“The Lost Boys” and the Allegory of the Male Role Model

1987’s “The Lost Boys” is often examined as a film with heavy overtones of homoeroticism, and the idea of embracing the vampire mythology in a broader scope. It somewhat re-invented vampires, and even influenced many a creator in modern vampire fare. One of the reasons why I absolutely adore “The Lost Boys,” among many others, is because of its commentary on male models and debasing the antiquated idea of the nuclear family. While “The Lost Boys” is a play on the term from “Peter Pan” about a group of boys that never age, the title is also a play on the recurring theme of male role models and lack thereof.

The way the male role model in the film is consistently absent or incredibly rotten to the core is a theme that plays out from the beginning to the end and makes up the heart of the entire narrative. This theme is firmly established in the opening when we meet Michael, Sam, and mom Lucy all of whom have had to pick up and move in with her estranged quirky father (Barnard Hughes) in a small ranch. There’s not a whole lot of back story of exposition, but Lucy and her father spend a few minutes discussing how she’s recovering from a horrible divorce.

The divorce not only left her flat broke, but also caused her to basically pick up and move. What makes Michael and Sam a part of the greater theme is that they pretty much went with her, indicating that perhaps their father didn’t want to claim them as a guardian, or the marriage made them split loyalties, inevitably choosing Lucy.

It’s worth noting Michael and Sam doesn’t even mention their father, nor do they really express regret over sticking with Lucy. Michael and Sam’s lack of male role models causes them to also drift through the shady boardwalk during the night, as Lucy sadly is forced to also walk around looking for some kind of work. Lucy is a great role model (in the opening she offers food money to two kids digging through the garbage, despite being broke) Sam and Michael, but she’s hopelessly outgunned by the immense male presence that threatens to corrupt Michael and Sam quite often. The fate of the Emerson’s becomes somewhat serendipity for Max, who takes great interest in Lucy from minute one and seems to attach himself to her.

Not only does nothing Sam and Michael do or say to him faze him, but he’s representative of the potential stepfather who wants nothing more than to build a rapport with the young men. Max’s clan of vampires is essentially teenagers that spend most of their nights drifting back and forth on the Santa Carla board walk. Max, meanwhile, is basically a non-existent entity in their life, spending most of his time in his house by the water, ignoring them and shunning them. Along the way, Michael shifts toward the darker side of male bonding, finding companionship with David and his clan, all of whom want to steer Michael in to the vicious predatory lifestyle of preying on locals.

They even engage in the traditionally male rituals such as the hazing on the bridge, and the primal rites of passage involving trial by fire and blood (furthermore Grandpa Emerson even tries to win Sam’s affections with the gift of hunted animals). Sam on the other hand finds a sense of male companionship with the Frog Brothers, both of whom also seem to lack any kind of male model, or parental role models, for that matter. Sam is lucky enough to meet the pair of salty denizens of Santa Carla who not only suspect the presence of vampires in the town, but also imply there may also be ghouls and werewolves lurking deeper within the belly of the town. Lucy is a wonderful role model who spends so much of her time trying to reach out to Michael and addresses the inherent chaos around her with as much patience as possible.

But her time is often monopolized by Max who does everything he can to woo her, from playing the seductive businessman, the doting potential husband, and the sleek eighties bachelor. Only when Michael and Sam stand up to the horrible consequences of what could be their lives (the awful products of a horrific toxic male) does Max finally drop all pretenses and demand that no matter what he’s going to be the head of the family. Only by force can he truly grab a hold of the Emersons and strong willed Lucy, building the “ideal” clan, the picture of the perfect nuclear family (or “The Bloodsucking Brady Bunch” if you will).

Sam and Michael (and even the Frog Brothers) manage to prevail thanks to their experience with their own image of the male role model. The confrontation with in the climax might even reflect, if vaguely, the dynamic Lucy had with her ex-husband, likely a very forceful and vicious man who caused Sam to defend Lucy, while Michael had to grow up quickly and help put an end to the toxic family dynamic. Sam manages to find a purpose by trying to save Michael, his only male role model, while Michael is hell bent on tearing down the façade of male bonding and paternal guidance the moment he realizes he very nearly murdered his brother.

The big twist comes in the way Lucy’s father reclaims his role as the head of his house, revealing not only a hidden arsenal to fight vampires, but an unsuspecting knowledge of the monsters lurking about. In the end, Michael and Sam’s Grandpa represents the idea of the flawed but worthy male role model that can still redeem themselves, and occasionally surprise us.