Masculinity in Film: Analysis of 'Skyfall' and 'The Dark Knight Rises'

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1971 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Words: 1971|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Societal Norms and Hypermasculinity in Cinema
  2. Gender Performativity and Masculine Identity Construction
  3. Conclusion
  4. References

Films are often presented in a way that questions masculinity and how it is constructed. Masculinity is defined as the 'qualities regarded as characteristic of men'. The essay revolves around how masculinity is presented in films like 'Skyfall' and 'The Dark Knight Rises'. Both films address key theories of masculinity and perform the stereotypical norms and expectations of men. This essay will look at the different ways in which each director constructs their male protagonists in order to gain attention and satisfaction from their audiences.

'Why Violent Video Games Shouldn't Be Banned'?

In society and life, men are continually fringed and associated with violence. In fact, for many men, the case of violence to a certain extent plays a fundamental part in their lives: it is something that they must be prepared to exhibit, something they have to exhibit. In film, this same idea can be applied. Many male characters are portrayed as those of dominance, capable of displaying violence at any moment. It places unnecessary pressure and expectation on men 'particularly young men' in society. An example of this can be seen in 'Skyfall', the film directed by Sam Mendes, where Silva's description of Bond as a 'physical wreck', verbalises this pressure; and throughout the film, James Bond is forced to confront his history of violence. His representation of hegemonic masculinity substantiates this marginalised way of being a man. Similarly, in Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight' Rises, Bruce WayneBatman is a profound characterisation of hegemonic masculinity as being the driving force in their story. It is built into the characters' story so as to make it appear normal and natural for men's superordinate position to be sustained. The villain known as Bane typifies the underlying theme of dominance and violence as integral to masculinity in his speech: 'Take control! Take control'. In Stanko's distinction between two forms of violence, it can be understood that violence appears as an aspect of expected, regular masculinity. Through expressive violence, it is unplanned, blind rage; and through instrumental violence, it is planned, premeditated and considered violence. In the film, masculinity is constructed in a way that each form of violence, as presented by Stanko, is portrayed through each of the leading characters. Bond as instrumental violence and Silva as expressive violence. Arguably and most irrefutably, masculinity is constructed to present men as inherently violent, but also shows how they are affected by such pressures in their roles as dominant members of society.

Societal Norms and Hypermasculinity in Cinema

This constructed masculinity, underpinned by violence, is also angled toward past conflictions and a history of troubles in the protagonists' lives. It can be argued that this is prevalent theme of the way in which film directors construct masculinity, whilst it also maintains the understanding that expectations of men are exceedingly high within society. In 'The Dark Knight' Rises, the trauma of Bruce's parents being murdered, separating, destroying a happy comic family, changes his viewpoint on the world, motivating him to fight against all evil. In the scene where Bruce dreams of being young again, the recollection of his father's words 'Why do we fall, Bruce? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up', manifests his tough transition into manhood. According to Solomon-Godeau 'almost all anthropologists and ethnographers agree that masculinity appears transculturally as something to be acquired, achieved, initiated into a process often involving panful or even mutilating rituals'. Bruce's fall and his parents' death 'repeatedly recalled in the film' can be seen as this achievement or initiation into masculinity. He is no longer cared for, protected, cloaked by his parents or any older guardian, but the owner of a corporation, longing for a heroic, masculine male role in his story. Quite identically, in 'Skyfall', Bond too returns to a past trauma in order to maintain his role as a dominant male fixated on seeking more value as a hero; and in this experience, it elucidates his venture into manhood as difficult, thus somewhat rewarding his character with masculine traits. M asks, 'How old were you when they died?', attempting to comfort Bond in his return to his childhood home. His cold response and dismissal of such talk all but confirms his fully masculine manner that was inflicted on him by the death of his parents. Each director constructs masculinity in a way that describes their childhood: not one of happiness and security, but one of trauma and pain. It leads to a adult life of conventional aspects.

In cinema and in life in general, men appear to be driven by stereotypical views. It can be argued that in these films, masculinity is constructed through sexually objectifying males, reiterating heteronormative masculinity. This notion appeals to the public's consumerism, it gains popularity and profit. In many of the scenes in 'Skyfall', Mendes endeavours to appeal to a vast audience by presenting Bond topless. In his nudity, wet or in dark lighting, a gendered identity is exploited; it is a tool that men manipulate. Bond is also portrayed as a womaniser for the attainment of consumerism. In another scene, he and Severine, his female partner at the time, engage in sexual activity in the shower. Bond is in control and dominant, whilst the female is in a vulnerable and obedient state; however, they both remain equally objectified in order to engross audiences. Through the theory of scopophilia, there exists sexual pleasure through watching the actor and actress conducting themselves in sexual ways; and from the perspective of the heterosexual male, it constructs masculinity as being sexually dominant and controlling. Furthermore, in their book, O'Brien and Szeman state that the male viewer within an audience seeks a 'sense of self and power in the world'. In 'The Dark Knight' Rises, Nolan produces a sense of Bruce Wayne's position in the world. He is portrayed as a womaniser, too, in that he succeeds in engaging in sexual activity with the female character Miranda. After this, her plead to Wayne 'We could leave tonight, take my plane and go anywhere we want' demonstrates the female as emotional and dependent on the male's control and decision over her. His reply, 'Someday perhaps', confirms his control over her and lack of connection or attachment to her. It is clear that the films construct masculinity by appealing to their consumers through societal norms. The idea of hypermasculinity is ever prevalent throughout each, promoting the sexual objectification of men through stereotypical views.

