Learn From This: Chasing Amy

For this week’s movie, I give you… a Kevin Smith film.

No. I’m serious.

If Kevin Smith is good at anything, it’s marketing Kevin Smith. It’s almost impossible not to picture him as Silent Bob, talking about comics and Star Wars and inventing new and creative ways to use the “fuck” in a sentence. Blunt vulgarity, sophomoric humor, hyper-aware man-children who enjoy the trappings of adulthood if not it’s responsibilities…

It’s kind of easy to lose track of how personal his films can be underneath layers of raunch and sex jokes that almost reach the level of self-parody. Whatever else you may think of the man, he’ s willing to put himself out there in a way that a lot of filmmakers won’t, and Chasing Amy is undoubtedly the most personal and surprisingly honest movie in his ouvre. Not surprising, since the movie is a post-mortem of his relationship with star Joey Lauren-Adams, but to my mind, it’s one that gets lost in the wake of more in-your-face films like Dogma, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back or (sorry) Cop Out.

It’s the story of Holden – a comic book artist who falls in love with someone who, it would seem, represents the ultimate in the unattainable fantasy: the hot nerd chick… who also happens to be a lesbian. His seemingly hopeless obsession with her is adding unneeded stress to his relationship with his best friend and co-worker Banky, who sees her as an irritating distraction at a time when they should be more focused on a potentially career-changing licensing deal. And is there a hint of… jealousy there?

Needless to say, shit happens and the complex web of relationships, sexuality and beliefs provides a rather large number of lessons that folks need.

What Nerds Can Learn From This:

I’m not going to touch the sexual politics of the movie – if I want instant flame-bait, I’d really prefer it when I’ve got a slightly wider readership, so I could properly take advantage of the attention – but goddamn there are some necessary lessons to be had here. Many of which may need to be beaten in with the Chair Leg of Truth.

Get Over Yourself – Holden is, to put it mildy, a profoundly selfish dick. His world-view is entirely based around him; his views on sexuality, how Banky’s growing jealousy affects him. He buys into Hooper-X’s explanation that Banky’s jealous of Alyssa because he’s in love with Holden because, well… why wouldn’t Banky be in love with Holden? Holden’s fucking awesome. In a slightly more post-modern film, you’d think that Holden walks around with a constant parade of dancing, singing admirers, a-la the post-coital Tom in 500 Days of Summer. Even his attempts at rectifying the issues between himself, Alyssa and Holden involve… well, everyone fucking him. A little realization on how he might not be the alpha and omega of his universe would have gone a long way to salvage everything.

Sexuality is Goddamn ComplicatedWhen Chasing Amy was released in 1997, it generated a huge controversy in the LGBT community; Kevin Smith was accused of basically telling the world that every lesbian out there just needed some really good deep-dicking in order to be straightened out. This necessitated ignoring Alyssa directly telling Holden that she’s bisexual* – out of a philosophical ideal, apparently – and that she’s always been experimental, sexually. And the truth is, female sexuality has been increasingly recognized as being relatively fluid rather than the binary hetero-gay designations that even Alyssa’s friends buy into. The fact of the matter is that labels, and the preconceptions that go with them get in the way of the people and their relationships. Holden’s constant falling back to “the standard” regarding sex, especially with women, ultimately costs him his relationship with Alyssa and Banky. Don’t get hung up on the names and just embrace the emotions and the desire.

Love is Even More Complicated – Until the end of the movie, Holden never quite grasps the concept that love and sex can be separate concepts. The ancient Greeks had four distinct concepts of  love – eros, agape, philos and stergo. At the risk of massive oversimplification, eros is carnal love and attraction, i.e. sex. Agape is romantic love, the sense of contentment and fulfillment that comes with love. Philos is the love between friends and family while stergo is the love of parents for their children and vice versa. Holden seems to have no real understanding of the idea of philos and automatically assumes that any affection Banky feels has to be sexual. Banky may love him, but his resentment isn’t borne out of sexual jealousy but the way that Alyssa seems to be breaking up a working partnership and a life-long friendship. Banky may have a touch of the bi – Lord knows he protests loudly enough about his heterosexality – but the fact of the matter remains that it’s Holden who’s the real problem.

People Have Sexual Histories. Deal With It – Holden’s attitude towards Alyssa is infuriating at times. He likes her when he thinks she’s straight, but feels betrayed and resentful when he learns she’s dating a woman. Then when he starts falling in love with her, he’s willing to be magnanimous and be open-minded towards her sexuality as long as he was playing the Star Trek game of boldly going where no man before. Then once he learns that not only has Alyssa slept with men but is far more sexually experienced than he is, he’s utterly unable to handle it. He’s willing to accept her sexuality, but only on the terms he’s invented for himself. As soon as she’s gone from being this chaste ideal to a woman who – gasp – may have fucked not just one man but several, even had an MMF threesome? She’s nothing but a goddamn whore. Never mind the inherent hypocrisy in that he would most likely consider a threesome with two women to be the pinnacle of male achievement. He’s actively threatened by her experience instead of being able to appreciate the fact that out of all the people she has slept with, she’s in love with him. Which actually brings us to:

