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Meet the Parents… Kant Style

November 10, 2010

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!

5 Comments
  1. hummberto permalink
    November 10, 2010 1:53 AM

    I love this movie, and I really like how you drawing a parallel between Kant and Greg Focker. Of course, Kant is thinking bigger with his idea of maturity, but it does fit in nicely with the plot. The only problem I have with your parallel is that Pam is never acting immaturely, as in she isn’t thinking with the guidance of Jack. Jack is lying to Pam and creating situations that Greg (with his great luck) seems to fall prey too. He did set the alter on fire, he did clog the toilet, and he did spike a ball into Pam’s sister’s eye. The proof and reasoning is there, and Pam just put facts together. On top of everything, Greg reveals the surprise that is her sister’s honeymoon. Jack never explicitly tells her to get rid of Greg, through a one-on-one session where Pam needs direction, but by acting as the invisible hand behind-the-scenes. Pam is prey to her father’s deceit, which is very different from acting immaturely.
    However, I still very much enjoyed your post as it definitely brought levity and a fresh point-of-view to yet another reading in a huge book. And because this is one of my favorite movies.

  2. dmalks permalink
    November 10, 2010 6:41 PM

    I really enjoyed this post also as this is one of my favorite movies of all time. I really liked reading this post because it takes a great and extremely funny movie and relates it to the material we are covering in class. But, I agree with the first comment in that Pam is not acting immaturely.

  3. Jessie Altman permalink
    November 10, 2010 10:26 PM

    I agree with the comment above in that I do not think that Pam was acting immaturely. I do, however, think that Greg Focker was acting immaturely. He allowed himself to get so involved in his desire to impress Pam’s parents that he lost all reason and showed his immaturity. When he was under pressure to impress Pam’s parents he started acting like a child! He lied and tried hiding things, it was as if he was a teenager in high school trying to hid alcohol in his room. With all that being said, I loved this idea for a blog. I think it was a very intriguing, fun way to look at Kant’s idea of enlightenment.

  4. lski9 permalink
    November 10, 2010 10:53 PM

    Like everyone else this movie is a classic. The last comment left is exactly what I think. Pam maybe could have give in Greg a little bit more warning of what her parents are like, but Greg was the one acting immaturely and not Pam. He couldn’t feel comfortable being himself and using his own personality that he has to resort to almost like a teenager always trying to impress their parents. He falls into Kant’s category of one who doesn’t use his reason to think for himself. If Greg acted like he does at the end of the movie he might have had Pam’s parents loving him from the start.

  5. jaclburr permalink
    November 17, 2010 7:17 PM

    This is also quite high upon my list of favorites. I have not drawn the association between enlightenment – Kant style, and Pam. She surely follows the thoughts and assumptions of her father, until she reaches maturity towards the end of the movie and acts for herself. In a similar way, Jack himself goes through the same thing. He is so absorbed in acting the way he has been told to in the CIA that he fails to think for himself and form his own judgements of Greg. In the end, he realizes that he has been wrong about some things, and must rely on his own unbiassed judgements on Greg’s character.

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