Feminism and the Breakthrough of the Manic Pixie Dream Boy
In recent years, there has been an increase in awareness surrounding feminist movements, which has contributed to a rise in discussions and debates regarding the portrayal of women, especially in films. Many movies have often normalized the depiction of sexist female character tropes. One of the most common female character trope is that of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG). This term has been coined by film critic Nathan Rabin after watching the movie Elizabethtown. He defines the Manic Pixie Dream Girl as,“that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”
Whether it is Zooey Deschanel’s quirky appeal in 500 Days of Summer or Charlize Theron’s character trying to fix the male protagonist’s life in Sweet November, it is evident that Hollywood has an obsession with the manic pixie dream girl. She is usually that girl who makes her entry in a film when the male protagonist is going through a major crisis in his life, which is quite often existential in nature, and invariably ends up being the one who teaches him to live in the moment and embrace life as it is, with her slightly eccentric and unconventional perspective to life.
The Unpredictable Rise of the Manic Pixie Dream Boy
One of the main criticisms of the MPDG trope is the fact that the role of a manic pixie dream girl has only been restricted to helping a man dramatically change his life for good, and there is often very little to no attention paid to her life without any relation to that of the male protagonist. Eventually, this led to a lot of debates concerning the representation of women being confined to such stereotypical roles in films. It not only started questioning outdated gender norms, which have been deeply internalized in society, but also the lack of authentic and diverse female perspectives in mainstream cinema.
However, there are more films being made in which we can see that there has been a drastic shift in focus from male-centric plots to those that revolve around the experiences and struggles that women face in modern society. Interestingly, men began playing key, supporting roles in such films and these men gradually came to be known as the Manic Pixie Dream Boys (MPDB).
Who is the Manic Pixie Dream Boy?
The manic pixie dream boy is the guy every girl is warned to stay away from. When you come across such a man for the first time in your life, everything about him screams adventure. He is spontaneous, fun-loving and free-spirited, and typically has creative sensibilities and witty humor that make him quite likeable and attractive. His interesting anecdotes about the people he has met or places he has been to, his enduring passion for music, art or poetry, and his philosophical insight makes him all the more intriguing. Additionally, he also manages to constantly remind his partner of the fact that he is hopelessly in love with her and at the same time is perfectly comfortable being the less successful, supportive partner to his career-oriented, ambitious girlfriend. It’s not very difficult to see why girls cannot resist falling for such boys.
Examples of the manic pixie dream boy in recent films:
Jack Dawson from Titanic
In this 1997 award-winning film, Jack Dawson is the classic, penniless artist who has travelled to many places and slowly manages to win the attention of Rose Dewitt Bukater, with his sensitive yet enthusiastic personality. This involves him entertaining her with captivating stories about his life and also famously gifting her a sketch of herself. His influence on her life ultimately leads her to become a much more light-hearted and happy person, as opposed to her prior subdued and reserved self.
Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars
Augustus Waters is the quintessential “boy next door” who is completely smitten with Hazel Grace Lancaster and thinks it would be a privilege to have his heart broken by her. Apart from his undying proclamations of love for Hazel, his witty one-liners coupled with his optimistic and humorous attitude to life, amidst his battle with cancer, makes it hard not to fall in love with this boy.
Jesse Wallace from Before Midnight
Jesse Wallace is the typical sensitive writer with never-ending philosophical questions about love and life and deep curiosity about his partner’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions, in addition to being fully supportive of her feminist views and career. His emotional intelligence gives him the courage to talk openly about his vulnerabilities, and he is always seeking out new experiences that enable him to reinvent himself from time to time and inspire himself as a writer.
Criticism of the Manic Pixie Dream Boy
The manic pixie dream boy also happens to be the man-child who gets distracted and bored very easily, does not have any focus or long-term plans in life, shudders from the mere thought of commitment, shies away from any kind of responsibility, and wants to be the ultimate rule breaker of cliches. He might even profess his undying love for his partner one fine day and suddenly disappear or not respond to her calls or messages for three weeks at a time, only because he felt like packing his bags and going on a trek in western Europe.
While the manic pixie dream girl chooses to believe in her man and encourages him during the most trying times in his life, the manic pixie dream boy on the contrary, somehow always ends up pinpointing something that is supposedly wrong with the female protagonist’s life even when everything seems perfectly normal. He chides her in a subtle yet patronizing manner, trying to convince her that she is not completely open to new, gutsy and exciting experiences in life, as she is held back by some fear and is not as brave and courageous as she should be, unlike him, which is the reason for her mundane and ordinary existence.
Even though his naive enthusiasm and mysterious charm, along with his sudden, heart-wrenching declarations of love and wanderlust, might make him particularly dream-like and endearing in the beginning, his inability to stay in one place for long, ruthless unpredictability when it comes to relationships, and ability to disguise his problems very well without acknowledging them makes it exhausting for a woman to be with a manic pixie dream boy long-term.
On this account, it is safe to say that although manic pixie dream boys might be men that we probably encounter on a holiday or choose to go on exhilarating vacations with, they are most definitely not the men that we should generally consider bringing home. While it is easy to romanticize and be enamoured by the idea of a manic pixie dream boy, it is ten times more demanding and challenging to handle the reality of being with such a man, if he were to exist.