The Kingsman’s “Men” and Pitch Perfect 2’s “Women”
It is probably a bit late to write about my two favorite summer movies this year, Kingsman and Pitch Perfect 2. Kingsman: The Secret Service was a WONDERFUL delight to watch. I was going into the cinema not knowing what to expect. The trailer made me feel it was going to be “James Bond spoof” kind of movies. Boy was I wrong. I had this constant grin from cheek to cheek. Kingsman was original, funny as hell, and had charming cast. Pitch Perfect 2, on the other hand, was something that I actually looked forward to. I had an amazing good time watching the first. It was like, REALLY? A movie about a capella singers can be THIS fun (or in fans’ lingo: A-Ca-Awesome!)? So contrary to Kingsman, I was entering the cinema with full expectation of what Pitch Perfect should be. Unfortunately, I had to say the sequel was not up to the original’s charm. It was not like bad, BAD. The songs were nice, the singing was still amazing, Anna Kendrick still made me weak in the knees. But the story was so convoluted with distracting subplots. I still enjoyed it, but I wish the writers had kept the original’s simplicity. But as usual, when I feel interested to write about movies on a blog, it had to be more than just “reviewing” it. Great movies make me think beyond the action, the directing, or the cast. At least to me personally. Some movies are just to be enjoyed as entertainment. You walk out of the cinema feeling your money was well spent. But there are some movies that leave lingering message long after you walked out. And both Kingsman and Pitch Perfect 2 were those movies in an interesting way, because they both have a message to each gender. What it means to be a man and a woman.
Beyond all the high-tech gadgets and almost superhuman action, Kingsman is actually trying to tell us what it means to be a true “gentleman”. First, a gentleman is not determined by his lineage. A gentleman is not “born into it”, like royal blood. This is the biggest theme of Kingsman. The hero, Eggsy, came from an ordinary, middle-class, even seemingly blue-collar neighborhood. He was the regular brat living with his working mom and unrefined boyfriend. Notice how he was such a contrast with the other Kingsman candidates who went to elite schools and come from the aristocracy. Even “Arthur” (Michael Caine), the charismatic leader of Kingsman strongly opposed Eggsy participating in the recruitment process. Only Harry (Colin Firth) believes in Eggsy’s diamond-in-the-rough qualities. Of course, we will find out later the transformation of Eggsy from a street brat into a gentleman spy who saved the world. The message to all men today: your past and background do not have to dictate your identity and your future. Another related message is this. How do you become a gentleman? What makes a man extraordinary, above the average man? Again it is not your family background, your elite schooling, your refined accent, or your wealth. Harry the mentor gives a clear, unmistakable message:
“Manners Maketh Man” – Do you want to be a true gentleman? It’s not about fancy clothes, cars, or your money. It’s about having MANNERS first. Isn’t this what today’s men really need? We the modern men chase the superficial things to make us look and feel good. We chase money, we buy men’s toys like cars or motorcycles. We buy fancy clothes and jewelry. We flaunt our latest smartphones. And we all think we look like a cool man with all these. But it is not all that, as Harry said. “Where are your manners, young man?” If today’s men want to become a true “gentleman”, we all need to start from learning manners. How do we treat other people, even those who are strangers to us. How do we treat our parents? Or the elderly? How do we treat women? How do we treat those who are weak or poorer than us? Do we display common courtesy? Are we being considerate? Do we show patience? Do we display chivalrous qualities as men? Perhaps in the era of glitzy blings and flashy gadgets, today’s men do really need to learn the basics. Learning good manners. Only then, we can learn how to be brave and ready for action. And even save the world. Pitch Perfect 2 (together with the original) also brings a message to the fairer gender. The “girlpower” theme is very strong in the franchise I would be surprised if audience missed it. But it is deeper than just a simplistic “women can kick-ass too” story. There are some subtle, deeper narratives in the movie, the way I see it.
First, notice that the Barden Bellas are not all pretty looks. In fact, if you watched the original, the criteria to become a member is mainly the ability to SING. Not just to sing as an individual, but to sing in-sync and harmony with the other girls. In a world of Kim Kardashian and Victoria Secret Angels where impossibly perfect lips, boobs, and complexion seem to be the standard, Pitch Perfect 2 wants to assure girls around the world that talent and skill still matter more. Also, the fact that it is an a capella group is a symbol of collaboration. Girls are stronger when they work together, in harmony. Pitch Perfect 2 had a sweet segment about this, when the Bellas were beaten and they went to a “camp” for retreat, This is where they learned to work together again as a team. But it was the campfire scene that is truly touching. When girls got together and be honest and vulnerable to each other, to talk about their worries and dreams, and stop being competitive – this is when they find their harmony again. Isn’t this a stark contrast with today’s girls who are very competitive against each other? Women can be so mean to each other, and bully each other in real world or on social media. Now it is about who gets the highest ‘likes’, who can put down other women, who is the prettiest and the hottest. And this is how all women become weak together. The movie shows that if women don’t collaborate, they will fail. But to me, it was the Finale that beautifully hammered this point. Remember the final “Flashlight” song in the finale? When they hit the chorus and suddenly we see all the previous, now older Barden Bellas joining in the background? It hit me much later on the powerful message of the scene. The sisterhood of girls do not just span across one’s peers, but also across generations. That is the secret power of women. To collaborate with their peers. But also to seek help, inspiration, and guidance from “girls” who went before you. Never undermine or mock older women. Your mother, aunties, big sisters, and all women of previous generations can be a source of strength and learning. They are THE flashlight of today’s girls. If you pay attention to the “Flashlight” lyrics and put them in context, notice that the song does not have to be about romantic partner. The “flashlight” actually comes from the sisterhood of girls from all generations. When tomorrow comes I’ll be on my own Feeling frightened of The things that I don’t know When tomorrow comes And though the road is long I look up to the sky And In the dark I found, I stop and I won’t fly And I sing along I got all I need when I got you and I I look around me, and see sweet life I’m stuck in the dark but you’re my flashlight You’re gettin’ me through the night Can’t stop my heart when you shinin’ in my eyes I can’t lie, it’s a sweet life I’m stuck in the dark but you’re my flashlight I see the shadows long beneath the mountain top I’m not the afraid when the rain won’t stop Cause you light the way Dear today’s girls, you have strength in each other. Collaborate and help each other. Don’t put fellow girls down. And remember you are never alone. Your “big sisters”, even all the way up to your grandmothers, can light the way for you. Women can always find their flashlight, if they look for it. 🙂 PS: Happy Ramadhan, Selamat Idul Fitri, Mohon Maaf Lahir & Batin!