Media Review – “Tea and Sympathy”

“When you speak of this in future years…and you will…be kind.”
1956
Starring:  Deborah KerrJohn Kerr
They sure don’t make movies they way they used to. Everything about this film is slow and mannered, taking its time to never climax, but instead reflect on society through consequence and controversy.
The premise is simple enough: gender identity and its weight worth in gold.
The plot is a little more dynamic: young Tom Lee, played by John Kerr, is a student at the promininent Chilton boarding school for boys. He doesn’t fit in and doesn’t want to. Tom prefers to sew instead of play football and talk to the professors’ wives instead of his peers. It’s not that he flaunts his unquie masculinity, it is that he doesn’t actively try to supress it. He is bullied and mocked and seemingly diseased on campus when it comes to trying to socialize or bond with any of the other boys. They want nothing to do with him and it is only his manly roommate, Al, that tries to teach Tom to “walk right” and even encourages his down-and-out roomie to “be with a girl alone,” cause that’ll sure make him a real man. Long story short, Tom’s housemaster’s wife, Laura Reynolds, played by Deborah Kerr, takes pity on him, but wants to do more for the lost boy that just offer him some tea and sympathy. Laura wants to connect and heal the sullen student on more levels than one and for more reasons than one, including that the Tom reminds her of her former husband, sent off to war and killed, and that she’s apparently getting no loving at home. As things unravel and Tom is bullied into a sucide attempt by a loose woman he is trying to get his rocks off with, he and Laura end up coming together in a innuendo-filled scene that cuts away just before the good stuff.
Whoa.
I feel a little conflicted. Is this film actually about gender identity in the 1950’s? Yes. Is it creative and political? Theoretically. Does a married woman try to “fix” someone with her vagina by having sex with a minor and then leave her husband and run away? All signs point to yes.
This film is filled with wretch-worthy moments of male dominance and all too realistic scenarios of bravo and meat-headedness. From Laura knelt next to her husband, asking for his approval and his “touch” to Tom ridiculed for his sensitive side, it’s amazing that this film was even released when it was!
Nonetheless, with any issue I do have with the movie, which in comparison to the positives I see is very small, it is so important that mass media makes headway with issues that society has problems comprehending and  dealing with. Issues like how to be a man or a woman that are so fully loaded and charged with confusing gender and cultural norms.
Some people argue that male dominant and aggressive behavior is innate and that a woman’s delicate touch and caring disposition is born into them, but I am a nurturist and I believe that nature has very little to do with how we turn out. The human mind is just so impressionable and to think that something as superficial as “girls like pink” could be a genetic or biological trait boggles my mind. It confuzzles me.
This movie handles the distressing parts of youth in a way that is not necessarily ethical, but gentle and compassionate. The two souls lost in the   film are born in the wrong time period with too much tolerance to try to change their worlds. Today there are more opportunities and communities open to those that do not “fit” the strict roles our society expects us to adhere to. Using media and art to start the conversation is a creative way to begin early activism and breech language barriers and cultural norms. We need more movies like this one that say that women can make a difference, are not just here to offer men a little “tea and sympathy” when they’re down and that they can go after their sexual needs. We need more movies like this one that say that men are not all brawn and no brain, that they can have an acceptable gentleness to them and that sensitivity is a virtue, not a flaw.
I recommend this movie to anyone interested in gender and women’s studies and to everyone else in general. I think I might just write a paper on it for class…
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