In an ever-increasing technological world, we are presented with many different concepts of what it is to be a ‘man’. Television, film and other forms of new media in particular are no strangers to the depiction of a variety of masculine stereotypes. However, since the popularisation of film in the late 1930’s, there has been one male stereotype that has been most commonly portrayed; the alpha male. One such character that this stereotype encapsulates is Moneyball’s (2011) Billy Beane, portrayed by Brad Pitt. Based on a true story, Moneyball, directed by Bennet Miller, depicts the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 Major League Baseball season, and the struggles of manager Billy Beane to take a low-budget team to success. The director’s discerning choices of narrative, symbolic and technical elements help to compose the alpha male stereotype that Billy conforms to. These elements give viewers an invited reading of Billy as an authoritative manager, who behaves and treats others with superiority, yet acts with a sense of individuality both around others and in a work environment, and openly shows emotion.
Through Billy’s body language and mannerisms, and dialogue, the director consistently foregrounds Billy’s superior behaviour around others. As a result of Billy’s body language and mannerisms, we come to understand that due to his lack of relationships he cannot relate to players and thus treats them with a sense of inferiority. For instance, Billy always acts dominantly when in conversation, chewing tobacco, mimicking and talking over others and rarely sitting to display this authority. This body language is most evident when Art Howe, the team coach, attempts to intimidate him while negotiating his contract;
Billy brushes him off despite Art clearly presenting the better argument. From there Billy proceeds to a scout meeting where he chews tobacco and indicates to Peter Brand when he is allowed to speak, with a snap of his fingers. This clearly demonstrates his use of body language around others to exercise his dominance. Bennet Miller further uses Billy’s dialogue to foreground his superior attitude and treatment of others. Billy rarely concedes to anyone, being particularly frank and straightforward, sure in his belief that he doesn’t have to explain himself to others. A strong example of this is when Billy advises Peter Brand that, “It’s a problem you think we need to explain ourselves. Don’t. To anyone.” This mentality further reflects his display of superior behaviour and treatment of others, however, Billy remains quite individualistic both around others and at work.
Bennet Miller uses the technical elements of lighting and camera work, and the narrative element of the plot to emphasise the individualistic orientation of Billy, both socially and at work. In spite of his behaviour and body language, throughout the movie Billy is portrayed as an individualist with few notable or intimate relationships. In many ways not only is Billy an individualist in the social sense but also in a work perspective, going against the grain of what baseball managers have done for the last 80 years; essentially he is a trailblazer. When we are first presented with Billy, we see him alone in a dark room lamenting the Oakland A’s playoff loss from the previous season. Through the use of lighting in this one shot we are presented with a recurring idea for Brad Pitt’s character, the haunting memories of loss and failure. Throughout the film
we come to realize that the use of limited lighting and close up shots are used to highlight Billy’s social isolation. Furthermore, the underlying narrative is used to extend this idea, this time however in a work sense. The focal point of this movie is not baseball, but rather the way in which Billy defies the way in which players were picked for baseball teams. Instead of selecting players solely on their technique and precision, Billy opts to select players based on statistical merit. This important plot point is the basis for Billy’s determined approach to work; he works in a unique way, and is therefore considered by many to be ‘individual’ from other baseball managers. It takes great courage to defy what is widely accepted, and this action not only reinforces Billy’s alpha male status, but also reveals much about his discourse, especially his use of emotion, something uncommon to his stereotype.
The elements of narrative and dialogue are effectively used by the director to underline Billy’s use of emotion, something uncommon of the alpha male stereotype. With new depictions of masculinity rising due to technology, it has become accepted for more ‘manly’ stereotypes to show emotion. Billy is often seen throughout the film displaying his anger, frustration or satisfaction. The director’s use of narrative gives several examples of such sentiment: Billy throwing his tape away after hearing the A’s lose, upturning a table after a disagreement with the scouts and celebrating with a fist pump when he learns of his success in signing Ricardo Rincon.
We grow to learn throughout the film that Billy didn’t play, and doesn’t coach baseball for the money, but rather for the satisfaction of winning. In fact, it is his deep emotional connection to failure, insecurity and lost potential that causes Billy to openly show sentiment. The director’s use of dialogue is key in understanding Billy’s overall discourse and in particular his use of emotion. An example of this effective use of dialogue is when Billy discusses the Oakland A’s 20-game winning streak with Peter Brand, “I’ve been in this game for a long time. I’m not in it for a record.” This suggests that Billy’s alpha male stereotype is more complex than it first seems, instead of being solely focused on the glory that can come with baseball, Billy shows us that satisfaction taken from exceeding expectations is most often greater. For many, emotion is not a characteristic commonly exhibited by an alpha male, yet Miller manages to successfully weave this trait into Billy Beane.
Bennet Miller has created a three-dimensional character in Billy Beane, who, while fitting the alpha male stereotype, adds emotion to a masculine depiction generally averse to showing sentiment. The invited reading created for Billy is that of a manager who acts with a sense of superiority around others, yet one who acts individually and openly shows emotion. Miller has achieved this invited reading through the selective use of narrative, symbolic and technical elements, including Billy’s dialogue, the film’s plot, and the use of lighting and camera angles. Ultimately, the film’s ability to present a common masculine stereotype and then challenge the discourse that defines this stereotype, positions viewers to realise that emotion is not an affliction of a male personality, rather it is something that defines the character of a ‘man’.
Courtney from Study Moose
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