September 25, 2005

Movie with a religion-sized hole in it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie "The 40 Year Old Virgin," and this comment should not in any way be taken to mean I think it should have been changed in the slightest. It was a perfectly done contemporary Hollywood comedy. I just want to say that the Steve Carell character Andy really did represent a very religious man who was saving himself for marriage. Not even the slightest reference to religion is ever made in the movie, but his behavior -- which included rejecting pornography and masturbation -- could only be explained, in an actual human being, by extremely conservative religious scruple. I note that he lived in an apartment full of science fiction action figures, which he intensely revered, and contend that these figures stood in for the Virgin Mary.

The movie is full of hilarious sexual things that will appeal to a broad, youthful audience, but I think it also exists to confirm the values of persons who, on moral grounds, resist sex outside of marriage.

40 comments:

Troy said...

I must say though, that Major Steve Austin is a wholly inadequate intermediary for mankind's sins. Of course, Mary wasn't Bionic -- almost an equally cool attribute.

As a kid I loved my Bionic man doll. As a man I miss the potential eBay profits. (sigh)

ALH ipinions said...

Ann - here's a little insight for you:

If there is a "40 Year Old [male] Virgin" in America, it's probably because he suffers psychological inhibitions or performance anxieties; not because of any "extremely conservative religious scruple".

Moral grounds? Hell, even 40 year old priests can't seem to resist sex (with themselves or little boys) on those grounds....

Ann Althouse said...

ALH: That's a good theory too (though it wasn't unmentioned in the movie). On your theory, the action figures are all phallic symbols.

Troy said...

Didn't the Virgin have a series of inept encounters that never ended in consummation and then the problem became one of performance anxiety? I thought that was a big montage in the film.

More people than you might care to know remain celibate for precisely moral reasons. Is it the norm? Definitely not. Is it a sign of inhibitions and performance anxieties? Only if they then get married (the only setting in which they would have sex) and then can't perform or won't take off their clothes or whatever you have in mind. I did (or didn't do it) it 'til I was 27 and got married. I have 3 kids, a great career, and never had HPV or any of the other practical problems of living even remotely like the Virgin's friends.

Not looking for a Boy Scout badge or kudos or condemnation, but it had nothing to do with performance or psyche. It's called will power and discipline. Too much information I'm sure, but the comment had to be answered.

Ann Althouse said...

Troy: The Virgin never stated a moral ground for opposition to sex, unless you include statements having to do with respecting women and wanting to have a love relationship before sex. There were many attempts to get to sex in the movie that were interrupted for one funny reason or another, never because he morally opposed it. There was one scene, with the woman in the bathtub, where he just stared and we were left to guess what he was thinking, but soon afterwards the explanation given was that she scared him. That was the closest the movie got, if I remember correctly, to having him let us know that he thought it was wrong.

ronin1516 said...

Ann, ALH and others - there are indeed a lot of f olks in the USA who are virgins due to religion inspired morals. And no, they are not folks who are inhibited by psychological inhibitions , or any other "problems". For example, most Mormon folks who dont happen to get married in their early 20's stay virgins by choice. And, the majority of them are not 'weird" or suffer from psychological problems. One prominent example is Steve Young, the former San Francisco 49's, and Hall of Fame QB. I am sure there are other folks out there who live normal lives, and refrain from any sexual activity too.

nina said...

Though I don't necessarily agree with Ann, I do think that performance anxiety does not explain why he refused to masturbate. He had to have some issues, if you are to believe in the storyline. Religious? Mental blocks? Who can tell what the writers were thinking. But certainly there had to have been something.

Troy said...

Ann... You're right. It's been about 8 weeks or so since I've seen it. He did make some statements about respect and I forgot about the bathtub scene.

The dolls play a dual role -- Religious icon with king fu grip and phallic symbol -- not to mention just being a perfect (and perfectly funny) hobby for someone to sublimate and refocus their sexual energies.

I just reread your last comment and my eyes completely skipped over "wasn't UNmentioned." I originally read "wasn't mentioned".

The psychological and moral rabbit holes this movie could potentially take us down are uncountable don't you think?

Troy said...

Nina...

I think in the movie it felt "forced" so he felt stupid doing it. He went through that whole rigamaroll and then felt like an idiot -- sheepish.

