5 Movies That Teach You How to be a Man
In compiling just 5 movies that teach you how to be a man I’ve had to be pretty judicious and have therefore aimed to include movies that offer us the qualities it takes to be a powerful man in different dimensions of life.
After all, being a well-rounded integrated man is all about developing physical grit and strong character, inner peace and dependability, as well as wisdom and our creative, alchemistic faculties.
As Plato said of men: “He who is only an athlete is too crude, too vulgar, too much a savage. He who is a scholar only is too soft, to effeminate. The ideal citizen is the scholar-athlete, the man of thought and the man of action.”
Henceforth, these 5 movies that teach you how to be a man cover all bases in order to produce a holistic lesson for the man seeking to learn and grow.
This has meant I’ve had to leave out some classic movies that teach you how to be a man, such as Raging Bull, Shawshank Redemption and Saving Private Ryan, yet these movies are somewhat predictable choices and ones I’m sure you’ve already watched, re-watched and sourced the inner message of.
So, without further ado, here are the official Recovering Man 5 movies that teach you how to be a man.
Okay, I know this is a cliché choice, but this movie is so damn good and so amazing in providing the ultimate archetype of masculinity that it just has to come first.
Where to even start with this masterpiece?
Perhaps the most notable thing that is so inspiring about the protagonist Maximus is his utter conviction to never complain, despite being hammered by life from every single angle.
Maximus is presented to us as a fine and noble general, he is an honest and respected leader, and also shows great loyalty as a servant to ‘the true Emperor Marcus Aurelius’
Immediately we find the great archetype of a real man – someone who leads men from the front, is physically capable and brave, yet is also humble, loyal and committed to a power above him (providing that power isn’t corrupt).
We see Maximus cheated, betrayed and victim of the most savage wrong a man can ever face – to see his wife sexually abused and murdered and his son killed too.
Worse still, Maximus is imprisoned and forced to fight as a gladiator, yet he doesn’t whimper or complain, he accepts his lot and begins the process of retribution for his fellow prisoners, his murdered family and his emperor.
The key lesson in here for us as men is that when facing tragedy, which we will (although hopefully something not nearly as tragic as Maximus faces), we mustn’t sink into victimhood and get lost in emotion.
This is not to say a man shouldn’t express his pain or trauma; that is a key element of transformation, yet it is just that, a key element of a larger process that must be honestly addressed, processed and transcended, not turned into a lifestyle choice to be a victim.
Further, when we express pain and sorrow, it must be to the right people, it must be to brothers in whom we can trust, who can offer us wise support, love and guidance, as well as help us in turning pain into purpose.
While Maximus’s example is extreme, it provides a model for us as men – we must accept life’s hardships and not be corrupted by them, but instead focus our efforts on restoring justice in a broken world, fighting with authenticity, speaking truth to power and staying loyal to our friends, elders and principles.
Now, I said the 5 movies that teach you how to be a man would be addressing the different dimensions of what it means to be a man, which is why this strange experimental film from the eighties makes the list of movies that teach you how to be a man.
If you’ve seen this movie, you’re probably thinking why an experimental movie with no narration or dialogue in the whole thing would make the list, well let me explain.
This movie, with its crazy winding score by none other than Phillip Glass, acts as a rollercoaster ride of what it means to be human.
We see in this movie the development of man, right from the basis of nature to space shuttles in the sky, with great natural vistas and intimidating skyscrapers in between.
All of this is presented with varying speeds, at times we see throngs of people in high-speed film darting about the city, or a tower being built, and next, we can see the motion of a wave in slow-motion, with the attendant music following the pace providing an exhilarating, nauseous feeling.
Collectively, this film shows us what man is. It shows us his brilliance, his madness, his creativity and his relationship to nature.
While the movie isn’t overt in any political messaging, it can be noted that the title of the movie ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ is a Native American word meaning ‘life out of balance.’
This is why it’s made the list of movies that teach you how to be a man, it is, in essence, a review of what humanity is and how we have crafted a convenient world that is increasingly detached from the natural rhythms of life that we can only source from nature.
This is a powerful realisation.
While there is nothing wrong with cityscapes and civilization per se, this movie acts as a reminder to us as men that our hearts belong to nature and if we remove ourselves from nature’s rhythms and from its simple, direct nourishing power, we damn ourselves to an artificial life of dystopian dysfunction.
Such a dysfunctional life is at the root of mental illness, purposelessness and a disconnection from Mother Nature.
Henceforth, we must be mindful not to lose this connection in our own lives, we must understand what we are as a species, and we must seek to reconnect with our history as a species if we have broken that most important of chains.
3. The Godfather
This may also come in the predictable category, albeit perhaps needing a little further explanation with the Godfather himself (Marlon Brando in this case) not exactly being an honest man in the way Maximus of Gladiator is.
While I accept the ultimate moral of the story surrounds the notion that crime leads a man to a lonely and broken end, detached from family and society, there runs a model of behaviour outside of the crime-world that has led to the enduring popularity of this movie.
While Don Corleone is living outside of the law in Godfather 1, or arguably pulling the strings of the law in certain circumstances, he is not a reckless nihilistic criminal intent on maximising damage and that which he can bring to ruin.
In fact, much of the plot revolves around his efforts to make the family ‘legitimate’ and his sorrow in seeing his beloved son Michael (Al Pacino) enter the mafia world, despite having the brains and balls to make it in the real world.
