Movember: Male Mental Health on Film
Maria Goddard reflects on The Perks of Being a Wallflower’s treatment of toxic masculinity and gender conformity.
Stephen Chbosky’s heart-warming exploration of the realities of teenage life is revolutionary. Most films targeted at teenagers focus on unrealistic and melodramatic relationships and school dramas, but this film is different as it deals with themes that are more raw and perhaps more relatable. The film focuses on the protagonist, Charlie: a ‘wallflower’ who struggles to fit into the ‘normality’ of society due to his history with mental health difficulties. Issues of masculinity are underrepresented in film, and when they are explored, it is in an unrealistic or extreme manner, such as the Joker from the Batman franchise. Using The Perks of Being a Wallflower as a case study, this article will explore how men’s mental health is represented in film, and how issues of masculinity are normal and not to be feared.
Traumatised from exposure to sexual assault, domestic abuse and the loss of his best friend to suicide, Charlie struggles to open up to people and be involved in social situations. The film is an uncompromising exploration of Charlie’s depression and how he learns to overcome it by opening up to new friends. Whilst it is shocking and upsetting at moments, you cannot help but feel relieved that he is able to accept those awful elements of his past, and focus on the excitement of his future. It is incredible how such a sad movie can be so uplifting and beautiful at times. Watching films like this, it is difficult not to ask yourself – ‘Why do we try to conform to the stereotypes of our gender?’. It’s a fact that not all girls like pink and shopping whilst not all boys love video games and cars. The inevitable truth is that individuals in society fear acting ‘abnormal’ in the worry they won’t fit in. However, putting pressure on oneself to conform to society’s expectations of them can have harmful effects on their mental health.
Issues of masculinity are not something to be ashamed of, but rather something to own and love, as uniqueness is something that should not only be celebrated, but be seen as the new ‘normal’
Gender, according to gender theorist Judith Butler, is ‘an identity instituted through a stylised repetition of acts’ and that ‘bodily gestures, movements and enactments of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self’. This implies that no gender is born with certain characteristics or interests. Masculinity and femininity are simply performances that people have copied and reenacted for centuries. This concept is interesting as it allows audiences to understand how not conforming to the stereotypes associated with your gender is normal whereas conforming to this performance is abnormal (not vice versa). This is explored in the film when Charlie mentions his embarrassment of being ‘the weird kid who spent time in the hospital’ rather than being the typically strong-minded male. Therefore, mental health issues tied to avoiding conformity to gender-expectations is saddening, as being unique and individual is something to be proud of, not something someone should want to suppress.
It is interesting to note that the film uses mainstream movie actors like Logan Lerman, who starred in movies like Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, as well as Emma Watson: the face of the Harry Potter film series. This shows how real issues like mental health are becoming more commonplace amongst teenagers, and how it is a topic that needs to be explored further in order to make light out of a negative issue. The Perks of Being a Wallflower sends a message that more young adult films in the future need to send: that issues of masculinity are not something to be ashamed of, but rather something to own and love, as uniqueness is something that should not only be celebrated, but be seen as the new ‘normal’.