You know him, you don’t like him very much, and you’ve zoned out while he explained the “genius” of his favorite director to you: the Film Bro. His room is filled with framed Stanley Kubrick posters. His wardrobe consists of a single Pulp Fiction t-shirt. His natural habitat is at home, in bed, tweeting about who is or isn’t worthy of seeing the next Marvel movie. But where did he come from, and how did he get to the point where he thinks anyone who doesn’t agree with his opinion on a movie is objectively wrong?
The answer is actually pretty simple. The movies that are propped up by directors and critics as the most groundbreaking, artistic, or intelligent, all have one thing in common: they were made by and for men with the exact same outlook on life as the typical bro. Hollywood has fallen into a pattern—a man will make a movie that caters almost exclusively to men like him, and because the field of film criticism is overflowing with men like him, the movie enjoys a huge amount of commercial and critical success. Because of this feedback loop, any boy can enter the world of IMDb reviews a regular bro and emerge a Film Bro. All of his (usually misogynist) opinions are validated through the narrative of his favorite films, and emboldened by the onslaught of reviews, articles, and awards that affirm the ideas he already had. Put simply, film critics created this phenomenon that leaves me scared to bring up Blade Runner with any cis man.
Before we continue, I do need to make a few confessions. I’m a guy. I’m in film school. One of my favorite movies is Fight Club. I am one pair of retro glasses and one video essay away from being the very thing I am criticizing. But I’ve managed to keep my ego in check thus far, and I’m hoping that by examining how the Film Bro was created, and how he can be subdued, I’ll be able to stop myself from falling into the same traps as my fellow Tyler Durden lovers.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the one movie whose title we’ve all come to groan at: Tarantino’s 1994 “classic” Pulp Fiction. I use quotes around “classic” because, in all honesty, it shouldn’t really be considered one of the greats. It’s just not that good. The structure that Quentin and his critic buddies call “a challenge to conventional form” is a meandering three-hour runtime that comes at the expense of the audience’s patience and investment. Plus, it relies so much on violent, shocking imagery to convey its theme that it’s nearly impossible to get through if you aren’t exceptionally desensitized. And if you stop separating the art from the artist, the film’s problems only multiply; Quentin insisted on being the one to choke Uma Thurman while shooting Pulp Fiction, and Margot Robbie has expressed her discomfort in showing her bare feet so often in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood—but she felt she couldn’t say no to her director. So why would a movie that falls short in plot and visuals (and script: dropping a slur you can’t reclaim on every page doesn’t make you a brilliant writer, Quentin) become so revered?
Pulp Fiction became so popular, and amassed such a following, because the narrative it focuses on is exactly what the men of the film industry like to see. Despite it being praised for its revolutionary writing style, the story boils down to two things:
- Violence is the pinnacle of entertainment.
- Women are sexy.
If the guys in charge of recommending movies to the masses were, say, against violence, or preferred men, Quentin would have never had a chance at the position he holds in Hollywood.
Now, I don’t mean that critics are the reason Film Bros gravitate toward Pulp Fiction. Plenty of films that fly under the radar of prestige amass cult followings, whether it be because they are good films that discuss topics that are avoided in mainstream media, in the case of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, or because they are so supremely bad, like The Room. I’m not trying to claim that, if Pulp Fiction wasn’t considered such a classic, greasy teen boys wouldn’t find their niche among Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta. What I am saying is that critics have made sure that, when someone challenges the idea that Pulp Fiction is the best movie ever made, said greasy boys have an arsenal of critical acclaim to invalidate that challenge.
