Movies reflect the changing roles of men in the 21st century. Here is what our community says about a classic Christmas film.
This is the latest post in our “Movies and Manhood” series that gives some of our regular writers an opportunity to share their views on how movies have impacted their thinking about men’s roles today. Our objective is to find the intersection between these films and the themes and topics we address here at The Good Men Project. Be sure to check out our other posts on Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, The Godfather trilogy, the Back to the Future trilogy, and the Star Wars series.
In the twelve years since Jon Favreau’s Elf (2003) was released, it has quickly become many people’s favorite holiday film. The sweet story of Buddy the Elf searching for his biological father, and the comedy and changes in both father and son that occur, has touched the hearts of many. It now stands alongside other classics such as A Christmas Story, Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Christmas Vacation as the de facto film that represents true holiday spirit.
But does Elf have more up its sleeve that sentimental holiday cheer? Some of our GMP writers think so. Check out their comments after the clip of Buddy meeting his father.
Here are the GMP Perspectives:
It takes a real man to be comfortable wearing out yellow tights. In all seriousness, though, Will Ferrell’s “Buddy” is so tenderhearted and earnest that he cannot help but subvert outdated notions of masculinity that still look rough around the edges. Buddy’s unflappable warmth eventually melts the coldness of Walter’s steely demeanor, from which emerges a father who rediscovers the risk, and reward, of loving a son.
Miguel de la Fuente-Lau, The Good Men Project author
On the surface we can see Buddy’s journey as a quest to find his true father and fit in. Yet, as I thought further into this film, I found a theme of male empathy and the man-box.
Buddy is raised in a nurturing environment where, even though he does not fit in, he is accepted for what he is. This leads to Buddy developing an extremely strong sense of empathy which is displayed to any creature.
When Buddy arrives in New York to find his father, he is thrust head first into the boiling cauldron of toxic masculinity, as displayed by his real father. Buddy’s empathy, and need to fit in by trying (in vain and with contrary results) to make everyone feel welcome in his presence.
What of the outcome, did Buddy find balance between the purely empathetic male and the totally toxic man box?
Wilhelm Cortez, Executive Editor at The Good Men Project
Son of a Nutcracker! This is one of my Christmas favorites and boy did I identify with Walter, Buddy’s father, as the work focused and misaligned father considering my own son from a separated relationship. I truly felt his journey as a father, not with being able to participate in the upbringing of the child, but instead a man who chose work as a place to prioritize his efforts. I love seeing Walter come to accept Buddy, and truly his own relationships, as being the things that matter. That’s what makes me tear up with each time he really starts singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.
Sean Ackerman, The Good Men Project Author
I think Elf quickly found an audience and status as a modern classic for many of the same reasons Peter Pan has been such an enduring, beloved story. Will Ferrell’s Buddy is as much an embodiment of the eternal child as he is a fully developed character—perhaps more so. Watching his story is cathartic for modern men, because it reminds us that the oft-heard phrase, “Man up!” isn’t just a damaging gendered imperative, but also frequently substitutes for “Grow up!”
So many of the standard traits, tropes, and bits of imagery that are employed to establish male—especially father—characters capture the stresses and struggles of men compelled to abandon childhood early and completely, in order to fit some imaginary standard of Provider and Patriarch. It isn’t Buddy’s journey that delights and inspires us so much as his influence on the adults around him, who so desperately need a reminder that it is not only OK, but truly necessary to embrace their inner child and combat that pressure to Man Up, Grow Up, and stifle the joy and innocence of childhood within themselves. The sad subtext, as with all holiday movies, is that it takes some Christmas magic for this lesson to be taught, learned, and applied; in real life, men grow up and only look back through the lens of film fantasy. We could all use a Buddy—or, throughout the rest of the year, a Peter Pan—to keep perspective.
Edgar Wilson, The Good Men Project Author
Elf is an amazing movie. Will Ferrell plays a role that only he could make work. The way Buddy is pretty much a big kid living in a world that no human has seen before is one of the things that make this film so wonderful. When Buddy finds out the truth it doesn’t weaken him, it actually strengthens his resolve and builds up his courage. There is no task he cannot conquer and although through most of this movie he may seem out of place (or even at times helpless), he is actually the catalyst that pumps up the Christmas spirit for so many people in the movie. Once it is all over things for this family will never be the same.
Personally, I love this movie. It is one of the best modern day holiday movies to come out and has a ton of great messages that we tend to forget because of all of the hustle and bustle that is the fabric of our daily lives. If you have yet to see this movie you should check it out. It is a touching film that the whole family can enjoy together.
Jay Snook, The Good Men Project Author
Photo: New Line Cinema
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