The Family Man (2000)

Published: Dec 30, 2011 |Updated: Sep 11, 2023


For most of us, it is not unless life gives us a severe shock do we realize which things are important to us, which bring lasting happiness, and which do not. It takes Jack Campbell, a very successful Wall Street executive such a shock and an insight into the life he could have had to get the same realization. Not all of us need to wait for such a life-changing event as Jack’s to reorganize our life’s priorities.

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Genre Drama
Production year 2000
Director Brett Ratner
Male actors Nicolas Cage, Don Cheadle

The Family Man

Work longer and harder, Christmas can wait!

Jack Campbell is a successful, driven and ambitious Wall Street executive. Not only does he give no importance to family-oriented festivals like Christmas (he does not even think about his family), he also expects and drives his team to do so. But he is no red-eyed, spitting work driver either.

He is suave and sophisticated. He knows just which buttons to press to “motivate” his team – these buttons usually have the dollar sign and a lot of zero’s on them. He is with his team on the eve of a billion-dollar deal but he is distant from them and his own feelings, unable to feel any emotion at making them sacrifice time with their family on Christmas Eve.

He does have time for women though. But even there, he is distant. Instead of going to meet her family for Christmas, he offers to bathe his lover in liquor. When an old girlfriend – Kate – leaves messages for him to call back, he dismisses her outright, even taking advice from his boss, an even bigger money-chaser than he.

Kate used to be his girl-friend 13 years ago before Jack flew to London to study to be an investment banker. At the airport while seeing him off, Kate had a premonition and begged him not to go, somehow sensing that his leaving would mean the end of their relationship. But goal-oriented that Jack was and focused on his trip, he dismissed her fears and flew anyway. Kate’s premonition was accurate.

Our distance from our true inner self

Jack has been and is distant from his feelings and his emotions – they are buried deep within, and it will take a monumental shift in his life (which we witness as the movie progresses) for him to understand what it means to connect with himself, with his masculine self, while also understanding his feelings, priorities and sense of happiness. A lot of adult males his age are like him, and young men – our sons – of our times are unfortunately learning to be like that.

They are capable of hurting but incapable of recognizing the hurt they cause. They deeply and truly believe that the trappings of materialism and making a huge amount of money is success. We are raising an entire generation of sons by forcing them to be less “manly”, because popular culture and political correctness informs us that being manly is synonymous with violence, aggression, lack of feeling or unfair competitiveness, which is nonsense.

When we raise boys to be “sensitive”, to be more in “touch with their feelings”, instead of helping them understand these attributes from the masculine perspective, we mistakenly try to mould them to be more like girls (albeit not consciously) because again mistakenly, qualities of caring and nurturing are normally associated with girls, not boys. This drives the boys’ natural masculine instincts such as centeredness, individuality, loyalty, morality, nobility, purpose, feeling, adventure, integrity and honor underground into their (Jungian) shadow, a subconscious full of repressed, ignored and suppressed feelings, emotions and drives. This shadow shows itself in mindless consumerism, hunger for power, violence, insensitivity, corruption and situation-dependent shifting norms of integrity.

Lacking strong masculine role models in their fathers, uncles and other male caretakers (who can themselves be confused about what is it to be masculine), boys and young men turn to their peers for role models, peers who are equally at a disadvantage or are themselves searching for strong, masculine role models. Jack’s role model is his boss who calls him a “tiger” for staying at work on Christmas Eve.

Our boys search and often attach themselves to characters on TV, advertisements, video games or movies; places where manhood and being masculine has four main ingredients: materialism, violence, sports and sex but rarely has true masculine attributes such as centeredness, compassion, integrity, honor, adventure or individuality (not individualism which is I-me-mine).

We raise boys into adults whose inability to connect to themselves and to others is only matched by their love for the “immature boy” in them and for their expensive toys. We do not know about Jack’s childhood (he never speaks about his parents or his childhood) but we can make inferences by his disconnect from his masculinity and his attachment to the trappings of materialism.

A twist of Fate

Fate has something in store for Jack. While trying to “save” a hold-up thug brandishing a gun, Jack shows that he is not completely lost; he does have some feeling left. But when the thug asks him “What do you want?”, Jack arrogantly replies that he has everything. The thug – Cash – is in fact a divine power who changes Jack’s life. The next morning Jack awakes in a strange bed, next to Kate with children’s voices in the background.

Kate wakes up and interacts with Jack as if everything is normal, but Jack is stunned. He is completely at a loss for words and has no clue what has happened to him. He is in fact living the life with Kate IF he had not flown to London. It is the glimpse into a life with Kate that Cash has given him. Most of us are like Jack with an external locus of self-worth. We are so focused on what we want from this world that we do not even realize that we might have it in us to give something back.

Not being able to grow up into manhood, we take our boyish toys with us into adulthood; only the toys are more expensive and look different. But as long as our sense of self-worth flows from our possessions, we never realize that in reality, our possessions own us and not the other way around. After waking up next to Kate, Jack runs away to his super-rich apartment building where nobody recognizes him, much to his disappointment and anger. He has lost his toys, his prized Porsche among others, and his sense of self-worth.

