What if Travis Bickle was an Uber driver and was expecting a baby with his girlfriend? South African director John Trengove’s first English-language film, titled Manodrome, asks that very question. But while the iconic Scorsese film worked more as a social commentary and looked at the psyche of the man through a lens, Trengove’s film kind of ends up sympathizing with this guy by offering a botched-up explanation behind his problematic actions. The film also channels its inner Fight Club, but does not quite manage to reach the heights of the David Fincher classic, thanks to a lack of proper vision. That’s why, in spite of having a fairly relevant topic at its core and genuinely talented actors Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody at the helm of it, Manodrome feels like a bit of a hack job. It wouldn’t be unfair to call this thing a “Midsommar, but for the incels,” which doesn’t paint this film in a good light, I suppose. The strangest thing about Manodrome has to be the confusing final act and the sort of ambiguous ending, which feels like more of a gimmick. But if you have sat through this whole meninist uprising thing, then you deserve an explanation and to be at peace, which is the whole point of the rest of this article.
Who Is Ralphie, And What’s His Deal?
Riley Keough, one of the producers of Manodrome, makes a sneaky but impactful cameo at the very beginning as a lactating mother feeling uncomfortable during a cab ride as the driver is ogling at her through the rearview mirror. The woman immediately asks the driver to pull over, but it takes a bit of work until he finally stops the car.
Ralphie is our cab driver, of course, who’s going through a really rough patch in life. However, that’s no excuse for his obnoxious behavior while working, not that he’d be bothered to hear you out. Anyway, Ralphie is struggling to make ends meet, and his driving job is clearly not enough. With his girlfriend Sal, who works at a shopping mall, expecting their baby, it is even worse for the man. The man is severely depressed about how the world is not doing him any good, and as a result of that, he is being condescending to his girlfriend and also underperforming in the bedroom. Ralphie’s only place to blow some steam is the local gym, where he feels at home with many dudebros around, including his only friend, Jason. There is a group of muscular black guys who come to the gym and mostly call the shots there. Ralphie and company don’t really see eye to eye with these people. Seeing Ralphie in a position like this where he is unable to buy a pair of sneakers that he has been coveting for many months, Jason comes up with a solution.
Who Is Dan, And What Does He Want?
You can say Jason is the Tyler Durden equivalent of Manodrome, except he is a real person. This was the solution Jason was talking about. He has been a part of Dan’s group for a while. It’s basically a fraternal support group that look out for other “bros” in need, but unless you are a flag-bearer of toxic masculinity by yourself, you can see right through the cult. Ralphie can’t, of course, unsurprisingly. At first, he is cautious and not letting things out to the group. The first meeting goes fairly well, and Dan, who likes to call himself “Dad Dan,” takes an instant interest in Ralphie.
Why Does Ralphie Join Dan’s Group?
It should really be a question of “how,” instead of “why”. Like a moth drawn to the flame, Ralphie was very inclined to join “The Guys” (that’s what they’re calling themselves). It was only a matter of time for our man to take the pledge. A visit to the cult’s headquarters, which is a rather nice house in a serene neighborhood, and seeing what the group is really practicing upfront take Ralphie an inch closer to making the decision. However, what seals the deal is Dan’s laughable preaching about the presence of a superior power inside “poor” Ralphie. It doesn’t happen that instantly, though. Ralphie was already mastering the role of an absent partner by indulging in “manly stuff” instead of being there for his pregnant girlfriend. Soon, Sal starts to see through it, although she doesn’t have any idea about Dan and the group. The inevitable finally happens when the two have a huge fight over Ralphie’s erratic behavior, and the man just locks the woman in a room and leaves without giving any explanation. He is obviously welcomed by Dad Dan and co., as the celibacy practitioners are more than happy to have another “real man” in the fold.
What happens to Ralphie in the end?
The major problem with Manodrome is the director’s attempt to give the audience a reason for Ralphie’s behavior throughout. And yes, it is obviously daddy issues stemming from childhood. I don’t think Trengove intended to portray it in a sympathetic light, but unfortunately, that’s the way it comes across. While Ralphie’s dad abandoning him on Christmas is genuinely sad, that doesn’t warrant his deep-rooted misogyny and homophobia. This further gets proven when Sal mentions that both she and Ralphie come from bad places, but that doesn’t mean they have to keep perpetuating those negative cycles. Unlike Sal, who accepts how life is and tries to look forward, Ralphie descends into madness. He may have thought Dan and his group would be his salvation, but they were nothing but catalysts. What the cult did was install a sense of confidence in Ralphie and enable him to do things that he probably wouldn’t have done before. With his newfound power and sense of entitlement, Ralphie now has no problem bullying his gay passengers by driving unnecessarily fast, taking it up to the black guys at the gym, and beating up the Santa-costume-wearing man outside the mall. Earlier in the movie, Ralphie hallucinates about the same man flashing him while he was waiting for Sal outside the mall. This is an indication of Ralphie’s perspective of the world which is hellbent on making his life harder, as well as his trauma related to the Christmas holiday. When Sal tries to rejuvenate a little by setting up an old Christmas tree, Ralphie gets pissed at her, which only proves the man is unable to move on from his past, essentially ruining his present and future.
It probably would have been a better choice if Manodrome only focused on what Ralphie is doing and how it is affecting his partner and child instead of giving him a poorly written backstory. There is a moment in the film, however, where Ralphie is proudly walking around in a shopping mall with his meninist pals when one of the dudes comes across the woman he abruptly left. The confrontation bothers Ralphie, and for the first and last time in the entire movie, he admits that he has been a terrible human being. Sadly, though, Dan and the brothers manage to divert Ralphie towards his doom by convincing him that’s not the case. While Eisenberg plays Ralphie like a deranged maniac, Brody’s Dan appears to be rather composed. As the narrative progresses, you realize that the man actually believes in what he preaches instead of just being an evil dude manipulating others into hating women.
The thing that bothers me the most is how the movie made the choice of spending so much time with Ralphie and the dude-bros and pretty much sidelined Sal, the only character who actually deserved anything. There can be a counterargument that it is Ralphie’s story, but taking the focus away from Sal only makes it a story about toxic masculinity and not the effect of it. Sal suffering from postpartum and eventually abandoning her child is a genuinely cruel decision if you think about the child, but how Ralphie treated her has a lot to do with that. But in the case of Ralphie, it’s completely on him, as he kept manifesting the childhood trauma and started thinking his actions were justified. The subplot of Ralphie’s tension-filled relationship with Ahmet, aka the black guy at the gym, is another thing the movie failed to handle. It was evident from the start that this character exists to die at Ralphie’s hand, but the entire physical intimacy part between the two needed to be explained better. Instead, it felt like more of a twist to increase the shock value.
Now coming to the end of Manodrome, the final ten minutes are nothing short of blasphemous. What exactly was the necessity of offering Ralphie a moment of kindness at the old age home when his Daddy issues have already been established? And the man is too far gone, given that he has repeated the same cycle of abandoning his own child with the dude-bros, which potentially dooms the kid’s future, and killing Dan (he had it coming though). Is the movie asking the audience to feel sorry for Ralphie in the end by cutting the scene to black before we see him getting arrested? Because it does seem that way, and that is a huge problem.