By Lauren Rosewarne, University of Melbourne
Paternalism is a loaded, buttock-clenching, devil of a notion. For feminists, it’s up there with all the worst of the P-words. Like panties and pussy and phlegm.
So confident I was that I’d find it egregious, that I embarrassedly whispered my ticket order on Saturday. Whispering, equivocating, having to choke out a second go at the title. The same shame that others might harbour when buying tampons/condoms/12-inch heavily-veined dildos I, apparently, reserve for Anne Hathaway films.
While it’s only October and the pickings in 2015 have been substantially slim, I’ve now slotted The Intern into my year’s top ten. It cleverly shattered all my preconceptions about what another film from Nancy It’s Complicated Meyers would be like, and it touched upon a range of issues – gender, friendship, technology – that I’ve held long-standing personal and academic interests in.
The film speaks of ageing, about what gets done with skills, with time, with energy, discipline and intellect, when the workforce sees you only as a caricature of a doddering 70-year-old.
The film speaks about gender roles, dares to prod both the “crisis of masculinity” and the kiddult phenomena, and takes up a question I tackle in a forthcoming book, about whether computers have – in reality or merely in our cultural imaginary – made men soft and feminised, if not infantalised them.
The film speaks about feminism – with actual use of the F word! – of having it all, of women’s internal saboteurs, of paranoia and of both the real and imagined costs of success.
And, most interesting, the film speaks about friendships between men and women. About how these come in an array of configurations but that branding newly-minted net mogul Jules’ (Hathaway) relationship with her much older intern Ben (Robert De Niro) as one of paternalism is but one interpretation. And, after spending two hours with the duo, it’s certainly not mine.
There’s a scene early on when Ben spots Jules’ driver taking a sly swig of grog moments before he’s to get behind the wheel. Gentle Ben intervenes, a fizzer of an altercation ensues and the titular intern takes over driving Ms. Hathaway.
So was Ben being paternalistic? Should he have let Jules get in the car with that no-good boozer as a way to suitably demonstrate respect for her intellect and independence? Would letting her come to a TAC-commercial ends have been a better demonstration of cinematic feminism than him stepping in and doing the decent thing?