‘Chungking Express’ To ‘Charulata’: Films That Portrayed Masculinity Without Toxicity

films on masculinity
As far as the subject of toxic masculinity is concerned, from Stanley Kubrick to Quentin Tarantino, classical Hollywood cinema builds itself upon the conflicted hero, constantly battling the temptations to break down into tears.

In order to avert this pressure, he chooses to conform to patriarchal standards of “masculine” behaviour and starts exerting mindless control over his life and the lives surrounding him. No wonder, he becomes his worst enemy. The toxic traits of masculinity find perfect expression in Stanley Kubric to David Fincher films. It is, therefore, endearing that the influences of directors like Wong Kar-Wai, Satyajit Ray, Godard and the like have reinstated the creative ferment in cinema.

Films On Masculinity without toxicity

Chungking Express

Hong Kong director, Wong Kar-Wai’s fourth film, Chunking Express (1994) brought him to the attention of Western audiences. Set in the infamous Chunking Mansions, a crowded 17-floor residential and shopping complex in Kowloon, the film introduced cinephiles to Wong’s universe of love-lorn romantics obsessing over the possibilities of what might have been. The men in his film allow themselves to experience heartbreak, expose their vulnerabilities to the women they encounter and shed tears when they feel unfathomable degrees of weakness.  


In the French impressionist director, Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, we encounter Patricia who fought against the men in her life, and struck her own path in the world. Exemplifying French feminist ideals, with interruptive jump cuts, the movie creates a choppy, disorienting conversation between the characters and eliminates the standard rules of film editing. The classic feminist concept of the “male gaze” is also challenged in this film. The character of Michel is immediately established as the male gaze. But throughout the movie it slowly moves from him to Patricia, and at last, in the final scene, it is Patricia who stares back at the audience. 


In Charulata, director Satyajit Ray, through the subtle movements of the camera, does not impose his gaze on the “heroine.” What he does instead is that she sees the world in her perspective, turning a blind eye to societal restrictions. Charu, in this movie, does not have a friend in her late nineteenth-century Bengali household. She bonds with Amal over mutual interests and together they fill the void in each other’s lives. Amal is portrayed as someone who recites poetry, sings and reads fiction. Ray’s feminist sensibilities hinges on silences, Amal’s body language, gestures and facial expressions.

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Call Me By Your Name

In Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name long before Elio and Oliver became lovers, they are somewhat wary friends, who try to express their desire but, in the meantime, spend a lot of time together eating meals, taking strolls, on bike rides and errands and the story is inconceivable without the conversation that they’d have had as their relationship developed.

Though Elio and Oliver were involved with women in the course of the summer, through a lot of subtleties, they discuss their sexual histories, their desires, their inhibitions, their hesitations, their joys, their heartbreaks. Although the film can be criticised because of Oliver’s character arc and distorted sexual scenes, the film’s queer characters are often misread when one fails to notice Timothee Chalamet’s character of Elio who expresses nervousness from asking a girl out to figuring out his sexuality. 

Taste Of Cherry

Irarian film director, Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste Of Cherry features a middle-aged Tehranian man, Mr. Badii, who is intent on killing himself and seeks someone to bury him after his untimely demise. The film is a message that talks about life, death, and suicide. It also talks about small reasons why even men want to commit suicide and can also avoid it by watching the full moon, sunset-sunrise, beautiful landscapes and tell themselves that reasons for living are much more than to die.

Views expressed are the author’s own.