The Holdovers and the Crisis of Trustworthy Male Mentors

By Mark Judge Published on November 3, 2023

Editor’s Note: As Mark observes, The Stream as a policy does not recommend R-rated movies. However, we will discuss an R-rated movie, if there is a larger, important point to be made. And Mark makes a good one. 

In the powerful new movie The Holdovers, written by David Hemingson and directed by Alexander Payne, a teenage boy is in crisis thanks to an absent father. But he finds an older male role model who saves his life. The film, set at a 1970s private school, offers a moving story and powerful acting, exploring the importance of male mentorship. (The Holdovers is also rated R, and The Stream does not recommend Rated-R movies, even if it analyzes those that may be popular or important to the culture.)

In the movie, Paul Giamatti plays Paul Hunham, a teacher of ancient history at a prestigious New England boarding school called Barton Academy. Hunham is irritable, sarcastic, and a savage grader. He’s also funny and adores Greek and Roman history.

Hunham proudly declares himself an atheist. This earns him derision from the African-American school cafeteria manager, Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). It’s Mary’s first Christmas since her son, a Barton grad, died serving in the Vietnam War. Mary believes in God and sees right through Hunham. “When was the last time you went to church?” she asks him when he preens about his “aesthetic” lifestyle.

Abandoned at Christmas

Hunham’s student Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa) is smart yet troubled by some family issues back home. His own father suffers mental illness, and his stepfather is a jerk. After his suitcase is packed for vacation, Angus discovers that his mom and new stepdad are spending Christmas in the Caribbean … without him. Angus will be at Barton for two weeks under Hunham’s supervision. Angus, Paul and Mary are “holdovers,” or those who can’t get home for the holidays.

(NOTE: Mild language in trailer)

Mr. Hunham finds himself standing in as a father figure to Angus, who in turn makes Dunham face the spiritual pain that fuels his atheism. When they get in tight situations, Angus will claim that Paul is his father or his uncle. Mr. Hunham’s sarcasm is soon leavened with some tenderness.

Finally Some Respect for Boys and Men

Watching The Holdovers I realized that it offers a healthier depiction of male mentorship than the culture has been giving us over the last few decades. Sitcom males are awkward, stupid, clumsy and display no Christian fierceness or piety. Men in science fiction movies are absent or dolts who need to be corrected by female superiors. Even healthy aggression gets tarred as “toxic masculinity.”

Most informed and honest people are familiar with the statistics about fatherless boys: Young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families, have a higher risk of suicide and behavioral disorders, and are much more likely to drop out of school.

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Yes, these figures are striking and support the case, often made by conservatives, that fathers are indispensable. But there is also something to be said for the argument that it takes many male mentors to raise a boy. There once was a time when young men from bad homes could find role models in churches, the military, in local businesses, or even just fixing cars around the neighborhood. The Holdovers champions that reality.

The Mentors My Dad Invited

The movie took me back to 1980s, when I was in high school. My father was a writer for National Geographic, and my life was suffused with art, writing, beauty and ideas. The conversations around the dinner table, especially when we were joined by a scholar friend of my dad. Intelligent men would often come into my life, either through my father or at places like tennis or football camp.

These wise and learned men often became friends and mentors to me, who encouraged my own writing. Some were like Mr. Hunham, scholars and thinkers. Many were priests and Christian authors. Their presence as role models, advisors, and inspirations played a healthy part in my development.

No one wants the government raising kids, but more than ever, with the culture selling transgenderism and mocking boys for being boys, it takes a village of strong, moral men to help them turn out right.


Mark Judge is a writer and filmmaker in Washington, D.C. His new book is The Devil’s Triangle: Mark Judge vs the New American Stasi.

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