Jack returns to Kate and the kids, resigned to his fate and starts to discover his life as a husband, father and car tire salesman – retail at that. But he has a few important lessons to learn, such as the difference between seducing a woman and penetrating the feminine. Seducing a woman is “relatively easy”, even boys (be they in the body of an adult man) can do that. But penetrating the feminine can only be done by a man who has understood himself and the feminine.

We penetrate the feminine when we establishing a deep contact with what it means to be feminine in a woman, of submitting to her strength and her flow, not trying to overcome her. True submission to the feminine can only happen when our locus of control and self-worth is within us , not outside. Otherwise we operate from a fear of losing what it means to be us and fail to submit. Jack learns this crucial difference the hard way when tries to seduce the woman in Kate by using exclamations such as “Yeah! You’re bad”; stuff which probably worked in his empty relationships with women in his previous life, but which completely puts Kate off.

But when he is genuinely amazed at the mature and beautiful woman that Kate has become, she asks him, “How can you do that?… Look at me like you haven’t seen me every day for the last 13 years.” Jack is learning what it means to appreciate the feminine rather than merely notice the woman. Another incident is when Jack forgets their wedding anniversary and is informed by his daughter that on one anniversary, her father had named a star after Kate. Jack, as most men would undoubtedly concur, thinks this is corny, but his daughter informs him “Mom liked it”. How many of us judge the sincerity of our love and our relationships by the monetary value of our gifts – economic-oriented transactions? Something ostensibly corny such as naming a star after a woman might actually be priceless. But to understand this, we need to understand the feminine, something Jack does not.

Jack goes through several incidents where he makes mistakes with his interactions with his children and even almost ends up having an affair. A couple of his true and deep realization moments are worth mentioning. One comes when he informs Kate that he has been offered a job with huge perks, lot of money and all the perks. His final argument is that the job will help them finally get a life that other people envy. To this Kate informs that they already do.

Jack is speechless. The other one is when Kate tells him that to help him take up the new job, she will uproot all of them from a house they became a family in, where she expected to greet her grandchildren. She would do all of this because she loved him. Kate tells him that their relationship is more important than an address. Jack has never had such a relationship with anyone, leave alone a woman.

What have you done for me lately?

True relationships, not just between a man and a woman, are not based on give-and-take, on crude economic transactions such as “what have you done for me lately?”. Most of us live our lives in such relationships where we base their strength and value on the intensity, frequency and price of the transactions. This happens because we are not centered in ourselves. We are constantly seeking our worth in our transactions, in our relationships.

Unable to measure a relationship, we attempt to judge its value based on the only thing we know – economic, monetary bases of give and take. Some of us never seem to understand that in a relationship, there is no give and take, only give and receive. Further, we have no right or entitlement to the receiving, only the giving. But this will not happen if we live our lives in fear, fear of giving away too much in a relationship and losing power, giving away so much that we seem to have nothing left for ourselves.

Of course this does sometimes happen in single-sided relationships where there is an unhealthy dependence on the other person, but this is not what I mean here. Unless one is truly centered, unless one’s power rests in oneself rather than in the possessions and the appearance of power in a relationship, one cannot truly have any healthy, strong relationship.

Nowhere is this true than between a man and a woman. True power in a relationship between a man and a woman comes when the man submits to the feminine and the woman to the masculine. The feminine flows, encompasses and nourishes, the masculine is centered, immovable and penetrates. Jack, in his own way, realizes the feminine and submits to it.

In the last scene of the movie, when Jack has been unwillingly restored to his previous (real) life by Cash, the tables are turned and this time it is Kate who is at the airport about to leave for a new job in Paris and Jack manages to convince her to stay. Not by rational exhortations, but by using feelings, emotional imagery of their life together which he glimpsed and by appealing to her feminine.


The Family Man might never become a cult movie. In fact, it could have been stronger on its symbolism, on Jack’s hard-driving financial job – he never faces a moral challenge as a financial expert, on Jack’s learning moments and in its final message. But what does comes across strongly is that Jack learns what it means to be a family man and what it means to understand and submit to the feminine, rather than simply get (as in conquer) a woman.

All men should get the opportunity, within the committed and sometimes challenging relationship with the woman they love, to reach deep within themselves, touch a primordial place bereft of selfishness and transaction-orientated relationship-making and realize, as Jack did, that, “My God! All this time, I never stopped loving you”.

Powerful ideas from The Family Man

  • We need not wait for a life-changing event to question whether what we currently pursue in life is in the right order or priority.
  • It is clichéd, but our material possessions have no inherent value while what can change us for the better is priceless.
  • Without the feminine in our life, we might "get" women but they might not be the ones to center us back within our inner self.
  • Transaction-oriented approach to relationships (what have you done for me lately) will only deliver economic perceptions of price, never lasting relationships full of meaning and true value.
  • In spite of not having enviable material possessions, our neighbors and friends can still envy us simply because of our deep connection with our mate.

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