When looking up the description online concerning this short film directed by Mads Matthiesen, for the most part it’s described the same way;

A shy, introverted bodybuilder asks a girl out on a date but his controlling mother forbids it. Dennis goes out anyway and things don’t turn out as planned.  Or.  A shy, introverted bodybuilder asks a girl out on a date.  Against the wishes of his overbearing mother, he goes out anyway and has a night he won’t forget.”

There’s a lot more depth to this excellent 2007 Danish short and the film is meant to spark discussion.  I know some may not like subtitles or the unsteadiness of the camera work but it is worth a watch. View it below and read the thought provoking commentary that follows. 

I found that Kim Kold’s portrayal as the protagonist Dennis was outstanding.  From the beginning scene you can see he is unsure of himself.   The scene could have easily been of an unsure teenage boy asking a girl out on a date but instead it’s an adult male. Even with his giant muscular frame he is timid and emasculated when interacting with others, especially his mother.  His body language is that of one who has been beaten into submission.  

Let’s start with what we know; Dennis is shy, introverted, has low self-esteem, is not confidant, has some social anxiety and is not assertive.  There’s more but we can stop here. He lives with his single mother (played by Elsebeth Steentoft) who doesn’t trust men and is misandristic due to her alcoholic husband leaving her.  She uses guilt as a weapon and shame as a tool to control her son and make him submit.

From what I gathered by watching the film, I feel I can nicely theorize on the missing gaps. Obviously Dennis’ father is not there and not active in their lives. It doesn’t appear that he died and she is a widow.  I think he just abandoned his duties as a father, most likely when Dennis was a young boy.  When the father was present in the home, he abused alcohol and most likely abused Dennis’ mother, at least verbally.  In addition to this chances are he was unfaithful to Dennis’ mother which is why she stated in the film “men can’t be trusted”.  If the relationship with Dennis’ father wasn’t her first or last, chances are she has been unlucky in her decisions and choices with men.  These experiences, real or perceived, have made her misandristic.  She has a hatred or distrust of men.

Through the hardships of having to raise Dennis on her own, she focuses and transfers her emotional baggage upon him.  He is not able to properly develop mentally or socially.  He grows up being socially awkward and introverted.  He probably has never had any meaningful type of male bonding or friendships.  Just as in adulthood, when he was younger he was a home body, tasked with doing school work and chores (“duties” as his mother called it) around the house and not playing with other children his age.  His mother controlled and dominated every facet of this childhood.

His mother controls his life through psychological abuse.  Constantly reminding him, he looks like his father or acts like his father and will turn out to be a man…just like his father; setting the stage for a life of emotional turmoil for Dennis.  Decades of her degrading, guilt laced and shaming has neutered Dennis.  At some point, perhaps in his early twenties Dennis attempts to gain some confidence. 

After months or years of seeing images of muscular men in movies or seeing body builders in magazines, Dennis decide to join a gym.  Dennis thinks muscles will equate to and transform him into being a man.  After months in the gym he sees gains and it brings him a sense of accomplishment; it brings him joy.  He found enough determination within himself to start and excel at something. Furthermore, his mother is not in the gym to cause a negative distraction or scolding.  The atmosphere of the gym and building muscle becomes a temporary escape opposite of his meek existence at home with his mother.

What Dennis doesn’t know or perhaps can’t even perceive is that he needs to work on his interior; his psychology, his self-esteem, his spirit and quality of life.  He focus is purely on the outside or physical.  He wants to “appear” to be a man or be masculine.  In reality he is a socially inept boy in a muscular hulking man’s body. In some circles, one would label him a beta male.

This is a sad reality and existence for many boys being raised by single mothers.  Remember in the short film when Dennis returns home form his failed date; his mother asks, was he drinking and why is his shirt on inside out? As if she is interrogating her husband or boyfriend.  Dennis looks like a submissive defeated shell of a man. Many times these single mothers raise these boys are their friends, their surrogate boyfriends or surrogate husbands.  They use their sons to feel the void of the missing adult male or partner in their lives (because “there are no good men”).  This forms a kind of co-dependent or symbiotic unhealthy relationship damaging the son. The impact of this damage can be extreme.  In Dennis’ case, at least he is attempting to be fit and exercising (if he is overdoing it can be anyone’s interpretation) and not abusing drugs, abusing women or committing crimes.  

A “more extreme” example would be the young male who needs male bonding or craves a male connection and finds it in a wrong place like within a gang.  Because there is almost an instinctual drive for tribal affection he can be easily drown in.  He is replacing matriarchal dysfunction for patriarchal dysfunction.   Instead of working on the interior (which of course he can’t conceive or even know how to begin that process) he does what he can to show the “tribe” how masculine he is, thus most likely committing hyper-masculine aggressive behaviors.  Another way to prove how masculine he is, have sex with as many women as possible.  If a child happens to be the bi-product of one of these conquests, so what; moms always said “I was gonna be just like my daddy any way”.  Displaying to the tribe his perceived masculinity or manhood.

Just think about how many of our boys are experiencing this pain right now?  This can negatively impact their lives from elementary school all the way up to their adult relationships and careers. A large contributing factor as to why there are many damaged men (no good men) is because they are raised by damaged I don’t need a man, independent women (who can’t find a good man).  For me the short film Dennis is a snapshot of how the continuation of this society crushing dynamic occurs.

If you enjoyed this film, consider it a prequel.  Dennis was turned into a full length feature film that is equally outstanding titled Teddy Bear.  The film again stars Kim Kold and Elsebeth Steentoft reprising their roles.  In Teddy Bear, Dennis travels to Thailand in his quest for a wife and intimacy.  It can be viewed online and on Netfilx.