Slowly slowly, she walked up, to the place where he was lying, and as she pulled the curtain back she said "young man, I think you're dying."
Barbara Allen, Anglo-American Folk song

In films, men are always far more mortal than women.

In Confessions of a Mask, Yukio Mishima's novel/confession, about discovering and hiding his homosexuality while growing up in wartime Japan, Mishima does something that would be shunned by most any other writer. He describes his sexual fantasies of men, as primarily fantasies of violence, of men dying or being injured. At the end of the book he describes looking at a young gang member, who is shirtless, laughing with some girls. Mishima describes images of the man getting stabbed in a fight, the blood seeping from his stomach, all which flashed through his head in a moment of desire.

The context of this passage makes it easy to dismiss, a fictional story of a disturbed homosexual youth, written by a disturbed homosexual man (he was 30 at the time of writing it, he would commit ritual suicide at 45), if we watch enough movies though the link between death and the male body is rather hard to avoid. Films that specifically attempt to eroticize men, always eroticize them being hurt in some way, from Son of the Sheik, where a major scene in the middle merely involved Valentino being whipped, to the new James Bond film Casino Royale, which combined a more sexualized bond that "made all the women gasp," (to quote Barbara Broccoli), with him being tied up naked and hit repeatedly in the testicles. Even if male sex appeal is not accentuated, it is hard to get away from the fact that a man's primary characteristic in a film is that he is in the process of dying. "Male" genres always focus on pain being done to the body, on the destruction of the body, in war, or in nature, or in gang fights. Put simply, it borders on a rarity to find a film where a male is a primary character, treated with respect, and not either hurt or dying.

Taking a cue from feminist criticism I should probably talk about the association of men with death as something bad, and I do think the fact that people are much more ready to see men in pain than women is disturbing. I don't think I would be true to my site though if I were to say the association of men with death was something necessarily bad.

I argue in a number of places on this site, that film as a medium is about death - an argument I took from Barthes, who stole the argument from Bazin (Bazin argues that film is something like an afterlife, which I agree with. Barthes argues that film is about death, which is more to the point, but not as exciting an argument). As a medium that is about death, it helps us put in perspective the true value of our life, and all of the things that are inexorably lost when we are lost.

In City Lights, Chaplin puts all his heart into giving a woman a second lease on life, but as she revives he slowly wastes away under the murderous pressure of society. Her recognition of him in the end lets her see herself, because he reflects the darkness she was in, and the light he opened for her.

In 24 Hour Party People, a generally obnoxious main character is counterpointed by a beautiful and suicidal man. All the post-modern nonsense seems frivolous when set next to the steady shots of a man thinking about dying. The film becomes dull after Curtis is gone, because it doesn't seem like the main characters got the point.

One could go on forever listing these specific cases, or one can simply describe the erotics of the male body... as a sense of urgency...

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