So critics fuel the ego of the Bro by placing the movies he relates to most squarely within the Good Movie canon. But most of the time, they manage to go a step further, cementing not just the worth of a film but also the “correct” interpretation of it. One of the prime examples is Fight Club. The analysis of David Fincher’s 1999 film that everyone agrees on is that “it’s about being young, male, and powerless against the pacifying drug of consumerism. It’s about solitude, despair and bottled-up rage.” Where the rift comes in is when you start asking whether Tyler Durden’s solution to his “bottled-up rage” is valid. On one hand, there can be a strong argument made that the film is satirical; it’s showing us how deeply ingrained toxic masculinity is in the members of Fight Club. They truly believe the only way to deal with their emotions is to break each other’s noses and cause property damage. The other interpretation essentially validates Tyler’s philosophy. It says that by the end of the film, Edward Norton and Brad Pitt succeed in ending the cycle of consumerism; they cancel the entire city’s debts, and give men across the country a space to process their emotions. And they owe it all to their fists. From this perspective the film’s big point—that violence is the answer—is genuine, because violence is the answer. Although plenty of reviews and thinkpieces exist on both sides of the debate, one narrative tends to rise to the top as “better,” or more true to the writers’ intentions, especially in our Bro’s comment history. I’ll give you one guess as to which one it is.
And here we are again, with the two central ideas of “violence is fun” and “women are sexy.” There’s a staggering number of films whose plots can be boiled down one or both of those themes, and an equally staggering number of men who refuse to listen to any interpretations that arrive at a different conclusion. It’s happened with plenty of other films. Try telling your local Bro that you disagree with what he thinks American Psycho is all about. Try telling him you just don’t like Kill Bill. He’ll shut you down no matter how many legitimate points you give him to support your opinion. It’s not that he thinks he’s better than you—okay, it’s not only that he thinks he’s better than you. It’s that he knows, consciously or not, that all these movies were made by men like him, for men like him, and it is men like him who decide how good they are and what they’re “really” about.
The 2020 Academy Awards are a great example of the filmmaker/film critic/Film Bro closed circuit. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood received ten nominations and two wins, despite having the same meandering plot and bare feet of every other Tarantino movie. Joker, whose plot is essentially that women ruined Arthur’s life and murder will make you (at least temporarily) a hero, received eleven nominations and two wins. Think of what a victory that was for every man on Reddit who’s been sporting a Joker profile picture since he joined the site. Lulu Wang’s The Farewell wasn’t even mentioned, despite an award-worthy production design. Greta Gerwig is quickly becoming one of the most recognizable directors in the industry, yet her name was missing from everywhere except Natalie Portman’s dress.
So how do we fix it? How can we convince our Bro that he’s not always right, and that putting his posters in frames is excessive and unnecessary? Well, I’m happy (and a little hesitant) to report, the problem seems to be fixing itself already. Bong Joon-ho’s groundbreaking success should mean that we have to sit back and listen to the nearest Bro explain the symbolism in Parasite, but for the most part discussions of the movie have been fairly balanced. The cult that has formed around director Taika Waititi should leave us anxiously waiting for his films to be snatched up and explained by male critics and classmates alike, but for the most part they haven’t. This is because the movies weren’t made explicitly for the snatchers and explainers. Parasite’s social commentary and symbolism are so distinctly non-Western that our distinctly Western Bros can’t really dismiss the opinions of Korean critics and moviegoers. And Waititi’s films are so intentionally democratic that anything goes when it comes to interpretation. More and more, films are entering the world of Hollywood prestige that don’t cater so specifically to the Bro, and that is beginning to strip away some of his perceived power. Same goes for analysis: as the world of film criticism opens to a wider range of perspectives, more arguments will be backed equally on both sides.
The best hope we have for the defeat of Film Bros and their egos is change within the criticism industry. As it stands now, the tastemakers of Hollywood are stuck in a cycle of automatically validating the narratives of misogynist men with high praise, in-depth analysis, and awards. As a wider range of people and perspectives are invited to join the ranks of not just the Academy and the Hollywood Foreign Press but the Arts & Culture sections of your favorite publications, we’ll start to see fewer and fewer “violence is good, women are sexy” movies immortalized, and our Bro will begin to accept that some things simply aren’t made for him.
Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I really believe that the film industry is only getting better, and more inclusive. Over the past few years we’ve been seeing greater and greater diversity in the faces and stories on the big screen. Soon everyone will be able to lord the success of their favorite movie over you; condescension won’t be exclusively for the Bros. But until that diversity is reflected offscreen, in publications and Academy Award campaigns, we’ll just have to keep zoning out every time our Bro opens his mouth, and wait for his reign to come to an end.
By Jack Loney
Illustration by Vy Nguyen