Social Anxiety in Movies: Roger Dodger

Social-Anxiety-Movies-Roger-Dodger

Roger Dodger is about Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), a shy nerdy sixteen-year-old high school student from Ohio who visits Roger (Campbell Scott), his cool confident fast-talking uncle in New York City. Roger takes Nick out for a night on the town to teach him how to pick up women.

Roger Dodger [2002]

  • Written and Directed by: Dylan Kidd
  • Starring: Campbell Scott, Jesse Eisenberg, Isabella Rossellini, Elizabeth Berkley, Jennifer Beals
  • Genre: Comedy, Drama
  • Rated: R
  • Read: Script
  • Watch: DVD

Trailer:

About:

Nick is shy and introverted, especially compared to his cocky extroverted uncle Roger. But does Nick suffer from social anxiety? Let’s take a look at the film.

Psychoanalysis:

The film opens on Roger entertaining his co-workers at a restaurant with his theories on women and sex. He is an overconfident, smooth-talking extrovert, and all his co-workers are charmed by him. Later that night, Roger goes to his boss’s apartment, an older woman (Isabella Rossellini) who he’s been having an affair with. She ends the affair, leaving Roger in turmoil. The next day at work, Roger’s 16-year-old nephew Nick shows up unannounced, in the city to visit Columbia University. Nick is the polar opposite of Roger—shy, nerdy, low-confidence, and a virgin.

When Roger first sees Nick, he’s standing with his eyes closed.

ROGER

I thought you were having a narcoleptic episode.

NICK

That’s standing meditation. It calms me down.

ROGER

Why should you calm down? You’re a teenager.

NICK

My brain gets all sloppy when I’m stressed… So the meditation helps me focus and block out the bad stuff.

ROGER

Bad stuff?

NICK

Like fear and pain, you know? It’s a visualization. I picture a blue triangle, and that’s me. I put all the other stuff outside the triangle in a red field. It works.

I’ve never tried Nick’s triangle visualization, but I have found simple mindfulness meditation to be helpful for social anxiety.

Nick says he’s in New York to visit Columbia University, but he tells Roger he doesn’t really want to go to college.

NICK

Why keep going to school…when anything I need to find out about I can look up myself?

ROGER

But…the good thing about college is you get to hang out a lot. It’s good for the social skills.

It’s true you’re around others your age in college, but if you have social anxiety, you won’t magically gain social skills just from hanging out. Nick realizes that he needs help in that regard.

NICK

I need someone who knows what to say–

I’ve  had similar feelings to Nick of feeling lost socially, especially with the opposite sex, and I’d wish I had a wingman of sorts to tell me what to say and show me what to do.

ROGER

You need some help with the ladies? All right. Here we go. Get this straight. Sex is everywhere, okay? It is all around us. It’s not some distant destination. It’s not Everest. It is right here. You have to attune yourself to it. You have to bring yourself into alignment. You have to find the zone, Nick. Okay? Do that, and I promise you a whole world will open up. Look at me. I walk around in a state of total receptivity. I’m like a fucking lightning rod.

NICK

All right. Fine. What do I do?

ROGER

For starters, let’s get rid of that little meditation. The blue triangle. We don’t block things out, Nicholas. We let them in.

I can agree with Roger’s advice to be receptive and aware of our surroundings, but I don’t think that means Nick should abandon meditation. Perhaps Nick or Roger or both of their understanding of meditation is distorted, but it’s not about blocking out the world. Meditation (mindfulness at least) is about noticing the world around you. It’s actually similar to what Roger describes as “attuning yourself,” “bringing yourself into alignment,” “finding the zone,” and being in a “state of total receptivity.”

Roger brags that he has sex with a woman every night, and Nick begs him to take him out and teach him how to pick up women. Roger agrees to take Nick to a bar.

NICK

What do you do? What do you say?

ROGER

Who cares? You’re overcomplicating it. You spend the whole night sitting here thinking of the perfect line… What good is that? Just make contact. Separate yourself from the rabble.

Social anxiety is all about overcomplicating social interactions. We think we need to say “the perfect line,” and when we inevitably can’t think of it, we say nothing. We can’t think of the perfect line because we are too anxious. Roger’s advice to “just make contact” is not bad. If we say any line at first, we will start to feel more comfortable, then that perfect line may later come naturally.

Roger invites Andrea (Elizabeth Berkley) to their table. As she waits for her friend to arrive, Roger brings Nick a drink.

