Do NOT see "Men, Women and Children" unless you are inured to today's porn and sex and sex and porn everywhere. The language and visuals are graphic and explicit and involve teens (and remember, today's sex is degraded), but after a few seconds of getting into it each time, the camera mercifully cuts away. But it's constant. I went to see this film because the write-ups highlighted the fact that it deals with technology and relationships, and in this, it doesn't disappoint.
If this was just an easy-sleazy-oh-boy!-tech&sex-is-a-vast-new-area-to-mine! kinda film, I wouldn't even bother reviewing it. But I do think it's something more than that.
THE PERSONALISTIC NORM
The film begins in outer space with Emma Thompson's voiceover, so we know this is going to have some big, philosophical resonance. The narration is clinical, dry humor that becomes very detailed once we situate ourselves on Earth with certain families. Families with teens. Since there is no God, Carl Sagan--in the voiceover and in the body of the film--becomes our guru because he, at least, can explain something of "the universe" to us. (But of course, in this film and IRL, did you ever notice how humans keep using personification regarding the universe? "The universe doesn't care." And trying to personify evolution? "Evolution tells us that monogamy is unnatural." Clearly, the human being is looking for the Personal. The human being is looking to be cared about by Someone and even to obey Someone wiser than ourselves.)
We get deeply into the lives of these families, their habits, their tragedies, their mistakes. There is father and son internet porn, digitally-assisted infidelity, pro-anorexia websites, a stage-mother inappropriately photographing her own daughter, videogame isolationism. At first we might think that this Smalltown, USA, is hypersexual, but we really know our whole culture is (see the older but still very relevant book "Porn Nation" http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2009/03/books-porn-nation.html#.VEAoD_nF-jk). Without getting too spoiler-y, the point is made loud and clear (albeit at the very end) that sex is great, but most of us really want the intimate relationship--proper to marriage--that is supposed to come with it.
PORN IS NOT COOL
The heart of the film is a teenage couple who use media fairly well and forego sex for a deep, romantic friendship.
Is degraded sex treated trivially or as a joke? No. It's treated as a kind of sad, pathetic addiction. It would seem that the director (Jason Reitman: "Juno," "Up in the Air") might be sex-obsessed, but I think he simply sees our world as sex-obsessed. This interview with Reitman reveals what he was trying to accomplish in the film: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/movies/2014/09/29/talk_dont_tweet_about_my_movies_jason_reitman_says.html and even his genuine personal distancing from the ubiquitous porn phenomenon is telling. In MW&C, Reitman painstakingly shows us computer porn EMASCULATING men so they can no longer respond to real, live women. This film in no way condones any kind of online or offline sexual shenanigans, but rather stares them down and shows them up for the sham and shame they are, with a such a masterful touch that things don't get too heavy, and we are entertained and not preached to. Reitman is an unflinching but not sadistic director.
The fact that uncommitted "love" and sex is deeply unsatisfying is plain to see in MW&C. But, as Fr. Thomas Loya--a Theology of the Body teacher--always says: "No matter how intelligent and well-meaning we are, we will often utterly ruin our lives grasping at what looks like true love and true sex because these desires are so strong in us."
MORE, PLEASE, BUT LESS GRAPHIC, THANK YOU
I really do believe we need more films like these--a lot less graphic, please? We get it, we get it, thanks--that examine our brave new cyborg world. The fact that this film portrays still-searching-for-themselves-crazy-mixed-up-parents along with their almost-adult-teens (and no "children") is significant, because in today's world there often seems to be hardly any difference between adults and teens; the adults acting regressively and the teens acting beyond their years.
Unfortunately, the one lone parent (Jennifer Garner) who actually seems to be concerned about her daughter's media use, does not trust her (trustworthy) daughter at all and goes way overboard tracking her every digital move. She even hosts a meeting for parents about their teens' media use. I think I'm going to use this scene as an example of "Media Literacy & E-Parenting Done Very Badly."
"Men, Women & Children" is an extremely contemporary film, but of course, will be outdated in approximately six months.
--THEOLOGY OF THE BODY? Indubitably.
--Being a strong Adam Sandler non-fan, I am grateful that he just listlessly says his lines and doesn't destroy the film.
--Every kind of pervasive media gadget imaginable in this film. Wow. Is that what we look like?
--1930's music at film's opening an homage to Woody Allen?
--Hilarious plot point: 9/11 = ancient history to today's teens.
--Hilarious plot point: 9/11 = ancient history to today's teens.
--Sex without a real relationship? It's just self-centeredly (even if mutually) having "needs met." Almost like infants. And it's playing with fire.
--At one point, there's an intercut sequence of three dating and/or copulating couples, and no one is with their spouse.
--There's even a hint that the obsessive, all-consuming world of sports (here, high school football) can be as addictive and escapist as our technology use.
--"Men, Women & Children" features possibly the longest, most original pickup-line ever. (Except that it is philosophically and theologically null.)
--A good point here about married couples not always having to talk EVERYTHING out (not the same as keeping secrets or poor communication).
--Teens' online lives are so real that if you kill that life? You might kill them.
--This film is coming out at the perfect time: The #Synod14 on the Family. If this is a snapshot of American and/or First World families today? Yeah, we need a Synod.
--How is it that a film by a Canadian director and starring Jennifer Garner is only playing in one theater in Toronto?
--The tired, tired argument about our planet being so small in the scheme of things, that humans are really not the center of the universe--yadda, yadda, yadda--features prominently. I'm sorry. This silly, silly argument/premise/theorem ("The smaller something is, the less it matters" or "Size is all the matters") is just the ramblings of a small, small male mind. I just don't know how else to say it. It also relieves us of all responsibility (a particularly male temptation). The conclusion to this argument in the film (which is a TOTAL NON SEQUITUR) is that, therefore, we must be kind and love one another. WHA???? If nothing and nobody matters? I say the conclusion should be TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN. Or as it says on my young cousin's bumper sticker: GET WHAT YOU WANT. Or how about EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY FOR TOMORROW WE DIE or JUST DO IT or as the Satanic Bible says: DO WHAT THOU WILT.
Besides, if it is true that the tinier something is, the less important it is, please explain atoms to me. Or deadly viruses. Or the myriads of teeny little insects that keep the ecosystem in balance.
The above ludicrous and fallacious premise is bad science, bad philosophy, bad theology, bad anthropology and just bad, wrongheaded thinking.
--Like so many other movies surprisingly and hearteningly portray: one CORRECT conclusion of this film is that the bedrock of our lives must be based on a technology-free ethos, ultimately, the spousal meaning of our bodies, the male-female relationship. Technology (however helpful) is not essential to our life. Love and unmediated bodily human interaction is.
--The film is not really about the "secret lives" of those we think we know. Because in the end "everything that is hidden will come to light" and God can bring good out of evil, even in a film.