over current depictions of masculinity on the silver screen.

Four characters in particular paint a very specific portrait of modern man in all his failed glory – hollow men in a quest to fill the void. They happen to appear in my four favourite films of the past four years:

Bob Harris (Bill Murray - Lost in Translation)
Miles (Paul Giamatti - Sideways)
Joel Barish (Jim Carrey - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling - Half Nelson)

These ‘hollow men’ represent different ages (20s, 30s, 40s, 50s), different locations, different professions. But in other ways they are very alike:

1) The characters have a general sense of hopelessness, vacuity, dissatisfaction
2) Their sexual relationships are incompetent or unfulfilled
3) They are almost comically non-physical and non-confrontational
4) Each man is struggling against himself more than external factors. (In ESOTSM Joel is literally fighting with his own psyche).
5) The end of each film goes only part way to resolving the conflict. Not so much riding off into the sunset as a watery winter’s dawn. What does Bob say to Charlotte? Does Miles get the girl? Will Joel’s failed relationship inevitably repeat itself? Does Dan kick the habit? Are we meant to guess? Are we meant to care?

The overall sense of ambiguity and half-success serves as a powerful representation of the state that 21st Century Man has got himself into. It is a new era for Man, distinct from New Man of the 1990s. That was cosmetic and cynical – an easy feminising of the male archetype. Hollow Man is more complex and troubled. And much harder for marketers to reach or exploit. Hollow Man has no idea what he stands for. He is beyond the help of brands.

Hollow Man is fragile and fallible, and as a result completely fascinating. Give me a Bob, Miles, Joel or Dan over a Rocky or McClane any day.

I was very relieved to read that last paragraph, because I was starting to question myself in being attracted to this type of character. I agree with Dylan Trees, 100%. This very well could be a new and emerging archetype in this century - a thirteenth one that should be added amongst the magicians, mavericks and everymen of the world (on this note, I recommend the book The Hero and the Outlaw, which is a fascinating look at archetypes and how they can be applied to brands today). Along with this, visit Mr. Trees at his blog.

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