Gender Performativity and Masculine Identity Construction

Another way in which masculinity can be constructed is through gender performativity. The hypermasculine ideal that Bond embodies is only constructed through a series of performative acts. Bond performs masculinity in a number of tests at the temporary MI6 headquarters in order to 'prove' that he is fit for service. Another clear example of this idea of gender performativity is during the scene where Bond and Silva take turns firing shots at a whiskey glass placed atop Severine's head. Bond's proclamation that 'it's a waste of good scotch' is an exemplification of performativity as he is aware of his requirement and expectation to play the role of the hypermasculine hero here. It reiterates the dehumanising nature of a patriarchal discourse which reduces women to the status of objects. In order to preserve his character's masculine display, Mendes suppresses and eradicates emotional connection or response to this ordeal. Madison Hosack argues that 'Skyfall' 'solidified patriarchal gender roles'. This emphasises the position and construction of men as agents of masculinity in 'Skyfall' and 'The Dark Knight' Rises. Nolan portrays Bruce Wayne as a man of theatricality and excessiveness in his crusades as a lone vigilante. His character is determined that he can outperform the ambitious displays of violence, destruction and masculinity that Bane shows with his own equally consequential acts of supposed heroic justice. Through gender performativity, the characters in 'Skyfall' often display stoicism during scenes of intense nature, such as fight scenes. This can be most obviously seen in Bond's clear lack of concern or reaction to Silva shooting Severine, or in the scene where Bond adjusts his suit after jumping from a train. This shows the stereotypical gentleman: he makes sure his appearance as being smart is maintained without any other reaction to what he has just acquitted himself to. However, in 'The Dark Knight' Rises, the protagonist BatmanBruce Wayne displays signs of emotion and overwhelming feelings affecting his performance.

This leads onto the crisis of masculinity as abjectly demonstrated in both films. In most action films, most Bond films, the male protagonists are viewed as indestructible and unremitting; and these representations in the media and society have created expectations about what it means to be a man. In 'Skyfall', Bond has many inadequacies made apparent to him. In the beginning of the film, he fails to complete his mission, getting shot in the process. He also fails the fitness test that was required of him in order to return to active service. This most vulnerable and imperfect representation of masculinity explores the idea that traditional masculinity is in crisis. The character of Eve Moneypenny can be seen to demonstrate this masculinity crisis through her position as a field operative: she can be viewed as an equal to Bond. Also, the fact she is the one who shot him at the start of the film substantiates this notion of subverted masculinity. Christopher Nolan, in 'The Dark Knight' Rises, parades Bruce Wayne as fractured and weak after his encounter with Bane. Traditionally, as a hero of strength and power, Batman is defeated quite easily by the villain in the film, whilst his separation from the events and destruction of Gotham present him as an embodiment of a damaged masculinity. The independence of Selina Kyle and her dual identity as Catwoman suggests a mirroring to Batman, showing that women are capable of such roles in society. According to Kimmel, 'Men today, more than ever, are confused about what it means to be a man'. This is a profound element within both films, wherein each protagonist 'most particularly Batman' is obsessed and glued to the idea of being in control, having power and ability to inflict violence at any time.


In conclusion, what has emerged as a result of this investigation is quite clear. Throughout cinema and these two films in particular, there is an analogous pattern in constructing masculinity. The portrayal of male characters is heavily shaped and influenced by the innate application of stereotypical perspective and societal conventions. Both men and women as gender discussion are objectified and constructed in films in a way as to galvanise audiences and make profits. Violence is a key aspect for masculinity in films as it alludes to characters as strong and mighty, unstoppable. Sexual objectification is also another integral concept at which directors and writers exploit by altering the character's image and story to gain attraction and sexual stimulation toward their character. In this essay, it has been proven that gender roles profoundly orient and shape films and the construction of masculinity is vital to a film's success and appeal to audiences.


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  6. Edmonds, A. (2016). The Trouble with Men: Masculinity in European Cinema. In International Film Studies.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Oliver Johnson

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Masculinity in Film: Analysis of ‘Skyfall’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. (2023, August 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 18, 2024, from
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