Critics' Pick

The Work (NR)

Documentary 87 min. October 25, 2017
By Daphne Howland
"Toxic masculinity" is a buzzword increasingly used to describe a state of maleness that leads to behavior hurtful to women, but few appreciate how harmful it is to men, too. In The Work, Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous show how some of the toughest men around -- tattooed murderers, armed robbers, gangbangers, Aryan Brotherhood members -- learn to express their feelings. First, they have to remember how to feel them.

At California's maximum-security Folsom State Prison, members of the public are sometimes invited to participate in four-day group therapy sessions designed to dismantle the emotional armor encasing men of all ages and ethnicities, from all walks of life. The confluence of convicts and outsiders lends depth, and some incongruities.

"I haven't grieved for my sister … I don't know how," says Kiki, who has served 17 years for murder and robbery. "I want to feel what it feels like to mourn. … I don't want to feel like I can't feel anymore. I want to be able to cry because my sister died. I want to be able to feel because I can't hug my mom. I want to feel like me, I don't want to be afraid of that. I don't want to have to pull back."

It's not as simple as saying it. The men circle around, encouraging actual feelings -- and not just the wishes or the words -- to surface. It isn't pretty. It's excruciating, and beautiful. This is an intimate documentary, and it's a privilege to see it.
Jairus McLeary, Gethin Aldous Alice Henty, Eon N McLeary, Jairus McLeary The Orchard

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