It's interesting that, with the exception of Bullock in Gravity, these solitary survival films are all one-man shows. Does the frequency of these films in recent years reflect a cultural angst at the changing (weakening) role of men? Or maybe, at least, a cultural interest in classic masculinity—akin to the way beards, flasks, pipes, and lumberjack attire have become fashionable for young men, along with anything evocative of grandfather or Gatsby.
One of Locke's most insightful commentaries on contemporary masculinity has to do with technology. That "command center" setup of the car's interior is important. The male propensity for emotional detachment is only amplified here: Locke is dealing with the people in his life in a totally mediated way, toggling between their calls and voicemails as one toggles between windows and tabs on a computer screen. The metaphor of a screen (whether computer, tablet or smartphone) as the multitasking command post from which we increasingly manage the simultaneous "to-dos" of work, family, relationships and leisure is powerfully suggested in Locke.
And on one hand, it is a wonder to behold the way that Locke, like so many of his bluetoothed contemporaries, can so efficiently navigate a business crisis, a marriage crisis, even soccer talk with his sons, all while navigating a vehicle en route to London.
But on the other hand it's disturbing. It makes you wonder whether today's technologies only exacerbate men's tendency to compartmentalize life as a series of tasks and projects to manage, keeping things concealed and cordoned off from one another in unhealthy ways. In Locke we see a man connecting with people on his terms and timeline, cutting off conversations where convenient and making time only for the most essential business to be carried out. He is today's man, running a game plan from an isolated press box, a disembodied iWorld where channels can be turned on, tabs closed and search histories erased whenever convenient.
And yet the perception of total control is an illusion, and this is Locke's most powerful challenge to today's man. As the film progresses we realize, as Locke does, that as much as we desire full control, there will always be things outside of our power. Men want to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They want to earn it. But sometimes being a man means embracing one's limits, humbling yourself, and accepting the reality of a higher sovereignty.
The best moments in Locke are the brief glimpses we get of the man's vulnerability. They are few and far between, but thanks to the film's close-up camerawork and Hardy's astonishing performance, we can't miss them. They reminded me of epiphanies in other films where the "I've got it all under control" man comes to a humble awareness of his own limitation: the final moments of All is Lost; the "I wanted to be loved because I'm great" moment in The Tree of Life when Brad Pitt concludes, "I'm nothing."