BYLINE: By JIM SOLLISCH
If you want to know more about the male experience, don't read "Iron John." Save the money you'd spend attending a men's conference. And by all means, put away those men's magazines. If you really want to know what it's like to be a man, if you want to understand what men are up against, just go to the nearest video store and rent "Beauty and the Beast." It's the definitive movie of the male experience. The Beast, starring as Everyman, is the most honestly rendered male character to ever grace the big screen. Nothing William Hurt, Harrison Ford or Tom Hanks has ever done comes close.
Watch the Beast as he struggles with his temper. Watch the other characters shrink from him in fear. See how they tread lightly trying to please him. Then watch the way real people tiptoe around the men in their lives: children around fathers, wives around husbands. Watch yourself shrink from a confrontation with your own father.
Study the scene where the Beast is dressing for his dinner with Belle. See him fumble with the trappings of civility - combs, dinner jackets, ties, hair tonic. Look closely, and you'll see Everyman dressing for his prom or wedding, a stranger in a strange land - a woman's land of niceties and conventions he doesn't understand.
Keep watching as the Beast dances with Belle. You will never see a more realistic, if tender, depiction of the awkwardness and terror many men feel when asked to dance. That's no Beast in the ballroom with Belle - it's you and me, or your boyfriend, husband, father or son.
Look into the Beast's eyes as he holds Belle in the empty ballroom. That isn't just bewilderment you see - it's the terrible knowledge that comes by comparison. Next to her smoothness, he knows how rough he is. Against her smallness, he measures his bulk. The burden of being a man is to feel the raw physical power you have over a woman and to simultaneously understand the powerlessness that comes from it. To be a man is to be a bull in a china shop, a beast in a ballroom.
Sometimes when I hold my 3-year-old daughter Zoey, I watch her watching me. In her eyes, I am huge. To her, my hands are like paws; my calluses like Brillo pads. Like the Beast, I can be frightening to her because I am so different. Where she is soft, I am hard. Where she is fresh, I am worn. Where she is graceful, I am awkward.
I want to tell her that I, too, am just a child. That I still see my father as a giant with a laugh like a train roaring through a tunnel and hands like bear claws and a steel-wool beard. But I can't because I have become him.
Now watch the Beast as he tries to tell Belle how he feels. As he struggles to define emotions he never expected to have. As he sounds out the foreign language of love. Watch, and you will see Everyman standing there on the border between lust and love, fumbling with his passport, trying to find the words that will permit his crossing.
And finally, watch as Belle says "I love you" to the Beast, breaking the spell and turning him into a prince. There may not be a prince inside Everyman, but there is something softer, something better, in most of us that stays locked there until a woman, or until love, coaxes it out.
The most frightening thing about being a man is realizing that you need a woman to make you whole - to free you - much more than any woman needs you. To be a man is to be a Beast in the wilderness, hunting for the one thing that can free you if only you can learn not to scare her away.