“Verily, I have often laughed at the weaklings who thought themselves good because they had no claws” -Nietzsche

I saw the movie In The Company of Men again over the weekend and it touches on a number of themes that have been explored over at Bobvis and here. The basic plot of the movie is that the very examplar of the “alpha male” breed teams up with a passive middle-manager type on a business trip for some extracurricular activity. Both emasculated and angry at women, they decide to find some vulnerable woman, both pursue her, and both disappear into the night when they go back to corporate HQ. The find a secretary that is beautiful, but very self-conscious about the fact that she is deaf.

This post does contain spoilers, so if you’re planning to see the movie soon, skip it.

As the end of the movie approaches, it’s apparent that the passive Howard has truly fallen for the film’s heroine, Christine. Christine, meanwhile, has chosen the charming but nefarious alpha-dude Chad who hides his seething contempt for Christine underneath a charm and social grace Howard is incapable of demonstrating even when he is sincere.

“Can’t you see?” Howard emphatically explains, “I’m the good guy!”

His sweet talk falls on deaf ears in more ways than one. But the fact that Howard still sees himself as the good guy is instructive. In his mind, he was merely the copilot. It’s Chad that was the enemy. And sure enough, Chad is by far the more evil of the two. Chad revels in the mischief while Howard mostly goes along with it until he suddenly sees a self-interested reason not to. Chad may be evil, but Howard is weak enough to serve the same ends.

I was reminded of the Nietzsche. Howard thought he was good because he was powerless. He was powerless in the face of Chad’s charisma and then was too weak to follow through with it, falling in love with Christine because she was pretty, pleasant, and just vulnerable enough to want him back.

“You! You are [expletive] handicapped. Do you think you get to just choose?!”

Don’t you get it, he may as well have said, you’re a damn cripple and I’m the one that’s okay with that!

You’re in pretty dangerous territory when the biggest thing you have in your favor is your willingness to tolerate some aspect of who they are. A rich guy who thinks that a girl from the other side of the tracks should jump at the opportunity to marry into money cause most guys with money wouldn’t look at her twice is likely in for disappointment. Spungen points out that older guys often think they should have a leg up cause they’re older and they’re willing to overlook age.

I’ve personally come close to falling into this trap. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person and for the longest time I wouldn’t discriminate based on intelligence. Not that I wanted someone dumb, but that I was willing to tolerate a less stunning intellect and I figured that I was smart would be helpful. Boy was I stupid. the couple dim girls I did date were bored to death talking about anything more complicated than the Ross-Rachel-Joey love triangle on Friends.

Most things that we are “willing to tolerate” are things that others appreciate. Some guys would prefer to talk to any of my erstwhile dates about Friends than about anything that I’d like to discuss and they’re probably a more appropriate match. In the case of the movie, another deaf person obviously wouldn’t have a problem with Christine’s deaf person, nor would a lot of people. But even if Howard were the only person on the planet willing to deal with her deafness, that’s still not the basis for a relationship.

Were it not for Chad, it’s quite possible that Christine would have fallen for Howard. He does have a steady job, is congenial for the most part, and isn’t a bad looking guy. But, in the fury of the moment, all that occured to him was that he wasn’t as evil as Chad and was okay with the fact that she was deaf.

The film is several layers of sad and more than a little maddening. This post contains spoilers, but there is relatively little that happens in this movie that you don’t see coming a significant time ahead. That’s not a knock on the movie at all* because it’s a process movie rather than a plot movie. It’s not about what happens but rather how it happens. And how it unfolds, one dreadful and tragic scene at a time.

* – But here’s a knock on the movie: it is the most poorly directed movie I have ever seen, bar none. Heavy dialogue scenes are filmed from afar. Worse yet, the dialogue’s volume is drowned out by whatever else is going on in the scene. A truck passing out back makes more noise than the characters do talking.


Category: Theater

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11 Responses to Thoughts on In the Company of Men

  1. logtar says:

    Even though you are only scratching the surface on this topic, you do make a great commentary on relationships. There are many people out there (and I have done it before) that settle for what they thing should work for them rather than to feel that things are working for them. Your heart tells you very loudly what is right in wrong in terms of love, and many people chose to ignore by rationalizing something that should be just felt.

  2. Peter says:

    Having “willingness to tolerate” as your sole selling point is far from ideal, but when a nerd like Howard is competing against an Alpha like Chad, he might not have anything else to offer. He can’t compete against Chad on many other grounds. Especially when there are many women out there like Spungen, who has an almost visceral dislike of men she considers nerdy.

  3. trumwill says:

    Logtar,
    It’s definitely a mistake to pursue people solely on the basis of how available you think they are to you.

    Peter,
    A person like Chad will beat out a person like Howard probably four out of five times (some women will be able to see through his charm), so it’s probably best Howard not go for the women on Chad’s radar. Fortunately, people like Chad are typically choosy in the women they pursue. Unless, as in the movie, they are just trying to be mean, but that’s an uncommon circumstance. Most of the time Chad doesn’t know that Christine exists. And absent Chad, I think that Howard may have had a shot at her (though, absent Chad, he probably wouldn’t have noticed her, either). Coming into the movie, Howard has a stable job, isn’t a particularly bad looking guy, seems affectionate, and is flexible (albeit too suggestable). That should be enough to find someone, though maybe not someone as pretty as Christine.

