The longer I live, the less complicated (but more difficult) I believe life to be, especially for men. When I see the difference between the men who struggle and the men who thrive, the men who thrive are the ones who (not to get too technical about it) tend to do something cool while maintaining deep connections with others. It goes back to the core of Ecclesiastes, where Solomon urges men to find satisfaction in their toil, and to the selfless love of the Gospel.
And make no mistake, both elements are linked and important. I’ve seen men with good families flounder and plunge into depression if they struggle in their professional life, or if they lack any hobby that engages their mind or allows them to work with their hands. At the same time, not even the most dynamic professional or the bravest firefighter or soldier thrives when their family crumbles or their friendships fracture.
Think of the present crisis in working-class American men. Think of the extent to which family dissolution and the lack of economic opportunity is driving people to lose both critical elements in life – they’ve lost their connections. They’ve lost their sense of professional purpose. No one thrives in that environment, and the desire to recreate connections and do something cool can become both desperate and (sometimes) destructive. The negative, darkest side of this desire is the street gang. But aside from those outliers, we’re still left with a wounded generation – a generation that’s quite often literally looking for a purpose and looking for a family.
And that brings us to The Fast and the Furious movie franchise. Yes, The Fast and the Furious. (If you’re looking for highbrow movie criticism, you’ve come to the wrong NR writer.) Why has it become a cinematic juggernaut? Why is it a movie series that for a younger generation is an opening night event that rivals even the biggest properties in Hollywood? Because it portrays both “something cool” and “deep connections” better than any other film franchise around.
The “something cool” part is easy to explain. In seven movies, we’ve seen cars race in the streets, fight a tank, drop from airplanes, and jump from skyscraper to skyscraper. The action is ludicrous and impossible, and the movies turn the characters into superheroes while pretending they don’t have superpowers. If one clip sums up the action ethos, it’s this one, where The Rock uses an ambulance to fly into a jet-powered drone (why not shoot down a drone with an ambulance?), emerge from the flaming wreckage without a scratch, pick up a minigun (because of course a minigun is lying on the ground), and stride off to shoot down an attack helicopter. The dialogue is amazing:
Letty (Michelle Rodriguez): “You bring the cavalry?”
Hobbs (The Rock): “Woman, I am the cavalry.”
This is real life, the kind of real life people are building in towns and cities across the country. It’s infused with faith and forged against the background of shared loss. I could be overthinking the franchise, but I don’t think so. I know people won’t flock to the film tonight (I’ll be right there with them) thinking, “I can’t wait to see an awesome movie about family.” They’re going because the movies are fun, because The Rock is The Rock, and because it just connects. I believe Vin Diesel’s vision of his crew as a family is one important reason why.
I don’t think any piece of art is necessarily critical or even meaningful in shaping a culture, but very book, every film, every song builds a little or tears a little. Sometimes it does both. When it comes to The Fast and the Furious films, I’m saying they build a little. So go watch Dom and Hobbs tonight. Watch The Rock (if the trailer is to be believed) wrestle a real-live torpedo fired from an actual submarine. But also watch wounded people build and sustain a family. That’s what sets this franchise apart. And that’s why I join my conservative colleagues in saying that I love The Fast and the Furious, and I’m not ashamed.