Donal reminded me on my last post that I also wanted to do an analysis of Independence Day, so here it is. First, let’s look at the four main “heroes.” On the plus side, they’re all men; you probably couldn’t do that now. But how manly are they? Let’s look:
1. An alcoholic widower who’s screwing up his business by flying drunk. He’s a father (a plus), but his kids appear to pretty much take care of themselves, and perhaps him, while he screws up in ways that probably make it hard for them to get by.
2. The President, who is pushed around by his underlings until being mentally attacked by an alien appears to give him a testosterone boost. His wife and female chief of staff are both more assertive than he. When the movie opens, he’s home playing Mr. Mom while his wife is doing something political across the country.
3. A handsome, clearly alpha, fighter pilot with the qualifications to be an astronaut, but (according to his friend) NASA keeps turning him down because he’s shacked up with a single-momma stripper. Of course, she’s the good kind of stripper, who’s just doing it for her baby, instead of a head-case who hooks on the side for crack money. When he marries her before going on the Final Mission, he apologizes for taking so long. We don’t see her thank him for overlooking all her baggage.
4. A nerdy, environmentalist tech guy whose ex-wife (the aforementioned chief of staff) divorced him three years earlier because he wasn’t ambitious enough to suit her. He was happy with his job and his recycling obsession and their marriage just the way they were, but apparently she thought he should be out chasing Nobel prizes or something. This is presented as a sad thing, but completely understandable on her part. He’s still pining for her to the point of continuing to wear his wedding ring, so it’s up to her whether they’re together or not, and that’s how it should be. She starts to tingle for him again when he saves the world.
The three women characters — the stripper, the chief of staff, and the First Lady — are cool and competent at all times, whether running from fireballs or even dying.
I don’t think it would be exaggerating to call this movie a defining moment of its era. It was the largest-grossing movie of 1996, breaking records and winning awards. Everyone saw it and was quoting it. Everyone remembers the scene of the helicopter swinging away from the White House as it explodes, and the alien ship blasting the buildings with people waiting on top to meet them, causing city-wide explosions for people to run from. (Fireballs were really, really slow in the mid-90s.) Tied to July 4th as it was, it reconstructed the idea of non-ironic, fist-pumping, pro-military patriotism as something good, as long as it had a global flavor.
So in this movie everyone was watching and imitating 18 years ago (about the time today’s marriage-delaying 30-year-old girl was growing up), what did we learn?
- Men have a lot of flaws. Women don’t seem to.
- Men are sometimes able to get better, maybe good enough to deserve a woman, if they work really hard to redeem themselves and meet her expectations. Saving the world may improve a man’s odds.
- Strippers with other men’s children are smart, capable, classy, and generally great wife material.
- If a man’s wife falls out of love with him, it’s not her fault, and is probably his.
- A father without a mother will probably crack and be the kind of guy you wouldn’t let take care of your goldfish, let alone some kids.
Am I forgetting any?