    Spungen can correct me on this, but I am under the impression that the guy she did marry is something of a nerd, albeit a more well-adjusted one than most. I could be off-base on this, though. Either way, there are plenty of women out there that don’t mind nerds. Maybe not enough to go around (though most of my nerd friends married or had the opportunity), but the good news is that if you’re a nerd it’s really easy to separate yourself from the pack by learning minimal social grace and grooming/hygiene practices.

  4. Peter says:

    Either way, there are plenty of women out there that don’t mind nerds. Maybe not enough to go around (though most of my nerd friends married or had the opportunity), but the good news is that if you’re a nerd it’s really easy to separate yourself from the pack by learning minimal social grace and grooming/hygiene practices.

    Apropos of that point, I came across a list of fashion tips for nerds that supposedly will make them more appealing to women. Not that I agree with all of them; in particular, while the rule about no socks with sandals is perfectly true, in my experience most of the people who violate that rule are old men, not nerds. Still, the list makes for amusing reading.
    On a more serious note, however, I am less convinced that nerds can mend their ways. Nerdiness is as much a state of mind than an outward way of behaving and dressing. I suppose the younger a nerd is, the better his chances of changing.

  5. trumwill says:

    in particular, while the rule about no socks with sandals is perfectly true

    My father-in-law does that, actually.

    On a more serious note, however, I am less convinced that nerds can mend their ways. {…} I suppose the younger a nerd is, the better his chances of changing.

    I think that’s true, but then the older nerd has already had more opportunities to learn than the younger nerd had, so an older nerd represents a younger nerd that failed to learn the error of his ways.

  6. Spungen says:

    And absent Chad, I think that Howard may have had a shot at her

    But aren’t these guys both supposed to be bastards? I haven’t seen the movie, but that’s how it sounds. Like we’re not supposed to root for either one.

    but when a nerd like Howard is competing against an Alpha like Chad, he might not have anything else to offer. He can’t compete against Chad on many other grounds. Especially when there are many women out there like Spungen, who has an almost visceral dislike of men she considers nerdy.

    Notice how when confronted with a perfect example of a dastardly beta/nerd, Peter desperately attempts to avoid the issue with unsupported (and irrelevant) charges that I persecute nerds. He cannot face any threat to his delusional image of them as good-hearted underdogs who counterbalance the evil guys in suits.

    I challenge Peter to produce evidence to support this slanderous contention. Don’t you guys remember my post about respecting geeks and nerds?

    You know what I think? I think you’re both just trying to goad me into telling some nerd sex stories.

  7. Will Truman says:

    But aren’t these guys both supposed to be bastards? I haven’t seen the movie, but that’s how it sounds.

    That’s what I’d thought going in, but it turned out that one was evil while the other mostly just weak.

    Like we’re not supposed to root for either one.

    I wasn’t rooting for either. I mostly just wanted them to leave the poor girl alone and get their just deserts and maybe learn their lesson. But it’s pretty clear to me that one of them is a villain of circumstance and the other of choice and if either of them have a chance to come out of the movie a reformed man, it’s Howard, so he’s more sympathetic. I could maybe see someone leaning more slightly in the Chad direction, though, if they consider weakness worse than maliciousness. Such people are probably more interested in films other than this one, though.

    Don’t you guys remember my post about respecting geeks and nerds?

    I’m not sure I was reading the blog back then.

    You know what I think? I think you’re both just trying to goad me into telling some nerd sex stories.

    No! Please. That’s quite alright. Quite. Alright.

    Actually, let me think about this for a sec. On one hand, their mishaps would probably give me a feeling of superiority. On the other hand, some stupid mishap is bound to come up that I have committed…

  8. Spungen says:

    That’s what I’d thought going in, but it turned out that one was evil while the other mostly just weak.

    People do plenty of bad stuff out of weakness. Weak people are often the meannest, at least in my experience.

    I’m going to put this on my Netflix cue, thanks for reminding me. Then I’ll know what I’m talking about.

    Spungen points out that older guys often think they should have a leg up cause they’re older and they’re willing to overlook age.

    Oh, one quibble — these guys generally weren’t willing to “overlook” age. They thought the simple fact of being being older themselves should score them points with young women. Of course, they’d been watching shows all their lives where young women flock to “silver foxes.” It never occurred to them that those older guys had something to offer beyond their advanced age, usually money.

  9. trumwill says:

    People do plenty of bad stuff out of weakness. Weak people are often the meannest, at least in my experience.

    I don’t disagree. But absent some outside influence, people weak like Howard is weak are disinclined to be mean. There are certainly the “I am malicious because I am miserable” (who are miserable because they are weak) folks out there, but a lot of weaklings don’t fall into that category. Howard’s meanness was due to suggestability. For his own part’s Chad’s meanness was due to invulnerability, like an eight year old putting a rat on a light bulb.

    Anyway, I don’t think that I’ve spoiled the movie for you. It, like Happiness, is best watched with a touch of bourbon. It’s decidedly uncomfortable otherwise.

    Oh, one quibble — these guys generally weren’t willing to “overlook” age. They thought the simple fact of being being older themselves should score them points with young women. Of course, they’d been watching shows all their lives where young women flock to “silver foxes.” It never occurred to them that those older guys had something to offer beyond their advanced age, usually money.

    The idea that their age should get them ahead is predicated on the notion that other older men would prefer someone closer to their own age. Otherwise there is no competitive advantage with age even if they do have something to show for it (money, age, etc). So they are, in a sense, “overlooking” the age gap in a way that other men theoretically are not.

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