So, Don Corleone is a complex character, and unlike Michael in Godfather 2, where we see a descent into ever-darker and more evil behaviour, Don Corleone is attempting to go the other way and move from sin to sanity.
This is why he’s such an enigmatic figure.
Don Corleone, despite his involvement in the mafia life, has a rigid vision of how a man should behave.
He calls out his hotheaded first-born Sonny for cheating on his wife, as well as maintaining a firm belief that his family should stay together, eat together and grow together.
Coming from a background as an orphan, Don Corleone knows the value of friendship and family, never betraying those close to him and creating an inner world of exclusive closeness.
We see him castigate Sonny when he reveals too much to a potential rival in Sollozzo (which inadvertently leads to the Don getting shot), telling him never to ‘let anyone outside the family know what you’re thinking again.’
Further, we see him knock some sense into movie heartthrob Johnny Fontane (loosely based on Frank Sinatra) when he does nothing but come to the Don and cry about his problems.
In essence, the Godfather provides us with the values of a bygone era that places family loyalty above all, however, it also offers us a cautionary note in that crime, with all its glitz and glamour, ruins everything in the end.
4. Paris, Texas
Paris, Texas isn’t a movie with a protagonist who shows us how to be a man, but rather a protagonist that shows us exactly what not to do as a man, which is ironically why it makes the list of movies that teach you how to be a man.
Firstly, the protagonist, played by the excellent Harry Dean Stanton, is a broken, wounded man who’s deeply entwined in one of the most difficult issues of a man’s life – losing the love of his life.
There’s a saying that in order to be a fully developed man you have had to have been punched in the face, punched someone else in the face, had your heart broken and broken someone else’s heart.
Overcoming each of these experiences shows us the danger and power of the world, as well as the danger and power of ourselves, creating a solid character in which we can face the trials of life with experience and wisdom.
Paris, Texas is the tale of a man who has become stuck in the third of these life rules for a man, he has had his heart broken and cannot handle it.
I think we all know that feeling. When it happened to me I really didn’t think I’d ever be able to get over it, I really thought it might kill me, I’ve even seen other men top themselves because of unrequited love.
It may sound harsh, but being trapped in this game is being trapped in the realm of the boy who believes in fairy-tales and love stories.
Read: How To Get Over An Ex
This experience is damn near deadly, in fact, it demands that an inner naïve persona within us dies and is replaced by a weathered, experienced man who won’t fall so easily into the eyes of a beautiful woman, by a man who knows the toxicity of ‘love’ masquerading as sexual lust, obsession and ego-gratification.
In essence, this is what Paris, Texas is about, a man who cannot make that jump, but is challenged to for the sake of his life.
As the brilliant and moving story unfolds along with Ry Cooder’s moody, desolate slide guitar as the backing, we hear the protagonist say he ran away from civilization as he wanted to go to a place without ‘names and signposts’.
In many ways, this is the journey we all have to take in overcoming lust and obsession, we have to go out into the wilderness, metaphorical or real, and reconceptualize how we see life, starting from scratch.
The reality is that our pop-culture has lied to us about romance and what love really is (hint – it’s not about sexual gratification), we even see Romeo & Juliet as the classic love story, when in reality the play was written as a tragedy regarding the naivety of young ‘love’ and its consequences.
As men, we must be wise to the games of lust and neediness for a woman, knowing these things are traps that have the power to devour you whole.
Once we realise this, we can open ourselves up to a truer, deeper sense of universal love that contains, but isn’t limited to, simple sex relations.
This is why Paris, Texas has made the list of the 5 movies that teach you how to be a man.
5. Boyz n the Hood
Again, this may seem an unusual choice given it’s such a specific demographic in a specific region of the US, yet despite this being a coming-of-age ‘teen-hood’ drama set deep in the ghetto, the message behind the movie is a universal one.
The exterior story sees the protagonist, Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.), growing up amid burgeoning gang violence and sent to live with his disciplinarian father.
Despite this being to Tre’s chagrin, the movie shows how fatherless teens fall victim to violence, dysfunction and instability, while Tre develops into a balanced and capable young man.
This is a huge lesson for men today, in an era when fathers are rarely in the home and many men have never even met their father, there is a power vacuum in which gangs, drugs and instability take root.
In many ways, this is the situation Recovering Man seeks to address, with the lack of masculine guidance and leadership in our world almost non-existent, while the claims of male privilege and patriarchy ever more commonplace.
It is useless to whine about not having a father around or society’s present distaste for what it sees as ‘toxic masculinity’, but it is useful for us to work together as men to learn the key archetypes of manhood, to learn how to interact with the feminine and how to discipline ourselves and the generation that will follow us.
This isn’t done to punish anyone, but as an act of love.
As explored in the prior review of Paris, Texas, our notions of love have been almost completely corrupted by shallow notions most often put forth by movies, pop songs and naivety, yet one of the key elements of becoming a man is in realizing that the love a father gives is unique, priceless and different from that of the mother.
The father, as Tre’s father (played by Laurence Fishburne) does in Boyz n the Hood, loves by providing structure, discipline and boundaries.
In the moment, this may seem harsh or unfair, but as we grow and evolve we see that this type of love is the famous adage in action:
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
In essence, we have to learn the above lesson as men and pass it on.
We have to hold each other and ourselves to account, often striving to do the things we don’t want to in order to build long-term stability for ourselves and those around us.
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