One of the current hot button issues, the gender conflict has been the subject of a major concern for centuries. However, in the wake of the political and military confrontations, which Ireland witnessed at the beginning of the 20th century, the gender issue gained an especial significance. With a major shift in the images of men and women, as well as the need to share responsibilities reasonably, the necessity to reconsider gender roles emerged, which led to a range of interpretations of a gender identity conflict in media, particularly, in movies.
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Unlike Some Mother’s Son, which introduces a unique dilemma and promotes an entirely different image of a woman as a nurturer and a fighter, therefore, subverting the traditional stereotype of women being helpless damsels in distress, The Boxer provides a rather traditional view on gender roles in society, with a stereotypical rebel against the system and his love interest; as a result, the latter has considerably less space to offer for the development of the story and the creation of a specific plot structure, whereas the former sets the premise for an original story with unique morals.
Offering the audience a complicated social dilemma to resolve, Some Mother’s Son is one of the movies that were designed to reinforce the role of women in the present-day society. Despite the fact that the film still revolves around the political and social issues that are traditionally related to the IRA period, it still has women in its focus, and not plain women, but mothers.
The film under analysis, therefore, subverts the common stereotype of a woman as a helpless damsel in distress that needs a knight in shining armor to come to the rescue. True, not all women portrayed in to picture are decisive, and most of them are frightened beyond belief; however, these are their actions that determine the change occurring to the image of women in the contemporary culture, and the movie captures this change perfectly.
The background, in which the evolution of the female image evolves, also deserves to be mentioned. As it has been stressed above, the movie takes place in the epoch, when Ireland was torn asunder with political and military conflicts. The correlation between the political decomposition of the state and the alterations that the society was going through at the moment is captured in the movie and represented through a single chain of events, with the help of two main characters.
Surprisingly enough, the latter are not the fearsome IRA soldiers, but two mothers, whose sons’ lives were jeopardized and who need the support of their loving family.
As Hill put it, “The film is not so much about the hunger strikes themselves as it is the reaction of those around them”, especially the mothers. Just as In the Name of the Father revolves around family relationships (that between father and son in particular), so Some Mother’s Son focuses on the story of two mothers, Kathleen Quigley (Helen Mirren) and Annie Higgins (Fionnula Flanagan) (Hill 44).
The image of a woman in the modern society, therefore, alters significantly with the movie premiere; the film shows in a very graphic manner that women may take the roles that presuppose being engaged in the actions requiring strength, courage and other qualities that are traditionally attributed to men.
More to the point, the movie features women as not only fighters, but also decision makers. Indeed, although female warriors have already been around at the time that the movie came out, the role of a woman was usually reduced to following the direction of the head of the family, who usually was male.
To be more specific, women had little to no experience in making essential choices, nor did they have a chance to exercise their right for making decisions and, therefore, acquiring an essential experience. The women in Some Mother’s Son, however, have to choose between the options concerning not only their own lives, but also the lives of their sons; thus, they are provided with the roles that are traditionally viewed as far from being feminine.
The reconsideration of the social roles of women, which can be traced rather easily in the movie in question, can be attributed to the fact that the state was in an obvious crisis and required the assistance of its every single citizen, regardless of their being men or women. The director claimed that he used every single effect possible in order to stress the significance of the transformation that the female characters were going through in the film” (Crowdus and Leary 25).
To some extent, the fact that the director considered the actions of the female characters unnatural brings the effect that the movie makes in the emancipation movement a few notches down. Nevertheless, the alterations, which the image of a woman has gone over the period of the political unrest in the country, deserve to be marked as rather impressive. The movie is ridden with the anguish of the people, who lost their family members to the war: “Well now, your life and my life are two very different things, missus.
My son was shot dead by the British. So you can take your brandy and shove it up your hole” (Some Mother’s Son 00:48:19). The women that are united under the same idea, therefore, do not even need to share any other points of contact other than the fact that the war that takes place in Ireland affects their families, killing their children and ruining their lives.
Powerful and at the same time devastating, the idea of uniting in order to not only save lives, but also bring vengeance brings an entirely different image of a woman to the stage, the image that incorporates strength and power, recklessness and courage.
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The take that The Boxer has on the concept of gender roles in the modern society, however, is considerably different from the one that Some Mother’s Son represents. First and most obvious, the person to experience the change of gender roles in their lives is no longer a woman – in The Boxer, there is a much greater stress on the male characters than on the female ones.
This can be partially explained by the fact that the events in the movie develop in the environment of the military unrests in Ireland and the creation of the notorious IRA. Nevertheless, even the male characters seem somewhat lacking in development and originality.
It would be wrong to claim that Some Mother’s Son pushed the existing prejudices concerning gender roles to the breaking point, whereas The Boxer did nothing to the solution of gender issues in the present-day society. Indeed, there were a couple of scenes in Some Mother’s Son that could be viewed as questionable from the tenets of the perspective that gender roles were viewed in the movie.
In addition, the fact that Some Mother’s Son liberated women of the weight of the existing social prejudices only to foist a set of different ones on them can also be considered a major problem of the movie in question.
