There is a new father in our midst.
He is faithful to the love of his children, and his actions are motivated by this father-child love.
He is not stoic or reserved, as he used to be. He weeps with the want of holding his children in his arms, and he is driven to make amends for his inability to protect them.
He is so overcome with affection and devotion to them that he will fight the world, its ideologies, and even their mother to care for them, to make things right, to rid them of the poison and evil that affects their freedom and their future.
His strength is not in his brawn, but in the love he holds for his children, which makes him do anything - even if it is illegal and unethical – to provide them with the security and protection he feels is his duty when he becomes a father.
This father is a new one, a modern one. He looks at us from the big screen, defining for us a new model of fatherhood – an acceptable representation of fatherhood that, albeit fictional, is human, achievable, and ordinary. He is not a model that cannot be appropriated by the common man, because he is a common man. He is real and full of the human frailties that encompass all men, for they are simple, common, and ordinary – and this is exceptional because this new father, in all his simplicity, is driven to courage and extraordinary feats for the sake of his children’s salvation.
I have loved Leonardo DiCaprio since the day I saw him in’This Boy’s Life,’ a 1993 film adaptation of writer Tobias Wolff’s memoir. It’s great having watched him grow form a young man to an adult man who takes serious and pivotal acting roles that challenge his acting abilities as well as the public’s attitude towards societal issues. I have always been very critical of men and fathers, probably because my father was nothing like the “father” I just described, and also because my adoptive mother could not be bothered with having a man in her house or in her life. Unlike her, I married and had children, and I love the father of my children, for he is a rare and wonderful specimen of a father, and so unlike my own that the difference is palpable.
Watching DiCaprio’s version of the two fathers portrayed in ‘Shutter Island ‘ and ‘Inception,’ I fell in love with the fathers these two movies portrayed, because they don’t stretch the ideal of fatherhood – they’re regular men doing the best they can with the circumstances they have been assigned.
In ‘Shutter Island,’ DiCaprio offers the kind of father that works hard with late hours so that he can provide for his wife and their three children. He is aware that she has an emotional disorder, but he thinks that it will pass. It never crosses his mind that she will hold their little bodies under water and drown them. If he actually thought that she would be a danger to her own children, he would have done something about it. But this lack of awareness is what makes him ordinary and simple, naive even. And it is this naiveté that consumes him later on – after he comes home to find his sopping wet wife rambling incoherently; after he despondently rushes into the lake’s calm surface to retrieve the small bodies of his three lifeless children, laying them side-by-side on the grass, straightening their clothes, combing the strands of their soaked hair away from their eyes, and tying their shoelaces; and after he takes his gun and shoots his wife. His naiveté prevented him from seeing what he should have seen – that his children were in danger under the care of their unstable mother – and prevented him from acting with paternal duty, failing to protect his offspring. It is after this instance that his all-encompassing guilt enfolds his psyche in a fantasy world of detectives and insane asylums in a cyclical and endless search for the truth and his responsibility in the deaths of his children and his wife. And once he discovers the truth, recalls the events of those horrific and death-defying moments of his past, he chooses to be lobotomized, to punish himself, for there is no cure, no reprieve allowed to a man, a father, who has failed his children – his family. Normalcy and forgiveness are unattainable for the father that loses the core of his existence because he did not want to see – because he was too busy and tired to see – what was facing him on a daily basis. What he did, or did not do, is inexcusable – and even though society was willing to forgive him, he could not.
Since ‘Inception’ is a new movie, I will not disclose much of the plot, except to say that it is a great movie and worth the ten bucks – $30 if you buy popcorn, candy, and drinks. ‘Inception’ is also about a father and the illegal jobs he takes infiltrating and manipulating men in power via their dreams for the sole reason of buying his freedom and getting back to his kids. There is guilt in this father also, for he left his children without saying good-bye and without seeing their faces one last time – all to avoid being imprisoned for allegedly killing his wife. In the basement floor of his dreams there is great guilt for what he has done to his wife, and she, just like the mother in ‘Shutter Island,’ has also sacrificed her children, (in a different way), so that she could have him to herself. Similar to ‘Shutter Island,’ the father has to sacrifice the mother and free himself of her poison to get to his kids. As deeply as his love is for his wife, the love he fosters for his children is greater, paternal, and more powerful to his existence than the love of a woman – even if she is their mother. Despite the frustrating twist at the end of the movie, you are happy for DiCaprio’s character because of his extraordinary pursuit, not of a woman, money, or power, but for the hope of reuniting with his children. There is nothing material, superficial, or selfish in this selfless quest.
It is refreshing to see sacrifice on the part of the father, since we are always told that it is the woman’s role to play the sacrificial and selfless mother. These movies show us that fathers also sacrifice, and it is a message that is muted out by many, but needs to be heard, witnessed, and given credence to. So here’s to the new kind of fathers – fictional and real – who forsake themselves for their children. And for whom the love and happiness of his children supersede everything else.