Ann Althouse said...

I loved the scene where he was finally going to masturbate and he lit lots of little candles all over his bedroom. Note the message: he so deeply believes love is required for sex, that he feel he must romance himself to masturbate. He instantly rejects the pornography when it gets pornographic, and switches to, what? "Everybody Loves Raymond," because love is utterly necessary for him. A complete picture of family life is what he requires.

In a similar vein, did you see what a good father he became for the teenaged daughter? In the scene where he accompanied her to birth control counseling, he validated her virginity and helped her onto the path of no sex before marriage.

I'm telling you, this is a traditional values movie!

Brendan said...

Troy, it's Colonel Steve Austin. And yes, I am a nerd.

vbspurs said...

In a similar vein, did you see what a good father he became for the teenaged daughter? In the scene where he accompanied her to birth control counseling, he validated her virginity and helped her onto the path of no sex before marriage.

I'm telling you, this is a traditional values movie!


Ann, this isn't a traditional values movie -- and no, I don't agree with your basic premise that the character in this film, whilst never explicitly being revealed as such, is a religious man saving himself for marriage.

That might be an insightful read of a storyline for a drama, but in a broad comedy (one that I loved, BTW) that's a touch too much supposition.

IRL, characters who are saving themselves up for marriage for vettedly religious reasons say so ALL THE DAMN TIME!

Why, I used to remember a certain Miss Britney Spears who went around saying so, back in the day. She made sure she revealed it was because she was a good Christian gal.

And does anyone remember the cowboy (John, wasn't it?) in MTV's The Real World? Ditto.

If he were religious or even just conservative, why the Hollywood Establishment would have made very sure they'd mention that, since that would make him look even more pathetic, and uptight than he was.

I'm much more in agreement with ALH in stating he's got psychological inhibitions, which his extreme fastidiousness betray.

After all, the Jack Nicholson character in As Good as it Gets also had similar "dating" problems before he found himself a (un)willing "victim", largely because who could date such overly intense men -- which, in Jack's case, is actually a disorder?

But most people wouldn't say that character was religious, just because the film managed to make his OCD tics almost a sidekick.

I think the Virgin was not diagnosed as having OCD, but he definitely displays the classic signs of a man who suffers from it.

Now, after you read what ALH wrote, you came up with something I completely agree on -- that the action figures he keeps under wraps (as it were), are phallic symbols.

As the viewing audience totally "gets" as they view it, said action figures are protected, sealed, giving them an unsullied status that is an allusion to his man-member.

They all share the same virginity.

I understand there is a shrine aspect he attaches to them, but you'll find that many collectors have that trait.

Not for that are they avowedly traditional values kind of folk, or even particularly religious.

Well, another Sunday chatting on Althouse about film. I love it too!

I'm going to see a film tonight, but there's paltry fare out there.

I mean Jodie Foster as a demented mother of a lost child, stuck in a plane, or Tim Burton's latest dark offering?

Tim Burton, I think.

Cheers,
Victoria

Ann Althouse said...

Victoria: I'm not saying that the character in the movie was actually religious, but that he represents someone who in real life would be religious. For commercial and artistic reasons, religion was eradicated from the story. For the audience that this movie is designed to reach, religion had to be excluded (even if it is true that some pop stars flaunt their religion and its sexual dimension). If Andy's friends in the movie were trying to get him to violate his religious beliefs, it either wouldn't have been funny or it would have been anti-religious. My point is that the movie is supportive of the religious scruple against sex before marriage, and I suspect the people who made it themselves hold that scruple (though not in a grimly extreme way).

Ann Althouse said...

I detest Jodie Foster films!

NDC said...

Sure, and think that even in the end, the character got married before he had sex. There's a wedding before the Age of Aquarius.

Why would this have happened other than for the reasons Ann suggests?

Jeff said...

I agree that refraining from masturbation is the telling point, rather than the charcter's virginity in general.

I have at least two friends that are virgins (that I know of). One is 37 and is quite well socialized and not religious, he's just morbidly insecure with women.

The other one is a real nut. He's 42 and has the emotional maturity of a 14 year old boy. Too clever by half with computers, but socially his head is firmly up his rear. His idea of hitting on a woman is to quiz her closely about her diet and then give her detailed suggestions how to improve it in a vegan, politically correct, anal retentive direction! All while nervously fingering his untrimmed beard.

