ITV online allowed me to watch the film of Phillip Roth’s book. I was initially attracted by the powerful cast including some of my favourites. Anthony Hopkins, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris and Nicole Kidman.
4 smiles: Ratings explained
This good rating is despite the film failing the Bechtel Test:
(1) are there at least 2 women in the film? (yes)
(2) Do two women talk to each other (No)
(3) the conversational topic is not about a man (Not applicable, see 2)
As society progresses to make good films that include storylines that draw on the richness of life which includes women, I’d like to add that the women in the film with speaking parts have names.
I’ve rated this film so highly despite this prominent failure because the protagonists main storyline revolves around the challenge of living in a discriminatory, prejudiced culture. I recognised his challenges and could empathise with the difficulty and outcomes of the decisions he’d made.
The protagonist, Coleman Silk, is the son of African Americans, his skin is pale and he can pass as a white person if he chooses to do so. We see him treated as-if he is white, the position of privilege. To me this is analogous to a woman choosing a route where she highlights the characteristics associated with the male was as a technique to gain the benefits associated with a male privileged world. I wear a suit, I talk with the confidence associated with men. I’m confrontational in my discursive style. I recognise that these are not associated with the traditional female role.
When Coleman has the choice of mixing in society as ‘black’, going to a college that is recognised as for blacks, joining the army and declaring his ethnicity, he chooses to not declare his status as a member of a disempowered group. At school I was teased for being like a boy, wearing my hair short, wearing trousers and flats shoes. All done for comfort and convenience. The teasing bothered and hurt me. But I chose to go with the values of physical comfort and convenience over conformity to avoid the aggressive, mean, teasing. Coleman doesn’t conform, he side-steps.
The film tracks significant events which lead to Colemans decision, through tragic and painfully ironic outcomes. Eventually, he finds love and acceptance for who he is by closeness with a woman who’s been the victim of a broad range of typical outcomes of being a victim of male power. Unlike him, she never had the option of denying her ‘class’ as woman. In his senior years we see Coleman voluntarily walk into the type of prejudice and unstable life that he chose to avoid, with deception, in his youth.
A beautiful, painfully sad film.