WEIRDLAND: Matt Damon: Masculine Crisis, Sexual Identity

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Matt Damon: Masculine Crisis, Sexual Identity

Michael Douglas, Luciana and Matt Damon at the Emmy Awards, on 22nd September 2013

Outstanding Miniseries or Movie: *Behind the Candelabra • HBO (Winner)

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries Or A Movie:
*Michael Douglas - Behind the Candelabra (winner), Matt Damon (nominated)

Scott Thorson, a young bisexual man raised in foster homes, is introduced to flamboyant entertainment giant Liberace and quickly finds himself in a romantic relationship with the legendary pianist. Swaddled in wealth and excess, Scott and Liberace have a long affair, one that eventually Scott begins to find suffocating. Kept away from the outside world by the flashily effeminate yet deeply closeted Liberace, and submitting to extreme makeovers and even plastic surgery at the behest of his lover, Scott eventually rebels. When Liberace finds himself a new lover, Scott is tossed on the street. He then seeks legal redress for what he feels he has lost. But throughout, the bond between the young man and the star never completely tears.

For a brief honeymoon period—the phrase is appropriate, because the homoerotic undercurrents are explicit—Tom Ripley is intoxicated by what he thinks is his new life. He moves in with Dickie and Marge, and together they spend what Mr. Greenleaf is paying Tom for his living expenses. He sings with Dickie in jazz clubs, lives "la dolce vita" with Dickie and Marge, keeps Dickie's guilty secrets about Silvana and closely studies how Dickie speaks, acts and dresses. (When asked, Tom readily admits that his greatest talents are for lying, impersonation and forging handwriting.) His Ripley is simultaneously compelling and repugnant, a deep well of emotions and an inscrutable cipher, a tragic hero and a monster you're glad to leave behind. That Damon manages to embody all these qualities, and still have viewers concerned when the Italian police or the efficient detective (Philip Baker Hall) hired by the Greenleaf family get too close, is a rare achievement. Source:

Tom ultimately deprives Herbert Greenleaf of his son and heir and then forges the suicide note and will that deliver Dickie’s inheritance into Tom’s hands. But unlike Macbeth, who meets his nemesis in Macduff, Ripley does get away with murder and usurpation, fully enlisting the reader’s “terrified sympathy” in the process, a process that begins because “Tom knew just what to say to a father like Mr. Greenleaf”.

Once again, Tom demonstrates his imaginative genius, a power Arthur Brittan (1989) sees arising out of necessity when “dignity is lost” due to the “dehumanizing influences of technology and industrial society”. Devalued by a society that reduces him to “living from week to week”, Tom reasserts his lost dignity in his manipulation of first Herbert Greenleaf, then Dickie, and finally the social and legal norms to win the crown for himself. At the novel’s end, Tom envisions a literal sailing into the sunset to Crete since “it was no joke. It was his! Dickie’s money and his freedom. And the freedom, like everything else, seemed combined, his and Dickie’s combined.”

The lack of any mentoring through the father figure to aid in forming values that define the masculine and foster success in life constitutes a major crisis in Tom Ripley’s character. Arthur Brittan (1989) focuses on this crisis when discussing Male Crisis Theory, which identifies the problem as being “that men find it difficult to identify with appropriate role models. If such models are absent, or partially absent,” and “men suffer from an acute sense of gender confusion.” Whatever their differences about mentoring boys as they grow to adulthood, both William Pollak (1998) and Christina Hoff Sommers (2000) concur on the very unhealthy impact of an absent father in the life of a young man. Pollak endorses the “generative father” whose care for the next generation promotes the “fundamental father-son connection for a lifetime” and thus cements a “profound and lasting impact” on sons. Sommers argues for the father’s central role in “helping sons develop a conscience and a sense of responsible manhood,” thereby playing “an indispensable civilizing role in the social ecosystem”. Clearly, Highsmith and Palahniuk create characters sorely in need of such generativity from a man and devastatingly crippled by the absence of “responsible manhood” in their lives.

Tom is an orphan, labeled as a sissy by his tormentor, Aunt Dottie. Tom Ripley gets the notice he yearns for by murdering Dickie Greenleaf, assuming his identity, and finally by outwitting every representative of the social order. Tom secures his independence and the successful lifestyle he so admires, but at the price of forever imagining “policemen waiting for him on every pier”. Source:

No comments :