He's not religious and I thankfully have no idea about his habits of self-abuse.

The funny thing is that his father is a senior diplomat with the State Department- somone who is a professional at bridging social differences.

Ann Althouse said...

NDC: And consider that in the scene where he finally tells the woman he's a virgin, the reason he gives is that he has been waiting for her. That's the most sentimental thing in the whole movie, and it's beautiful in an incredibly old fashioned way. We're asked to perceive his virginity as a something very precious, which he might have squandered on someone unimportant, but had intact (unwrapped) to give to her. And note that he was able to have a big expensive wedding and financial stability because he made a fortune selling the intact, unwrapped action figures. That's very symbolic: if you save those things a long time, unused, it will be extremely valuable and you will have a much better life!

Jeff: LOL. And, btw, this is just one more reason to shave that beard. You know you won't be able to resist fingering it and pullling at it. It's not pretty.

vbspurs said...

I'm not saying that the character in the movie was actually religious, but that he represents someone who in real life would be religious.

I know you weren't actually saying that, though with your shrine/Virgin allegories you felt the producers of the film were, wink-wink though it may have been.

Ann, let me ask you a question -- have you ever met an overly polite, anxious, or sweet man who practically screams out mama's boy?

(Now watch, Ann reveals both her hubbies were like that! ;)

This is the case with Andy, who at no time in this film, are we given any insight as to his family or personal background -- giving the impression that his life is lived for himself, and his interests alone.

That's not a traditional value.

It can be argued that by exploring his sexuality, he gains a family -- but as a complete happenstance.

In fact, the only interaction, at the beginning of the film, he has outside his own overly kitted-out, garcon eternel room, is his sweet byplays with his black upstairs neighbours.

In fact, the only 'prequel' groundwork is that he got to be that way because of his previous rejections, and awkwardness in dating.

The Virgin himself said so in a monologue, because everyone who meets a guy like that, wonders, and wonders -- how can you be a 40 year old healthy straight man, and still be a virgin!?

The feelings he must've had, of inadequacy, of maybe even a self-doubt as to his masculinity, were echoed by that hulking great big bisexual Gina (pron. for those who didn't see the film, GI-nah).

During that Friendster-A-Thon they both participate in during lunchtime, she said his face was soft, girlie, and that he could be the perfect waystation in her road back to heterosexuality.

Oh man, I felt so bad for him when I heard that.

How awful must it be for a guy to hear that he makes a lesbian feel at home transitioning over because his manner is feminine?

Poor Virgin.

BTW, I love the fact that the producers and director of this film didn't cop out, and actually make his virginity more easily defineable.

Example: Yes, he's a nerd, but not nerdy with the pocket protectors, and the lack of social graces. In fact, he's a natty, careful dresser, and when he deals with the customers in his store, he outshines everyone.

Great film.

P.S.: one of my favourite films is Ma Nuit Chez Maud, by Eric Rohmer.

A plot summary, to wet the whistles of all who haven't seen it yet:

The narrator (Jean-Louis), a devout Catholic, moves to a provincial town and vows to marry Francoise, a pretty blond he notices at mass. Vidal, an old school friend, invites him to visit the recently divorced Maud, and the narrator ends up staying the night, having philosophical discussions in her bedroom.

...also, I remembered that the Anchoress mentioned the Exorcism of Emily Rose. Sounds atmospheric, and I'm a sucker for Linda Blair-a-like themes.

Cheers,
Victoria

Ann Althouse said...

Victoria: I didn't think Steve Carell seemed effeminate, actually.

"Ann, let me ask you a question -- have you ever met an overly polite, anxious, or sweet man who practically screams out mama's boy? (Now watch, Ann reveals both her hubbies were like that! ;)"

Both?? That description is very far from describing my ex-husband or anyone else I've ever found attractive, and though I'm sure I've ment guys who are "overly polite, anxious, or sweet," the judgment "mama's boy," isn't really part of my personal brain structure.

vbspurs said...

The other one is a real nut. He's 42 and has the emotional maturity of a 14 year old boy. Too clever by half with computers, but socially his head is firmly up his rear. His idea of hitting on a woman is to quiz her closely about her diet and then give her detailed suggestions how to improve it in a vegan, politically correct, anal retentive direction! All while nervously fingering his untrimmed beard.

