Men, Women & Children
They said technology would make our lives easier. And perhaps it has. We carry the world in our pockets now—weather reports and phone books, family photos and football scores, cameras and radios and enough information to fill a million libraries.
But technology's door opens up to the darkest recesses of our souls. The illuminating light of the Internet shows us shadowed places. As a society, we're repelled by these corners of sin and seduction. And yet we're drawn, pulled by curiosity, then desire, then unspeakable thirst. We pull the shadows around us like a cold and shameful cover.
Online infidelity haunts the Truby family—habits kept quiet but not altogether secret. Don is drawn to porn, visiting countless sites when he can. Helen has found solace in a social network that specializes in sexual cheating. Their 15-year-old son, Chris, has wallowed for years already in a dark world that has made normal sexual relationships for him impossible.
In another family, Donna Clint and her daughter, Hannah, don't look at naughty pictures. They make them. Not porn, exactly. But Hannah, still a teen, poses as Donna takes shots of her wearing revealing outfits. Mom imagines it might be a way to help Hannah become a Hollywood star. Daughter finds in the pictures a validation that makes her feel desired and wanted.
Allison, desperate to grab a boy's attention, haunts anorexia sites that help her grow ever thinner.
Tim quits football and retreats into the hours-eating world of online gaming.
Only the Beltmeyer family at first seems safe from the Internet's dusky allure. Every week, Patricia painstakingly combs through her daughter Brandy's online correspondence like she's searching for ticks—deleting anything that might be the least bit offensive or questionable. She accesses all of Brandy's favorite sites, knows all of her passwords, monitors every keystroke through software. "I'm just trying to protect you," she tells Brandy again and again, and it's true. She's only doing what she believes mothers should do.
But Brandy does what 15-year-olds sometimes do, too, sneaking around her family's firewalls, creating secret accounts, finding space and freedom despite her mother's strict, surefire surveillance.
Perhaps technology has made our lives easier. Information and entertainment is now ours for just the cost of a keystroke or two. But when it comes to relationships, we're paying a far steeper price.
Much of the bad (very bad) behavior we see here is not intended to be aspirational. Pornography and infidelity and the idealization of anorexia are all intended to strike us as negative and, at times, unspeakably sad. These men, women and children make terrible decisions, and the film never excuses them. Indeed, it is in some ways an Old Testament-like tale, wherein every sin comes with a consequence.
And then in the midst of all that torrid temptation, illicit participation and righteous retribution, we see moments of New Testament-like grace. When a sorrowful Donna confesses to her new beau, Kent, about how she used her own daughter, Kent is horrified at first. But Donna repudiates her earlier behavior, and Kent accepts this new start, allowing their romance to continue. When Don discovers that Helen's cheating on him, he decides to show up at one of her rendezvous spots to let her know that he knows. She comes home filled with regret, and he acknowledges that he too has strayed. Don says that they could sit down together and spill out every little detail of their mutual marital betrayal, filling each other's heads with unforgettably damaging images. "Or you could just tell me what you want for breakfast," he says.
Some will say Don's avoiding the real issue, and they're probably right. But we can also see through his actions a willingness to try to not just forgive but also forget.
That point made, Men, Women & Children is undergirded by an essentially humanist worldview. Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot is repeatedly invoked and quoted, and the core story is interspersed with shots of the Voyager spacecraft speeding from our solar system into the infinitely large universe beyond. It's all designed to emphasize how small and apparently meaningless our lives are, cosmologically speaking.
"If I disappeared tomorrow, the universe wouldn't really notice," Tim says. And he talks about finding comfort in the idea that we're all made up of billions of immortal molecules that were here long before we were and will be here long after we're gone. "Hitler, Gandhi, Jesus Christ mean absolutely nothing," he tells Brandy. "So it's no big deal if I don't play football."
Our narrator tells us there's no evidence that anything outside our planet (be it alien or a god) will save us. So it's left to Tim and our other protagonists to find what meaning they can from one another.
Porn sites (some of them S&M related) reveal sultry and scantily clad—and partially naked—women. (Bare breasts and backsides are visible.) It's implied that Don masturbates while looking at porn. As does his son, Chris. Knowing that Chris is already so immersed in porn, Don laments that the boy won't have the "joy" of stumbling across his own father's nudie mag collection (like Don did). Indeed, Chris has become so addicted to extreme, hard-core porn online that he cannot function sexually with a real-life date. (The scene is filled with graphic dialogue and sexual movements.)