Women like sex tooAmerican society has been dealing with double standards regarding male and female sexuality almost since its beginning. Sexually virile men are to be celebrated while sexually experienced women are viewed with a combination of pity, disdain and mistrust. Society has indoctrinated generations of young men and women with madonna/whore complexes, where the only two types of women out there were the chaste, virginal “good girls” who didn’t sleep around and the whores who (gasp) might like sex! This has lead to a distorted idea of a woman’s ownership of her own sexuality and the value of her (lack of) sexual experience, one that’s still frustratingly evident today. Holden thinks he’s being open-minded and progressive with all of Alyssa’s female lovers, but it’s the men that threaten his ownership of her “newfound” sexuality. Even worse, she’s had sex that he’s only seen in porn or magazines… and possibly even enjoyed it! Holden’s inability to comprehend Alyssa as a sexual being leaves him feeling as though his manhood is in question and responds by lashing out like a child.

Bros Before Hoes… Kinda. - It’s worth noting that, before Holden starts chasing her like a lost puppy, Banky likes Alyssa. He’s genuinely having a good time with her as the two of them try to outdo each other in a one-upsmanship of sexual catastrophes, and if his questioning the word choice and mechanics of lesbian sex are somewhat ignorant, at least they’re not meant to be insulting. Watching Alyssa make out with her girlfriend in the club… that’s just a convenient bonus. It’s when she becomes the center of Holden’s universe that he starts to resent her. And in fairness, he does have a point. Holden’s obsession with Alyssa becomes almost all-consuming; he’s spending all his time with her, blowing off conventions, his work is suffering… There is a lot to be said for the rush of a new relationship, even if it’s a one-sided crush, but Holden simply doesn’t see that he’s being a dick to his friend who already worries about being abandoned.

Sometimes The Problem… Is YouAlyssa is heart-broken and furious at the way Holden has treated her. Banky’s pissed at him because Hold His attempts at rectifying the situation are even more asinine. Convinced that the problem with their relationship is sexual imbalance, rather than his inability to get past his own issues regarding sex, he proposes a threesome to even things out. Because there’s nothing better for a man who’s already sexually insecure than to watch her have sex with another man. As Alyssa points out correctly, she’ll do something different or make a different noise and it’ll just become one more niggling doubt in their relationship that he will eventually come to resent her for. Meanwhile, even assuming that he was right and that Banky was sexually attracted to him… there are probably worse ways to try to resolve both that and Banky’s jealousy of Alyssa but I’m having a hard time thinking of them.

Sometimes They Get Away – Dan Savage has an excellent saying: all relationships fail, until they don’t. Silent Bob and Holden both can’t seem to let go of “the one who got away”. While it’s understandable to mourn what could have been and miss what had been, the fact of the matter is, obsessing about the one just elevates that relationship and the girl into mythic status. Even worse, being unable to let go means you’re unable to move forward and find the relationship that will finally be the one that makes it.

Don’t be Holden, folks.

Chasing Amy: The Criterion Collection

 

*Then there were those who questioned whether she was ever really a lesbian in the first place, leading into the question of bisexuals in the gay community…  Er, right, I was trying to avoid the sex and gender politics flame war…

Comments

  1. That's some damn good advice. Where were you when I was single? Don't sweat the bisexual thing – everyone knows we don't really exist.

  2. Jose A. Rivera says:

    I was really impressed with the break down of the movie. After reading this, it's hard not to see Holden as such a dick.

    The words of wisdom given have been more helpful than you can ever imagine. It made me look at how I see some of the women in my life.

    We all have that one that "got away" but yeah, sometimes we do something so damned stupid that maybe the over romanticized tragedy of what happened in our heads isn't what REALLY happened and we contributed to it.

    Certainly food for thought.

  3. anthony stokes says:

    Omg I feel so stupid for thinking chasing amy was overated but I think I missed every single theme of the movie. Thanks dr. Nerdlove.

  4. Brilliantly put. It proved very easy for people to miss that Holden was merely a protagonist, not a role model. From a narrative point of view it can be difficult to convey that a likable character may not always be right. I thought the ending was exactly right (it would have been a smarter and probably better move to suggest the three of them work on a comic together, but Holden really did reduce everything down to sex) and every lesson you point out gets at least one moment in the sun if not a direct shout-out. The only one that doesn't come totally clear is "Don't be Holden." No mystery there; Smith may know Holden is wrong, but he still likes him and doesn't want to hurt him unduly.

  5. I really don't understand how Kevin Smith films are so horrible. They aren't great, they just aren't "Tyler Perry." If a movie sucks, but I like it, I'll say that. But, they don't suck, just kind of in the middle.

  6. Wait a minute: Kevin Smith made Cop Out?? Man, FUCK Kevin Smith!!

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