NICK

I don’t put alcohol into my body.

ROGER

You drink that drink. Loss of inhibition is crucial to your success tonight, okay? Alcohol has been a social lubricant for thousands of years. You think you’re gonna sit here tonight and reinvent the wheel?

Alcohol hasn’t really helped my social anxiety. I’d lose some inhibitions and become a little more talkative with people I was already comfortable with, but it wouldn’t help my social anxiety with strangers much at all. Part of the reason alcohol may help is because social anxiety comes from overthinking, and alcohol kills brain cells and makes you stop thinking. But ultimately that’s not what you want. You want to think, but to be in control of your thinking, which is the goal of meditation.

Nick tells Andrea that he and his uncle made a $1,000 bet to see if he could get a woman to fall in love with him that night.

ROGER

You did one very good thing. You lied. You made something up. Keep that part of your brain working. We get those girls over here, your first instinct is gonna be to open up. To tell the truth. Fight it! Just keep it interesting.

Roger’s advice to lie may work if your only goal is to pick up a woman for a one-night stand (which is Roger’s goal), but it is poor advice if you want to build a deep meaningful long-lasting relationship. In that case, you should take the opposite of Roger’s advice and be completely open. If they don’t like the real you, then they’re probably not someone you want to be with anyway.

ROGER

There’s a big difference between being horny and being willing to put in the time night after night.

Roger is a bit vulgar, as his advice is referring to getting a woman to have sex with him, but the advice applies to building friendships or any kind of relationship. It takes time and effort to overcome social anxiety. We have to put ourselves out there on a consistent basis in order to begin to feel more comfortable speaking to people.

Andrea’s friend Sophie (Jennifer Beals) arrives at the bar, and they join Nick and Roger at their table to talk.

ROGER

Ask any woman, ”What’s the single most attractive quality a man can possess?” And what do they invariably answer?

ANDREA

Sense of humor.

SOPHIE

Sense of humor is huge. Definitely.

ROGER

And yet, if two lean, mean, play-by-their-own-rules motorcycle-riding men strolled up to this booth, and beat the shit out of us two humorous guys, and asked you out for a ride, you would be weak at the knees.

ANDREA

No way.

ROGER

Weak at the knees… The fact is that touchy-feely, weepy, in-touch-with-their-feelings guys make you sick—you’re repulsed by them. Give me the Ice Age, okay? Survival of the fittest. No mixed signals. No bullshit. Just the meanest, hairiest bastard wins all the time.

Roger’s understanding of survival of the fittest is only half-right. It’s not only the strongest that survive, but the smartest, as well. A small scrawny caveman can outsmart a large muscular one. Roger may be right that some women are more attracted to the muscular masculine types, but other women are more attracted to the sensitive and humorous types. Andrea and Sophie prove this, as they come to like nice sensitive Nick more than mean arrogant Roger.

ANDREA

Take care, Nick. We need more men like you.

NICK

My mom says that when Roger was little, he could talk himself out of anything. He never got in trouble, even when he got caught. She called him ”Roger Dodger.”

ROGER

There’s nothing wrong with a high verbal ability. Nick’s got it too.

NICK

I wanna be like Granddad. He almost never talks. But when he does, everyone kind of leans forward.

They are basically talking about the two personality types: introverts and extroverts. Neither type is right or wrong or more favorable than the other. Both have their positive and negative sides. Susan Cain’s book Quiet [http://amzn.to/1mf1THW] did an excellent job of explaining this.

Roger and Nick go to the restroom together.

NICK

I can’t go with you standing there.

ROGER

Why not?

NICK

I just can’t. Get out of here.

ROGER

Can’t go through life with a shy bladder, Nick. You’re gonna be spending a lot of time in bars. Most of them will have restrooms just like this one.

Roger gives a great piece of advice here, which serves as a metaphor for more than just urinating in public. We can’t go through life completely shy and avoid all the social situations that cause us anxiety. That will prevent us from making friends and progressing in our careers. If Nick forces himself to pee in front of Roger, then it will be easier for him to pee in front of somebody else then next time he’s in a public restroom. The same logic applies to any other social interaction. The first time you talk to someone, you’ll feel fear, but it will lessen each subsequent time you talk to them. All it takes is practice.