You're friends with Michael Moore??

He's not religious and I thankfully have no idea about his habits of self-abuse.

I think we can safely say he's a wanker. :)

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

I didn't think Steve Carell seemed effeminate, actually.

Nor I!

But when "stuff" didn't happen for him, he said he started getting worried -- which to me indicated that he might have some doubts as to why the stuff wasn't happening. His increasing nervousness that whilst he wasn't gay, maybe others perceived him as such, especially women.

(There is another more sinister supposition about men like him, who live in their own little worlds inside an one-bedroom flat -- but I won't give away that part of the plot. Spoiler spoiler!)

BTW, this is the kind of film that would've been offered to Ben Stiller in the past.

And unlike Steve Carell, he would've totally ruined it.

the judgment "mama's boy," isn't really part of my personal brain structure.

Ooh, hear that lads, Ann has a type! ;)

Well, I'm off into the world of sunshine outside, to erm...watch a film.

Cheers,
Victoria

Ann Althouse said...

Not sure why you excerpted that part of my quote!

Decklin Foster said...

I like this theory. I am reminded of the days of the code, when movies had to have elaborate symbols to obscurely represent that characters were having sex (so as not to offend anyone). Now, we have to have elaborate symbols to obscurely represent why characters might not have sex (so as not to offend anyone)!

lindsey said...

I thought the point of the toys was to explain that he was stuck in an extended childhood.

OddD said...

If anything, the montage of failure wasn't long enough. It may not even be that extraordinary. Though it ends with that one girl saying he should just give up.

One has to believe that his heart wasn't in losing in his virginity. And I thought that his anxiety as a 40-year-old (or, who are we kidding, as a 20-year-old) was pretty much indicated as a byproduct of society which views virgins as weird and shun-able, all the while delivering its own twisted, weird and conflicting messages on sex (represented by everyone ELSE in the movie).

And not just sex, but everything that was different about him, including his politeness, and even riding a bicycle. All these things made him a "weirdo".

A telling point was how quickly he opened up his extremely valuable collection to his girlfriend's children.

A said...

I agree with you Ann, and it was nice to see the premise of the movie expanded a bit. You made me like the film even more.

I also enjoyed the fact that the Virgin, while admitting he was insecure about women, did not change who he was to please anyone. He made "attempts" to win over females, but still kept his own character ("I ride a bike because I want to!").

I don't think that Hollywood would automatically "out" him as religious so that he would be more "pathetic" as one commenter suggested. As you said, it would not have been as funny. Plus, Carrell himself co-wrote the movie and I'd like to think he put in the script whatever he wanted without (too much) studio influence.

Jeff said...

"the judgment "mama's boy," isn't really part of my personal brain structure."

Really? Some of my closests female friends are sworn enemies of Mama's Boys". They can't begin to describe the revulsion they feel when they realize that the guy they are dating wants a mommy as much as a girlfriend.

Ann Althouse said...

If I used the term "mama's boy," it would be to refer to a man who's too attached to his mother. It's not a phenomenon I've actually encountered. As far as a man who wants a woman to mother him, I don't know what I would call him, but I wouldn't find him at all appealing.

Brendan said...

And not just sex, but everything that was different about him, including his politeness, and even riding a bicycle. All these things made him a "weirdo".

That's what I resented most about the film. It wasn't enough to make him a virgin; they had to make him a loser too. Yes, he had some redeeming, sweet qualities, but the "man-child" theme was pretty insulting. I'd like to think that it's possible to be an aging virgin and yet live in an apartment that doesn't second for a sci-fi convention. And the "not driving" angle was just more Peter Pan crapola. Believe it or not, you can be an adult and not penetrate women on the side.

Freeman Hunt said...

they had to make him a loser too.

Really? I actually thought that they did a good job of making him not seem like a loser at all in spite of his character doing so many stereotypically loser-ish things. That was one of my favorite things about this movie.

vbspurs said...

Really? Some of my closests female friends are sworn enemies of Mama's Boys". They can't begin to describe the revulsion they feel when they realize that the guy they are dating wants a mommy as much as a girlfriend.

