So what is it exactly that makes a man a man? The definition has seen widely varying criteria throughout the ages, filtered through the media and presented to the population via radio, television, and advertising. Movies in particular have offered us what the ideal man should be, how he should act, what sort of clothes he should wear. And especially how he treats a lady. Several films come to mind when I think of how the ideal man is portrayed. Keep in mind that these are simply one blogger's humble opinions
For a more contemporary example of masculinity in cinema, we needn't look further than two releases from this year, both coincidentally starring Ryan Gosling. The first film is Drive, where Gosling plays a taciturn auto mechanic/stuntman/getaway-driver-for-hire who gets involved with a woman, some gangsters, and a big bag of money. Gosling's character, known only as the Driver, is cool, knowledgable, efficient, and prone to incredible outbursts of violence. He is a doer, not a talker. When the woman he loves is in trouble, the Driver springs into action without a hint of selfishness, single-mindedly acting as her protector at any cost. There is never remorse for any of his actions, no matter how extreme, and the viewer accepts this since the Driver is acting solely out of concern for his girlfriend (and to further boost viewer empathy, her child). The Driver is sharklike in his quest, continually moving forward to reach his goal, and leaving bodies in his wake. So can such a violent character really embody masculinity? In a word, yes, since his actions are for a sympathetic cause.
Another film finding Gosling portraying "the ultimate man" is Crazy Stupid Love. Not a great movie by any stretch, but in it Gosling plays a womanizing lothario who happens to be incredibly charming and well-heeled. Throughout the film, we are given zero backstory about him (much like the Driver), adding to his mystique. The movie doubles back to then deconstruct this mystique while Gosling teaches Steve Carell's character what makes a woman want a man. Being mysterious and never talking about yourself makes a man mysterious, therefore more intriguing to a woman. Gosling's character knows how to dress, walk, talk, and can make a mean Old Fashioned (there is a point in the film where he gets Carrel to chant I'm better than the Gap! repeatedly) He is confident but not arrogant, knowledgable but not a know-it-all. He seduces countless women into bed, though; he has impeccable taste but is a serial bachelor. As the film progresses, cracks begin to show in his steely facade. Gosling begins to embrace monogamy and values quality time with a woman rather than a one night stand. He realizes the emptiness of a life without true love and decides he is the marrying type after all. By embodying both the suave sophisticated worldly type as well as the down-to-earth, one-woman-man, Gosling makes his character, in my opinion, the perfect man for the 21st century woman.
Taking three examples of characters from movies over fifty years apart is by no means a scientific analysis of what masculinity is defined by the lens of society, I admit. I just thought it was interesting seeing as I watched all three of the aforementioned films quite recently and found myself thinking I'd really like to be this guy, or at the very least possess certain aspects of each of them. Coincidentally, my wife thought that these characters were all in their own way embodiments of desirable masculine qualities. There are lots of women who wouldn't be attracted at all to any of these types, which is obviously understandable, different strokes for different folks, as they say. But to me, and what I strive to be in a man, these three examples stand at the forefront of what masculinity is and can be, warts and all.