Movie Review: “What Women Want”; Listening to Culture (Jan-Feb 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

by Wade Hodges
January-February 2002

In What Women Want–-a 2001 movie now available on VHS and DVD–-Nick Marshall, played by Mel Gibson, is a smooth talking, chauvinistic, sexual conquistador who thinks he is what women want. When a freakish electrical shock gives Nick the ability to hear what every woman around him is thinking, he finds out just how wrong he is.  Shocked by the realization that he repulses virtually every woman in his life, including his teenage daughter, he panics and futilely tries to reverse the condition.

After convincing his therapist of his newfound ability, she helps him to see that his condition, rather than being a curse, is actually a gift. A man who really knows what women want can rule the world, which is all Nick has ever really wanted to do anyway.  So Nick tries something new: he closes his mouth and opens his ears. Of course, he initially uses his “gift” to seduce a cute barista at the local coffee shop who had previously been cagey enough to elude his charm.

He then sets his sights on derailing the career of his newly hired female boss, Darby McGuire, played by Helen Hunt. “What Women Want” is a romantic comedy and true to the formula, in the midst of the sabotage, Nick and Darby fall in love. By the end of the movie, Nick’s character has undergone the kind of transformation required by this genre of film; he becomes a better man, saves a life, makes amends with his daughter, and – you know it’s coming before you ever hit play on your remote control – he gets the girl.  What Women Want is a funny movie, featuring a great performance by Mel Gibson.

The movie says something to a church interested in entering into a meaningful dialogue with a postmodern culture.  Although Nick’s goals may be different from those of the church, his lesson learned applies to us as well.  

When I was younger I was told, “You have two ears and one mouth; use them proportionately,” or as James says, “Be slow to speak, and quick to listen.” That’s good advice for a loudmouth like me; it’s also good advice for a church that is increasingly being shoved into the margins of society.

While some Christians are talking louder than ever, more and more people are turning a deaf ear to our message. We can talk over the world; we can talk about the world; but many of us have lost our ability to talk to the world. What can we do to regain it? Like Nick, we must close our mouths and learn to listen to what the people around us are saying.

The goal of our listening is not to learn how to tweak the gospel in order to make it more palatable. Our gospel is great and doesn’t need our revisions to its core. The story of a loving God who creates the world, watches it spin out of control, and then enters the fray Himself to redeem the rebels is still compelling. Unlike Nick, we’re not listening to gain an advantage over unsuspecting victims; we’re hoping to find fresh entry points into a discussion about the gospel with our neighbors.

Too often, we provide insightful answers to questions no one is asking. The way the gospel is preached in many churches gives great comfort to cautious people who are afraid of death, but what do we have to say to a generation of extreme athletes who would rather die young than live a boring life? 

By listening, we gain insights into the questions, problems, and needs of our culture. From there, we’re able to articulate the gospel with words and metaphors the people next door to us will understand. Listening allows us to accentuate the elements of our story that most need to be heard and that are most likely to help.    

What can you do to become a better listener of culture? Here are some suggestions:

Listen to what people are writing in the “letters to the editor” section of the newspaper. What are the hot-button issues in your community? In my local paper, people are constantly arguing about environmental issues. Does the gospel have anything to say about the environment and our role in taking care of it? Sure it does. Why then aren’t more churches sponsoring ministries that help people get a balanced, biblical perspective on how we should relate to our environment? Maybe it’s because we haven’t been listening.

Listen to what artists of our culture are saying in print, song, and film. As missionaries sent into our culture to proclaim the gospel of Christ, we ought to ask, Is this movie posing a question? Is this song proposing a solution? Is this novel doing both?  What does the gospel have to say in response?

All around us are clues telling us how to most effectively communicate the gospel with those who most need to hear it. Will we listen?

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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