Indeed, when it comes to the analysis of the point that the proponents of gender roles subversion are trying to get across, one must admit that it is not about women and men switching their traditional roles; far from it – the suggestion is that both men and women should be free to choose the roles that they consider suitable for them. Some Mother’s Son, however, is rather aggressive in its attempt at proving that women can be fighters as well – in fact, it is too aggressive to assume that it leaves women with any other option but being a fighter.
The position in question is also erroneous in its very essence, as the very idea of emancipation and gender equality presupposes that people should have a choice between the traditional outlook on the gender issue and the incorporation of other ways of looking at the issue.
Likewise, The Boxer does subvert several major gender stereotypes that are still persistent in the modern society; particularly, the stereotype concerning the lack of emotional connection between two men, who have befriended each other.
Nevertheless, the political issues that are raised in the movie eventually take their toll over the plot and the characters, therefore, leaving the audience with little to no character development to observe.
At some point, the movie allows the viewer to consider the image of a man within the modern society from a rather unusual perspective, though.
One could make a very thin argument that the unceasing fighting, which is portrayed in the film, can be interpreted as the process of stereotyping a man in the 21st-century society and forcing a man to be strong and powerful with no regard for the capabilities, needs and demands of one: “In The Boxer, Danny Boyle is certainly aware of his image; in addition, televised images of his bouts provide traditional displays of his boxer’s body and prowess” (Hemmeter 85).
True, in the boxing industry, there is very little room for sentiments; as a result, within the environment in question, the stereotypical image of a man as a fighter persists, thus, causing issues for a range of people, who are unwilling to project their boxing aggressiveness onto the people that they meet outside the boxing ring.
On a more general level, this could be viewed as a metaphor for the social stereotype of men as protectors and fighters, as well as forcing men to perform the specified functions without any account for their actual needs and wants.
The imagery used in the movie only enhances the effect of the necessity to subvert the existing gender stereotypes in order to provide an outlet for the people that are forced into being strong, while in reality, they would rather search for protection themselves. Seeing that the events described in the movie take place in the era of the military unrests in Ireland, the impression of the image of a man being perverted entirely and controlling the lives of people all over the world only grows stronger.
In addition, a constant focus on the male body in the movie, i.e., the necessity for an athlete to keep in good shape, the significance of strong muscle mass, and even the element of a show that boxing has and that shapes people’s perception of an athlete, is beyond menacing.
The emphasis on appearance of a man displays the problems of the contemporary society, while an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle, is obviously a very biased means of representing an individual, and the movie, with its unique manner of editing and unforgettable imagery, manages to convey the aforementioned idea in a rather subtle manner (Hemmeter 86).
The fact that the events in question occur in a highly “politicized” (Hemmeter 86) boxing club makes the audience view the transformations occurring to the image of a man within the modern society through the prism of the political tension that the state was witnessing at the time and, thus, relate the transformation in question to a change on a much larger scale, i.e., the transformation of the state.
Still, each of the movies deserve enough credit for portraying the events of the time and offering unique conflicts to consider; it would be wrong to deny either of the films their greatness. However, as far as the gender issues are concerned, one must admit that Some Mother’s son provides a much better and a more sophisticated outlook on what the existing gender roles acceptable in the contemporary society have to offer to people in terms of not only behavioral patterns, but also the choices to be made.
Nevertheless, in terms of gender roles and the reinforcement of the existing stereotypes, The Boxer definitely loses with its traditional character evolution patterns compared to Some Mother’s Son, in which gender roles, particularly, the roles of women in the contemporary society, are expanded on in a much better way.
Regardless of the fact that the character development is much stronger in one of the movies, both can be considered rather successful attempts at restoring the events of the era and addressing one of the most controversial stages in the history of Ireland, i.e.., the creation of the IRA and the following military conflict.
As a matter of fact, the historical background, in which the plots of both movies evolve, serves as a tool for adding credibility to the personal stories told in the films, and it does so in a very efficient manner. Placing the characters into the era that was filled with conflict and literally split the nation apart filled each of the movies with the realism that they needed to help the audience relate to the characters.
While both movies are set in the same time period and in the same setting of the national conflicts in Ireland, the difference in the use of gender roles and gender stereotypes for character development dictates the choice of the plot lines and the methods of getting the message across.
Unlike The Boxer, which resorts to the stereotypical tropes of women being solely the “pretty faces,” the damsels, and the men being rebels against the society, Some Mother’s Son incorporates a unique approach towards the development of each character, therefore, the characters are informed with specific gender roles, yet not defined by them.
Crowdus, Gary and O’Mara Leary. “The Troubles He’d Seen in Northern Ireland: An Interview with terry George.” Cineaste 23.1 (1997), 24–29. Print.
Hemmeter, Thomas. “Hollywood Genre Formulas as Contact Zones: The Case of Jim Sheirdan’s The Boxer.” In Brian McIlroy, Genre and Cinema: Ireland and Transnationalism. New York, NY: Routledge, 2012. 77–96. Print.
Hill, John. “Some Mother’s Son.” Cineaste 23.1 (1997), 44–45. Print.
Some Mother’s Son. Ex. Prod. Edward Burke. Culver City, CA: Columbia pictures, 1996. DVD.
The Boxer. Ex. Prod. Jim Sheridan. Universal City, CA: Universal Pictures. 1997. DVD.