So the other night my other half brought me in the 2009 film 'brief interviews with hideous men', told me it was my kind of thing, got bored after 20 minutes and left me to watch the rest. In what is probably going to humiliatingly reveal my complete cultural ignorance, before he brought it home, I had been completely unaware of this film and the book it is based on. [potential spoilers ahead- although I reckon you could watch this film knowing what is going to happen without it being a major issue]
So, the film begins with various men sitting behind a desk, giving narratives about their personal- and frequently sex- lives (have fun identifying the men out of all your favourite US tv shows! Is that Jim from the US Office; Stabler from SVU; dude from Leverage!- what do you mean I watch too much tv?). There is a tape recorder on the desk, but you do not see the interviewer or know the question. As the sequence of interviews continues, the interviewer (the new woman out of law and order: criminal intent) is seen and eventually the interviews are interspersed with sequences of conversations between her and other men in her life. She is a grad-student interviewing men for her studies. You never hear the questions she asks her interviewees and her conversation with other men in her life (ex-boyfriend, other grad-students, her u/grad students, professor) is very much dominated by their speaking; she is limited to brief responses and questions. The very few other women in this film have almost no dialogue- perhaps one sentence throughout.
Yet, this film is all about women. All these men, except perhaps one, are discussing their relationships with women. The women in these narratives are not human; they are objects for sexual gratification; they are wives discussed for their looks, not their minds; they are absent as much as they are present (like the interviewer). The men's narratives are relentlessly shallow, frequently misogynistic- they are truly hideous men. Yet sometimes complex questions are suggested in these narratives- one man describing his past concern that his wife may get ugly as she aged (she didn't) comments on how shallow it sounds, but asks if it could sound otherwise? One (physically beautiful) man in repeated sections that build on each other (and act as a rhetorical attack on the interviewer in their increased aggression) suggests that rape is not the worst thing that could happen to a woman- they can move on, become better because of it- but then ends his narrative by suggesting he was talking about his own rape. In one of the last narratives, the ex-boyfriend who cheated relates how his cheating began with an intention to use a women that he knew he could manipulate easily into bed and leave with no regret (he had no intent to end his primary relationship); but the woman he cheats with relates a narrative of her life and she becomes so fully human to him that he cannot leave her (and so dumps the girlfriend). Yet, in this act (and the narrative structure sets it up this way), he dehumanises the girlfriend he left behind- for one woman to become human another must be dehumanised. And then it is the end with no resolution, just hideous, shallow men and the woman who wants interview them.
Yet, the (this) viewer can't help but question all of these narratives. Yes, they fulfil every stereotype of masculinity presented in the media- they are the 'bad guys' that are popularly represented to haunt feminist narratives. These are how feminists are seen to conceive of men. Yet, the viewer knows that they are not men; they are empty shells as unhuman as they woman they describe. The question that these hideous men raise is not where are the 'good' men- but where are the 'real' men- the 3-dimensional men; those who are good and bad and ugly at the same time. In this sense, this is not a feminist narrative- it undermines the feminist (the interviewer) by suggesting that this is not masculinity- and if it is not masculinity, then what are feminists fighting against? Because if real men are not hideous, then what is feminism all about? In essence, the film both creates a false masculinity and a false construction of what feminism is in order to undermine feminism.
What is perhaps the more complex question, is what is the film's ultimate intent? Is it to undermine feminism- or are you meant to recognise that this is the intent of the narrative, because if you do, it then raises the question, if this is not feminism- what is?