Yes, I watch Girls

Judging by the reviews and blog comments, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing, and I am definitely in the loving-it camp when it comes to Lena Dunham’s Girlswhich recently wrapped up its second season on HBO. I really admire the strength of Dunham’s vision of who she is as a writer/director/actor. Although her characters get into rather outlandish situations, she manages to represent some of the most truthful, human moments on the small screen of what it’s like for a certain demographic of twenty-something struggling to become adults in New York City. It’s fascinating watching her characters struggle with their careers and their dating lives, but Dunham especially shines in her depiction of the ups and downs of close female friendships.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here is the opening scene to the entire series, which sets the protagonist Hannah up for her misadventures by having her parents finally cut the purse strings years after she’s left the nest:

Rites of passage in Goats

Goats (2012) is the film adaptation of Mark Jude Poirier’s debut novel. It’s a quirky coming of age tale that involves a 15-year old boy leaving home—although “home” for Ellis isn’t a safe and idyllic Shire, but a chaotic, dysfunctional family comprising his irresponsible and histrionic mother and his pot-loving mentor, Goat Man, who becomes a surrogate father figure to baby Ellis shortly after his biological father abandoned the family.

Within the first three minutes, the film quickly establishes its major themes: coming of age, rites of passage, leaving home, and renegotiating parent-child relationships.

See what you can make of it. (It’s currently streaming on Netflix.)

[Scene: Goat Man and Ellis go for a trek in the mountains of Arizona with two goats.]

Narration: Goat Man took me on my first trek when I was eleven. Not too long after that, he taught me how to do bong hits. It doesn’t matter where we go on these treks. We just wander. Goat Man says it’s the journey that counts…which I know is cliché. In a few days I leave for the prep school my father went to. Goat Man’s calling this my farewell trek. He says I should soak up as much of the Sonoran sun as I can, but he’s the one doing most of the soaking.

Goat Man: Whooo! [Jumps into water.] Whooooo! [Approaches Ellis.] You won’t have all this this at Gates Academy. [Lights up a joint.]

Ellis: Naked men shouldn’t squat. Do you ever worry about your parents? Did you ever?

G: No. Not really. Wendy will be fine. I’ll watch her.

[Goats bleet.]

Goat Man once said that in certain Native American tribes, an elder leads a young man out into the wilderness to fend for himself until he has a vision.

[Ellis milks goat milk into a cup.]

G: She never lets me milk her.

In one tribe if no vision comes they’ll chop off a fingertip and sacrifice it to the Great Spirit. Goat Man said I’m not quite ready for this rite of passage.

[Ellis finishes drinking milk and climbs piggyback onto Goat Man.]

E: Thanks. Sorry about the rest of the trek, Goat Man.

G: It’s not your fault. Should have never let you come out here with brand new boots. Should have oiled them and let you walk around in them for a couple of days before coming out here.

[End scene.]

Questions:

  1. Why is the film called Goats?
  2. Who are the goats and who is the goat herder?
  3. Describe the relationship Ellis has to the most important adults in his life: his mother, Goat Man, and his father.
  4. In what ways is Ellis already an adult?
  5. List the challenges that Ellis faces and how he overcomes them.
  6. Describe the transformation that Ellis undergoes in the film. What do you think motivated him to clean up his act?

Here is a hint for numbers 1 and 2: the film’s opening graphic.

Goats opening graphic

How’d you know?

Just a little over halfway through Lars and the Real Girl (2007), the titular character approaches his older brother, Gus, and engages him in a discussion about rites of passages. In the absence of any coming of age ceremonies, how did Gus know that he’d become a man? Gus stumbles over his answer, “Well, it’s kinda sex, but, but it’s not…” before he’s saved by the bell.

In the next scene, Lars presses Gus until he relents and offers

Gus: Well, it’s not like you’re all one thing or the other. There’s still a kid inside, but you you you…you grow up when you decide to do right. And not what’s right for you—what’s right for everybody. Even when it hurts.

Lars: Ok, like what?

G: [Sighs.] Like…you know, like…you don’t jerk people around. You don’t cheat on your woman. And you take care of your family, you know. You admit when you’re wrong. Or you try to anyways. That’s all I can think of, you know? It sounds like it’s easy, and for some reason, it’s not.

Be a mensch, in other words: do the right thing. Gus offers their father as an example of a man who “tried to do right by us, even though he didn’t know how,” by struggling to raise them, as a single dad, through a fog of depression. Then he himself “mans up” to Lars by apologizing for abandoning him the first chance he got to leave home.

I do think that there is at least one other definition of manhood (and more broadly, adulthood), one that underpins the entire film. As Lars works through his delusion, from start to end, there is a definite sense that he must face his monsters—the twin threats of emotional and physical connection (and we’re not even talking about sex here)—before he can call himself a man. (Would that we all could enjoy the unflagging support of an entire small town while we do battle with ours!)

For those who have access to the full film, the scenes above run roughly between 1:13:38 and 1:16:00.