In 1999 the poster for the film American Beauty, a satire on the suburban American family and white middle-class masculinity, read in big bold let- ters, “Look Closer.” This injunction is at the crux of the film and also the subsequent films about masculinity and the family made by director Sam Mendes: Revolutionary Road (2008) and Away We Go (2009). In these films Mendes scrutinizes the normal -white middle-class masculinity and the white heterosexual nuclear family — casting a detailed and deliberate eye over what for many years has been discussed as being invisible through its very ubiquity and acceptance. This chapter argues that at the heart of this scrutiny is a re-appropriation of the gaze that, since colonial times, has viewed, categorized, constrained and marginalized people. Mendes re-turns this objective, distanced gaze onto the white centres of society, looking beneath what looks like the normal, to see the contradictions, doubts, conflicts and secrets underneath. What appears to be the privi- leged powerful position of white middle-class men is shown to be just one more position of oppression and repression. The male protagonists in the films are shown to be as powerless, confused, doubting, failing and marginalized as anyone else. This ostensible failure of idealized mas- culinity and the depicted impossibility of the normal has an equalizing effect that moves beyond an idea of “crisis” for white men as a group and shows instead not that they are victims, but that they are no different from anyone else: we are all individuals.
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- “Look Closer”: Sam Mendes’s Visions of White Men
- Palgrave Macmillan UK