American movies lack, on the whole, the willingness or even ability to tell stories about male relationships. This isn’t something I’d really considered much until recently, after I watched the Indian movie RRR. Sometimes it takes something from outside our culture to help us see our own culture more clearly. And the more I think about it, the more likely it seems that the lack of on-screen depictions of healthy, non-romantic male relationships has affected us more than we probably realize. Furthermore, it has potentially clouded how we view male relationships when we read Scripture and therefore, has limited connections that God would love to see grow.
Many of you may not have even heard of RRR. Put simply, it’s an incredible movie that might significantly challenge how I, personally, watch movies going forward. RRR is a three-hour epic set in India circa 1920 and is very loosely based on the lives of two historical Indian freedom fighters: Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem. The film’s historical accuracy and language, however, are less important than its story and characters. (While RRR is definitely driven by action, it’s charged with emotion due to the characters.)
RRR introduces Raju and Bheem separately with displays of their superhero-like strength and determination. But when they finally meet, game recognizes game. After working together in an incredible manner to save an endangered child, they become friends. Not American guy friends who go to bars or watch games or hunt together but rather, Indian friends who ride a single motorcycle together, eat with each others’ families, dance together (while touching, even), and ride on each other’s shoulder to practice squats. (Admittedly, that last item is probably a movie thing; I’m not sure how common that type of exercise is in India.) When Bheem has trouble saying “Hi” to a woman due to nerves and a language barrier, Raju steps in and shoves them together. When a jerk gets in the way of Bheem and his crush, Raju has his back.
All of this makes it clear that while these two men may be romantically interested in women, they clearly love each other deeply. Which makes the impending conflict so much more painful to anticipate and watch while, at the same time, adding exponentially to all of the amazing scenes to come.
So why might Raju and Bheem’s relationship be so jarring for an American viewer? This type of non-romantic love between two grown men is just not shown much, especially in the context of an action movie. Such love might be developed in a drama, but never in a full-blown guns-and-explosions-filled flick. But why is that? Because the type of manly men who save the world don’t need friends like Raju and Bheem? No, but rather, I suspect it’s due to several things:
- The American idol of the rugged individual
- The American ideal of a man who can’t show “weak” emotions
- An underlying homophobic concern in some viewers at any close male/male relationship
- The lack of relatability (i.e., if men don’t have these types of relationships in real life, will they relate to onscreen depictions of them or be repulsed?)
As I reflected on the impact those reasons might have on how male relationships are shown on the big screen, I also began to wonder if those factors influence how we read about and understand such relationships in Scripture. Consider David and Jonathan. Sermons use David stories frequently, but in my experience, David’s stories with Jonathan are used less so, and when they are, there’s rarely a focus on the two men’s relationship.
As for the New Testament, male relationships are more teacher/student in nature—on the surface, anyway. There’s more to see there, however, if we can remove our American goggles. There’s likely a similar type of relationship between Jesus and John, who was called “beloved,” was close by Jesus’ side at the Last Supper, and stood with Mary during the crucifixion. The New Testament descriptions show a level of friendship with John beyond what Jesus experienced with his other disciples.
Looking beyond these male relationships, there is more in Scripture that can apply to such relationships, though we might not think so at first. Consider the “love” passage in 1 Corinthians 13. Though often used in weddings, it’s not actually written specifically for that kind of relationship. The English language is so limited in the use of the word “love” that we can limit this passage. But if we applied the following principles directly to our friendships, how would that challenge the typical American view of male relationships?
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Does any of that describe the types of relationships we see portrayed between men? Not often in my opinion. Anger is frequently a part of those relationships; boasting is almost required; wrongs are recorded; and trust, when given, still seems guarded.
Maybe male relationships in America are lacking. Maybe it’s the fault of the culture. Maybe the reason that men outpace women when it comes to suicide is because we’ve been taught that having a good friend you actually love is just un-American. I don’t have the answers, but I’d recommend everyone start by watching RRR (because it really is an awesome movie) and consider that maybe what we’ve accepted, culturally, for male relationships isn’t the best way, or even the only way.