I think there’s some innate aspect of either male psychology or the way we socialize boys who are growing up that tells men to make grand gestures. I know that I’m a sucker for making a performance, but urban Canada is a very sanitized place.
The government tells us when to cross a street to avoid getting squashed by speeding metal boxes of death. We cover our cigarette packages with images that remind us how dangerous it is to smoke (even though cigarettes objectively taste like death regardless). There are all sorts of other nanny-state structures.
I think that the “nanny state” is good — I would rather have an involved government than one that exclusively built roads. On the flip side, that means there are precious few opportunities for me to fulfil the protector fantasy.
Often the best I can do is make a show out of cooking, buying a bottle of wine or walking on the outside of the sidewalk. Love and Monsters delivers that protector fantasy I desire.
The plot is as simple as the title. The world ends and the couple gets separated. Years pass. The boy is still in love with the girl, he finally finds where she is over the radio and he goes to find her, braving all sorts of monsters in the name of love.
Thankfully, Love and Monsters has an excellent twist at the end, some fantastic side characters and a rather refreshing take on the damsel in distress. This is a plot that you’ve certainly seen before, but with a somewhat new take on it.
The way the monsters are depicted is wicked cool and the CGI is good enough. It’s not at the level of Avatar, but I had no objections.
The side characters, who teach the protagonist the ropes of “the surface” — where the monsters lurk and humans avoid — are as likeable as the excellent dog, named “Boy”.
The film is tongue-in-cheek and aware enough that it’s a goofy coming-of-age film, but not so aware as to kill the fun. Instead, it plays into the ridiculousness angle quite a bit for a movie of this genre.
The idea of the “male protector”
What’s striking is the way the movie handles the idea of the male protector. Love and Monsters (2020) frames the protagonist’s journey across the surface as a quest for love.
Joel, played by Dylan O’Brien, is the only member of his hideout who doesn’t have a significant other. The film presents sex in the hideout as the main way to pass the time, a constant background activity. Joel’s character and life are defined by his lack of sex in the hideout. This is what prompts his great quest.
The men in this shelter (besides Joel) are lean, mean fighting machines. They can fight the monsters, while Joel freezes up and is a liability. It could be argued the other men are male power fantasies. Coming from the perspective of the male gaze, I was in awe.
Joel is not one of them. He’s a sweet kid who draws and writes letters that he can’t mail to his sweetheart.
Finally, when he makes his grand gesture, a great quest across the surface, he comes into his own. After seven long years, he decides to grow up. Joel’s adventure is remarkable and so is his growth.
The director asks the audience whether we need to make these seemingly noble grand gestures while showing us what made Joel’s partner love him wasn’t his grand gestures.
Their love is an ode to the little things — wanting to spend time together, the way he loved her for who she is and laughing at their silly jokes together. The other men in Joel’s hideout, while “cool,” only have one grand moment and a brave survival instinct, not something they would do every day.
Love & Monsters is trying to tell its audience, yes, grand gestures are lovely, but consistent love and affection will take relationships further than one or two grand gestures could ever do.
COVER PHOTO: IMDb