Nick gets thrown out of the bar for being underage, and Andrea and Sophie leave with them to talk in a park. There, Sophie gives Nick his first real kiss. After Roger upsets them with abrasive comments, the women leave. Roger then takes Nick to his boss/ex-lover’s house party. Feeling hurt and rejected by his ex-lover/boss, Roger loses his composure as the super confident alpha-dog ladies man and makes a scene at the party in front of all his co-workers, forcing his boss to fire him.

After sleeping the long night off, Nick returns home to Ohio. Later, Roger makes a surprise visit at Nick’s high school to give some love advice to Nick and his equally socially awkward friends at their lunch table.

ROGER

I’m talking about the girls in this room. I’m talking about communicating. I’m talking about engaging. I’m talking about standing up from this guys-only, Star Trek-convention, frankly, homoerotic little group and introducing yourself to one of these girls.

NICK’S FRIEND

Yeah, but I always get so nervous.

ROGER

Why? There’s nothing at stake. If there was a chance of you actually getting laid, then you’d have a reason to be nervous.

Roger has a bit of an epiphany after his night with Nick and comes back with his best advice yet. He’s right that there’s nothing actually at stake in social interactions, though we with social anxiety tend to believe there is. We’re afraid people won’t like us or think that we’re stupid, etc.

ROGER

So you get nervous? Maybe you’re the nervous guy. Maybe that’s your hook. So go ahead and blush. Stutter all you want. Show her how she makes you feel. Think of it. You’re combining honesty and flattery.

NICK’S FRIEND

Yeah, but… you can’t let a girl know how nervous you are. You gotta let her know you’re in control, right?

We shouldn’t be ashamed to feel nervous. In fact, if we admit our anxiety to others, they may show sympathy and try to help us feel more comfortable. Or they may admit that they are nervous too.

ROGER

Okay. Here’s what you could say. Hi, Angela… My name is Darren. Every time I see you in the hall, I have the urge to talk to you. So I try to think of something clever to say… but I get so nervous… that nothing comes out. We don’t know each other right now, but I’d like to maybe… invite you out for a soda sometime so that we could talk. I’d like to see what we have in common. But most of all, I’m curious to find out… what kind of person you really are… because I am tired of looking at you from a dist– And so on and so forth. Take that out for a spin. See how it works.

NICK’S FRIEND

Yeah. See her turn around and walk back to the jock table.

ROGER

If that happens… you go to sleep knowing you gave it your best shot. Remember, she has to show you something as well.

Roger gives a good example of how to openly and honestly start a conversation. And he gives good advice about dealing with rejection. With social anxiety, we fear rejection so much that it prevents us from taking any risks that may result in rejection. But being rejected socially is not a big deal. If we’re open and honest and another person doesn’t like us, then they’re probably not the right person for us.

Behind the Scenes:

Jesse Eisenberg has become known for playing nerdy socially awkward type characters such as Nick, and Eisenberg has admitted to suffering from OCD and anxiety in his real life.

“The Social Network has, almost inadvertently, provided a more public platform than I would have wanted. It’s great to be in something that’s received well. But, on the other hand, there’s only so much attention one person should get before it’s overwhelming.”

Acting seems like a difficult career choice for someone with social anxiety, and while Eisenberg doesn’t enjoy the fame, the actual acting has helped him.

“[Acting] was probably a way to focus whatever personal anxieties I had. It was a way for me to direct it in a productive way rather than to just live with it and suppress it. That’s certainly what it provides now. I have a catharsis every day in a safe and creative way, and that’s a lot easier than holding something in.”

I’ve never tried acting, but I find a similar catharsis through writing, and there are countless other creative outlets as well.

Judgement:

The character of Roger is flawed and misogynistic and gives Nick lots of terrible advice, but he also slips in some bits of wisdom and helps Nick get out of his comfort zone with women. Roger and Nick represent two polar opposite types of personalities: 1) The super confident smooth-talking extrovert; and 2) The shy unconfident introvert. Neither personality type is necessarily right or wrong, and both characters have their good and bad sides. The answer for someone with social anxiety like Nick isn’t to become an abrasive overconfident jerk like Roger. I’m perfectly happy as an introvert and wouldn’t want to be an extrovert. But we can use some of Roger’s tips for confidence to help overcome our shyness to a degree that social anxiety doesn’t hold us back in life.

Roger Dodger as a movie: 8/10

As a portrayal of social anxiety: 8/10

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One thought on “Social Anxiety in Movies: Roger Dodger

  1. Pingback: Social Anxiety in Movies | Tim Barry Jr.

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