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View Full Version : Can someone help me understand (thematically) The Men?



Raventongue
04-29-2012, 08:32 AM
Yup, that 1950's movie with Marlon Brando about the paralyzed WWII vet. I saw it, I know what happened, I know why- but I'm a little confused otherwise. I can't seem to make sense of the exact significance of the argument they had as a couple before Brando's character went back to the hospital, nor of the events shown (on her end) between that and the ending. Due to that I'm also not entirely sure why he decided to go back to her.

Manuel Royal
04-30-2012, 06:43 PM
I have not seen that movie, but it's on Netflix streaming. So I'll watch it today, and get back to you with an answer. Not just my usual half-baked nonsense, either, but a definitive answer that can't be argued with.

Manuel Royal
05-01-2012, 12:11 AM
Hm. Well, it's an old-fashioned movie, by modern standards. (I think that has to do with it coming out 62 years ago.) Sometimes realistic, but sometimes melodrama.

The argument they have on their wedding night seems out of character for Teresa Wright's character, Ellen. After months of being relentlessly positive and loving, suddenly she has a mini-meltdown and (reacting to his having a muscle spasm) for the first time looks at him like he's a freak. True, he's being gruff and cold, but she'd worked through that before.

Maybe the significance for her is that, after the long emotional build-up leading to the wedding, she's had a cold bucketful of reality dumped on her head, and is looking at her future without the rosy lenses of romance. (At least, it's always been my impression that engagement is a more romantic condition than actual marriage.) This probably happens with a lot of couples, even without a complication like paraplegia.

Also, this being 1950, it seems apparent that they've never had sex, either before or after his injury. She was asking his doctor about the possibility of having children, but it's unclear whether they were talking about fertility per se, or his ability to have an erection and ejaculate. (This was back when movies showed married people sleeping in separate beds.)

Anyway, in modern times (and in real life 1950, as opposed to movie 1950) they probably would have found that out before the wedding. (Or maybe not. There seriously used to be a lot of wedding nights where at least one party was a virgin. Seems crazy, but there it is.)

So possibly Ellen was so anxious about that question that she unconsciously sabotaged their relationship at just the point where they should have been starting a life together. And Marlon Brando's character, Ken, who could have smoothed things over at that point, takes the excuse to roll off in self-pity and rage, returning to the VA hospital.

It would probably have been more realistic to have a separation after a few weeks or months of marriage, but with twenty minutes of movie left, they needed to take him to a depth of anger and despair he hadn't hit yet, like an addict hitting bottom.

And, now that I think of it, although at the time I thought her actions were out of character, maybe it was a good idea to show her cracking that way, not being perfectly supportive. Makes her more human.

His decision to come back to her, and try to make the marriage work, seems to follow naturally from his last scene with his doctor, who for the first time opens up about his own life. Sometimes looking into another person's source of pain puts your own in perspective. Any relationship between inherently flawed humans is problematic.

Anyway, pretty good socially-conscious drama for the time. Would have been a made-for-tv movie twenty years later; nowadays probably a direct-to-dvd indie movie, or made-for-cable. Written by Carl Foreman, who had a pretty good record. Wrote: High Noon; The Guns of Navarone; Bridge on the River Kwai; and a number of other solid pictures.

J.S.F.
05-01-2012, 08:45 AM
Not to mention Zinneman directing the flick as he'd done with other socially conscious films. Nice review, by the way, M. Royal.

Raventongue
05-02-2012, 07:10 PM
Oh sweet, thanks Manuel.

You know, now that I think of it I think you're right- it's almost like Ellen was so relentlessly positive before because she was afraid to be more honest about things, and so then when the dam broke it was more nasty than it otherwise would've been.

I was holding my breath when he showed up at the door because I wasn't sure how she'd react. But in hindsight that's silly, of course she's going to let him in. Who wouldn't have at least tried?

I totally assumed they'd never had sex. Actually, my dirty 21st-century mind assumed "having children" was a codeword for it. Because, dude, sexless marriage.

I'm surprised how open the movie was about the questions of bladder control and defecation, actually. I think in modern day they would've danced around that or completely left it out.

Manuel Royal
05-02-2012, 08:14 PM
I was holding my breath when he showed up at the door because I wasn't sure how she'd react. But in hindsight that's silly, of course she's going to let him in. Who wouldn't have at least tried?My guess is, even if he'd never been wounded, they'd have a troubled relationship with a lot of highs and lows, maybe a pattern of fights, breakups, and reconciliations. At least, I've known a lot of couples like that (and been in a couple of such relationships).

And when he was sitting there, blocked by the brick steps to the house as if they were a mountain, I reflected on how few ramps and whatnot there were then, for people in wheelchairs. Even today, if you can't walk, the world is an obstacle course. (I found that out when I had to use crutches; much tougher in a wheelchair, I'm sure.)


I'm surprised how open the movie was about the questions of bladder control and defecation, actually. I think in modern day they would've danced around that or completely left it out.
Me too; and then I felt stupid. Why? Because I've often tried to imagine how I'd deal with being paraplegic, and imagined just not being able to move my legs. I didn't even think about incontinence.

Of course, there's a very wide spectrum of spinal injuries and levels of ability; some people retain control of their bladders and bowels, some have no control, and for others they can regain control with training and rehab. (I been reading.) Same with sexual function.

Raventongue
05-03-2012, 03:17 AM
My guess is, even if he'd never been wounded, they'd have a troubled relationship with a lot of highs and lows, maybe a pattern of fights, breakups, and reconciliations. At least, I've known a lot of couples like that (and been in a couple of such relationships).

Seems like it, yes.

On a universal scale it really felt like the first half was about depression/misfortune/grief in general, using paralysis among other things as a vehicle. Then I didn't understand the second half at first, but I was pretty sure on the same scale it was about relationships in general. The things about what it's like to be confined to a wheelchair etc being more constant throughout.