Men in Search of Something
Movies for MRAs
INDEX of Movies
Reviews: Historical
Reviews: Contemporary
Reviews: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Urban Mythology
Men in Search of Something
Critical Thinking
Movie Quotes We Like
The Usual Links
Quick and Dirty Reviews
Iffy Reviews
The Telescreen
Off the Wall

This is a new page, mainly for movies in which men find some inner truth. They are not strictly MRA movies, but are worth a look-see.


This is such a unique film I was not sure into which category I should place it! At least part of the issue is that the historical figure on whom the movie is based, Franz Kafka, led a bizarre enough life, at least in literary terms. So the review ended up here.


Kafka the movie has Jeremy Irons as the eponymous writer who encounters skullduggery in the Prague of the early 20th century. The movie’s  story line assumes that that the stories Kafka wrote about were based on his actual experiences. Thus, the Irons Kafka is accused of a crime by a pair of unctuous police bureaucrats (ala The Trial ); makes his way through a bureaucratic  maze to reach an otherwise unapproachable citadel (ala The Castle ); and there encounters assorted experiments on unwilling subjects in order to create good citizens (ala The Penal Colony ). The film is appropriately moody with vistas of fog enshrouded Prague, and at times ponderous with vistas of stultifying file cabinets. It has one of the great lines of post-modern motion pictures: when Kafka confronts the mastermind technocratic overlord over the Castle's experiments to reengineer humans into good members of society, Irons tells him: "I've tried to write nightmares, and you've built one!"


There's plenty of good stuff in Kafka about the individual against the mass, and about the evils of social engineering, something to be remembered in these days of PC run amok. And of a time when the individual who rebelled against the system was the good guy. What makes this all the more effective is that the movie Kafka is not your usual hero. He's an insurance clerk with literary skills, an average man who sees what is going on through the omnipresent fog and behind the file cabinets (in one scene, quite literally).


The plot goes into gear with Kafka searching for a missing friend. Men standing up for their comrades and all that sort of thing. And it ends with him reconciling with his father. In between, we see Irons go forward on his quest, overcoming not the usual comic book villains, but instead the forces of dull conformity and stifling bureaucracy...all things men are likely to face today.


There are some fine performances by Ian Holm, Alec Guinness and Theresa Russell, the latter as a female anarchist. Defying Hollywood convention, when she is in the clutches of the nightmare-makers Kafka does not rescue her. Instead, he does something rare in the movies: he understands the truth and thus liberates himself. The movie ends with Kafka returning home with the knowledge of how his society is really run, and gaining some inner peace in the face of the inevitable decay of the flesh.

