Timothée Chalamet is changing our idea of masculinity – this generation's Leonardo DiCaprio is softer, thoughtful, with less muscle

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Dune, Don’t Look Up on Netflix, Lily-Rose Depp

Leonardo DiCaprio’s early days, and his starring role in 1997 film Titanic, were the last time that a young actor was as present as Timothée Chalamet is now.

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The Hollywood star has wispy brown curls, a dreamy look in his eyes and a unique charisma that suggests both “baby brother” and “aftershave model”.

The 26-year-old New Yorker, who has an American and a French passport, is one of the biggest stars of the Instagram generation. He has graced the cover of Time magazine. Vogue celebrates the fashion influencer’s red carpet appearances – spotted in dungarees with a batik pattern, or in a diamanté harness from Louis Vuitton.

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Movie fans know him from Interstellar, Lady Bird, Little Women and as a drug-addicted son in Beautiful Boy. The gay love story Call Me by Your Name earned him an Oscar nomination in his early 20s.

Dune, Don’t Look Up on Netflix, Lily-Rose Depp

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Chalamet on Saturday Night Live in 2020. Photo: Getty Images

Last year, he appeared in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, the science fiction epic Dune and, just recently, in Don’t Look Up on Netflix. Chalamet will also soon be seen as chocolate factory owner Willy Wonka in Wonka, and a sequel to Dune is in the works.

This young actor with mysterious appeal can do festival films as easily as he can blockbusters. At the same time, Time describes him as a sensitive guy who tells his grandmother that he loves her over the phone.

Dune, Don’t Look Up on Netflix, Lily-Rose Depp

Chalamet at the 76th Golden Globes in 2019.

He has been spotted with Lily-Rose Depp, the daughter of actor Johnny Depp, as well as with Madonna’s daughter Lourdes Leon. On Instagram, he has 17.1 million followers. So what does his success say about the spirit of the times?

In the modelling and fashion industry, the in-demand look for a man is still somewhat stereotypically masculine, although it is no longer as pronounced as it was in the ’90s when models with physiques like Calvin Klein’s Marcus Schenkenberg were common.

According to Claudia Midolo, the head of a modelling agency, men are now generally represented as softer, more diverse, slimmer and not as muscular. In short, the Timothée Chalamet type is now also being represented.

Dune, Don’t Look Up on Netflix, Lily-Rose Depp

Chalamet at the UK special screening of Dune in October, 2021. Photo: Getty Images

Nonetheless, the target group of this kind of new man remains too young for expensive fashion brands to curry any favour with right now. “That’s why this type of man is more likely to lead the way in acting, music and social media,” Midolo explains.

Literary scholar Toni Tholen of the University of Hildesheim in Germany says Chalamet seems to correspond to what is called “hybrid masculinity”.

Roughly summarised, this means that the actor does not fit the classic male image – he even dares to be a little feminine – but he does not lose his male privileges as a result. He is committed, open and thoughtful, but remains extremely successful.

In regards to the image of men in general, Tholen says: “Male dominance and [the] patriarchal structures of domination have been massively challenged in recent years. In part thanks to feminist critique and politics, but also because men themselves suffer from the demands of masculinity and begin to question them.”

Dune, Don’t Look Up on Netflix, Lily-Rose Depp

Chalamet at the premiere of Beautiful Boy in 2018. Photo: Getty Images

For Tholen, however, this does not mean that the demands of masculinity have disappeared. “The situation is undecided because both can be observed: change and persistence, processes of transformation as well as the re-traditionalisation of masculinity. It is completely open in which way the pendulum will swing, especially if you look at the situation globally.”

“At the moment,” she adds, “masculinity can perhaps best be understood as a form of ambivalent and contradictory movements and positionings; sometimes even as a search for new spaces and ways of life, combined with a growing desire to no longer act as ruler over people and things.”

So what should and can a man be? This question can be approached from a lot of different angles, especially when looking at Chalamet and his films.

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