Don and Helen talk about their lack of marital sex and engage in a passionless interlude. (The camera focuses on the edge of the bed as it moves.) Tim sees pictures of his mother hugging and kissing a new beau. Don hires a prostitute by way of online contact. We see her strip down to her underwear and take off most of his clothes. When the act is done, she tells him they still have a half-hour left and can go again. But all Don wants is for her to put her head on his chest and give him a hint of true companionship. Helen cheats with at least two men she meets on a website designed to facilitate adultery. During one encounter we see her straddling a man and making explicit sexual movements as she awkwardly tries to talk dirty.
Hannah poses for her picture-taking mother in tight, fabric-deprived outfits. She's proud of her sexy figure and her sultry website, of being pawed over online (but it ultimately proves to be the undoing of her dreams of becoming an actress). A photo is said to show Hannah giving oral sex to a guy, and there's graphic talk about the act.
Hannah encourages Allison to lose her virginity now, telling her that if she doesn't she'll be "completely retarded in bed when you're a junior and it counts." So Allison and a crush start undressing (we see her bra), and then the camera shifts to the bedroom door while they do the deed. (Never mind that Allison is extremely hesitant.)
Clearly, conversations and actions suggest that the movie's teens and their friends treat sex very casually. It's both implied and shown that they take lewd pictures of themselves for texting purposes. Tim's online friends make crass and graphic jokes about his mother. People talk and text about the pain experienced by some women the first time they have sex, also bondage, ejaculation and the taste of semen.
When a guy at school hits Brandy with something from his lunch tray, Tim picks him up, throws him on a table and pummels his face until it's bloody. Tim is sent to a psychiatrist over the incident, who prescribes some psychiatric medication. Tim then uses those pills to try to commit suicide.
Allison throws a rock through someone's window. Her leg is shown streaked with blood after she passes out and has what doctors later tell us was a "spontaneous abortion"—due to her malnourishment.
Crude or Profane Language
At least 20 f-words and seven or eight s-words. We also hear "b--ch," "d--n," "h---," "c--k" and "f-g." God's name is misused three or four times, Jesus' four or five.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Characters drink wine, beer and whiskey. Helen concocts a story about getting drunk as a way to deceive Don.
Other Negative Elements
Allison hides her eating disorder from even her parents. But her bedroom walls are covered with pictures of svelte, skinny models. Brandy also keeps secrets from her mother, and she and Tim sneak out together. Patricia masquerades as her daughter online to spurn the advances of a boy. Tim has spent, literally, thousands of hours playing violent video games.
Men, Women & Children is not a fun movie. It is not a "good" movie. It is, for lots of reasons, quite difficult to sit through. But it does seem to want to make us think. And it points its moral at parents.
Most of the children we see here are out of control—products of well-meaning but overly permissive and under-involved moms and dads. Patricia proves the rule by being the exception, an über-cautious, ever-vigilant monitor. And for that she's mocked. And yet her fear of the Internet—that kids can slip into dark, virtual worlds at the expense of the real one, that they can be drawn into porn and sexual depravity—are vindicated time and again here.
But is she doing the right thing? Does she go too far? Will Brandy fare any better than Chris as adolescence creeps toward adulthood? Parenting can be split into three classic styles: indulgent (wherein few strictures or demands are placed on children), authoritarian (with a premium placed on absolute, near unquestioning obedience), and authoritative (where parents set clear strong guidelines but allow children freedom within them). Childrearing experts, including Christian ones, agree that authoritative parenting is the way to go—a truth that at least gets hinted at before the credits roll.
As such, Men, Women & Children can feel like a pretty conservative movie—one that warns audiences of technology's dangers and insists that kids really need good, strong parents willing to set some firm yet loving boundaries. Or maybe I should say it could have felt like that if it didn't sometimes waver on the issue of sexual mores and indulge in such a sky-high level of sexual content.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Adam Sandler as Don Truby; Jennifer Garner as Patricia Beltmeyer; Rosemarie DeWitt as Helen Truby; Judy Greer as Donna Clint; Dean Norris as Kent Mooney; Olivia Crocicchia as Hannah Clint; Kaitlyn Dever as Brandy Beltmeyer; Ansel Elgort as Tim Mooney; Katherine C. Hughes as Brooke Benton; Elena Kampouris as Allison Doss; Will Peltz as Brandon Lender; Travis Tope as Chris Truby; Emma Thompson as Narrator
October 1, 2014
January 13, 2015