My bf is a mammone.

He lives at home with his parents like all good Italian boys until they marry. He loves his mother -- which makes him love women in general, me in particular.

What's not to like?

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

...also, I remembered that the Anchoress mentioned the Exorcism of Emily Rose. Sounds atmospheric, and I'm a sucker for Linda Blair-a-like themes.

Well, since it's still a film thread, I'll reveal I just came back from seeing Emily Rose.

The Anchoress was indeed right, when she said it was an intelligent, adult film about exorcism, and not the freak show that The Exorcist was.

OTOH, because of today's discussion on Althouse, I kept thinking that had I known the movie was entirely a court trial about a priest, I would've loved to have had a lawyer tell me the ins-and-outs of the trial.

Strategies, authenticity of portrayal, judicial rulings.

I would've even sprung for the Chinese.

Cheers,
Victoria

Murky Thoughts said...

Movies are made for mass appeal, and a large segment of the masses are religious (especially the Catholic masses), so it's plausible to me that people involved in making this movie had the religious-guy interpretation in mind. I also agree that the movie falls far short of explaining the character's psychology in way that makes him totally real. But I suspect adding religiosity to that character would create inconsistencies to him while patching the hole in the explanation of his plight. Also just because a movie has an eye to the religious movie-goer doesn't mean that advocating a religious lifestyle is it's covert raison d'etre. There are movies I've felt that about--e.g. Jim Carey's "Liar, Liar"--but I doubt it about this one. It's sex-positivity and gay-friendliness don't harmonize well with the ethos of the religious, abstinence-until marriage lobby, at least as I perceive them.

OddD said...

Murky--

I'm racking my brain for the "gay friendliness" aspect. The TS hooker? Also, sex-positive? Yeah, I guess, but am I the only one who thinks a woman masturbating isn't exactly out-of-control freakiness?

I don't think you've characterized the wait-until-marriage mentality right, though perhaps there is a repressive aspect to the groups that advocate it. Dunno. Abstinence could be thought of as the ultimate in foreplay and certainly there are many with the idea that waiting will improve the experience.

Brendan--

The man=boy thing was a bit heavy-handed, but I think they did a good job of making him not a loser. Again, I point to how quickly he abandoned his action figures when given a better focus (a family, a business).

A--

There were a lot of stories when the movie came out about exactly how much it had been tweaked based on audience reaction. (A lot of little tweaking to make it sweeter and funnier and less raunchy.)

Freeman Hunt said...

It's sex-positivity and gay-friendliness don't harmonize well with the ethos of the religious, abstinence-until marriage lobby, at least as I perceive them.

I would chalk this up to your perception. All the abstinence-until marriage people I know are extremely "sex-positive" when it comes to sex in the context of marriage. Plus, the abstinence-until marriage people I know who saw this movie absolutely loved it.

vbspurs said...

I'm racking my brain for the "gay friendliness" aspect

Unless it's the aforementioned Gina (which was a sly send-up, and consequently not flattering), I'm wracking my brain for gay-friendliness too.

P.S.: I admit defeat. When I discussed Ann's premise to my parents, my mother completely agreed that it was a traditional values film. My dad was less convinced, but he said others may well see it that way after consideration. I'm outvoted 3-to-1.

Cheers,
Victoria

A said...

OddD-

I saw the articles talking about minor tweaking after the initial screenings (and how Carrell, et. al. also kept in different jokes based on their own comedy preference, even if they fell flat during the screenings). I think my point was including (or NOT including) religious references based on studio influence.

Murky Thoughts said...

Re: "gay friendliness"

I'm thinking of the stigma-free way the characters opened our hero's sexual orientation to discussion. Likewise with their "you know you're gay when" bit. Alas a mere abiding tolerance qualifies as "friendliness" in some contexts--i.e. in which there's a tradition of hatred, physical violence and ridicule.

Murky Thoughts said...

BTW, yes, I do know that many religious denominations are promoting gay clergy, but under the broad category of "religious movie goer" I don't perceive comfort with homosexuality to be a common denominator. I was assuming a fundamentally religious would-be money-making movie would cater to religious common denominators. Then again, for evangelical purposes people can be very pragmatic.

Murky Thoughts said...

"Evangelical" and "capitalistic" purposes, I should have said.