Because movies are the principle conveyers of value in our society, it was a bit surprising to find such an old-fashioned message in the wacky and vulgar comedy, The 40-Year-Old Virgin. If youve seen it, you may have come away with a very surprising moral from a very surprising source: Hollywood.
One is drawn to the film by the absurdity of a middle-aged virgin, of course, and expects to laugh at Andy (played by Steve Carell of Anchorman) for having failed to find the Holy Grail. But in the end, it is Andys friends who seem pathetic, the ones who conspire to bring his years of sexual inexperience to an end.
They suggest that he pick up the drunkest girl in the bar, and he does so, only to have her vomit in his lap. They hire a prostitute, who turns out to be the wrong gender. They coach him on how to be the Alpha male, playing it cool and allowing women to talk about themselvesbut this doesnt work either. Andy is afflicted by a strange condition. He doesnt want to have sex with someone he doesnt care about.
As the movie progresses, his friends from work (a Best-Buy look alike), begin looking more and more ridiculous, admitting that their exploits in Tijuana, where they went to see a show about a girl having sex with a horse, sounded cool at first, but turned out to be, just gross. They sit around playing sadomasochistic video games and take turns accusing each other of being gay.
The relationship works at first only because she and Andy agree not to have sex. She helps him to grow up, get rid of a house full of action figures, and open his own store. When her daughter finds out that Andy is a virgin, she defends him, because hes good to her mom.
The boys from work, meanwhile, keep trying to convince Andy that virginity is a pathology, and advise him that the secret to being a good lover is to have sex with someone he doesnt care about enough times that hell be good at it when hes with someone he does care aboutonly to add, even then youll be bad at it.
It could just be that more teenagers will respond to the message of this movie than to all the church-sponsored True Love Waits campaigns. And it might be wise for the Christian Right to admit that not everything that comes out of Hollywood is predictable and vile. In this case, a 40-year-old virgin who admits to not knowing what a breast feels like may seem ridiculous. But not as ridiculous as his friends, who dont know what a real relationship feels like.
The movie can even be said to have a theological dimension. As Jason Byassee, writing in The Christian Century noted: Theologian Sarah Coakley has observed that whereas moderns think talk about desire for God is veiled talk about desire for sex, ancient Christians assumed the oppositedesire for sex is really veiled desire for God.
In the case of the Virgin Andy, God really does move in mysterious ways.
Dr. Robin Meyers is minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC Church of OKC, and professor of rhetoric in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University. His forthcoming book, WHY THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT IS WRONG: A Ministers Manifesto for Taking Back Your Faith, Your Flag, and Your Future, is due out next May. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org