The most compelling scene in this movie is the school principal confronting a pair of disgruntled parents with, "Maybe what we need to change is not how he looks. Maybe what we need to change is how we see."
This inspiring story is packed full of archetypes and important messages about love, acceptance, self-image and community. While there was a great deal to watch in the relationships between the protagonist, Auggie, and the children he interacted with at his new school, I found myself closely watching something else. The adults in his life. And I was delighted to see some very hopeful male archetypes. Father, teacher, mentor, friend, all offering a refreshingly quiet yet courageous style of masculine empowerment.
In the father, played by Owen Wilson, I saw the vulnerability of a man whose heart ached for the suffering of his son. I saw a man who wanted his son to be "normal", happy, empowered. I also saw a man who was learning how to find acceptance, courage, self-love, a sense of humor and even playfulness in the face of that heartache as he helped his son navigate a new and less than friendly world. I saw a man who wanted his son to see that the world was much larger and full of potential than the narrow-minded people he would encounter.
In his teacher, a former Wall-Street trader, I saw a man who was no stranger to the pain of discrimination. He encouraged Auggie to participate in class, and noticed the subtle nuances of exclusion that needed to be addressed and overcome for this child. He didn't make Auggie a "school issue" by creating a scene or pressing a point. Instead he became Auggie's quiet champion, gently reminding him, and his classmates, that he is included. That he is an important and valued part of his class.
In the school principal, I saw a mentor who dealt with the larger issues around supporting (and protecting) Auggie. In a shocking scene, the principal confronts the parents of a bullying child. Among other things, the child had brought a copy of the recent class photo to school. The photo had been digitally altered to exclude Auggie. His mother had done it. The combination of rage and frustration in the principal's face at seeing the cruelty of this was poignant, but what he said was even more so. "Maybe we don't need to change how he looks, maybe we need to change how we see."
And finally, Auggie's best friend, who encountered his own challenges as a scholarship kid in a private school. I saw his heroics as he learned to see the affects his behavior had on his friend, on himself, and on his community. He was able to find and keep his compassionate heart as it was newly opening to life's challenges.
There were no dramatic plot twists, no explosions, no arrests, or fires or major psychological turns. Just the daily subtle nuances of pain, discrimination, and choice. And somehow, this writer helped me to feel compassion for all of the characters. Not just for Auggie and his family and their individual struggles. But also for the wounded parents who were trying to manage a wounded and bullying child. The confused fifth-graders who were trying to figure out their place in the world. The adults who should have, but for the most part didn't really have any better handle on how to deal with this situation than the children.
And no, I did not miss the point that the real hero of this story was Auggie, because HE was the one who invited us to make these choices. This amazing and delightful and very real young man offered us the invitations to make our own choices about acceptance, friendship and community. He led the way.
I was encouraged by these characters because they made larger than life the possibility of changing how we see. How kind, funny, compassionate men can literally change the world. They certainly changed Auggie's world.
Here's a video from another man who is helping us to see new ways to embody masculinity. How gentle love and compassion can be a powerful force.