Meet the Parents… Kant Style
Meet the Parents has been one of the most loved comedies from the past decade, as well as one of my own personal favorites. The story tells of a male nurse, Greg Focker, and his trials and failed attempts to impress his girlfriend’s father, Jack Byrnes. While the story focuses on these characters, the character of Pam Byrnes remains somewhat in the background as Greg’s girlfriend and Jack’s daughter. Pam, however, illustrates the path to enlightenment which Immanuel Kant describes in “An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” As Kant states in his essay:
Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! ‘Have courage to use your own understanding!’ — that is the motto of enlightenment.
Pam illustrates Kant’s idea of self-imposed immaturity. Completely in love with her fiancé Greg, Pam brings him to her parents’ home, wanting them to fall in love with him just as she has. However, back in this environment, Pam falls into the role she grew up with, as “daddy’s little girl.” Jack, who does not trust Greg, and who is seemingly unimpressed with him, brainwashes his daughter into believing Greg is lying to her. Although Pam has her own “understanding” of her feelings, she cannot use them without “guidance from another,” in this case, her father. Pam does not have the resolve or courage to stand up for her own feelings and stand up to her dad, and imposes her changed feelings on herself. Jack’s guidance and his opinions affect her thinking, planting wrongful ideas into her head until she decides that Greg is not right for her. At the climax of the film, we see Pam become completely dependent on her guidance:
Pam: So you lied to me about everything, huh, Greg? You lied about the cat, about the fire, about the MCATs.
Greg: I didn’t lie about the MCATs. Don’t you see what’s happening here? Your dad has totally turned you against me.
Pam’s new feelings illustrate her immaturity and the fact that she no longer has the ability to use her own understanding. She has been far too influenced by the opinion’s and words of her father to act for herself.
However, fitting Kant’s formula, Pam experiences an emergence from her “self-imposed immaturity” and comes to enlightenment. She realizes how manipulated she was and gains to courage to use her own understanding. Pam realizes her father’s opinions should not affect how she feels about Greg, and she calls him back apologizing for the way she acted. Pam sheds her immaturity and comes out enlightened.
I’ve included this clip just for fun!