To a young, inexperienced and ⁠— dare I say it? ⁠— privileged viewer, James Foley’s Fear may seem unrealistic, desperate, and like its main antagonist is too cartoonishly villainous. Unfortunately, though, Mark Wahlberg’s character is actually all too plausible.

There truly are people who act like maniacs when to retain someone they love (or think they love), especially if they were already a little nuts beforehand. When David (Wahlberg) meets Nicole Walker (Reese Witherspoon), it’s a perfect storm of jealousy, hypocrisy and feelings of ownership. See, David is instantly jealous of anyone who has any other connection with “his” girl. Not only does this include a guy named Gary (Todd Caldecott), but also her own dad, Steven (William Petersen).

While David initially seems like a nice guy, he’s quick to resort to physical violence, apparently feeling that “might makes right.” This makes Fear a timely tale, as the annoying term “toxic masculinity” is bandied about endlessly nowadays. Still, no matter how one wants to deny it, there are definitely people who perfectly embody that stereotype (though, of course, there are examples of women, or even young girls being violent…but we’ll put that aside for now).

Unless we’ve led totally, blissfully sheltered lives, we’ve seen accumulated examples of Davids out there. In fact, some of us can nearly puke at the very sight of some macho looking guy who seems to think life’s just a celebration of him, and no one else matters, ever.

Though, let’s be honest, Fear is a little about moments like this. (Photo credit: Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures)

Hypocrisy and Feelings of Ownership

David is a hypocrite with his feelings of ownership. And yes, they are definitely feelings. No matter how cool and tough Davids try to appear, they feel rather than think. Like impetuous youth, they act first and sort things out later. That’s exactly why Fear isn’t exactly a clever film. David is not some genius with a master plan. He just feels the world revolves around him and like he owns Nicole. That’s practically the whole thing.

Of course, because it’s all about him, he doesn’t have to be monogamous at all, while Nicole does. In fact, she’s not even allowed to talk to other guys. This possessiveness is definitely part of the fear in the title. Much like Fatal Attraction with its freaky femme fatale, David is freaky because he is so controlling.

Monogamy

“Fear” is by no means an anti-monogamy film. However, the psychological thriller calls into question the seriousness with which people regard relationships. Not only is David serious all the time, but so are most people in the movie. In fact, Nicole is first attracted to David because, at first, he seems to be loose and relaxed, like he knows how to have fun. He even seems helpful at times. However, the one-sided purity of the relationship consumes David, and he refuses to accept any responsibility for how it goes wrong. In fact, he refuses to admit the love is gone.

In some ways, then, the fear is partly David’s own. Somewhere, deep down in his psyche, he’s too afraid of abandonment, and refuses to take no for an answer. Sure, that’s the way of the rapist, but it’s also the way of the psychologically weak in general. This is why some people avoid so-called serious relationships. There really are too many Davids out there. While people shouldn’t seek sex with everyone they’re attracted to (like David would), there is a danger of monogamy being too ironclad and the relationship being too governed by jealousy and, ahem, fear. Of course, there are dangers outside of “serious relationships” as well. Not only is it easier to catch STDs from promiscuity, but there’s no “David-free zone” down that avenue, either.

There’s always some danger in the world. At the end of the day, the strength of a relationship (or a fling) is mostly determined by those involved. It can be a beautiful thing, but it can also get extremely ugly….even if those involved look as good as David and Nicole.

What are your thoughts on Fear? Let us know in the comments!

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Wade Wanio is an author.

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