I debated (with myself, who else makes decisions on this website?) about including Barton Fink in Movies for MRAS. In the end, I decided it's worth watching. Barton Fink is a New York playwright who is also something of an intellectual and self-proclaimed man of the people--though in the opening scene we see him dressed in a tuxedo and hobnobbing with the upper crust. His agent informs him that he has gotten the call from Hollywood to be a contract writer for the studios. Seeing this as his big opportunity to reach those masses he claims are out there, Barton goes west to find his destiny. But he finds himself confronted with writer's block, megalomaniac studio executives, and a couple of cops trying to pin a murder rap on someone--not to mention a dame.
Barton Fink  defies categorization. It's part film noire, part black comedy, part descent into a modern Inferno (quite literally at one point). John Turturro plays Barton with a look that seems not unlike someone who just wandered out of an early David Lynch film. He takes up residence at the Hotel Earle, a shambles on the other side of the Styx from the glitz of Hollywood in its self-proclaimed golden age. Ensconced among the peeling wallpaper, he plans to write the defining screenplay of his time...if he could only get some words on paper! The movie then follows Barton as he finds his muse. He develops a rough friendship with Charlie, the insurance salesman in the next room, played by with good humored malice by John Goodman. There follows some obvious stuff in which Barton doesn't give Charlie the chance to tell the real stories he came here to write. He also meets a woman, Audrey (Judy Davis), and seems to fall for her...and at this point I was ready to drop Barton Fink from the ranks of Movies for MRAs. So much for MGTOW, Barton! Then I really  got what was going on in this joint.
Audrey tells Barton she has ghost written the works of William Faulkneresque novelist W. P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), who spends most of his time in an alcoholic haze. In the seemingly male world of Hollywood, she is the real genius--or at least so she says. I came to a different conclusion. Audrey is actually another demon in the hell in which Barton finds himself trapped. It's pretty obvious when you look at the way she is portrayed: fiery red hair, pasty white makeup, a style that is a little too smooth. When Barton calls on her for help, she seduces him instead, almost creating a fiasco for him at a script conference with studio mogul Lipnick (Michael Lerner). One wonders if Audrey was the succubus who drained Mayhew's talents and then claimed them for her own?
With the walls closing in (literally, given the hotel's cheap wallpaper), Barton is rescued by Charlie who disposes of the demon. Men liberating other men, no doubt. (Charlie has a head for this sort of thing). Barton, now freed from the blandishments of the female sex, turns out the script of a lifetime. All's it takes is a homicide or two, a conflagration, and another Kafka-esque meeting with the studio bigwigs.
The movie ends with Barton on the beach, having symbolically fallen into the pictures. Despite the loss of just about everything, he now knows the truth. It's too bad that it took the apocalypse to force him to see what was in front of his face right from the start. But still, better late than never.
I did want to take an opportunity here to comment on one scene which seems bizarre, even for a movie which is bizarre writ large. After his night in the sack with Audrey, Barton goes to the aforementioned script conference sans script. When Lipnick asks him about the story, Barton tells him that he does not discuss works in progress. In response, Lipnick literally gets on his hands and knees to thank him for his talents. Did Barton really pull a fast one here? I don't think so. Lipnick's been dealing with writers forever, and he knows a con job when he sees one. His act was simply that, an act to get Barton motivated. Maybe he's the real hero of this movie.
I've been meaning to write a review of Memento for some time. It was a matter of finding the right angle. Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is another protagonist who wakes up in a motel room with amnesia, and murder is involved.  Memento  gives this hoary plot a new spin with a device which might have turned into a gimmick but works flawlessly here: the film's scenes are shown in reverse order to simulate Leonard's special kind of amnesia -- he loses only his short term memories. What brought on his condition was being assaulted by assailants on the night his wife was assaulted/murdered, or at least so he remembers. The movie then proceeds to unfold the backstory as Leonard tracks the killers to the climactic conclusion which is really the start of the tale's chronology. Along the way, Shelby has plenty of opportunities to wax philosophic on the meaning of life. Yet the movie has a darker undertone involving the obsessions that drag men into oblivion. At one point, Leonard hires an escort to replicate his wife's last night in bed with him, but he finds out that he can not go home again, literally or figuratively.
One thing that makes Memento  work is that it makes sense. If you watch the scenes closely enough, the answers are all there. The character motivations can be unraveled, the trail to the real killer is exposed. Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano, right out of The Matrix, are on hand to give the proceedings a suitably surreality. The movie becomes a morality play set in a suburban film noir of sunbaked streets, cheesy motels, and flashy if trashy drug dealer digs.
Shelby himself is a bizarre figure, his body tattooed with the clues leading to his wife's killers. (Though you'd think he would also carry a videocam and tape recorder in addition to his camera for a more complete reconstruction of the world that dissolves around him every fifteen minutes...) Incidentally, for a former insurance executive, Shelby has a pretty good arsenal of martial arts techniques!
Much of the movie's interest is in Shelby's voice-over reflections on his world. He sees things, he remembers (sorta) things, he analyzes what is going on about him.  He has flashes of insight, even if only in little memories of his long gone wife. Truly a thinking man's movie. Once you've gotten to the end, there's an implication that when he pulls the trigger on another character in the movie's opening it is the endgame of a scenario he has developed to free himself of the forces which have been manipulating him.  Or maybe he is just nuts.
Here's the deal: Memento ought to get men to thinking not so much about where they are going, but where they have come from, and what they might perceive as opposed to what is really out there. As Shelby's tale unravels, we see the pathologies which lead men into self-destruction, or in this case, destroying their own options to give play to their obsessions.  Still, Shelby has a choice, sort of, one that comes every fifteen minutes,  but then again, so do most men, they simply have to recognize it is there and seize it.
There's a scene in in here where two men find out that their world is nothing more than a virtual reality simulacrum. One man responds by declaring that this means his life is pointless; the other man by realizing the vast new vistas which he can now explore in the realworld which has been opened to him. Had they made The Thirteenth Floor about this, men facing a crisis and expanding their consciousness, it might have been a great movie. Alas, it goes in another direction. It's not a bad direction, but you can see the wasted potential.
The plot is another fusing of film noire onto science fiction, in the tradition of Blade Runner and Dark City.  A man has amnesia, is accused of murder, there's some identity switcheroos, and a femme fatale. It's not uninteresting, and the movie does provide a twist or two, but not enough to overcome the hackneyed elements. The film's antagonist (Vincent D'Onofrio) is not especially menacing: the barkeep at a posh hotel-dance emporium located within a VR simulation of Los Angeles in the 1930s. The protagonist (Craig Bierko) is a scientist who jumps into this phototinted world from what appears to be Los Angeles of the near and present future in search of a murdered scientist. Then there is some back and forth between two worlds, the police get involved, Bierko has a fling with the femme fatale who has a secret of her own. We've seen all that before. What I would have liked to have seen is, as noted, D'Onofrio and Bierko dealing with the possibilities of their world not being real, taking the Red Pill (to use a metaphor from another movie), and going their own way. There's a truly stunning scene where one of the characters drives out beyond the limits of the city, stops, gets out of his car--and sees, really sees for the first time, the false front that is his world.
Another stunning scene is a shot of a taxi driving down the Wilshire Boulevard of the simulated 1930s, pulling back to show that what is today the concrete and steel jungle of Los Angeles was then mainly an open field. It says something about the real world being even more disturbing than any science fiction simulation, something that men ought to consider these days.